In the epic Ramayana, Ashoka Vatika is the place where was kept captive by the demon king Ravana, after her abduction from Dandakaranya forest. Goddess Sita refused to stay at the king’s palace, seeking instead to stay in Ashoka Vatika, under the Ashoka tree (Saraca asoka). Mythology also says that Sita was able to withstand her shoka (sorrow) because she was living under the A-shoka (without sorrow) tree.
For many it may come as a surprise that the healing powers of the Ashoka tree for women is not a myth! In Ayurveda, formulations containing the bark of the Ashoka tree have been recommended for the several gynecological disorders. The bark is said to work as a uterine tonic; helping with severe cramps, heavy bleeding, bloating, tiredness, and burning sensation during the menses. It also helps manage pelvic inflammatory diseases, including the inflammation in uterus and ovaries, because it is an anti-inflammatory agent. It helps in reducing problems associated with postmenopausal syndrome such as hot flashes. As it is capable of bringing back the balance between estrogen and progesterone, it is recommended for the management of poly cystic ovarian disease (PCOD).
Besides the reproductive organ, Ashoka bark is a natural detoxifier, especially useful for the skin: to treat acne, dark patches on face and helping it glow. Ashoka bark is astringent in taste; astringency (Kashaya rasa) is helpful in purifying blood as well as bringing down high cholesterol, so it also act as cardiac tonic.
Though many medicines are made from Ashoka bark, famous among them is Ashokarishta. The bark of the tree is extracted into decoction, processed with herbs like flowers of dhataki (Woodfordia floribunda), rhizomes of musta (Cyperus rotundus), fruits of haritaki (Terminalia chebula), fruits of amlaki (Phyllanthus emblica) along with jeera seeds (Cuminum cyminum), jaggery, kernel of mango (Magnifera indica), etc. This mixture is allowed to ferment naturally in wooden or mud vats to get Ashokarishta. Ashokarishta is prescribed by Ayurveda vaidyas to treat many diseases of the female reproductive system. Generally a dose of 15-30 ml of this formulation is advised to be consumed 2-3 times a day with warm water. However, one must consult an ayurvedic doctor to get a thorough examination and precise diagnosis of the condition, before consuming any formulation.
The tall conical tree that lines many avenues in India is also referred to as Ashoka tree, but it is a different species, Polialthia longifolia. Characteristics that differentiate the two: Ornamental Ashok tree grows tall and is usually shaped like a cone, while medicinal Ashoka tree is spread out, like a mango tree and has orange flowers. For those of us with “plant blindness” it is important not to confuse the medicinal Ashoka tree with the ornamental Ashoka tree!