Chirata or bitter stick as it is known in some places is a critically endangered herb that grows at high altitudes in the sub-temperate regions of the Himalaya. It mainly grows at an altitude of 1200 and 2100 m form Kashmir to Bhutan. In simple words, chirata is a herb that people use to make medicine. Usually, the above-ground parts of chirata are used for medicinal purposes. This herb is well known in traditional medicine system for its various medicinal properties. Vedic scripts like the Charaka Samhita are said to have mentioned the unique qualities of this plant.

The chirata plant grows in cold mountainous regions and has purplish blue flowers. It is known for its bitter taste that is induced by the various bioactive compounds present in it. Chirata is known by different names in different regions. For example, in Sanskrit, chirata is known as Anaryatikta, Bhunimba, Chiratitka and Kairata. In Arabic and Farsi, it is called Qasabuzzarirah. In the Urdu language, it goes by the name of Chiaravata, in Burmese, Sekhagi and in Nepalese, Chirrato or Chiraita. It is also known as the “Nepali neem” because it commonly grows in the forests of Nepal.

As a traditional Ayurvedic herb, chirata has been used in the medical field for ages. It is said to have a wide range of medicinal uses, including the treatment of fevers, malaria, liver disorders, hepatitis, constipation, ulcers, skin diseases, epilepsy, asthma, diabetes, and certain kinds of mental disorders. The plant is known to have antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimalarial, antiaging and antidiarrheal properties as well. 

Chirata is also used in the preparation of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. It is usually recommended to take swertia capsules along with honey so that the bitterness can be removed to some extent.

Some basic facts about chirata

  • Botanical Name: Swertia Chirata
  • Family: Gentianaceae
  • Common Name: Chirayita
  • Sanskrit name: कटुतिक्तः(kututiktaha), Anaryatikta, Bhunimba, Chiratitka, and Kairata
  • Parts Used: All parts of the chirata plant are used but the roots are found to be the most bioactive.
  • National Region and Geographical Distribution: The chirata plant grows in cold mountainous regions of India, like the Himalayas, Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh; Bhutan and Nepal.
  • Interesting fact: The increasingly high usage of this plant and damages to its environment due to deforestation and other activities has led to a decline in its population. The plant has been brought to the verge of extinction.
  1. Chirata health benefits
  2. Chirata side effects
  3. Takeaway

The chirata plant has been used in traditional medicines since ancient times. As a healing herb, it has a special place in Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha forms of treatment. However, due to increasing knowledge about the wondrous properties of this herb, it is now being used in modern pharmacopeias as well.

Chirata for diabetes

Diabetes is a serious condition wherein the blood sugar or blood glucose is too high. Glucose is generated when the carbohydrates that we eat or drink are broken down and released into the blood. This is then taken up form the blood by a hormone called insulin. The insulin production or function is usually impaired in diabetic people. Several studies have been conducted to prove the antidiabetic properties of the chirata herb. It has been found that chirata stimulates the pancreatic cells to secrete more insulin, thus reducing blood sugar levels.

In vivo studies suggest that chirata is very efficient in bringing down glucose levels in the blood. Thus, chirata may be beneficial in bringing diabetes under control.

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Chirata for liver

Liver is an important organ that is essential for the working of the body. It flushes out toxins from the blood, stores energy and helps with digestion as well. Chirata is said to contain important antioxidants that are capable of protecting the liver from various liver disorders. Recent studies conducted on the chirata plant showed that the herb had anti-hepatitis B activities that would help in the prevention of hepatitis and the destruction of the hepatitis virus in the body.

(Read more: Hepatitis B symptoms)

Chirata antiviral properties

The chirata plant is known to have many antiviral and antihelminthic properties due to the presence of different antioxidants in it. Studies also show that chirata can be used to reduce the growth and of herpes virus. It was further claimed that the antiviral potential of chirata is similar to that of common antiviral drug acyclovir.

(Read more: Herpes simplex virus)

Chirata as an anti-inflammatory

Several studies suggest the anti-inflammatory potential of chirata. In vivo studies claim that the chirata plant contains various chemical compounds which can effectively reduce inflammation. In further trials, the anti-inflammatory effects of chirata have been reconfirmed. Additionally, it has also been found to possess some analgesic effects. Although the studies haven't reached clinical trials yet, chirata is slowing proving to be a natural and safer remedy for inflammation and pain.

