Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha)

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Sarpagandha is botanically Rauwolfia Serpentina and also called Indian snakeroot in English. It is a famous ayurvedic herb used for hypertension (high blood pressure) management. Its root powder (called Sarpagandha Churna) is usually best for using in hypertension than its extract or derivatives to minimize its side effects and increase its effectiveness for long-standing action. It is also used for insomnia (sleeplessness), mental disorders characterized by symptoms like convulsions, excessive talking, maniacal behavior, aggressive behavior etc. In mental disorders, it is generally used along with Jatamansi (Spikenard). This combination calms the central nervous system and reduces anxiety, irritability, and aggression. It can also be used for the treatment of schizophrenia, epilepsy, psychosis and other mental disorders.

Botanical Description

Sarpagandha (Rauwolfia Serpentina) is an evergreen perennial undershrub. It is native to India, Burma, Sri Lanka, China, and Pakistan. In India, it is found in Bihar, Punjab, Orissa, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Maharashtra.

Synonyms & Vernacular Names

Botanical NameRauwolfia Serpentina
Botanical SynonymRauvolfia Serpentina
English NameIndian Snake Wood, Serpentine Wood
Hindi NameSarpagandha, Chandrabagha, Chota chand
Sanskrit NameSarpagandha, Chandarmar
Ayurvedic NameSarpagandha
BengaliChandra
KannadaSutranavi, Patalagondhi, Shivavabhiballi, Sarpagandhi
MalayalamSuvapavalforiyan, Chuvanna-vilpori
TamilChivan amelpodi
Indonesiapule pandak
TeluguPaataala goni, Paataala garuda
UrduAsrel
OriyaSanochada, Patalgarur

Botanical Classification (Plant Taxonomy)

KingdomPlantae
Sub-KingdomViridiplantae
Infra KingdomStreptophyta (Land Plants)
Super DivisionEmbryophyta
DivisionTracheophyta (Tracheophytes or Vascular Plants)
Sub DivisionSpermatophytina (Spermatophytes or Seed Plants)
ClassMagnoliopsida
Super OrderAsteranae
OrderGentianales
FamilyApocynaceae (Apocyns or Dogbane)
GenusRauvolfia L. (Devil’s Pepper)
SpeciesRauwolfia Serpentina (Indian Snake Wood  or Serpentine Wood)

Plant Description

Type of PlantPerennial undershrub
Native RangeIndian subcontinent & east Asia
HeightGrows up to around 2 feet in height
HabitatMoist forests
RootsTuberous and have pale brown cork
LeavesOval leaves present in whorl of 3 with paler green below and dark green above, tip is acuminate and base is slender and tapering
FlowersIrregular corymbose white flowers with violet tinge
FruitsOval fleshy fruits of around 1 cm long, on ripening color turns to shiny purple black
SapMilky sap

Medicinal Parts

Rauwolfia Serpentina roots are used for the medicinal purposes. Its roots contain the highest amount of active substances, which are beneficial as anti-anxiety, sedative, antihypertensive, and relaxing effects.

Phytochemistry (Chemical Composition)

The following phytochemicals are found in Rauwolfia Serpentina roots: (1)

  • RESERPINE
  • RESERPILINE
  • SERPENTINE
  • AJMALINE
  • AJMALICINE
  • AJMALIMINE
  • ARICINE
  • CORYNANTHINE
  • DESERPIDINE
  • RESCINNAMINE
  • RESCINNAMIDINE
  • ISORESERPINE
  • ISORESERPILINE
  • INDOBINE
  • INDOBININE
  • SERPENTININE
  • YOHIMBINE

The main active constituent in Rauwolfia Serpentina is RESERPINE, which is well-known for its antipsychotic and antihypertensive action. The good amount of RESERPINE is present in roots, then stem and leaves. In dry root powder, RESERPINE can be present from 0.03% to 0.14%. (2) Newly identified indole alkaloids are:

  • N(b)-METHYLAJMALINE
  • N(b)-METHYLISOAJMALINE
  • 3-HYDROXYSARPAGINE
  • YOHIMBINIC ACID
  • ISORAUHIMBINIC ACID

New, IRIDOID GLUCOSIDE named 7-EPILOGANIN and new sucrose derivative, 6′-O-(3, 4, 5-TRIMETHOXYBENZOYL) GLOMERATOSE A are also found. (3)

Pharmacological Actions

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) is mainly antihypertensive, sedative, antianxiety, antipsychotic and hypnotic. In addition to these properties, it is also known for anti-proliferative, anti-diuretic, antifungal, antimicrobial, anthelmintic and anti-inflammatory activities.

