Guduchi: The one who protects the body

By Carla Kennedy
December 2009


Guduchi is one of the most highly valued and common herbs in Ayurvedic medicine.  It has a rich history in the Indian sub-continent where it has been used and written about for thousands of years.   It is considered one of the best rasayanas (adaptogens) and is unusual in its potent versatility.   In recent years, significant progress has been attained regarding its biological activity and medicinal applications. 

    Guduchi, as it is most commonly called, has been described as “one which protects the body”. (Pole 189)  The Sanskrit and Hindi name Amrita is derived from ancient Hindu scriptures where Amrita was used to bring the dead back to life and keep gods from growing ill and old.  It is no wonder that it is also referred to as “nectar of immortality” and “heavenly elixir”.  Its scientific name is Tinospora cordifolia and is in the Family Menispermaceae.  Common names include: Guduchi, amrita (Sanskrit), giloya, amrita (Hindi), giloe, gulancha (Bengali), gado, galo (Gujarati), duyutige, teppatige (Telugu), heartleaf moonseed, Tinospora (English). (1, 2, 9, 11)

    It is a woody climbing shrub that is deciduous and perennial.  This herbaceous vine grows on hedges and trees.  It is often seen growing up mango or neem trees.  Herbalist Sebastian Pole writes that “those growing up neem trees are said to be the best as the synergy between these two bitter plants enhances guduchi’s efficacy.”  It is indigenous to areas of India, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.  Guduchi typically grows in deciduous and dry forests at elevations up to 1000 ft.  Its flowers bloom in summer.  The male flower is small, yellow or green in color, and occurs in clusters.  Female flowers are usually solitary and are green.  The fruits are the size and shape of a large pea and turn from green to red when ripe in winter.  The leaves are heart shaped (giving the name cordifolia to the plant) and mucilaginous.  Its stems, when fresh, have a green succulent bark covered by a thin brown bark and are studded with warty lenticels.  When dry, the stem shrinks and the bark separate from the wood.  The roots are long narrow aerial roots that arise from the branches.  The stems, leaves, and roots are used in medicine.  All three parts should be collected in the summer when the bitter qualities are most abundant and, if not used fresh, dried in the shade.   Guduchi grows well without fertilizer or pesticide making it simple to grow.  It is easy to recognize and can be propagated by cuttings. (1, 2, 3, 4, 6)

Ayurvedic Qualities
    Guduchi has always been a very important herb in Ayurvedic medicine.  Ayurvedic herbalists generally describe it as having these qualities: (1) Rasa (taste): bitter and astringent, (2) Guna (quality): light and unctuous, (3) Virya (potency): heating, (4) Vipaka (post-digestive effect): sweet, (5) Prabhava (special action): destroys toxins both internally and externally, (6) Doshakarma (energetics): Tridoshic, VPK=.   Tridoshic in nature, its bitter and astringent properties and sweet post-digestive effect reduces pitta.  The bitter, astringent, and heating qualities reduce kapha.   Vata is reduced by its heat and sweet post-digestive qualities.  Its heat burns up ama yet doesn’t aggravate pitta and its sweet post-digestive effect gives it a nourishing rejuevenative quality.  (1, 2, 7, 9)

Actions and Indications
    Unusual in its qualities, Guduchi has a large variety of actions and is indicated in the treatment of many ailments.  Ayurveda traditionally describes the following actions: Increases appetite, quenches thirst, increases strength, promotes life, increases life span, aphrodisiac, increases sexual potency, purifier of sperm, cleans the blood, relieves gout, relieves arthritis, alleviates skin disorders, destroys toxins, reduces burning sensations, reduces fevers, nerve tonic, bitter tonic, causes constipation, and rejuvenative.  It is described in more modern and Western terms as having similar actions: Febrifuge, anti-periodic, alterative, diuretic, aphrodisiac, cholagogue, anti-inflammatory, anthelmintic, nerve tonic, bitter tonic, anti-rheumatic, and de-toxicant. (1, 2, 7, 9, 13)

    Guduchi is incredibly versatile and is indicated for potential use in the following conditions: Fever, hepatitis, liver damage, jaundice, diabetes, heart disease, tuberculosis, arthritis, gout, hemorrhoids, eczema, psoriasis, lupus, inflammatory skin conditions, autoimmune disease causing inflammation, urinary disease, secondary syphilis, bronchitis, chronic diseases of diarrhea and dysentery, seminal weakness, dyspepsia, general debility, leprosy, anemia, colic, worms, senile diseases, hyperacidity, and snake bite. (2, 7, 9)

