Rasayanas are meant to impart long, healthy,
and disease-free life as well as to improve memory, intelligence, youth and luster.
Among all the Rasayanas, Chyawanprash is the most useful and famous.
It is the most popular rejuvenating Ayurvedic tonic in India. It is prepared as a jam and has a thick consistency. Though the recipe was published in ancient times, every Ayurvedic pharmacy and family makes a variation of the original, the main ingredient being a tropical gooseberry called amla, Embellica officinalis, the world's richest natural source of vitamin
C — and the vitamin C remains stable despite cooking and storage. In addition to the amla, there are 35 or more herbs, various oils and sweeteners, and sometimes alchemical ingredients. The taste is mainly spicy and sweet.
All rasayanas are antioxidants. In a world in which stress levels are high and pollution is epidemic, antioxidants are the main protection against the ravages of life in the industrial age. Additionally, Chyawanprash supports the immune system and protects against
everyday infections. It can be consumed by children as well as older persons. It is also of benefit for those who are debilitated or convalescing, such as tubercular patients or those who have undergone intense conventional treatments.
Those of you who have listened to the
Kitchen Doctor tapes have heard this story:
Long, long ago, there was a sage in India
named Chyawan who lived in a forest. His hair was matted and
he was covered with tree growth after years of meditating in
the same place. A young princess was blindfolded and while dancing
in the forest, her hands touched the hair of the sage. Her
father, the king, explained to the sage that it was the custom
in his country that a woman could only touch one man in her lifetime.
He thus requested the sage to marry his daughter. Chyawan asked
if he could have two months to prepare for the wedding for he
wished to be young again so as to afford his wife conjugal bliss.
Thereupon, he developed the recipe for longevity that has remained
India's most popular remedy, some say for 2000 years, others
since the times of the Vedas.
That is one version of the story. There are at least 16 variations that purport to be authentic accounts of the historic incident. Of one thing, we are reasonably certain and that is that there indeed was a person named Chyawan who married a princess. His name means "Decrepit".
Today, there are many recipes for Chyawanprash,
ranging in ingredients from a mere 20 or so herbs and spices to
70 or 80 ingredients. However, the main ingredient, regardless
of the exact formula is always amla or amalaki. The rest of the ingredients vary from regenerative herbs
for the reproductive system such as ashwagandha and shatavari to
spices that aid assimilation and digestion. The herbs are brewed for hours with the amla suspended over the decoction. The process is labor intensive. The amla is eventually fried in ghee and sesame oil. Then powdered spices and sweeteners are added. In some cases, purified metals are added, but these are rarely sold in foreign countries.
In Ayurveda, it is believed that most disease
stems from problems in the digestive system. The Iroquois and many
others share this belief. Ayurveda breaks digestion into three
stages: the stomach, the small intestine, and the large intestines.
Food that is assimilated in the stomach is used very quickly for
the building of fluids, blood and lymph. What is assimilated in
the small intestine affects mainly muscles and fat; and what is
assimilated in the colon is used to regenerate the skin, bones,
hair, nerve sheaths, reproductive fluids, and brain. Fragility
of the bones and senility are thus colon problems and they are "vata" conditions,
derangements of the air and ether. All proper maintenance requires
good digestion and assimilation; otherwise, worn out tissues will
not be regenerated, i.e. replaced by healthy new tissues.
A "rasayana" is a preparation for
rejuvenation, and Chyawanprash is the most famous, and in
my opinion, one of easiest to use of these valuable remedies.
Moreover, it has been so thoroughly studied that it is legal to
market Chyawanprash as an antioxidant. In India, very extensive research has been conducted on Chyawanprash, including both laboratory and clinical studies.
Over the years, I have tried at least 20-25 different brands of Chyawanprash. I used to import one from India
produced by a lovely lady doctor named Smita Naram. It was expensive
because she used fresh amla. I tried making my own for a while, but sourcing the ingredients is difficult enough and then there are the hours of preparation, canning, and labeling!
David Frawley recommended a brand at some point, 20-25 years ago. It was quite sattvic, i.e., a little sweeter
than some versions and not as spicy. Then, for a while, we had a nicely packaged brand which was actually the same
old Dabur in fancier containers. Later, Banyan Botanicals came out with several different formulas for differing body types. Now, they only have an organic jam.
Though the theory behind a specific preparation for pitta types, i.e., one that is less spicy, would on the surface appear to be sound, in actuality, the original Chyawanprash is perfectly dosha balanced so the formula that is most authentic is apt to be the most efficacious.
At the time of this revision (January 2012), we have six different types of Chyawanprash. The variations are in the number of different ingredients, amount of ghee and sesame oil, type of sweetener, and purity of the herbs. We have two different organic brands and two brands that are more faithful to the original formula handed down by Chyawan. One of these is available in three forms: the original, a version with less fat, and a tablet. If sensitive to any specific ingredient, read the ingredient list.
In my experience, the first thing that happens
with use of Chyawanprash is that assimilation of nutrients is greatly
improved, and the evidence for this is that people whose hair tends
to fall out, especially after shampooing, find that their hair
no longer falls out and that it becomes thicker and eventually more its natural
Sounding too good to be true? Little by little,
it should be possible to notice that the fingernails are also stronger and have fewer ridges. This would normally take a minimum of 72 days, perhaps more like 90. Those who wish to understand this better need to think about the ability to benefit from food and herbs consumed. If assimilation is weak, all systems of the body will be in some degree of trauma due to deficiencies. As assimilation improves, repairs are performed and the body begins to regenerate and eventually rejuvenate. This is a long process, not an overnight one.
In India, those with the means to afford Chyawanprash
take it every day, usually at least from age 40 onwards. They generally
use about 1-3 teaspoons a day.
As one might expect, in India, many people take
Chyawanprash in warm milk, but I suggest that most people just
eat some straight from the jar. The taste is interesting, a
bit sweet so this taste, which is revered in India, masks the sourness of the amla. The many herbs and spices hide the sour taste even more. There are six tastes recognized by Ayurveda and all are necessary: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent.
Most people are surprised that Chyawanprash
tastes as good as it does. When I had three dogs, they used to fight over the almost empty
containers. All the dogs I've had for the last 30 years prefer
Chyawanprash to bones. However, people like the taste also so we do not need the endorsement of my Akitas.