Swertia chirayita from the Gentianaceae family is one of the fundamental herbs in the Ayurvedic medicine; however, it is relatively seldom used by Western herbalists. In view of the plant’s health benefits and wide use in India, Nepal, and other Asian countries, it is worthy to get acquainted with this additional folk medicine option to be able to take advantage of if necessary.
Being a member of Gentianaceae family Swertia chirayita is often called Gentiana chirayita, Indian Gentian, Ophelia chirata, or simply Chiretta. This is an annual plant with the short, stout, and oblique root. It usually produces a single erect, glabrous, dark purple-brown stem about 3 feet tall, which contains continuous, easily separable pith inside the thin layer of woody bark. The tender branches are situated mainly on the upper part of the stem, springing out of the axils of only a few opposite sessile leaves a plant has. They are lanceolate, acute, entire and smooth with visible lateral veins.
Chiretta is in bloom from August to October, bearing small greenish-yellow hermaphrodite flowers tinged with purple color. They consist of four petals. The flowers are situated on the long slender peduncles and are arranged as cymes.
In October-November the small one-celled capsules of fruits begin to develop. Pericarp of the fruit is transparent yellow, enclosing numerous tiny angular seeds.
Swertia chirayita is a native of the temperate Himalayan in India and Nepal. It prefers sandy loam rich in humus and carbon, though it can tolerate other types of soils as well. The plant succeeds in damp areas in the partial shade or on the open ground. Chiretta prefers climate with cool summers.
Chiretta herb is harvested and dried when it is in flower. The whole plant possesses medicinal properties, root being the most powerful part of it.
Dried herb in the powdered form, seeds and whole herb extracts, and capsules are the most common forms of Chiretta available for purchase.
Swertia chirayita remedies are odorless, but they possess very bitter taste, for which they are actually valuable. The plant serves as a bitter tonic, possessing two main bitter principles: ophelic acid and chiratin. They both are amorphous yellow substances soluble in water and alcohol. They are known to stimulate gastric juices and bile secretion. These constituents also have a positive impact on the liver functioning, aiding in the metabolism of fats. Moreover, bitter principles in Chiretta help normalize blood sugars.
Other valuable elements on the herb are xanthones, which are known for their anti-oxidant power and ability to detoxify organism from various harmful or poisonous chemicals. Mangiferin, mangostin and decussatin are the examples of xanthones present in the plant, just to name a few.
Besides the above mentioned constituents, Chiretta contains a host of triterpenoids and triterpenoid alkaloids, iridoid glycosides and resins, carbonates and phosphates of potash, and ash. The characteristic feature of the plant is the absence of tannins in its chemical structure.
Scientists define Chiretta as a bitter tonic, stomachic, hepatic, laxative, anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory and appetizer. Contraindications for the use of its remedies include people with gastric and duodenal ulcers.
Appetite and digestion improvement, saliva and gastric juices stimulation, increased bile flow, reduction of nausea, bloating and even hiccups and fighting constipation are the actions Chiretta is famous for. It is also used to expel worms and stop vomiting.
The remedies made of this plant are helpful for those suffering from diabetes, since they balance blood glucose levels. Swertia is also used for various skin conditions.
Anaemia, anorexia, malaria, asthma, fever, bronchitis, hepatosis and rheumatism are reported to be successfully treated with Chiretta plant, which, by the way, is now among the endangered species due to its extensive use.
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