Traditional Ayurvedic Preparations
    A potent classical herb, Guduchi is used as an important ingredient in a number of Ayurvedic formulations.  While the dried stem forms the raw material for many herbal preparations, the roots and leaves are also important.  The fresh plant is said to be more effective than the dry one.  However, it is traditionally dried and made into a starchy extract called Guduchi Sattva.   Dr. Gyanendra Pandey writes that Guduchi Sattva “is highly valued for many ailments.  Fevers, chronic diarrhea, chronic dysentery, burning sensation, secondary syphilis, chronic gonorrhea, leucorrhoea, jaundice, rheumatism, urinary disorders, and some other ailments”.  Dr. K.M. Nadkarni describes how it is made “The watery extract is prepared by powdering the stem and washing out the starch with water and drying the sediment.  Pandit Jayakrshna says “that as the deposit settles the sooner it is dried the better.  It is similar to arrow-root in appearance.”  Another common preparation is a watery extract, often called Indian quinine, which is used in malaria, leprosy, and common fevers due to cold or indigestion.  In the ancient text Caraka Samhita 50 great extract categories are described and Guduchi is included in two: Anti-saturative and refrigerant. (1, 2, 5)

Formulas from Caraka-an ancient physician
    The Caraka Samhita (written by Caraka between 1500BCE and 500BCE) is the oldest and perhaps the greatest classical text of Ayurveda.  It contains a vast amount of information on classical Ayurvedic herbal formulas.  Among them Chyavanprash is the most popular rasayana (rejuvenative tonic) formula in India today.  Like all traditional Ayurvedic formulas, the exact herbal combination can differ but most ingredients are the same.  At the end of Caraka’s description of the formula and how it is made he states “This is the famous “cyavanaprasa, an excellent rasayana.  Particularly it alleviates cough and dyspnoea, is useful for the wasted, injured and old people and promotes development of children.  It alleviates hoarseness of voice, chest diseases, heart disease, vatarakta, thirst and disorders of urine and semen.  It should be taken in the dose which does not interfere with the food (intake and digestion).  By using this (rasayana) the extremely old Cyavana regained youthful age.  If this rasayana is used by the indoor method, even the old attains intellect, memory, luster, freedom from diseases, longevity, strength of senses, sexual vigour, increased agni (digestion and metabolism), fairness of complexion and carmination of wind.  One, shedding the form of the old age, puts on that of the fresh youth.”(5)

     Charaka described over two dozen poly-herbal formulas that include Guduchi and that are used for a wide variety of ailments.  One un-named rasayana formulation is  stated  “If this formulation is used regularly for three years, the person attains a life-span of hundred years free from old age, acquires knowledge, his diseases are alleviated, poison becomes ineffective in his body which is rendered firm as stone and he becomes invincible foe the organisms.  Another was described as an “intellect-promoting rasayana drug”.  He states “…these rasayana drugs are life-promoting, disease-alleviating, promoters of strength, agni, complexion, voice and are intellect-promoting.” (5)

    He described a number of anti-pyretic formulas.  For chronic fevers, cold fevers, relapsing fevers and “certain fevers”.  One anti-pyretic formulation has these stated qualities “These extracts are antipyretic appetizer, digestive for dosa and alleviate thirst, anorexia and distaste of mouth.”  Two were to be used specifically for all types of prameha. There was also one for edema in vata combined with pitta. (5)

    A formulation Caraka called fifth alkali, “taken by those suffering from piles caused by kapha and vata, grahani disorder and anemia.  This alkali is an excellent promoter of agni and alleviates splenomegaly, retention of urine, dyspnoea, hiccup, cough, worms, fever, wasting, diarrhea, edema, prameha, hardness in bowels, cardiac pain and all kinds of poison.  After the drug is digested, the patient should eat with sweet meat-soups or milk.” (5)

     A medicated ghee called Guducyadi ghrta “alleviates gulma, dyspnoea, wasting and cough.  Guducyadi ghrta is mentioned in the Susruta Samhita where Susruta states “…would be attended by good results in cases of consumption, asthma, cough and chronic fever”.  One un-named formulation  “kept for whole night in water should be given to alleviate thirst and erysipelas”.   He also described one for disorders of the female genital tract and another for kaphaja vomiting.  And yet another formula for “vata vitiated … trembling of head” (5)
    The formula Amrta taila lists Guduchi as the main herb.  Caraka writes “This oil known as”amrta taila”is one of the best oils” “It brings back to normalcy the persons with diminished energy, agni and strength and confused mind and suffering from insanity, restlessness and epilepsy.  It is an excellent alleviator of vatika disorders.”  “This is delivered by the teacher Krsnatreya and is honoured by physicians.”   For Vrsamuladi taila he states “this oil should be used in patients broken and shattered by (disorders of) vata.”  Another oil has different qualities “This known as “Mulaka taila” (oil prepared with roots) alleviates spleen enlargement, retention of urine, dyspnoea, cough and vatika disorders and promotes complexion, life span and strength.” (5)
    Caraka thinks highly of Amrtadya taila.  “This oil when prepared is useful in all ways in vatarakta, wasting due to chest wound, afflicition by overload, deficiency of semen, trembling, convulsions, fractures and diseases generalized or localized.  This known as “Amrta” is the best among oil and alleviates diseases of female genital track, epilepsy, insanity, limping and lameness and makes delivery of fetus easy.” (5)

    Lastly, Caraka described a number of formulas for unctuous and non-unctuous enemas.  For one called Erandabasti  he states “Is appetizer and reducing and alleviates pain in shanks, thighs, feet, sacrum and back; covering by kapha, obstruction of vayu, retention of feces, urine and flatus, colic pain, tympanitis, calculus, gravels, harness of bowels, piles and disorders of grahani.”  Another un-named enema is stated “This oil used in forms of intake, massage and unctuous enema alleviates quickly the disorders of skin, worms, prameha, piles, disorders of grahani, impotency, irregularity of digestive fire, excrement and three dosas.  This unctuous enema provides strength to those wasted due to disease, physical exercise, evacuative measures and wayfaring, debilitated, devoid of ojas and having diminished semen.  Moreover, it gives good firmness to feet, shanks, thighs, back, shoulder and waist and virility to sterile women and men.”  One un-named formula is described as “for heart, bladder, head…used as urethral douche or non-unctuous enema in a person evacuated, uncted and fomented alleviates pain in bladder and other urinary disorders.” (5)

    Caraka’s last un-named unctuous preparation is described as an excellent aphrodisiac   “This is excellently beneficial for man enjoying women excessively having diminished semen, suffering from chest would, wasting and intermittent fever and for women having disorders of genital track, sterility, accumulation of menstrual blood, dead progeny and amenorrhea and for those having deficiency of muscle and blood.  It is excellent rasayana and destroyer of wrinkles and graying of hairs.” (5)

Modern Research
    While a lot of preliminary research has been done, science has just scratched the surface on the potential effects of Tinospora cordifolia in the human body.  Most research has been done in test tubes (in vitro) or in animals (in vivo) and has yielded some impressive results.  A large variety of chemical constituents have now been isolated from Tinospora cordifolia.  The major isolated compounds belong to a variety of classes such as alkaloids, diterpenoids lactones, glycosides, steroids, sesquiterpenoids, phenolics, aliphatic compounds, and polysaccharides.  The leaves have also been found to be abundant in protein and fairly high in calcium and phosphorous. (3, 4, 6, 8, 11, 13)

    The usefulness of Tinospora cordifolia as a cognitive enhancer has been substantiated by some research.  For example, healthy volunteers were given an aqueous extract for three weeks in a double blind study.  They were found to have a significant increase in test scores for logical memory and verbal memory.  A study gave aqueous and alcoholic extracts to normal and cyclosporine induced cognition deficient rats.  Tinospora cordifolia not only enhanced the cognition in normal rats but also in the rats treated with cyclosporine. (4, 14, 15)

Guduchi has been studied for its hypoglycemic actions.  Crude ethyl acetate, dichloromethane (CDM), chloroform and hexane stem extracts of Tinospora cordifolia was studied for inhibition of the alpha glucosidase enzyme.  The enzyme was inhibited by Tinospora and the hyperglycemic increase was decreased by 50% in normal animals and 58% in diabetic animals.  Another study used an aqueous extract of Tinospora cordifolia to test insulin resistance and oxidative stress in rats.  Tinospora cordifolia treatment prevented the increase in glucose by 21.3%, insulin by 51.5%, triglycerides by 54.12%, and glucose-insulin index by 59.8 of the rats fed fructose without the addition of Tinospora extract.  Also, Tinospora cordifolia treatment was effective in preventing the fructose-induced abnormalities in the liver involving lipid peroxidation, protein carbonyl groups, GSH levels, and enzymatic antioxidants.  (4, 21, 22)

    Tinospora supplies protection against gamma irradiation in mice.  Administration of an alcohol stem extract to mice 1 hour before whole body gamma irradiation was shown to increase survival, prevent body weight loss, increase the number of colony forming unit counts in the spleen, restore total lymphocyte counts, increase impaired S-phase cell population and decrease irradiation induced micronuclei.  In another study an aqueous extract was used on mice before being exposed to gamma radiation.  The results showed various amounts of protection against the radiation through increased survival time and signs and symptoms of radiation sickness. (4, 11, 16, 17)

