For centuries, Ayurvedic medicine has given immense importance to unctuous or oily substances.
Specially prepared Ayurvedic oil has various nutritional and therapeutic benefits. These benefits depend on the properties of the oil and the medicinal herbs used, as well as the application of the oil, whether internally or externally.
As Ayurveda is being rediscovered, the most popular forms of Ayurvedic oil are bhringaraj oil, mahanarayan oil, manjishtadi oil, and kumkumadi oil or what we like to call kesaradi oil. Let’s take a look at these oils and what you’ll learn in this article.
In Ayurveda, oil is used in different ways including cooking, raw consumption, massage, oil pulling, kayaseka (oil bathing), basti (colon nourishment) and nasya (nasal passage nourishment and flushing).
Oil is assimilating in nature. This makes it a perfect substance to assimilate the properties of other unctuous substances or herbs, providing the right type of nourishment in different health conditions.
Ayurvedic oil is lubricating, soothing, moistening, and calming to the body and senses. In Sanskrit, the word oil is called ‘sneha‘.
Sneha is also a word for love and therefore holds a special place in the Ayurvedic tradition. Sneha nourishes the body and mind with it’s loving, soothing and unctuous touch.
The ultimate nourisher, Ayurvedic oil transmits its qualities deep into the body’s tissues.
Ayurveda talks about four unctuous substances in the ancient Ayurvedic texts: Sarpi(Ghee or clarified butter), Taila (oil), Vasa (muscle fat) and Majja (bone marrow).1
It has been mentioned in the revered Ayurvedic text ‘Charak Samhita’ that oil alleviates Vata but does not aggravate Kapha.
It promotes bodily strength (Bal vardhanam), is beneficial for the skin (twachyam), hot in potency, stabilizes the body, senses and controls the morbidity of female genital organs.2
Ancient Ayurvedic master Vagbhata mentions that the use of oil is best for disorders of Kapha aggravation, fat tissue, and Vata aggravation.
It is good for those who desire sturdiness of the body and for those with hard bowel movements. It is advocated by Vagbhata as suitable for a disease like sinus problems, ulcers, and worm manifestation.3
In Ayurveda, oils have been used in their pure form as well as in preparations that incorporate decoctions and pastes of herbs.
These oils are pure, cold pressed, whole and similar in properties to their source, the oil’s seed. Sesame oil, mustard oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and sunflower oil are examples of whole, base oils.
These oils are prepared in base oils with decoctions and / or pastes of herbs. Oil is an assimilator. It imbibes the qualities of the herbs, giving a nourishing, calming, soothing and healing effect to the body.
The masters of Ayurveda have mentioned many types of base oils with their effects on the body.
Sesame oil is sweet with an accompanying astringent after taste. It is hot in potency which alleviates Vata dosha without increasing Kapha dosha.
Due to its sukshma (minute) property it can penetrate through the subtle channels of the body and nourish the channels from deep within.
The vyavayi (disseminating) property of the oil adds to its spreading nature and helps to spread the sesame oil quickly to every part of the body.
It binds stools and reduces the frequency of urine. It is considered best among all the substances which alleviate Vata.
Sesame oil helps in promoting strength and is good for skin health. It promotes the power of digestion. When mixed with various herbs, it acquires their qualities without losing its own properties.
Ayurveda says that the term ‘taila’ specifically means the oil of sesame unless specified otherwise. Such importance was given to sesame oil for its therapeutic and nutritional value.4
Castor Oil (Eranda)
Castor oil is bitter, pungent and sweet in taste. It is heavy in property, and sara (spreading in nature). It is sukshma (minute) and so it pacifies both Kapha and Vata dosha.
It spreads in the body and specifically normalizes the natural flow of Vata.
It has been mentioned in the ancient texts for diseases of enlargement of the scrotum and abdomen, for intermittent fever, pains and swellings especially of the waist, genitals, abdomen, and back of the body.
Castor is specifically used in traditional Ayurveda for Vata pacifying purgation treatments for many diseases.5
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Mustard Oil (Sarshapa)
Mustard oil is pungent, light in property, hot in potency and penetrating in nature. It pacifies Kapha and Vata dosha. It can aggravate Pitta and can vitiate the blood in those with a Pitta constitution.
