For many, reading about च्यवनप्राश (Chyawanprash) might remind them of a time when they were little, and made to eat, perhaps forcibly, their twice daily heaped teaspoon of the dark brown sticky paste.
Although doused in sugar, the sour taste of the key ingredient आमलकी (Indian Gooseberry), shines through. The other ~46-52 ingredients like पिप्पली (long pepper), तमालपत्र (bay leaf), त्वक् (Indian cinnamon), and नगकेसर (kanchansampige in Kannada) add spice and tingling sensations. The sour taste of आमलकी (gooseberry) reconfigures the tongue such that anything consumed right after – water, milk etc tastes sweeter than normal. While the original formulations described for Ayurveda do contain a mention for मत्स्यण्डिक (rock candy) commercial preparation typically contain a higher amount of sugar to increase palatability. We are yet to test if increasing the sugar amount changes the efficacy of च्यवनप्राश.
The formula for च्यवनप्राश (Chyawanprash), 500 आमलकी (gooseberry) to 1 of everything else, is codified in first chapter of चिकित्सा स्थान (Chikitsa sthana) of चरक संहित (Charaka Samhita). Not just ingredients, but the method of preparation is also listed. Although च्यवनप्राश (Chyawanprash) appears like a condensed “jam” there are ~ 4-5 steps to its preparation, each meant to increase its potency and effectiveness as a Rasayana concoction.
Reading through Prof J.K Ojha’s exhaustive tome on च्यवनप्राश (Chyawanprash), From Vedic to Genomic Era, what is striking is the diversity of the ingredients and their source. For e.g., चन्दन (sandalwood) from Karnataka and अगर (agar) from the north-east. The current version of चरक संहित (Charaka Samhita) that is used for teaching Ayurveda, is believed to have been written in 6th century BCE. This easily dates Chyawanprash to a time well before the golden quadrilateral and mechanised transport! Ergo, the mention of ingredients that are endemic to certain parts of the country which are quite far away from each other suggests that there was a lot of cross talk in India, even in earlier times.
Consumption of Chyawanprash has been listed to promote many facets of well-being, thus it’s prominence as a रसायन (Rasayana) formulation. रसायन (Rasayana) is a branch of Ayurveda that deals with approaches to increasing lifespan, preventing degenerative diseases and ultimately, to promoting a high quality of health throughout the lifespan of the individual. In the last 100 years, antibiotics and advances in medical technology have greatly increased lifespan. Living longer is one thing, but having a high quality of health through-out this length of time, is something for which modern medicine does not as yet have solutions. The science behind रसायन is therefore ripe for further explorations as a medicine for wellness and health.
Authors: Dr. Shridevi Gothe, Dr. Megha, CABHN, TDU.