    Looking into the immune system’s response to tumors one study showed the activation of tumor associated macrophages in Dalton’s lymphoma, a spontaneous transplantable T cell lymphoma, in response to an alcohol extract of Tinospora cordifolia.  Another study by the same authors again found an increase in the count of tumor associated macrophages. The researches also found an increase in the number and myeloid differentiation of bone marrow hematopoietic precursor cells in mice bearing Dalton’s lymphoma.  Further research on it’s anti-tumor activities used  a methanol extract found that it increased the white blood cell count, maturation of bone marrow stem cells, and increased immune response as seen in macrophage activation, and plaque-forming spleen cells.  The reduction in solid tumor growth was significant. (4, 18, 19, 20)

Guduchi has been one of the most versatile and important herbs in the Indian sub-continent since ancient times.  An enormous amount of knowledge has been accumulated by thousands of years of direct observation and trial and error.  In our modern era, impressive research has been done on the biological activity and possible application of Guduchi and its chemical constituents.  Guduchi may have been favorably used for thousands of years but modern herbal pharmacology appears to have just begun to appreciate “the one who protects the body”.


Works Cited
1.    Nadkarni K. M., Nadkarni A.K. (Eds) Indian Materia Medica (3rd ed) Vol. 1. Mumbai:Popular Prakashan Private Limited  pp. 356-365, 1220-1221
2.    Pandey G. (2002) Dravyaguna Vijnana (2nd ed) Vol. 1. Varuanasi: Krishnadas Academy pp. Vol. 1 pp.697-710
3.    Tinopsora.
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5.    Caraka (2008) Caraka Samhita (Sharma P. Ed. and Trans.) Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientalia Vol.1 pp. 9-11, 23, 71-73, 79, 85, 120, 121, 191, 266, 267, 316, 339, 427, 431, 449, 464, 477, 478, 496, 607, 610, 615, 616, 678. Vol. 2 pp.15, 21, 26, 28, 29
6.    Premila M.S. (2006) Ayurvedic Herbs: A clinical Guide to the Healing Plants of Traditional Indian Medicine. New York: Haworth Press  pp. 69-76, 175, 176
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8.    Williamson E. M. (Ed) (2002) Major Herbs of Ayurveda. London: Elsevier Science Limited  pp. 302-305
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10.    Frawley D. (2000) Ayurvedic Healing. Wisconsin: Lotus Press pp.154, 158, 168, 266, 270, 282, 286
11.     Evaluation of a New Class 1 Substance, Tinospora cordifolia (Guduchi) (2006 September) IJEACCM 03 Item 3.2.4
12.      Ghishagratna K. K. (2003) Susruta Samhita (Dwivedi L. Ed.) Varanasi:Chowkhamba Sanskrit series Office.  pp.360
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14.     Bairy K.L., Rao Y., Kumar K.B. (2004) Efficacy of Tinospora cordifolia on Learning and Memory in Healthy Volunteers: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo Controlled Study. Iranian Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics. July Vol.3, No.2. pp.57-60
15.    Agarwal A., Malini S., Bairy K.L., Rao M.S. (2002) Effect of Tinospora cordifolia on Learning and Memory in Normal and Memory Deficit Rats. Indian Journal of Pharmacology. Pp.339-349
16.    Goel H.C., et al. (2004) Radioprotective Potential of an Herbal Extract of Tinospora cordifolia. Journal of Radiation Research. Vol.45 No.1. pp.61-68
17.    Pahadiya S., Sharma J. (2003) Alteration of lethal effects of gamma rays in Swill albino mice by Tinospora cordifolia. PubMed
18.    Singh S.M., Singh N., Shrivastava P. (2006) Effect of alcoholic extract of Ayurvedic herb Tinospora cordifolia on the Proliferation and Myeloid Differentiation of Bone Marrow Cells in a Tumor-bearing Host.  Fitoterapia. Vol.77 Issue 1. pp.1-11
19.    Singh N., Singh M.S., Shrivastava P. (2005) Immunomodulatory and Antitumor Actions of Medicinal Plant Tinospora cordifolia are Mediated Through Activation of Tumor-Associated Macrphages. Immunopharmacology and immunotoxicology, Vol. 26 pp.145-162
20.    Mathew S., Kuttan G. (1999) Immunomodulatory and antitumor activities of Tinospora cordifolia. Fitoterapia. Vol.70 Issue1 pp.35-43
21.    Chougale A.D., Ghadyale V.A., Panaskar S.N., Arvindekar A. U. (2009) Alpha glucosidase inhibition by stem extract of Tinospora cordifolia. Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry Vol. 24 PP.998-1001
22.    Reddy S.S., Ramatholisamma P., Karuna R., Saralakumari D. (2009) Preventive effect of Tinospora cordifolia against high-fructose diet-induced insulin resistance and oxidative stress in male Wistar rats. Food Chem Toxicology 47(9) pp.2224-2229