It is thought to be easily digestible. It is said to cure rashes, itching on the skin and is useful in different skin conditions, hemorrhoids, ulcers, and worms.6
Mustard oil is widely used in cooking and is acclaimed for its cleansing, stimulating and revitalizing effect.
It is traditionally used for abhyanga (Ayurvedic body massage) in overweight individuals due to it’s hot and penetrating effect.
Coconut Oil (Narikela)
Coconut oil has a sweet taste. It is considered nourishing, strengthening, good for the hair and good for the teeth.6 It helps in balancing Pitta and Vata dosha.
Coconut oil takes a long time to digest and is supposedly a natural aphrodisiac. It is used in certain treatments for emaciation, skin conditions and for nourishing the body tissues.
It is also used in cooking and for centuries has been used for hair health because of its nourishing and strengthening qualities. This oil is used in summer due to its coolant property. It is soothing to the body and senses.
Neem Oil (Nimba)
For thousands of years, various parts of the neem tree have been used for everyday use to promote good health. Neem oil is bitter in taste and cooling in nature and this coolness helps in balancing Pitta especially when there is excess heat in rakta dhatu (blood tissue).
Neem is cold, light and dry which sometimes tends to aggravate Vata. It is used with other herbs to reduce excess Vata effects in the body.
It helps in mitigating microbes, pacifies Kapha and is used in several skin conditions.7 It supports healthy digestion and awakens medo dhatu agni (digestive or metabolic energy in the adipose tissue) leading to proper metabolism.
It helps in proper fat and water digestion and elimination of excess water retention from the body due too it’s Kapha pacifying effects.
It’s bitter nature also improves the taste buds which is the first step for proper digestion.
Neem oils are traditionally applied to the skin with a burning sensation and to irritated skin. It gives a soothing, calming effect and supports healthy skin.
Herbal preparations of Ayurvedic oil are used for various conditions and their use depends upon the base oil and the herbs they are cured with. The following Ayurvedic oils are some examples.8
Traditionally used for shiro abhyanga (Ayurvedic head massage), Tungdrumadi oil provides a soothing effect to the head and eyes and is used to help induce sound sleep.
Mahanarayan oil is a body massage oil used to support the proper working of the muscles and joints and relieve occasional pain.
Prasaranyadi oil is used externally for body massage. It is mainly used for stiffness of the body. It strengthens the muscles and bones.
Kanaka oil is used externally for face massage. It makes the skin glow.
Shadbindu oil is used for nasya (nasal instillation) to balance Kapha in the neck and head region.
Bhringraj oil is used externally for head massage. It helps to make dull, weak hair healthy.
Bhringamalaki oil is used externally for shiroabhyanga. It is a perfect blend of brhingaraj and amalaki to soothe the senses.
Pinda oil is used externally for abhyanga, body and foot massage. It perfectly pacifies both Vata and Pitta, soothes burning sensations of any kind and moisturizes the skin.
Modern research has been conducted on the base oils advocated by the Ayurvedic texts. Initial results are quite encouraging and pave the way for further research. Below is a quick review of what was found.
Effect On Pain
A randomized clinical trial was conducted on 150 patients with upper or lower extremities trauma in Dezful Ganjavian Hospital, Ahvaz, Iran, in 2014.
Data was collected by a researcher-made questionnaire and Visual Analogue Scale (VAS). Patients were divided randomly into two groups, control (n = 75) and intervention (n = 75). In the intervention group, patients applied topical sesame oil besides receiving routine care, while in the control group patients just received routine care.
The severity of pain and frequency of received NSAIDs was assessed in the first, third, seventh and tenth days after the intervention in both groups. Data was analyzed by SPSS 19 software using descriptive and analytic (Chi-square and independent sample t-test) statistical methods. Based on the student sample t-test, there was a significant difference between intervention and control groups regarding the pain severity in the first (P = 0.06), third (P = 0.001), seventh (P = 0.001) and tenth (P = 0.001) day after the intervention. Besides, the frequency of received NSAIDs in the intervention group and the control group showed a significant difference in four days after the intervention (for four days P = 0.001).
Topical application of sesame oil could reduce pain severity and frequency of received NSAIDs in patients with upper or lower extremities trauma. Therefore, it is recommended to use sesame oil in complementary medicine for pain relief due to low cost, easy usage and lack of adverse effects.9
Effect On Wound Healing
The hypothesis that ozonated oil has wound healing properties was investigated in an excision wound model using Sprague Dawley rats.