Medicinal Properties

  • Antihypertensive
  • Antipsychotic (neuroleptic)
  • Hypnotic
  • Sedative
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Antimicrobial
  • Anthelmintic
  • Antifungal
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-proliferative
  • Anti-diuretic

Ayurvedic Properties

RASA (Taste)TIKTA (Bitter)
GUNA (Main Quality)RUKSHA (Dry)
VIRYA (Potency)USHNA (Hot)
VIPAKA (Resultant)KATU (Pungent)
PRABHAVA (Action)Hypnotic
DOSHA KARMA (Effect on Humors)Pacifies VATA DOSHA & KAPHA DOSHA and Increases PITTA DOSHA
Dhatu (Tissue) EffectRASA, RAKTA
Organs EffectNerves, Blood Vessels, Heart, Uterus
Main IndicationInsomnia

Sarpagandha mainly works on VATA DOSHA and KAPHA DOSHA. Therefore, Sarpagandha is most suitable for individuals with VATA and KAPHA dominant symptoms. Sarpagandha may not be suitable for patients with PITTA DOSHA manifestations or should be used with a proper care if required especially with milk. For decreasing its side effects, which occurs due to its effects on the Pitta Dosha, other medicines like Mukta Pishti, Praval Pishti, Rose Flowers or Gulkand, Kushta Zamurd or Panna Pishti, Centella Asiatica, Shankhpushpi, etc. should be used along with it.

Therapeutic Indications

  • Insomnia (Sleeplessness)
  • Epilepsy
  • Psychosis
  • Intestinal Worms
  • Hypertension – High Blood Pressure
  • Dysmenorrhea
  • High-Grade Fever – it reduces fever and feeling of restlessness and discomfort
  • Snakebite
  • Abdominal Pain due to constipation
  • Uncontrollable outburst of fear or emotions
  • Headache
  • Hiccup
  • Whooping Cough
  • Asthma
  • Diarrhea
  • Dysentery
  • Hangover due to excess alcohol intake
  • Uterine Pain due to or after miscarriage

Benefits & Medicinal Uses

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) roots are used for calming the central nervous system. It is helpful for reducing anxiety and maniacal behavior. In Ayurveda, it is also used for the treatment of high blood pressure, diarrhea, dysentery, dysmenorrhea, snakebite, insomnia, mental disorders, headache, epilepsy, whooping cough, hiccup and breathing troubles.

Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

Rauwolfia Serpentina root powder is useful for lowering and managing the blood pressure. RESERPINE presents in the roots binds the VESICULAR MONAMINE TRANSPORTERS (VMATs) and inhibits the uptake of norepinephrine into secretory vesicles and depletes serotonin and catecholamines from the from central and peripheral axon terminals. It results in depletion of neurotransmitters and reduces promulgation of the nerve impulses occurring in the postsynaptic nerve cells. This depletion results in suppression of sympathetic nerve function, which decreases arterial blood pressure and heart rate. Through this action, it reduces the blood pressure. The depletion caused by Serpentina can last for days to weeks, so it exerts long-lasting effects. This action may also cause many side effects for which RESERPINE alkaloid is now rarely used in modern medicine.

However, Rauwolfia Serpentina in crude natural form does not cause severe side effects like its alkaloid RESERPINE. It may be due to other alkaloids present in the roots, which balance or reduce the adverse effects of RESERPINE and each other. Therefore, Ayurveda recommends using Rauwolfia Serpentina in its natural form as a whole root powder or its powder’s tablets (in low dosage i.e. less than 1 gram per day) than its single alkaloid, derivative or extract. In this dosage, the presence of RESERPINE is insignificant to cause any severe side effects, but the whole herb acts wonderfully for the management of hypertension, so we can conclude that Rauwolfia Serpentina also has other active constituents in addition to RESERPINE, which also lowers the blood pressure and reduces the ill effects of each other.

In mild to moderate hypertension, Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna) can be used in the following dosage.

ConditionDosage
Pre-hypertension (Systolic blood pressure 120-139 & Diastolic blood pressure 80-89)Not Recommended, Dietary management is highly recommendable than medicine.
Stage 1 hypertension (Systolic blood pressure 140-159 & Diastolic blood pressure 90-99)200 to 400 mg root powder *
Stage 2 hypertension (Systolic blood pressure ≥ 160 & Diastolic blood pressure ≥ 100)400 to 600 mg root powder *
* Once or Twice Daily
Adjuvants: Cow’s Milk, Rose Distillate (Gulab Arq), or Water
Best Adjuvant: 60 ml Rose Distillate (Gulab Arq)
Note: Dosage can be increased up to 2 grams per day depending on the response and severity of the condition. However, it provides good results when taken in a low (recommended) dosage as in this table and taken for at least 2 weeks regularly. In severe cases, initially, 600 mg can be taken thrice daily and then it should be reduced to minimum effective dosage, which may vary individually, so blood pressure should be monitored on a daily basis for accurate dose adjustment under the supervision of a doctor.

In Ayurveda, Sarpagandha is also used in combinations, which reported safer and more effective for the management of high blood pressure. Mostly used combinations are:

Sarpagandha & Khurasani Ajwain

Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna)1 Part
Khurasani Ajwain1 Part
Jatamansi Root Powder1 Part
Misri (Sugar)2 Parts
Dosage: 1 gram Twice Daily
Adjuvants: Cow’s Milk, Rose Distillate (Gulab Arq), or Water
Best Adjuvant: 60 ml Rose Distillate (Gulab Arq)
For Insomnia: It should be taken 2 hours before bedtime.
Note: It is a good combination for hypertensive people also suffering from insomnia, poor appetite, intestinal gas, bloating, flatulence and dysmenorrhea (in women).

Sarpagandha, Cardamom & Shilajit

Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna)2 Parts
Shilajit2 Parts
Cardamom (Elaichi) Seed Powder1 Part
Dosage: 1 gram Twice Daily
Best Adjuvants: Cow’s Milk
Note: This combination is most suitable for hypertensive people also suffering from diabetes mellitus.

Sarpagandha, Giloy & Amla

Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna)1 Part
Giloy Sat2 Parts
Amla (Indian Gooseberry) Fruit Pulp Powder4 Parts
Misri (Sugar)8 Parts
Dosage: 2 to 4 grams Twice Daily
Best Adjuvant: Water
Note: Giloy Sat is best to include in this combination. If original Giloy Sat is unavailable, then Giloy Stem Powder can be added instead. This combination is also suitable for people with gastritis. It protects the digestive system from Sarpagandha side effects on the stomach.

Sarpagandha, Pushkarmool & Guggul

Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna)1 Part
Pushkarmool1 Part
Shuddha Guggul2 Part
Dosage: 1 grams Twice Daily
Best Adjuvant: 1 Teaspoon Garlic Juice
Note: This combination is most suitable for people who are also suffering from dyslipidemia or high cholesterol.

Sarpagandha, Brahmi, Arjuna, Ashwagandha, Giloy & Jatamansi – Best One

Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna)1 Part
Brahmi – Centella Asiatica1 Part
Arjuna Bark Powder1 Part
Guduchi (Giloy) Stem Powder1 Part
Ashwagandha Root Powder1 Part
Jatamansi Root Powder1 Part
Dosage: 1 to 2 grams Twice Daily
Best Adjuvant: Cow’s Milk
Note: This combination also acts as a heart tonic and prevents cardiac diseases. It is the best combination for the management of heart diseases and hypertension.

Insomnia (Sleeplessness)

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) has hypnotic action, which helps to induce sleep. Its root powder can be used for this purpose along with Rose Distillate (Gulab Arq) 2 hours before sleep. For the best results, Sarpagandha Ghan Vati or the following combination is used in ayurveda.

Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna)1 Part
Khurasani Ajwain1 Part
Misri (Sugar)2 Parts
Dosage: 1 gram Twice Daily
Best Adjuvant: 60 ml Rose Distillate (Gulab Arq)
For Insomnia: It should be taken 2 hours before bedtime.

Mental Disorders

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) has hypnotic, antipsychotic (neuroleptic), sedative and anti-anxiety actions. Therefore, it helps to treat several types of mental disorders with aggression, crying, running, beating and sleeplessness. In such cases, it should be used along with Jatamansi Root Powder as follows:

Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna)1 Part
Jatamansi Root Powder2 Part
Dosage: 1 gram Twice Daily
Best Adjuvant: Cow’s Milk

High-Grade Fever

In some cases, high-grade fever (103 F to 106 F) results in hallucinations, confusion, irritability, and convulsions. In Ayurveda, Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) is best for reducing fever, preventing and treating these symptoms. In high-grade fever, Sarpagandha Powder is used in dosage of 500 mg thrice daily along with Coconut Water (Nariyal Pani) or Rose Distillate (Gulab Arq). Other medicines for treating the underlying cause of fever should also be given.

