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Chiretta

Swertia chirayita

Herbs gallery - Chiretta

Common names

  • Chirayata
  • Chiretta
  • Indian Balmony
  • Indian Gentian
  • Swertia

The herb swertia chiretta is indigenous to the foothills of the Himalayas in the northern region of India as well as in Nepal. This annually growing herb grows to a height of three feet or one meter and has a solitary stalk that is swathed with flowers colored light green with traces of purple. The leaves of the herb are always paired. The aerial parts of this herb are harvested during the summer season when the plants are in full bloom.

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The swertia chiretta is a therapeutic plant and its remedial usage has been recognized in the Indian pharmaceutical codex as well as the British and American Pharmacopoeias. In addition, the curative value of the herb has also been recorded by the ancient Indian herbal medicine system Ayurveda and other conventional medical systems, such as Siddha and Unani. The herb as well as its extracts is used as a bitter stimulant to treat fever as well as curing several skin problems. Swertia chiretta (scientific name S. chirayita) has an established market, both domestic in India as well as globally and it is expanding at the rate of around 10 per cent every year. However, in many cases, the herb available in the market is adulterated and sometimes also substituted by other plants belonging to the same species.

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Basically, swertia chiretta is a conventional Ayurvedic therapeutic plant. An astringent stimulant prepared with the herb is an outstanding medication for weak stomach, particularly when it results in indigestion, bloating and nausea. In addition, this bitter tonic is also said to be effective in protecting the liver. However, the herb is more familiar in India as it forms the key constituent of 'mahasudarshana churna' - a medication enclosing over 50 different herbs. Swertia chiretta has an attractive chemistry that is to a great extent akin to gentian (Gentiana lutea), a widely used healing tonic for the digestive system. This herb also encloses xanthones that are supposedly effectual against malaria and tuberculosis. In addition, chiretta also contains amarogentin - a glycoside that perhaps fortifies the liver against toxicity caused by carbon tetrachloride. The entire herb possesses therapeutic properties and the bitter digestive tonic obtained from it is considered to be an effective medication for lessening fevers as well as stimulants. As discussed earlier, this herb also has a valuable impact on the liver, encourages the flow of bile and heals constipation. It is also beneficial for curing dyspepsia (deranged or impaired digestion).

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Parts used

Aerial parts.

Uses

The herb swertia chiretta (S. chirayita) possesses digestive, hepatic (conditions pertaining to the liver) and tonic properties. In fact, this bitter herb promotes digestion, particularly of fats, and aid in regulating blood sugar levels. At the same time, the herb is an effective medication for leishmaniasis - a parasitic disease usually found in tropical regions.

Chiretta is especially beneficial for certain health conditions, including diabetes and nausea. Here is a brief discussion regarding the use of this herb to treat these precise health problems.

Laboratory tests with animals having excessive baseline blood sugar levels have demonstrated diminished blood sugar levels following healing with chiretta. On the contrary, animals do not demonstrate such decrease in the blood sugar levels provided they already have low levels to begin with. This difference in results in treatment with chiretta provides an indication that the herb may perhaps be beneficial in regulating blood sugar levels without the perils of developing hypoglycemia owing to any excessive dosage of the herbal medication.

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Additional animal studies with chiretta have discovered that this herb is more effectual in regulating blood sugar levels compared to the regular anti-diabetic drug Orinase (Tolbutamide).

The astringent flavor of chiretta sets of an impulsive response that promotes the production of saliva and gastric enzymes. This reflex reaction owing to the use of the herb not only stops nausea (queasiness), but also helps to cure indigestion, bloating and hiccups. In addition, chiretta also encourages the secretion of bile that promotes digestion as well as improves appetite.

The herbal application of chiretta is as an astringent tonic, a medication for stomach conditions as well as a medication for feverish conditions (febrifuge). Known as 'chirayata' in Hindi, chiretta is a traditional herbal medicine that is prepared with the aerial parts of the herb.

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Habitat and cultivation

The chiretta thrives as well as flourishes in woodland gardens having a sunny edge, partial shade, in shade as well as in marshy lands. It is an annually growing plant that normally grows up to a height of three feet or one meter. The plants are in bloom between the period September and October. The flowers are greenish in color with a purple tinge and hermaphrodite in nature. In other words, the chiretta flowers possess both the male and female organs.

This herb has a preference for sandy (light), loamy (medium) as well as clay (heavy) soil conditions. In addition, the chiretta plant thrives and flourishes well in acidic, neutral as well as basic or alkaline soils. The herb can grow well in semi-shade or somewhat woodland conditions and needs humid or damp soil. Precisely speaking, the plant thrives well in a humid and humus-rich soil in damp light woodlands along the streams or in marshlands. The herb actually develops best in areas where the summers are cool. Hence, it is no surprise that the chiretta can thrive and flourish both in conditions where there is full sunlight as well as partial shade. The chiretta plants are able to withstand temperatures as low as -15°C and still continue to grow well.

The chiretta herb (S. chirayita) is propagated by its seeds. Sowing is generally done during the spring when the temperature is not above 10°C and in a situation when the soil contains plenty of humus. When the seedlings have grown adequately to be handled, they are taken out individually and planted into separate pots or containers. The young plants are re-planted outdoors during the early part of summer. The plants are usually harvested just when the seeds begin to set in and dried in the sun for use afterwards.

Side effects and cautions

Swertia chiretta, which is extremely bitter to taste, is best used as a tincture. However, chiretta is also available in tea form. It may be mentioned that chiretta also forms an ingredient in the imported Chinese patent medication Tian Xian. Here is a word of caution. People who are suffering from any kind of gastric or duodenal ulcers should not use this herbal medication as it promotes the secretion of gastric juices.

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