The animals were divided into four groups which were treated with sesame oil (vehicle), framycetin (standard), or two doses of ozonated sesame oil (peroxide values 500 and 700 mEq/1000 g, respectively). The formulations were topically applied on the excision wounds once daily for 11 consecutive days and the animals were euthanized on the 12th day.
Wound healing was assessed by measuring the wound contraction, tensile strength, collagen content and superoxide dismutase activity of skin of the excised wound area. On a terminal day, areas of the wounds of the group receiving high dose ozonated oil were significantly smaller than those of the group treated with vehicle.
Ozonated oil treated wounds had significantly higher tensile strength, collagen content and superoxide dismutase activity than that of the vehicle treated wounds. Histopathological analysis of skin of the excised wound area treated with ozonated oil revealed better healing activity vis-à-vis vehicle-treated wounds. Thus, it can be concluded that ozonated oil can be of potential therapeutic use for healing wounds.10
Effect On Blood Pressure
Having sesame oil regularly can help control high blood pressure, mostly due to its abundance of sesamin.
In one study, 50 hypertensive patients on antihypertensive medication (diuretics and beta-blockers) were asked to add sesame oil to their diet in place of other edible oils. After 45 days, both systolic and diastolic pressure showed significant improvements. Incidentally, body weight and body mass index (BMI) also reduced.
Other notable changes included a drop in triglyceride levels and a rise in levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene.11
Effect On Skin
Packed with vitamin E, sesame oil acts as an emollient, making the skin soft and supple. The oil has natural antibacterial properties against commonly occurring skin pathogens such as Streptococcus and Staphylococcus. It has natural antifungal properties against skin fungi such as athlete’s foot. It can be used to treat eczema and mild burns.12
Effect On Wound Healing
Partial thickness burn wounds were inflicted upon four groups of six rats each. Group I was assigned as control, Group II received the standard silver sulphadiazine.
Group III was given pure oil of Cocos nucifera (coconut oil), and Group IV received the combination of the oil and the standard.
The parameters observed were epithelialization period and percentage of wound contraction. It was noted that there was a significant improvement in burn wound contraction in the group treated with the combination of Cocos nucifera and silver sulphadiazine.
The period of epithelialization also decreased significantly in groups III and IV. It is concluded that oil of Cocos nucifera is an effective burn wound healing agent.13
A randomized double-blind controlled clinical trial was conducted on mild to moderate xerosis in 34 patients with negative patch-test reactions to the test products.
These patients were randomized to apply either coconut oil or mineral oil on the legs twice a day for 2 weeks.
Quantitative outcome parameters for effectivity were measured at baseline and on each visit with a Corneometer CM 825 to measure skin hydration and a Sebumeter SM810 to measure skin lipids.
For safety, transepidermal water loss (TEWL) was measured with a Tewameter TM 210, and skin surface hydrogen ion concentration (pH) was measured with a Skin pH Meter PH900.
Patients and the investigator separately evaluated, at baseline and at each weekly visit, skin symptoms of dryness, scaling, roughness, and pruritus by using a visual analog scale and grading of xerosis.
Coconut oil and mineral oil have comparable effects. Both oils showed effectivity through significant improvement in skin hydration and an increase in skin surface lipid levels.
Safety was demonstrated through no significant difference in TEWL and skin pH. Subjective grading of xerosis by the investigators and visual analog scales used by the patients showed a general trend toward better (though not statistically evident) improvement with coconut oil than with mineral oil.
Safety for both was further demonstrated by negative patch-test results prior to the study and by the absence of adverse reactions during the study.
Coconut oil is as effective and safe as mineral oil when used as a moisturizer.14
Gandush or oil pulling is a traditional practice of holding a spoonful of sesame oil and / or coconut oil in your mouth for about 15 minutes on an empty stomach. It is believed to pull out toxins and improve oral health.
Since Ayurveda states that teeth are directly connected to certain parts of your body, gandush is believed to affect overall health as well.
In the Charaka Samhita, the ancient Ayurvedic text, the process is described as being able to cure 30 systemic diseases ranging from migraine headaches to asthma and diabetes.
Though other oils can be used, sesame oil is the preferred oil for gandush.15
Cooking With Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is great for cooking at high heat because of its high smoke point. Many other oils like olive oil can oxidize when heated but coconut oil is made up of healthy saturated fats and it remains stable under high temperatures.
