A Bitter Cure
Swertia chirata or Genetiana chirayita is also known by a variety of names such as Anaryatikta, Bhunimbaa, Chiratitka, Kiraatatikta in Sanskrit, Chiretta in Hindi, Chiaravata in Urdu, Sekhagi in Burma. Swertia Chirata is a bitter tonic. It works as laxative and as an appetizer because it stimulates the release of bile. It also corrects the disordered process of nutrition and restores the normal fuction of the system.
Botanical name: Swertia chirata or Genetiana chira
Nature of herb
Swertia chirata also known as Gentiana chirata is an annual/biennial herb having a narrow geographic occurrence in the Himalayan regions of India, Bhutan and Nepal. The herb is also known by a variety of other names such as Anaryatikta, Bhunimbaa, Chiratitka, Kiraatatikta in Sanskrit, Chiretta in Hindi, Chiaravata in Urdu, Sekhagi in Burma. Being common in the forests of Nepal, it is also known as Nepali Neem. The curative value of the herb has been recorded by the ancient Indian herbal medicine system of Ayurveda and other conventional medical systems, such as Siddha and Unani. The therapeutic reputation of the plant has also been recognized by the Indian pharmaceutical codex as well as the British and American Pharmacopoeias.
This ethno- medicinal herb is infamous for its bitter taste which is caused by the presence of different chemical compounds such as amarogentin (most bitter compound isolated till date), swerchirin, swertiamarin, and other bioactive compounds that are directly associated with human health welfare. The whole plant of Chirata is employed for treatment of a chronic fever, malaria, anemia, bronchial asthma,liver disorders, hepatitis, gastritis, constipation, dyspepsia, skin diseases, worms, epilepsy, ulcers, scanty urine, hypertension, secretion of bile, blood purification, and diabetes. The widespread use of Chirata for human welfare has resulted in over-exploitation of the herb from its natural habitat and is now on the verge of extinction in the wild.
It is a medium sized deciduous tree with thorny branches and has a gray bark.
The leaves are borne in opposite pairs without stalks and are pointed at the tip. They are broadly lanceolate, sessile, about 10 cm long and five-nerved.
The stem is erect, branched and grows up to 1.5 m in height. It is orange brown or purplish in color with a large and yellowish pith. It is cylindrical below and quadrangular upwards.
The roots are simple, tapering and short, almost 7–8 cm long and usually 1 cm thick and are yellow in color.
The plant bears numerous flowers being pale green in with a tinge of purple, with long white or pink hairs. Sepals and petals are four in number and each petal lobe has a pair of green, honey-secreting glands.
The fruits are minute capsules being egg-shaped, 2-valved with a transparent yellowish pericarp and are about 6 mm in diameter.
Seeds borne are smooth, numerous, many angled, very small and dark brownish in color.
- Height at maturity
It is an annually growing plant that normally grows up to a height of three feet or one meter.
Chirata is a medicinal herb indigenous to the sub-temperate regions of the Himalayas between 1200 - 3000 m altitudes extending from regions of Kashmir to Bhutan. It can be cultivated at lower elevations in north-eastern Himalayas as compared to western Himalayas.
Chirata flourishes in woodland gardens having a sunny edge, partial shade as well as in marshy lands. The plant is in bloom between the period September and October. It develops best in areas where the summers are cool. It can thrive and flourish both in conditions where there is full sunlight as well as partial shade. The plants are able to withstand temperatures as low as -15° C and still continue to grow well.
This plant is capable of growing on a variety of soils such as sandy, loamy as well as clay soil conditions. Additionally, the plant flourishes well in acidic, neutral as well as basic or alkaline soils and therefore has a wide pH range (3-11). The plant flourishes well in a humid and humus-rich soil in damp light woodlands along the streams or in marshlands.
- Chirata is a bitter tonic. It works as laxative and as an appetizer because it stimulates the release of bile. It also corrects the disordered process of nutrition and restores the normal fuction of the system.
- Chirata is very effective for reducing fevers, especially malarial fevers.
- The herb is excellent for strengthening the stomach and promoting its action and hence is used in the treatment of dyspepsia and diarrhea.
- For headaches and blood pressure, the chopped leaves and stem are soaked overnight in water. A paste is prepared and filtered with 1 glass of water. It can be consumed once a day for 2-3 days.
- Paste of the whole plant is applied to treat skin diseases such as eczema and pimples.
- The root serves as a drug and an effective tonic for general weakness, fever, cough, joint pain, asthma and the common cold.
- It also possesses anti-helminthic properties and is used in killing intestinal worms. An infusion of the herb is taken for this purpose.
- The root of the plant is used to relieve hiccups and vomiting.
- The antioxidant property of this herb helps clear the skin. It is effective in treating skin conditions such as rashes, inflammation, itching, burning sensation and redness. The extract of Chirata can be diluted by mixing with water and used for cleaning the skin.
- The antioxidants also slow down cellular aging process, repair DNA damage and reduces risk of cardiovascular strokes.
- Anti-Cancer/Chemo-preventive property: A chemical compound called Amarogentin; which is present in the root, stem and leaf extracts of the herb has shown to prevent cancer of brain, skin, liver and colon in various studies. The anti-oxidant rich nature of the herb complements the anti-cancer activity and prevents tumor cells from proliferating into malignant cells. Hence, it possess chemo-preventive properties.
