It’s been so incredibly busy here in Nepal that I have had little to do anything else besides dealing with all the different components of the program. But today I took a little time off to visit with Ajaya, a herbal pharmacist that lives and works in Kathmandu with his family, and prepares many of the remedies that Vaidya Madhu uses in his clinical practices – and by extension, many of the remedies I also use in my practice in Canada. Here’s a brief essay of my visit to Ajaya’s.
This is a little video of some of Ajaya’s staff rolling out some pills of Kanchanara guggulu vati (pills), something our students learned to do during this program, but performed with a lot more speed and skill! Kanchanara guggulu is used in the treatment of glandular disorders, cancer, and hypothyroidism, and is a very important medicine in my practice. Also included in the video is a decoction (kwatha) used to prepare Yogaraja guggulu vati, another medicine that will eventually be used to make pills. Yogaraja guggulu is a specific medicine to reduce vata and ama in the joints and muscles, used long term in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism.
This is a chunk of raw shilajit, a curious exudate obtained from certain rocks in the Himalayan mountains, that must be rigorously processed and purified before use. But once prepared, shilajit is an amazing health tonic – it’s name literally meaning ‘to become like stone’ – used to promote long life and good health, and a specific remedy in the treatment of diabetes and deficiency conditions. If you’re interested to learn more, please check out a previous article I wrote on the subject. What you see behind my hand in the bottles is the processed and purified result, a special form of shilajit called “surya tapi shilajit” that is prepared by dissolving the crude shilajit in a mixture of hot water and a herbal decoction, and exposing it to the rays of the sun for over a year, causing the purified shilajit to rise to the top like cream from milk. Most shilajit in the marketplace these days isn’t even shilajit, but another type of exudate called mumiyo that is obtained mostly from Siberia. It is not the same thing as shiljait at all. Likewise, all of the authentic shilajit I have seen in the marketplace is processed by much faster methods than the “surya tapi” method, and is not as pure. Ajaya prepares large amounts of shilajit for the export market, but produces only small amounts of the surya tapi shilajit as a hobby.
One of my students asked Ajaya about sauviranjana (sow-vir-an-jana), or purified antimony, that is used as a collyrium for the eyes in Ayurveda. Ajaya didn’t have any ready but showed us these chunks of raw antimony that are used to make it. Sauviranjana is the original inspiration for eyeliner, and when properly purified, is thought to benefit the eyes and improve eyesight and prevent cataract formation – unlike the stuff used by women today. Prepared as a bhasma, sauvira is a powerful hemostatic, used in bleeding disorders such as hemorrhage and menorrhagia, as well as vomiting.
Above is a photo of conch shell (Turbinella pyrum), which is processed as a calcinated white ash to make Shanka bhasma. In its purified form it is used in diarrhea, duodenal ulcer, and acidity, and can be applied externally as a plaster for acne. It’s a cooling, antinflammatory remedy, that is an important constituent of a traditional Nepali Ayurveda medicine called Shambhukadi vati, which I have used as part of a protocol to treat inflammatory bowel disease. It’s one of the simpler bhasmas to make, much like Godanti bhasma (purified gypsum), which our Ayurveda in Nepal students learned to make during this program.
This is a photo of raw, unprocessed sulfur. In its purified form, sulfur – gandhaka bhasma – can be used in the treatment of digestive complaints, and disorders of the liver, blood, and skin. Although called a “bhasma”, gandhaka bhasma technically isn’t a bhasma because it doesn’t under calcination, but instead is purified in ghee. Nonetheless, gandhaka bhasma is very important in the preparation of other bhasmas, such as mercury, and is used as an antidote in heavy metal poisoning. This is isn’t surprising if we consider the importance of sulfur in hepatic detoxification (i.e. sulfation) and in quenching inflammation (e.g. glutathione). The purification and preparation of sulfur is something else our students learned to do during the Ayurveda in Nepal program.
Hanging out at Ajaya’s was like being a kid in a candy store: so many useful remedies to think about taking home with me! One thing I asked about was if he had any hing resin, derived from Ferula assa-foetida, and sure enough, his staff pulled out a massive container of the stuff. Pure hing is exceptionally hard to find in the West, and is usually adulterated with wheat flour, gum arabic, and yellow dye. Hing is a potent medicine in the treatment of gastrointestinal parasites and colic, but must be purified in ghee before use. When I got home – and against my better judgment – I decided to unwrap the giant chunk of Hing I got from Ajaya to take a photo of it. It’s so incredibly pungent and stinky, that even after I held it in my hand for just a couple seconds, it penetrated my skin, entered my blood, and I could still taste it in my mouth and nose several hours later! The smell was so powerful it even woke me up in the middle of the night, and I had to put it outside my room and burn some incense. Over these past couple weeks, I taught one of our students how to make a famous Ayurveda remedy called Hingwastak churna, that I frequently use to treat traveler’s diarrhea. A handy remedy in Nepal!
And then lastly, a group photo of me, Ajaya, some of his family and his staff – as well as one of my students on the left.