The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) recently released two new monographs containing quality control standards and therapeutic compendia for belleric myrobalan (Terminalia bellirica, Combretaceae) fruit, which has a long history of medicinal use in its native India and Southeast Asia, and oshá (Ligusticum porteri, Apiaceae, and related species) root, a North American medicinal herb.
AHP monographs, which are available for purchase through AHP’s website,1 establish identification, purity, and quality standards for botanical raw materials and preparations. The therapeutic compendia provide a comprehensive review of pharmacological and safety data, including information on medical indications and supporting evidence from clinical, animal, and in vitro studies, modern and traditional uses, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, structure and function claims, dosages, interactions, side effects, contraindications, toxicology, and more. This information can be used by various individuals in the herbal community, from consumers and practitioners to quality control personnel, purchasing agents, and dietary supplement manufacturers.
Belleric Myrobalan: An Important Ayurvedic Herb
Notably, the fruit of T. bellirica is one of the three ingredients of the triphala (“three fruits”) formula, along with the fruits of amla (Phyllanthus emblica, Phyllanthaceae) and chebulic myrobalan (T. chebula). Triphala is one of the most important and commonly used formulas in India’s traditional medicine system of Ayurveda. AHP is also working on monographs and therapeutic compendia for the other two triphala fruit ingredients and the formula itself, which will be the first in a Western pharmacopeia.
The belleric myrobalan monograph, which was released in January 2019, was a collaboration among AHP; Pulok Kumar Mukherjee, PhD, of Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India; Bhushan Patwardhan, PhD, of Savitribai Phule Pune University in Pune, India; and Sarita Shrestha, MD, of the National Ayurveda Research and Training Center in Kathmandu, Nepal; among others. In all, 23 authors from around the world contributed to the monograph and therapeutic compendium, and 24 experts from academia, industry, and medical practice reviewed it before publication. Work on the monograph began in 2016.
Belleric myrobalan is a large deciduous tree that has pale greenish-yellow flowers and can grow to 30 meters (98 feet) tall. The small, gray, velvety fruits (drupes) are called vibhitaka in Sanskrit, which means “eliminating fear of disease” or “fearless.” In Ayurvedic formulas, it is typically the deseeded fruit (pericarp) that is used, but the entire fruit is used regionally and traded commercially. Many ethnic groups throughout the species’ range have used the fruit both internally and externally for many purposes, including for respiratory conditions such as cough, asthma, and bronchitis; eye conditions such as conjunctivitis; and skin conditions. However, the fruit is not typically consumed as food, largely because of its astringency.
According to Roy Upton, RH (AHG), DipAyu, president of AHP and editor of the monograph, the fruit has demonstrated anti-atherosclerotic, antifungal, anti-hyperuricemic, antimicrobial, anti-parasitic, antispasmodic, anti-ulcer, blood sugar-regulating, and hepatoprotective properties in preclinical research. “Many of these actions relate directly to promoting digestive and gastrointestinal health, which is one of the key applications of T. bellirica and triphala,” he wrote (email, January 17, 2019).
Upton also added that because T. bellirica is an ingredient of what is probably the most important formula in Ayurveda, it is one of the most important herbs in the Indian materia medica. The monograph “is actually long overdue,” Upton wrote. “Ayurveda is not well represented in this country, and it took a while to secure funding for the monograph.”
Commenting on the uniqueness of the species, Upton noted that the Rigveda Samhita, a collection of Sanskrit hymns and verses (ca. 1700-1100 BCE), includes the first known written record of T. bellirica. “Think of that: a botanical that has recorded history of use dating back almost 4,000 years,” he wrote. “That in itself is very unique. Of the three fruits in triphala, this one has the most laxative properties but also has the toning qualities associated with the entire triphala formula.
“The combination of promoting peristalsis while simultaneously adding tonicity to tissues makes both triphala and T. bellirica unique,” Upton continued. “This is in stark contrast to harsh laxatives that only stimulate peristalsis, making the bowels weaker over time. One of the most interesting things both about T. bellirica and triphala is that they are used for both constipation and diarrhea. They are highly effective lower bowel regulators.”
In an AHP press release about the new monograph, Upton was quoted as saying: “I surveyed a number of Ayurvedic practitioners many years ago, and … triphala was regarded as their most important formula, with virtually every patient at some point in their treatment protocol receiving triphala. So, it is natural to develop monographs on the individual fruits. While the benefits of triphala are well known, this often causes the amazing benefits of its individual ingredients to be overlooked.”
Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the American Botanical Council, said: “With this newest publication, AHP adds another important herb to its growing list of botanicals for which it has produced high-quality, extensively peer-reviewed monographs, providing members of the herb community with reliable, authoritative quality control and therapeutic information. AHP is to be congratulated for its excellent works that help to promote the responsible trade in and uses of botanical ingredients and their products.”
Publication of the belleric myrobalan monograph was made possible by the support of Amsar Goa Pvt. Ltd., Aveda Corporation, Banyan Botanicals, East West School of Planetary Herbology, Gaia Herbs, NuAxon Bioscience Inc., Organic India Charitable Trust, Phalada Agro, Planetary Herbals, Pukka Herbs, The Ayurvedic Institute, Verdure Sciences, and Vikram Nahawar.
Oshá: A Native American Botanical
According to AHP, the oshá monograph, which was released in December 2018, includes the first published pharmacopeial standards for this North American botanical.
The publication is the result of a collaboration among AHP; Kelly Kindscher, PhD, of the University of Kansas; and the United Plant Savers (UpS), and was partially funded by the American Herbal Products Association Foundation for Education and Research on Botanicals (AHPA-ERB Foundation). Special contributions were made by Shawn Sigstedt, PhD, of Colorado Mountain College and Healing Planet Herbs, Inc., who has dedicated much of his life to the study of oshá. Fourteen authors contributed to the monograph and therapeutic compendium, and 28 experts from academia, industry, and medical practice reviewed it before publication. The work for the monograph began in 2014, after Kindscher, the publication’s associate editor, received a grant from the AHPA-ERB Foundation to conduct a sustainability assessment on the impact of wild collection on oshá populations.
The monograph opens with an extensive history section that details oshá’s traditional uses by Native American tribes, its introduction to modern-day herbal practice, and how animals, specifically bears, have used it to self-medicate (i.e., zoopharmacognosy). Another common name for oshá is “bear root.” Ethnobotanists have recorded bears both in captivity and in the wild chewing oshá roots and rubbing against the plant. Also, in one remarkable account, a bear applied the root to its own gunshot wounds.
Multiple species in the Apiaceae family are referred to as “oshá,” including L. canbyi, L. filicinum, L. grayi, L. tenuifolium, and Conioselinum scopulorum. According to Upton, who edited the monograph and therapeutic compendium, the recognition of other species as oshá is important because, while AHPA’s Herbs of Commerce, 2nd edition, lists only L. porteri as an accepted species,2 these closely-related species are difficult to distinguish in the wild, and many are used interchangeably. Because oshá cultivation is limited and much of the available product in commerce is wild-harvested, knowledge of these species and their subtle morphological differences is especially important for quality control initiatives and sustainability.
Oshá is a high-altitude plant with extensive ritualistic and medicinal traditions of use by Native American tribes in its native range: northern Mexico and the southwestern United States, Pacific Northwest, and Rocky Mountains. Modern herbalists primarily use oshá root for respiratory infections and other upper respiratory disturbances, including cough. In vitro studies have confirmed the antimicrobial effects of oshá root essential oil. The hormone melatonin and neurotransmitter serotonin also have been identified in L. porteri and L. canbyi, which suggests that oshá root may have potential positive effects on mental health.
According to Upton: “I first learned of oshá from a Navajo friend, Molly Olivas, whose uncles used it to keep away rattlesnakes. They would tie it to their boots when hunting. I was then introduced to lovage [Levisticum officinale, Apiaceae] by California herbalist Bea Meyers, who asked me to pick it from her garden. I was amazed at how similar they were. I swore the lovage was oshá. That was the genesis of broadening our reach beyond a single species.
“I am sincerely grateful for the financial support provided by UpS and the AHPA-ERB Foundation, and that they saw the development of the monograph as a natural extension of conducting formal population studies,” Upton continued. “Oshá is such an important traditionally used herb that we have to have a knowledge base, both to know how to use it and to know how to protect it. Sometimes understanding or emphasizing when not to use something is more important than knowing its benefits. The Ligusticum genus is populated with amazing botanicals, many with similar activity, so we have to think broadly when considering the use of oshá.”
Blumenthal said: “I am quite familiar with various medicinal uses of this wild aromatic root from my days in the mountains of northern New Mexico, where oshá grows near mountain stream beds. It is prized as a local traditional medicinal plant by Native Americans and the local Hispanic population, but it never has achieved much popularity in the US herb industry, being sold mainly by small regional and national herb extract companies. This is probably preferable, since there is a supply sustainability issue with oshá, and it is difficult to cultivate this plant in a commercially viable manner.”
The oshá monograph was made possible by the support of the AHPA-ERB Foundation, Herbs Etc., Vitality Works, UpS, Mountain Rose Herbs, Maryland University of Integrative Health, and Sheila and Tim Manzagol.
—Connor Yearsley and Hannah Bauman
- Secure online ordering. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia website. Available at: www.herbal-ahp.org/order_online.htm. Accessed December 7, 2018.
- McGuffin M, Kartesz JT, Leung AY, Tucker AO. American Herbal Products Association’s Herbs of Commerce. 2nd ed. Silver Spring, MD: American Herbal Products Association; 2000.