The process of aging brings a host of physiological changes, most of which people do not enjoy or look forward to.
However, the plant realm offers us all hope….
It provides us with an excellent pharmacopoeia of botanical remedies to prevent, minimize, and sometimes even reverse, many of these changes — while maintaining and promoting the most important gift of aging — that of our accumulated knowledge and wisdom.
Numerous plants have been revered for millennia in different cultures for their ability to counteract the unfortunate blessings of living a long full life...
...including declining vitality and mobility, diminishing immunity, increasing inflammation and pain, slowing circulation, reduction of hormonal secretions, weakening of mental acuity, and the gradual increase of metabolic toxicity.
However, if I were to choose the three MOST important, well-known and legendary botanical remedies, they would be:
1. Reishi mushroom (China)
2. Ginseng root (China)
3. Amla fruit (India)
Within their own cultures, these herbs would be recognized by almost everyone; reishi mushroom, for example, is Asia’s most popular herbal product.
These plants are now increasingly recognized and used in other regions as well, but many people have not learned their true value....
And more importantly, the subtleties and differences of their uses are not known, which determines whether or not you can expect them to produce the excellent results they are so famous for (which I'm sharing more about below).
Few have heard, for example, of ginseng’s legendary origin, and the symbolic meaning it has: where lightning strikes a pool of clear water, a root in the shape of a man will appear, is one such mythical story….
It tells us that this unique root, which grows in the distinct shape of a human with two legs, two arms and a head, is infused with both the nourishing properties of water and earth and the energizing power of the spirit.
In other words, it's an herb for strengthening your body and soul. Every year, a new head grows on top of the old — revealing not only the age of the root — but its wisdom and potency as well.
Other than scholars of Chinese medical history, few know that the Ganoderma mushroom (Japanese name reishi) was first recorded almost 2000 years ago in the Han Dynasty...
And it's name, Ling Zhi, carries connotations of “spirit, spiritual, soul, miraculous, sacred, divine, mysterious, efficacious, longevity, auspicious and immortality.”
In India, the fruit of the amla tree would be recognized by every family, so wide is its use as a medicine, tonic and condiment. Because of the increasing interest in Ayurveda in the West, many people now know the tale of the Rishi Chyavan and the origin of Chyavanprash — the famous nutritive jam prepared from this fruit with its rich vitamin C content.
Chyavan, it is said, was an old forest dwelling sage, who, by some twist of karma, was requested by a local king to marry his young daughter; not being able to refuse the demand of a king, the hermit disappeared into the forest, lived on a diet of amla fruits, and then returned, rejuvenated into his youthful self, to marry the daughter.
What do these old stories and legends mean to us — the modern users of these ancient remedies?
Mostly, it's hard to tell fact from fiction... there is a lot of confusion around the plethora of commercial products available to us in these times, with little guidance on how to find and safely use the best of them according to our individual needs….
1. Reishi Mushroom
Reishi mushroom includes wild harvested and commercially grown types; which is best? There are red types and black types, and a variety of extraction methods; some are more anti-inflammatory, some are more nourishing, some are more powerful immune boosters, some more famous for longevity.
Just as you would need a guide to lead you to the best mushrooms in the wild, you need education to find your way through the jungle of possibilities available online or in the health food store.
The wild harvested mushrooms are reputed to have more spiritual powers that are more calming to the mind, heart and emotions, but you must be confident they come from clean environments. The cultivated types are generally more affordable, and excellent for overall immune boosting and anti-inflammatory powers.
However, there are also individual differences in how people react to reishi, and many times it requires sampling different products to understand which is the best for you and your body.
2. Ginseng Root
Ginseng is just as complicated. There is the true wild ginseng from the remote mountains of northeastern China, which none of us will ever meet because of its extraordinary rarity and price.
If you had the good fortune to taste one of these roots, I would offer no words of warning about its use, other than to make it last; fine ginseng was traditionally considered a form of life insurance, invested in during one’s working years, enjoyed slowly in old age.
Then there are the common red roots, cultivated on a large scale and prepared by steaming; these must be handled with care, and not used by the youthful or those with a tendency to high blood pressure, as they are extremely heating and stimulating. Only the very weak and debilitated should use these, and under the care of a skilled herbalist.
It's a curiosity, but understandable, that the favorite ginseng in China is that from our own backyard, the so-called American ginseng from the Appalachian Mountains. This is the species that is safest for general use, as it is cooler, sweeter and more moistening and gently nutritive than its fiery Asian counterpart.
It's the ginseng of choice if you're suffering from the epidemic of nervous exhaustion, adrenal fatigue and dehydration that characterizes our over-stimulated culture. Its mild nature is more easily tolerated and comes with less warnings and contraindications, but it is a true botanical treasure, and its cost reflects that… beware of low cost substitutes.
3. Amla Fruit
And what about amla, whose name means “sour”? You may know of Chyavanprash, which is widely available now, but the quality varies from company to company; it ranges from an excellent nectar of rejuvenation to a sticky source of gas and bloating. It is also problematic for those of you with glycemic issues, as it has been made for millennia according to Indian tastes, rich in honey and sugar cane juice.
Amla is also one of the “three fruits” of triphala, the famous astringent tonifying nutritive laxative in Ayurvedic medicine. If you have a tendency for constipation, you can enjoy its wide-ranging rejuvenative effects in this form, being mindful not to use it too habitually.
The best form is its fresh juice, but this is not generally available for most people. This leaves you with the final choice, which is the dried powder, pills and capsules. While not ideal, the herb itself is still remarkable, and if taken in small amounts over time will support both detoxification and rejuvenation of your entire body… the list of its benefits declared by Ayurveda would be far longer than this entire article.
PS - Enjoy the insights on medicinal herbs included above? If so, please register for my free virtual event How Medicinal Plants Can Fuel Your Spiritual Journey: