Sarpagandha Plant: Its Benefits, Side-effects, and Precautions

Sarpagandha Plant: Its Benefits, Side-effects, and Precautions

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Mainly found in the sub-Himalayan regions of India, the Sarpagandha plant is renowned for its astonishing medicinal properties and benefits. In Sanskrit, this plant refers to the “Indian Snakeroot”, translating literally from Sarpagandha. The roots of this plant are twisted and known to resemble a snake, thus earning it its name. 

Like its many medical benefits, this plant has many names. Called the Rauvolfia serpentina plant scientifically, it is also often referred to as the “Devil’s Pepper plant” or “Serpentine Wood.” While it is called the Indian Snakeroot, the plant is still found in other countries such as Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. In India itself, the plant thrives and is mainly derived from places such as some parts of Punjab and Sikkim. Nepal and Bhutan also provide great environments for the Sarpagandha plant to survive.

Read on to learn more about the Sarpagandha Plant!


Uncovering the History & Origins: Know More About the Sarpagandha Plant

There are nearly 130 species of Rauwolfia plants and 8 of them grow in India. These plants have historically been used to cure a bunch of ailments and even wounds or bites. 

According to ancient Indian Medical lore, the Indian Snakeroot plant was one of the first to be identified as a treatment for mental illnesses. One of them is Schizophrenia, a disease that often causes many different kinds of hallucinations - tactile, auditory, and visual. Also known as Chandra/ the Moon in many different Indian languages, this nickname given to the plant is thought to have originated from some association between the moon and “madness”. In the regions of Patna and Bihar, this herb was also sold under the name of ‘Pagla-ka-dawa’, also known as the “Medicine for the Mad.”

Initially, the name of this plant led to it being known and used as a common remedy for snake bites. Around the 1600s, these plants - specifically their roots - were used in treating snake and scorpion bites. Eventually, more and more benefits of this plant were noticed leading to it being used as a natural remedy for fevers and cold spells in the body. 

Rauvolfia serpentina plant

While traditionally known amongst locals for quite a while, this medicinal plant came into the global limelight when it was noticed in 1755 by a botanist, named Rumpf, working with the Dutch East India Company. Soon after, a German botanist - Leonhard Rauwolf - traveling to the Middle East also took notice of the potential benefits of Sarpagandha, as dictated by locals. The genus of this plant was then named after him, ultimately being called Rauwolfia. 

It has been over 3000 years since the Sarpagandha plant has been a part of traditional Indian medicine. To date, it is still renowned for its sharp, bitter, and pungent taste and its endless potential to cure a variety of common ailments. Even at the time, the Rauvolfia serpentina plant was chosen as the subject of study by many botanists due to its reputation and its unique snake-like roots. 


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Properties of Sarpagandha Tree

The Indian Snakeroot plant is believed to have medicinal properties that hold the key to treating a vast array of ailments. Here are a few beneficial properties that this plant is said to possess:

  1. May help improve blood sugar levels.
  2. May possess sedative properties.
  3. May have antibacterial effects.
  4. May help improve and balance the rhythm of the heart.
  5. May also have laxative properties when consumed in specific dosages.
  6. May help improve digestion.
  7. May have anti-diarrheal effects on the body.
  8. It may also have an effect on schizophrenia.

While these are some of the reasons why the Devil’s Pepper tree is so popular in Ayurvedic medicine, its actual uses and benefits somewhat differ. Its medicinal properties are many and they are harnessed in various ways. Let’s take a look at a few of its medicinal uses you must know about:


Uses of Sarpagandha Plant: Potential Medicinal Uses and Benefits of Sarpagandha 

In the world of Ayurveda, this plant’s extracts are called Sarpagandha Ghan Vati which is a medicine derived from the snake-like roots of the flowering plant Rauwolfia serpentina. The compound, Alkaline reserpine, produced by these roots is known to be beneficial to the human body in many ways. 


1. Effects on High Blood Pressure

Very often, Ayurveda makes use of the powder derived from the Serpentine Wood plant’s roots to treat hypertension. Studies have shown that this natural remedy has an effect on nerve function in the muscle leading directly to the heart, which means that it could also positively affect the blood circulation in our body, ultimately helping regulate blood pressure. 


2. Effects on Symptoms of Anxiety 

According to some studies, derivatives of the Sarpagandha plant are beneficial to cure symptoms of anxiety. Ayurveda dictates that an imbalance of Vata - something responsible for all nervous system processes and body movements - is the primary cause of anxiety. The Indian Snakeroot is said to have a positive effect on the Vata of a body, which in turn is beneficial for managing anxiety and its symptoms. 


3. Effects on Insomnia 

Sarpagandha plant has also been observed to have benefits for those suffering from insomnia. Those who have insomnia have difficulty sleeping at night despite being overworked and tired. Sarpagandha is said to have effects that induce sleep and allow a person to have a restful sleep, thus helping tackle some symptoms of insomnia as well. 


4. Tackling Fevers

The benefits of Sarpagandha extend even to treating common ailments such as fever. According to Ayurveda, “Ama” is a toxin that may lead to fever in the human body and Sarpagandha consists of properties called “Ushna” that can help counter “Ama”. This ultimately means that Sarpagandha has effects on symptoms of fever and you could easily tackle a common fever with extracts derived from the Indian Snakeroot plant.


5. Using Sarpagandha for Skin

Boils and acne are some common skin issues that Sarpagandha is often used for. In some parts of India, this herbal remedy is also used to treat scabies. 

sarpagandha tree

•  Some Other Rauwolfia Serpentina Medicinal Uses 

Some of Sarpagandha’s medicinal uses are not backed by studies and their findings. However, these are known to be true through use and experience, giving it a good standing in the world of Ayurveda. Here are some of those other uses:

  1. It is known to benefit and cure eye issues. Some common eye diseases and the starting phases of pneumonia are also said to be curable by extracts of the Rauwolfia Serpentina.
  1. Locals and tribals also make use of the powder derived from this plant to treat issues like asthma. 
  1. These extracts may help in regulating the central nervous system and its functioning. 
  1. Some parts of the plant are also known to treat snake bites and wounds well. 

    Forms of Indian Snakeroot Plant: How is It Consumed?

    The Indian Snakeroot plant, known for its many medicinal benefits, is consumed in different forms. The extracts of this plant can also be derived from its different parts. So, here’s what you need to know about how it is consumed:


    1. All Parts of the Plant are Beneficial

    The roots, stems, leaves, and flowers of the Sarpagandha plant are all usable in the world of Ayurvedic medicine. However, the roots are one of the most important parts of the plant and are used predominantly. The roots are known to be very beneficial in treating common ailments of the stomach while also being useful in treating colic and fever when used in moderation and mixed with other plant extracts.

    The roots of the plant are extracted only after 2-3 years of the plantation when the plant begins to shed its leaves.  


    2. There are 3 Ways in Which the Extract Can be Consumed

    Sarpagandha powder, Sarpagandha Ghan Vati, and Sarpagandha capsules - these are the 3 ways in which this plant is used and its medicinal properties are derived. However, before you consume any of these forms of Indian Snakeroot plant, you must consult a licensed Ayurvedic doctor so that you can avoid any mishaps. 


    3. Mixtures to Dilute the Taste

    Since the taste of Sarpagandha is pretty bitter and pungent, you might need to add something to it in order to gulp it down. So, your best bet is honey to eliminate the taste and rose water to eliminate the smell. You can also just mix it with ghee or just take it as a plain paste if you are consuming the powder. The capsules are easy to gulp down as they don’t taste of much!


    Rauwolfia Serpentina Side Effects: Can it Have Adverse Effects?

    Some of the most commonly witnessed side effects of the Sarpagandha plant are a blocked nose and dry mouth. It is important to remember that there is no rulebook for how the body reacts to certain medications, whether or not they’re Ayurvedic. So, if you feel like your body is not reacting well to a certain item, please consult a doctor immediately and try to understand how the situation can be managed better. 

    Here are a few common side effects to watch out for if you are consuming Sarpagandha in any form:

    1. Difficulty breathing 
    2. Chest pain
    3. Rashes on the skin
    4. Symptoms similar to that of Parkinson’s Disease
    5. Nausea and vomiting 
    6. Headache 
    7. Abdominal pain 
    8. Loss of appetite
    9. Diarrhea
    10. Drowsiness and convulsions

    It is essential to remember that, under no circumstances, should you self-medicate. Consulting a licensed medical practitioner who can understand and study your individual problems, and any other illnesses or medical issues that you may be dealing with now or in the past, is of utmost importance. You must always consume only prescribed medication to ensure your own safety and good health. 


    Precautions for Rauvolfia Serpentina Plant

    Usually, consuming Sarpagandha is advisable and safe when used in moderation (under supervision from an Ayurvedic expert). However, there is still an off-chance that your body may not agree with it as medication and you might have to stop consuming it. To avoid getting to the point where your body does not agree with it, here are some precautions that you must take:


    1. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding 

    Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding must avoid consuming the Sarpagandha plant at all costs as the derivatives of this plant can cause birth defects in babies. Additionally, the chemicals can also harm the baby upon consumption of breast milk. 


    2. GallStones 

    As the name suggests, gallstones are deformities in the gallbladder that cause stones to form - a process that can be rather painful. Serpentine Wood plant extracts are said to worsen gallstones. So, if you’re dealing with this problem, remember to fully avoid this medicine.


