Evaluation of Asoka Aristha, an indigenous medicine in Sri Lanka

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  • Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 8 (1983) 313-320 Elsevier Scientific Publishers Ireland Ltd.


    Short Communication



    Farmaceutisch Laboratorium, Department Farmacognosie, Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht, Catharijnesingel 60, 3511 GH Utrecht (The Netherlands)

    (Accepted February 12, 1983)


    In our laboratory, research is being done to support a cooperative project between Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. The aim of the project is expressed in its title: Production Development and Optimization of the Quality and Preparation procedures of Ayur Veda Drugs in Sri Lanka. The Ayur Veda (AV) system of medicine is still widely practised in Sri Lanka, especially by people living in the rural areas (Simeonov, 1975). The government of Sri Lanka endorses the AV system and its use, e.g. a ministry for indigenous medicine was established in 1980.

    The Ayur Veda originated about 4000 years ago in India and is based on a collection of concepts quite different from those used in modern scientific medicine (Thakhur Chandrasekhar, 1974). The assessment of the efficacy and quality of an AV drug is therefore a research matter to be treated carefully when current scientific concepts in pathology and methods for assessment of drug action are applied. Our research on AV drugs has so far included: (1) establishment of the botanical identity of ingredients used to prepare the drug; (2) selection of an appropriate biological test to es- tablish a possible mode of action of the drug; (3) identification of the chemical constituents responsible for the effect of the drug. The result of this research can be used to standardize the drug and to optimize the quality and production procedures of the preparation. The first drug chosen for investigation is Asoka Aristha and our findings so far are reported here. The Asoka Aristha was chosen because of its popularity in Sri Lanka and the lack of scientific data concerning it.

    In the following sections the results of a literature study and field work in Sri Lanka are described: $2 deals with the drug Asoka Aristha and 5 3 with the main ingredient, Asoka bark. In 4 and 5 5 the therapeutic claims of Asoka Aristha are compared with current scientific concepts of the pathology

    0378-8741/83/$02.70 0 1983 Elsevier Scientific Publishers Ireland Ltd. Published and Printed in Ireland

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    of menstruation and possible modes of action of the Asoka Aristha are discussed. In 8 6 conclusions are drawn from the results obtained so far and an outline for further research is presented.

    2. Asoka aristha

    The recipe used for preparation which is mostly accepted by AV physicians

    TABLE 1


    Procedure: (1) Prepare primary mixture (2) Add ingredients (3) Keep in a sealed vessel as stated in Process No. 2.

    Primary mixture: Bark of Asoka tree 6000 g Pure water 614.4 e Kitul/Cane jaggery 1200 g


    Sinhala name Botanical name

    Dhathaki Woodfordia fruticosa L. Kaladuru Cyperus rotundus L. Ginger Zingiber officinale Roscoe Dharuharidra Berberis aristata DC. Mane1 Nymphaea stellata Willd. Aralu Terminalia chebula Retz. Bulu Terminalia belerica Roxb. Nelli Phyllanthus emblica L. Mango Mangifera indica L. Sudu duru Cuminum cyminum L. Adhatoda Adhatoda vasica Nees. Sudu handun Santalum album L. Kaluduroo Nigella sa tiva L.

    Part of plant

    Flowers Yam Root


    Seed kernel Seed Bark



    960 60 60 60 60 60 60 60 60 60 60 60 60


    Process No. 1: (1) Purify the Asoka bark in clean water (2) Crush the Asoka bark (3) Add the required quantity of water (4) Boil (5) Increase the concentration by reducing the quantity to l/8 (6) Strain to remove solids and cool the mixture (7) Add the jaggery and strain again

    Process No. 2: (1) After crushing the ingredients add them to the above mixture (2) Cover the vessel and invert another vessel over it (3) Seal both vessels with clay (air-tight) (4) Keep in that position for 1 month and strain again

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    can be found in the sinhalese Pharmacopoeia (Ayur Veda Pharmacopoeia, 1976). A translation of the recipe is shown in Table 1. The Asoka bark constitutes the main ingredient of the preparation (78% of the plant material to be extracted), followed by Woodfordia fruticosa flowers (12%) and 13 minor ingredients (10%). The result of the process is a fermented potion. Asoka Aristha is produced on a large scale in Sri Lanka by the state-owned Ayurvedic Drugs Corporation (manufacturer of 60% of the ayurvedic drugs commercially available in the country) (Arumainayagam Associates, 1980), and by some private commercial m~ufa~turers. On a smaller scale, it is prepared in AV hospit~s, AV clinics and by AV practitioners. The demand for Asoka Aristha is quite large. An estimation based on figures, provided by the large scale producers, shows that Asoka Aristha together with four other aristhas comprises 82% of the total sales of aristha medicine (Aruma- inayagam Associates, 1981).

