Adhatoda vasica, commonly referred to as vasaka or Malabar nut plant, is a herb with a long history of use in the Ayurvedic tradition. Ayurveda is one of the world's oldest alternative medicinal traditions (dating back to ~5000 BC in ancient India) and has celebrated the benefits of Adhatoda vasica (Vasaka) for centuries– but only recently has the ancient herb gained attention in the scientific community. So, what is Vasaka (sometimes referred to as Malabar nut in English), and why is it becoming such a popular natural product?
Vasaka is the Malabar nut tree known well throughout India and Southeast Asia that grows dense branches with large spear-shaped leaves, four seeded fruits, and white & purple flowers. It thrives all over the lower Himalayan ranges and across India. The trade name "Vasaka" comes from what it was referred to in Sanskrit.
From ancient use to modern manufacturing, the best place to start a proper discussion of vasaka is in the leaves. Many of the health-promoting attributes in vasaka come from its leaves. In particular, researchers have isolated its quinazoline alkaloids Vasicine and Vasicinone as bioactive elements of the ancient herb.
1. Love to Your Lungs
The vasicine and vasicinone found in the vasaka leaf are a focal point in the body of research on how this plant can benefit your respiratory system. In vitro (benchtop laboratory "in glass") tests have suggested it promotes bronchodilatory activity. This means it helps open up the airways and increase airflow to the lungs.
Also, these alkaloids possess the qualities of a respiratory stimulant, which means they can increase the activity of your respiratory system. The properties may also impact the symptoms you feel from adverse respiratory events.
2. Kicking Your Cough
Vasaka holds anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties that can suppress coughing and the discomfort associated with it. In traditional medicines, vasaka is commonly used to treat cold and whooping coughs. Historical documentation indicates this botanical is often used when a patient has trouble expelling sputum. The underlying mechanisms of this action have not been fully elucidated, but it is clear that vasaka is a multifaceted plant.
3. Good For Your Gut
Not only is vasaka a respiratory stimulant, but it is also a great digestive stimulant! Often cited as a promoter of gut health, vasaka's alkalotic properties can help reduce excess acid formation—thereby reducing gastrointestinal discomfort. In Ayurvedic, Siddha, and homeopathic medicines, vasaka leaves are ground or mixed in teas to support the digestive system. Additionally, the anti-inflammatory properties of Vasaka can benefit gut health – reducing bloating and pain.
4. Get Inflammation In Check
One of the broader impacts of vasaka is its anti-inflammatory properties. The anti-inflammatory features can even reduce the symptoms associated with illnesses. One mouse model study showed that it could have similar effectiveness against inflammation as an NSAID. A recently published paper explored how vasaka impacts the dangerous inflammatory response of COVID-19 in a mouse model. They found that vasaka reduced the hypoxic (low oxygen) and inflammatory features and reduced the viral load of cells with COVID.
5. Active Antiseptic Properties
Continuing the conversation on how vasaka can play a role in infectious disease response, a previously unmentioned alkaloid, anisotine, was modeled in silico to inhibit viral replication.
Vasaka leaves have also been found to hold antibacterial and antiseptic properties that make them a possible answer to ward off other infectious diseases. In vitro studies of vasaka exemplify its antibacterial properties for pulmonary infections such as tuberculosis. Using the vasaka plant for novel antimicrobial technology has also sparked the interest of researchers. Silver nanoparticles synthesized from vasaka leaves can inhibit the growth of bacteria.
As we can see, vasaka is a versatile botanical with a plethora of applications for your health. It is important to note that vasaka has not been approved as a treatment for any indication by the FDA. All the data discussed has been from scientific inquiry, not from FDA-reviewed clinical trials.
Want more vasaka in your life?
Vasaka leaf can be found in many forms (powders, tea leaves, and supplements, to name a few). The use of vasaka is considered safe when consumed in the proper amounts — dosage recommendations for vasaka leaf powder range between 1 and 3 grams daily. While there are no known adverse effects of this herb, it's best to consult with a health professional before use - especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.