- It is used in combination with other drugs in case of a scorpion bite.
- It is known to stimulate insulin production in pancreatic cells thus helping in lowering the blood sugar levels and hence is useful in diabetes.
- It is employed in treating urinary complaints with uneasiness in the region of the kidneys, frequent urging to urinate, which is accomplished with difficulty, and in cases of uric acid deposits.
- It is highly effective in treatment of Kala azar ( Leishmaniasis) which is also known as Black fever.
- It helps the body stay healthy due to its immunity enhancing properties.
The spectrum biological activities of S. chirayita are attributed to the presence of a different classes of pharmacologically bioactive compounds such as xanthones and their derivatives, lignans, alkaloids, flavonoids, terpenoids, iridoids, secoiridoids, and other compounds such as chiratin, ophelicacid, palmitic acid, oleic acid, and stearic acid. Pharmacological importance of Chirata is attributed to the presence of major constituents such as amarogentin, mangiferin, swertiamarin, sweroside, amaroside, amaroswerin and gentiopicrin. Sweroside is reported to be hepato-protective and prevents hyper-pigmentation, while amaroswerin is known for its gastroprotective effects. Swerchirin is anti- malarial and chemo-protective. Mangiferin , amarogentin , swertiamarin exhibit anti-diabetic and anti-cancer properties.
The crop is grown through nursery-raised seedlings. Sowing is done in Oct-Nov, as seeds sown in March–April Swertia chirata show very poor germination. Seeds of Chirata germinate well under nursery conditions in the media having FYM, sand, and soil in 2:2:1 ratio. Seeds are sown in rows 10–15 cm apart and covered with 0.5-cm thick layer of sand or fine soil. It takes about 25–28 days for complete germination to take place under nursery conditions. 200 seeds are required for one hectare of land
- Land preparation
Land is prepared by ploughing 2-3 times, followed by harrowing and planking to have a fine tilth and conserve moisture content.
Transplantation of seedlings is done in March–April, and the seedlings are planted with a ball of earth at a distance of 45 cm × 45 cm in the field.
A proper drainage system should be made by digging channels around the fields, especially during rains, to protect the plant against water logging. Alternatively, raised beds should be prepared. The field should be irrigated when necessary, maybe every alternate day during summers and weekly in winters.
- Plant nutrients
Application of vermicompost in the soil @ 3.75 t/hectare and forest leaf litter @ 2 t/hectare at the time of field preparation is necessary. Thereafter, no fertilizer is required. Weeding and plant protection: Weeding along with hoeing is needed manually once in a month. No specific insect/pest and disease has been observed on the crop.
Plants are collected when the capsules are fully formed during summer or in October–November. Plants flower within six to eight months, and thus provide yield and seeds for propagation every year. The whole plant is collected and dried.
A piece of cloth should be placed below the plant while harvesting due to its very small size. The seeds, after air drying, should be stored in polythene-lined small jute bags to be used in the next season. After harvesting, the plants should be dried in shade and packed accordingly. However, plants harvested post-fruiting are considered to be of inferior quality with reduced active principles.
The plant can be intercropped with potato, as the time of sowing as well as harvesting of both species is almost the same and can be harvested in 6-8 months. In open fields, potato can be planted on raised beds, while Swertia is planted in the interspaces. However, it is often preferred as a pure crop in cultivation.
Commercial UsesUses in Ayurveda
- Kiraatatikta churna or Bhunimbaa churna is prescribed in diseases of the small intestine.
- The entire plant as a paste or decoction is used for purification of vitiated blood, chronic skin diseases, poisoning, oedema, fevers, cough, internal hemorrhage and kidney related affections.
- A hot infusion of Kiraatatikta mixed with Dhaanyaka (Coriandrum sativum) is administered for alleviating fevers.
- A paste of Kiraatatikta along with Shunthi (Zingiber officinale) followed by a decoction of Punarnavaa (Boerhavia diffusa) is given for generalized oedema.
- It is the key ingredient in Sudarshana churna which is used in malarial fevers.
- The powder made from the whole plant extract is used for digestive, carminative, anti-septic and expectorant purposes.
- Used in purification of blood.
- Chiraaita shireen: It is prescribed in cases of polyuria, bed wetting in children and spermatorrhoea. It is also a reputed Unani liver tonic.
- It is a domestic drug for chronic fevers, anemia, gout and boils.
- Its decoction is used in liver disorders, dyspepsia, anorexia and gastric disorders.
- It is a tonic for prevention of malaria.
Chirata extract is used in skin care products – primarily for age defying properties. It helps improve the tone and texture of the skin by enhancing the cell turnover and reducing fine lines and wrinkles.
Chirata boosts the metabolism which in turn helps burn more calories thus aids in weight loss.
A herbal anti-septic and anti-fungal Veterinary ointment Melicon V is prepared from the herb.
- Agriculture techniques of selected medicinal plants, Vol-I by National Medicinal Plants Board (Dept of Aayush)
- ndian herbal remedies by C.P. Khare