    Information about the use of Asoka Aristha was obtained from four AV physicians, Their description of the medical indications were quite uniform. Further inquiry however indicated that the reported diagnostic criteria which are being used are not unanimous. Asoka Aristha has been indicated for women in cases of: (1) menorrhagia; (2) metrorrhagia; (3) leucorrhoea; (4) primary amenorrhoea, subfertility; (5) menstrual disorders in general; (6) for healthy complexion. Indications 1, 2 and 3 are related to the AV concept that Asoka Aristha has an astringent and constipative action. Indications 4, 5 and 6 show that Asoka Aristha is not only used as a drug for a specific ailment, but also as a tonic for women. The labels of Asoka Aristha preparations from three different manufacturers show some of these indications and always at least indications 1 and 2. The dose of the drug given in indications 1 and 2 is 15 ml of the potion twice or three times a day from the onset of the bleeding until it stops.

    3. The Asoka bark

    The recipe of Asoka Aristha shows that Asoka bark is the main in~edient of the preparation and in many AV textbooks the therapeutic properties of Asoka Aristha are attributed to the Asoka bark. In India, investigators of the classic Sanskrit texts on Ayur Veda identify the Asoka tree as Saraca indict L. (Narayana iyer and Kolammal, 1960). This identification is widely accepted in India and appears in many textbooks on Ayur Veda. In Sri Lanka, Asoka has also been identified as Saraca indica L. (De Fonseka and Vinasithamby, 1971). However, a botanical study done in 1968 revealed that Saruca indica L. is closely related to Suruca usoca Roxb. de Wilde, the latter being indi- genous to India and Sri Lanka. Saraca indica L. is indigenous in the Malaysian archipelago ~Zuyderhoudt, 1969). A field study performed in the Colombo and Kandy regions in Sri Lanka in 1981 showed that the two species could both be found there. S. ~~d~cu was mostly cultivated and could be found as

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    an ornamental tree in gardens and near temples. The S. asoca tree was also found as cultivated specimen but also in habitats where a wild origin could be suspected. These observations lead to the conclusion that the Asoka tree in India and Sri Lanka is often erroneously identified as S. in&a, while the true botanical identity is S. asoca. Trimen (1893) noted in A handbook to the flora of Ceylon that the Saruca indica L. (S. asoca) is rather common in the lower regions of the country. Balasubramaniam (1982) however, noted that nowadays Saraca usoca is a rare occurrence in the lower regions of Sri Lanka.

    In four Ayurvedic raw material shops (2 in Colombo, 1 in Kandy and 1 in Matara) Asoka barks were purchased and it was confirmed that this com- mercial bark is used in Sri Lanka for the preparation of Asoka Aristha. All four samples looked alike but were different from the authentic bark of S. usoca or S. indica. Deeper inquiry revealed that the bark for sale was taken from the tree Rhododendron arboreum Sm. a tree abundantly growing in the hill country above 1100 m. An authentic sample of the bark of Rhodo- dendron urboreum Sm. was supplied by the Divisional Forest Office at Nuwera Eliya, Sri Lanka. The commercial samples collected in Sri Lanka were identical (macro- and microscopic) with the authentic sample. A herbarium specimen has been examined in the Herbarium of the Botanical Garden of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. Its local name is Asoka-mal. An inquiry among AV physicians showed that some were not aware of the fact that R. arboreum bark was used as an adulterant. One physician noted that the S. usoca bark was more effective than R. arboreum bark. The question remains as to when people started to use R. urboreum bark as a substitute.

    From these facts about the botanical identity of the Asoka bark, it is concluded that in former days the bark of S. asoca was used in the pre- paration of Asoka Aristha and that nowadays mainly the bark of R. arboreum is used. Samples were taken in Sri Lanka from all three barks mentioned to use for research at our laboratory. We tested water and methanol extracts of the barks of R. arboreum, S. asocu and S. indica for direct stimulating activity on the uterus of the rat in vitro (Middelkoop, et al., unpublished). The uterus preparations were very sensitive for oxytocine and carbachol. Neither the Suraca nor the Rhododendron extracts gave reproducible con- tractions. Conclusively an oxytocic effect could not be demonstrated un- ambiguously. Considering the Saraca asoca (S. indica) these findings are in accordance with the results of two Indian research groups (Dhawan