Hangover due to excess alcohol intake

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) reduces the symptoms of hangover occurring after heavy drinking. It helps to induce sleep and reduces other symptoms. In such case, it should be used along with Rose Distillate (Gulab Arq) in dosage of 1 gram twice daily.

Uterine Pain due to or after miscarriage

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) is useful in the treatment of uterine pain occurring due to miscarriage. It contracts the uterus and helps to eliminate the toxins and residues from the uterine cavity. Then it relaxes the uterine muscles, bleeding stops and pain reduces. In such case, Sarpagandha Churna should be used in dosage of 500 mg thrice daily for 1 to 2 days. Then its dosage should be reduced to 250 mg thrice daily for another 3 days.

Dysmenorrhea (Painful Periods)

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) reduces pains occurring during the menstrual periods. It modulates the blood flow during menstruation and reduces cramps and throbbing pain. In such case, its root powder can be used in following way.

Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna)1 Part
Jatamansi Root Powder1 Part
Dosage: 1 gram Twice Daily for 2 to 3 days
Best Adjuvant: Water

Dysentery

Along with Kutajarishta, Sarpagandha Powder in dosage of 250 mg thrice daily is useful for treating dysentery. It reduces frequency of loose stools, checks bleeding and alleviates pain.

Snake Bite

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) is a drug of choice in ayurveda for bite by SAW SCALED VIPER SNAKE (PHURSA SNAKE). Its roots decoction prepared with following technique is useful for the treatment of snake poison.

Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna)10 grams
Kali Mirch (Black Pepper)3 grams
Water1 Liter
Preparation: Mix ingredients and boil the water with Sarpagandha and Black pepper and reduce it to half (i.e. 500 ml liquid).
Dosage: Patient should sip the decoction on regular interval and finish it within 24 hours. After finishing this decoction, then patient should take 500 mg Sarpagandha Powder with honey thrice daily for 5 to 10 days for complete relief from snake poison.
Note: Local application of paste prepared from radish (Mooli) should also be applied regularly on internal of 30 minutes until symptoms of snake poison subside.

Dosage & Administration

The general dosage of Rauwolfia Serpentina Root Powder (Sarpagandha Churna) is as follows.
Children100 mg to 300 mg *
Adults200 mg to 600 mg *
Maximum Possible Dosage2 grams Per Day (in divided doses) **
* Twice or Thrice day with Cow’s Milk, Rose Distillate (Gulab Arq), or Water
** The maximum dosage of Rauwolfia Serpentina is a general estimate.
Best Time to Take: After Food

Safety Profile

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) is well-tolerated in most individuals in the recommended dosage. It may also have a few side effects in which it should be stopped or taken along with herbs, which helps to reduce its side effects.

Side Effects

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) can cause following side effects.

  • Stuffy nose or Nasal Congestion (Most Common)
  • Dryness of the mouth (Most Common)
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Swelling of lower legs or feet

Rauwolfia Serpentina alkaloid can cause following side effects in addition to above listed side effects:

  • Faintness or Drowsiness
  • Impotence in men
  • Feeling of weakness or loss of energy
  • Reduced attention span
  • Mental depression
  • Nervousness
  • Vivid dreams
  • Early morning sleeplessness
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Blood in vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Difficult or painful urination
  • Itching
  • Skin Rash
  • Stiffness
  • Trembling
  • Bruising

If any of these side effects occurs, then you should stop the use of Rauwolfia Serpentina alkaloid immediately and consult your physician.

Overdose Symptoms

The overdose of Rauwolfia Serpentina can cause following unwanted effects.

  • Heating sensation in the body
  • Slow heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness

Pregnancy

Rauwolfia Serpentina is likely UNSAFE during pregnancy because it can pass through the placental barrier and cause unwanted effects and birth defects.  According to rat study, it can decrease the survival rate of newborn babies. In pregnant women, it can cause Loss of appetite and breathing difficulties. These side effects can also appear in baby after birth. Therefore, all forms of Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) should be avoided during pregnancy.

Lactation

The alkaloids of Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) may also pass into the breastmilk. It would be best to avoid all forms of Rauwolfia Serpentina by lactating mothers.

It can cause following side effects in breastfeeding infant.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Breathing troubles
  • Low body temperature

Contraindications

Rauwolfia Serpentina (Sarpagandha) should not be used in the following health conditions:

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease – ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • Bradycardia (slow heartbeat)
  • Gastritis (alone should not be used.)
  • Peptic Ulcers
  • Depression
  • Parkinsonism

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