    3.  Allergies to Reserpine 

    Reserpine is a drug that is often used to treat high blood pressure for those who suffer from it and to treat severe agitation in patients with mental health issues. It can be found under the name Serpasil in the market. If you’re allergic to this substance, Sarpagandha plant extracts are probably not the best choice as they are rich in reserpine. 


    4. Stomach Ulcers

    Stomach ulcers and other stomach issues are also worsened by the Indian Snakeroot plant which is why it is advised that anyone suffering from such stomach problems should abstain from taking Sarpagandha plant medications.


    5. During Surgery

    If you have surgery planned and are on medication that consists of Devil’s Pepper extracts, you must stop consuming this medication at least 2 weeks before the date of surgery. It is said that this plant’s medication can interfere with elevating blood pressure and heart rate. 


    6. Depression 

    Individuals who have previously suffered from depression can be susceptible to facing it again as the ayurvedic medicine Sarpagandha is said to cause depression. 


    7. Diabetes

    The Indian Snakeroot is known for reducing blood sugar levels. So, if you’re someone who suffers from diabetes, you must remember that consuming Sarpagandha medicine could drop blood sugar levels too low. 


    Interaction with Other Drugs: Be Extra Cautious 

    There are a few drugs that do not react well when consumed with Sarpagadha. Here are a few of them:


    1. Antidepressants

    Antidepressants consist of chemicals called phenelzine and tranylcypromine which, when consumed above suggested levels can have certain side effects on the human body. Sarpagandha plant extract is known to aggravate these side effects, meaning you must always consult a doctor before starting any medication and you must never attempt to self-medicate. 


    2. Levodopa 

    Levodopa is a drug often used to treat Parkinson’s disease. When consumed with Indian Snakeroot plant extract, the effectiveness of Levodopa can be reduced substantially. 


    3. Digoxin

    This drug helps with proper and efficient blood pumping for patients whose hearts cannot do that function well by itself. But Sarpagandha plant extract can slow down the heartbeat and pose a serious risk to those consuming digoxin. 


    4. Anticoagulants/Antiplatelet Drugs

    Sarpagandha medications retard the clotting of blood. A certain chemical found in Sarpagandha can slow down the blood clotting process which means that taking these two medications together can increase the probability of bleeding out easily.


    5. Anti-Diabetic Drugs

    These drugs are often used to reduce blood sugar levels. However, Indian Snakeroot extract can and does often also drop blood sugar levels. Putting everything together, making use of these two medications together can drop blood sugar levels to a dangerously low rate. 


    sarpagandha plant


    History has shown us, time and again, that Ayurvedic medicines like the Sarpagandha plant have proven to be beneficial for more than one common ailment. This shows us that nature has a treasure trove of medicinal benefits and remedies just waiting to be discovered. These natural remedies are great alternatives to chemicals and commercially produced medicines that may do more harm than good in the long run. 

    However, whether Ayurvedic or any other kind of medications, it is essential to remember that consulting a doctor before starting on any drug is very important. We may know the benefits of a medication in isolation but we may not know of the kind of reactions it could have when paired with other drugs. Having expert and professional opinions and advice on the same can be potentially life-saving.

    Everything is good in moderation and balanced usage is key. So, you must reap the benefits of the Sarpagandha plant by consuming its powder or capsules in the exact dosage recommended by the doctor. Once you know just how much you need, you can reap the benefits that our wonderful nature has to offer to us!


    1. What is the Indian Snakeroot used for?

    The Indian Snakeroot plant has multiple uses. It is used to heal snake bites, as a cure for fevers, to lower blood pressure, treat eye issues, and even maintain blood sugar. It is also known to benefit those who suffer from anxiety and insomnia.

    2. Is the Sarpagandha plant safe?

    The Sarpagandha plant is safe to consume when taken in moderation. Different issues require different doses of this Ayurvedic medicine and precautions must be taken. However, it is essential to remember that consulting a licensed medical practitioner is of utmost importance and you should never self-medicate.

    3.Can we grow Rauvolfia serpentina at home?

    The Rauvolfia serpentina grows in some of the extreme northern parts of India: along the foothills of mountains in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttaranchal, and Uttar Pradesh. However, if provided with the right environments and grown above an altitude of 1000 m, the Sarpagandha plant can grow well. Remember that the roots of this plant are only extracted and harnessed after 2-3 years of plantation.

    4.Where can I find the Devil Pepper plant?

    The Sarpagandha plant, also known as the Devil’s Pepper plant, is a commonly known and prescribed Ayurvedic medicine. So, you can find this plant in different forms at many Ayurvedic clinics and shops. If you are looking to find the plant/tree, it grows mainly in North India - in Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttaranchal.