Pharmacy-in-a-Pot Plant #2: Nirgundi

Today we continue our series featuring the most versatile, cheapest, easily sustainable and potable medicinal plants and their medicinal uses.

Today’s featured plant is Nirgundi – a medicinal shrub native to India & China, and naturalized all over the world. Before we jump into the medicinal uses part, some botanical info is in tune –

Common Name – Chinese chaste tree.
Ayurvedic Name – Nirgundi.
Botanical Name – Vitex negundo.
Family – Verbenaceae.

image
A typical Nirgundi plant (Vitex negundo) from China.

Physical Features
Features differ significantly in various regions of the world. Generally, it is a seasonal shrub growing upto 1 to 3 metres in height. Green to dark green, smooth, oily, digitate leaves have 5 lanceolate leaflets, 5 to 15 cm each in length, with white velvety texture on the back. Leaflets may sometimes be serrate, and/or be 3 per leaf. The leaflets give a very distinctive strong smell when crushed. White or purple colored paniculate flowers grow on apical stalks. White flowered Nirgundi is generally considered better in medicinal use.

image
An Indian variety showing serrated leaves in Vitex negundo. Also note some younger leaves having only 3 leaflets.

Natural Habitat
Tropical-to-temperate climate regions all around the world. Grows especially near water sources or in recently disturbed land.

Price
Available in nurseries for Rs.10 (lesser than what a coke costs) in India. Free, if you can identify it in the wild, which is quite easy considering the penta-digitate pattern and distinct smell of its leaves.

Medicinal part – leaves; seed can also be used.

Ayurvedic Properties formula – Tikta,Katu,Kashaay-Ushna-Katu.

Nirgundi is one of the most effective anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, antiseptic and antifungal medicines in Ayurveda, called aptly as the “edema-killer”. But there’s a lot more to it than just that. Let’s see one by one.

(A) Topical uses

1. Nirgundi leaf oil is the most popular topical remedy for almost all sorts of painful swollen joints, right from lower back pain, arthritic knee pains to tennis elbows. Mostly prescribed for osteoarthritis, gout and spondylitis/spondylosis, it also gives great relief in rheumatism, Ankylosing spondylosis and many less common joint disorders.

2. The leaf oil is also great for hair growth, sound sleep and what’s more, improving memory! So that’s a real beauty & brains back-to-back combo, if you can bear the small bit of slimyness and smell. Just try it and see the results for yourself. (Pro tip – Add a few drops of eucalyptus/clove/mint oil to it get rid of the smell.)

3. The leaf juice is a great antiseptic, especially for infected and dirty wounds. Ancient Indians used Nirgundi leaf poultices in antiseptic field bandages applied on wounds during wars. Nirgundi oil is used as an effective healer for chronic infected wounds.

4. Fresh leaf juice prepared in aseptic conditions is used as eye drops in various ocular infections.

5. Tub bath with Nirgundi decoction is an effective therapy for various inflammatory pathologies in the pelvic region, such as oopharitis, colitis, prostatitis, etc.

6. Nirgundi poultices work specially well for chronic (long-standing) skin diseases.

7. Being a strong antiinflammatory agent, the poultice/oil works great on all kinds of edemas, right from bruises, arthritic joints, enlarged spleen/liver to surface reactions of toxins. The only major exception is edema due to chronic cardiac/renal failure.

8. Gandoosh therapy (holding liquid medicine in mouth) with Nirgundi decoction is used in oral infections and pharyngitis.

9. Idiopathic headaches find very good relief from placing Nirgundi poultices on the head.

image
Like many tropical plants, the younger leaflets are darker in color.

(B) Systemic uses

1. Nirgundi is a potent antiinflammatory, antibiotic and a mild hepatostimulant, which makes it great for almost all types of fevers (exception: Pitta fevers). If you are into herbal medicine, a half-cup Nirgundi decoction (with a pinch of long pepper powder, to add antibiotic strength) can very well be your drug of choice.

2. Did we forget to tell that it is great for appetizing and reducing bloating? Yes it is! You can also add a pinch of black pepper for better taste and added punch.

3. Being a light sedative, it is a very helpful daily supplement for epileptics and people suffering from psychiatric disorders.

4. In addition to topical application, taking the decoction orally is prescribed in severe chronic arthritis and skin diseases.

5. Nirgundi works effectively in reducing pneumonitis and pleuritis caused in respiratory infections.

6. It helps relieve painful menses in women in conditions like endometriosis and inflammatory pelvic disorder.

7. It is also an anti-aging supplement, though rarely used as such nowadays, that is specially useful in preventing dementia and other degenerative disorders of old age.

So what do we do with it?

Potting a Nirgundi plant is quite different than just planting it. Under natural conditions, it can grow up to 4 metres in height, which should not happen in potting. So frequent cropping is a must for potting this one. That though, isn’t a wastage, as you can always use the cropped leaves to make Nirgundi oil that remains good for a year at least, when correctly made. (Just boil the leaves in a carrier oil like sesame or coconut, until all the moisture is boiled off from them, or infuse in sunlight for three days. The oil becomes green by then. Sieve off and store in tight container). Bonsai experts may consider making one maybe, but there is no available data about it having been done earlier.

The usual disclaimer None of the information provided herein is meant to substitute professional medical advice and treatment in serious illness. It is there for informative purposes only. ALWAYS consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before taking any Ayurvedic medicine.

About the author
Dr. Harshad Rajandekar is a practitioner of Ayurvedic and Integrative medicine, based out of Nasik, India. He is also a keen collector and conservator of medicinal herbs.

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