Sesame Oil For Deep Conditioning
Warm the oil and combine it with any deep conditioner. Apply the mixture onto your hair and leave it on for at least one hour.
For maximum results, leave it on overnight.
Sesame Oil With Coconut Oil Hair Moisturizer
Combine two teaspoons of sesame oil and two teaspoons of coconut oil in a bowl. Using your fingertips, start massaging the oil into your scalp and then work it into your hair.
Ensure that the entire length of your hair is covered with the oil when you are done.
Once your hair is covered in the oil blend, wrap it with a hot towel.
You can heat up a towel by wetting it in hot water. Leave it on for 30-40 minutes and then rinse the oil out with a mild shampoo.
Coconut Oil With Curry Leaves
Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the curry leaves. Warm the leaves until you see a black residue forming around the leaves. Set the oil aside to cool. Once the oil has cooled strain out the leaves.
Start massaging the cooled oil into your scalp and then work it into your hair. Ensure that the whole length of your hair is covered when you are done.
Once your hair is covered in the oil blend, wrap it with a hot towel. You can heat up a towel by wetting it in hot water. Leave it on for 30-40 minutes and then rinse the oil out with a mild shampoo.
Oral Consumption Of Coconut Oil
Consume one teaspoon of unrefined, organic coconut oil per day. You can eat it straight out of the jar, or cook or bake with it as it is heat-stable. Toss it into your soups or smoothies, or make coconut butter. The options are limitless! Enjoy!
Pichu (Oil Swab) For Nourishing Joints, Spine And Head
Pichu is an Ayurvedic procedure done mainly to treat local aggravation of Vata dosha. Pichu is considered to be a good procedure for dealing with Vata aggravation in the head, joints, and spine.
So it is traditionally used in conditions where moist heat and nourishment are required. Pichu is also traditionally used for stiffness of the lower back and calf muscles.
It is traditionally used on the head to give deep nourishment in various conditions marked by Vata aggravation.
Pichu is an external treatment using a folded dry cotton cloth, sized just enough to cover the concerned area. Thickness of this folded cloth is normally that of a palm.
Now, at the center of the cloth a hole is made and slightly warmed oil is poured through it periodically.
This cloth, soaked in a warm base oil or an herbal oil, is applied onto the area. Throughout the procedure, the oil is heated periodically and kept lukewarm.
The cotton soaked in the oil is left to stay on the affected area for 20 – 30 minutes all the way through the procedure.
Oils that can be used for pichu are sesame oil, prasaranyadi oil, tungdrumadi oil (on the head) and mahanarayan oil.
Sesame and mustard oil can be used as an oil massage at home to strengthen the muscles and bones. For this procedure, you can use sesame oil, mustard oil or prasaranyadi oil.
Warm the oil before you start, up to or a degree or two above the normal body temperature. Always check the temperature of the oil on the back of your hand. The room should be warm and the oil should be applied either in a sitting or standing position.
First and foremost, apply the oil to these three areas, the head, the ear lobes and the base of the feet. Here’s a short description of how to do self-massage.
Apply oil to the crown of the head (adhipati marma) where vital energy is concentrated as this spot has maximum absorbability. Then apply on the ear lobes which have many marma points and nerve endings, followed by the feet which is also a seat of important marma points.
Massage each of these body parts gently, one after the other.
Apply oil on the limbs and massage with long strokes. Use circular motions on the joints.
Apply on the abdomen and chest using clockwise, circular strokes.
This should take 20 – 30 minutes. Take a hot water bath after 30 minutes.
Under Eye Care
Don’t want to spend the extra money on an under-eye cream? Use a dab of coconut oil on under-eye bags and fine lines and massage gently. This is gentle enough for the most delicate skin on your face.
Mix half a cup of coconut oil with a handful of coarse salt or sugar to create an exfoliator. Rub it on the desired area and let the moisturizing oil stay after the grains have melted away. Wipe with a moist tissue. After one hour, take a bath.
Stretch Marks + Scars
Expecting moms should keep a jar of coconut oil nearby to help lighten stretch marks. Massage the skin over the baby bump regularly. Anyone can use this as a topical treatment for scars to make them less obvious.
Please consult a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner before using any Ayurvedic oil mentioned in this article.
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