KIRATATIKTA (Swertia chirata)
In Caraka Samhita, Kiratatikta is referred to as jvaraghna – antipyretic and stanyasodhana – lactodepurant and as one of the bitter herbs. The name of the plant itself indicates that the plant originally came from Kirata Desa and is bitter. Since centuries it has been used in Ayurveda as a bitter tonic, febrifuge and anthelmintic.
Though commonly used, the term bitter tonic is slightly jumbling. Tonic herbs in Ayurveda are generally sweet, nutritive substances that build tissue, strengthen vitality, increase vital fluids, and improve sexual energy and aid longevity. Bitter herbs, on the contrary, deplete vitality, depress sexual energy and promote the ageing – process. The bitter tonics are tonics for pitta, as they are the strongest herbs to reduce and regulate its function. But their action should not be confused with tonics that are nutritive and rejuvenative. Bitter herbs reduce fever, pitta, toxins and fat from the body and are used as tonics for convalescence in patients of pitta constitution, for limited duration. Bitter tonics do not merely suppress the fever. The attack and destroy ama – the toxins which have entered into the tissues and caused the fever.
The herb grows wild in the temperate Himalayas from Kashmir to Bhutan and Khasi range, between 1200 -3000 metres altitude. It is also cultivated in Kashmir, Meghalaya, Khasi hills and Madhya Pradesh. The plant is an erect annual, herb, growing 0.5 – 1.5 meters in height. The branching leaves are opposite, lanceotate and acute. The flowers are very small, numerous and greenish yellow in color. The fruits are minute capsules, 6 mm in diameter, with unctuous many angled seeds inside.
The botanical name of kiratatikta is Swertia chirata and it belongs to family Gentianaceae. Swertinin, swertianin, swerchirin, decussating, isobellidifolin, friedelin and sitosterol isolated. Nine tetraoxy genated xanthones isolated from roots and aerial parts Gentianine, gentiocrucine and eniflavine isolated. Arghinine, leucine, methionine, threonine, tryptophan, aspartic acid and glutamic acid isolated. Isolation and structure determination of a new dimeric xanthone chiratanin; a new triterpene – swertanone isolated from aerial parts and its crystal structure elucidated.
Kiratatikta is bitter in taste, pungent in the post digestive effect and has cold potency. It alleviates kapha and pitta doshas. It is a bitter tonic, anthelmintic and antipyretic in properties. It possesses light (laghu) and mild laxative attributes. It works well in fevers, raktapitta, asthma, cough, intestinal worms, skin diseases, edema and burning sensations of the body etc.
The whole plant is used for medicinal purpose. Externally, it is beneficial for cleansing the wounds, with the help of its decoction. Occasionally, the bath of its decoction is given in the cases of skin rash. The skin diseases with oozing, burning sensation and itching respond well to it. Internally, it is commonly used for fevers – acute, chronic as well as recurrent. In these, it imparts its benefits as it is very cooling, bitter and the destroyer of ama. It can be effectively used in epidemics of malaria as a preventive medicine. As a bitter tonic, it is recommended in convalescence, to regain the energy. The decoction of kiratatikta, nadihingu and sunthi is an excellent combination for fevers. Mahasudarsana curna is one of the popular preparations used for the same.
It improves and tones up the digestive system as a whole. The decoction or powder is beneficial to augment the appetite, relieve the constipation and the sensation of excessive thirst. It stimulates the liver and endows anthelmintic activity. Kiratatikta as a blood purifier, wards off the edema. The decoction of kiratatikta and bhrngaraja when given with honey, curbs hyperacidity. In rheumatic diseases, syphilis and chronic fever, it is given along with camphor and shilajit. The powder of kiratatikta or its decoction when given with honey effectively controls vomiting in pregnancy.
Classical Ayurvedic Preparations
- Mahasudarsana kvatha
- Sudarsana curna
- Kiratatiktadi kvatha
- Bhunimbadi kvatha
- Tiktapancaka kvatha
- Kiratadi taila etc.