(Read more: Inflammatory disease symptoms)

Chirata for fever

Chirata has been used for the treatment of fever, cold and flu in the traditional medicine system. It is an important ingredient in various ayurvedic antipyretic preparations. Research conducted on animal models demonstrated that the roots of the chirata plant, with its bioactive properties, were able to produce a significant reduction in body temperature, as compared to paracetamols.

According to ethnobotanical (traditional usage) studies, consuming half a spoon of chirata root decoction once a day can be helpful in reducing fever.

Chirata for anemia

Anemia is charecterised by lack of red blood cells and haemoglobin. Haemoglobin the protein that binds with oxygen and helps transport it to the body tissues. Lack of haemoglobin can lead to symptoms like weakness and fatigue. The current line of treatment includes iron supplements and a healthy diet. However, traditional medicine system has a lot of anti-anemic herbs. Chirata is one such natural medicine which can help the body to produce enough red blood cells and alleviate the symptoms of anemia.

Preclinical trials suggest that chirata leaf extracts can significantly improve haemoglobin, RBC and other haematological factors. However, in a contradictory study, no significant improvement in RBC or haemoglobin levels were found on the administration of high doses of the methanol extracts of chirata. So, more studies are still needed to confirm the anti-anemic effects of chirata.

Chirata for stomach

Being a bitter herb, chirata is very beneficial for people suffering from stomach problems like constipation, nausea, and vomiting. Regular use of chirata may be beneficial in strengthening the stomach. It improves the secretion of gastric juices thereby improving digestion. Additionally, chirata improves the bile secretion from the liver which helps in easy digestion of food particles.

(Read more: How to improve digestion)

Chirata for malaria

Malaria is a disease which is caused by the bite of the infected female Anopheles mosquito. Few symptoms of this disease are fever, muscle aches, and anemia. Chirata has antipyretic, anti-anemic and antioxidant properties which may be helpful in reducing malaria symptoms. 

Clinical studies suggest that taking chirata tablets (500mg) reduce the severity of malaria within a week. It was further claimed that this supplement did not have any significant side effects.

Chirata for cancer

Cancer is an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of body cells. With the rise in cancer cases, it has become important to find a treatment for this disease. Chirata is one of the many natural herbs studied for its anti-carcinogenic potential. Various studies suggest that chirata has some anticancer properties. Studies conducted on eaves and stems extracts of chirata plant showed that the herb has the ability to stop the progression of cancer cells. 

In vivo studies suggest that chirata plant extracts can efficiently reduce the spread of skin cancer cells.

However, no human studies have been done so far to confirm similar effects in human cases of cancer.

(Read more: Skin cancer causes)

Although chirata has been considered as a beneficial plant in traditional medicine, it can create health issues in some individuals, causing their body to react adversely to it.

  • No proper study has been done on the effects of chirata during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, to remain on the safer side, it is better to avoid the consumption of chirata during such periods.
  • Chirata is known to have antidiabetic properties and is recommended to diabetic patients. But if you are a diabetic person on medicine or have a low blood sugar level, it is best to avoid  chirata.
  • If you are about to go through a surgery, it is best to avoid chirata as it may interfere with the sugar levels during surgical procedures.
  • If you are suffering from peptic ulcers it is advisable that you ask your doctor before consuming chirata.
  • The bitterness present in chirata may result in vomiting in a few people.

Chirata is definitely a miracle herb that can be used effectively for various ailments. However, for the same reason, it is facing the threat of extinction. If not given enough attention, there are all possible chances that future generations may never get to experience the wonders of this miracle plant.


Medicines / Products that contain Chirata

References

  1. Vijay Kumar, Johannes Van Staden. A Review of Swertia chirayita (Gentianaceae) as a Traditional Medicinal Plant . Front Pharmacol. 2015; 6: 308. PMID: 26793105
  2. Pathomwat Wongrattanakamon et al. Investigation of the Skin Anti-photoaging Potential of Swertia chirayita Secoiridoids Through the AP-1/Matrix Metalloproteinase Pathway by Molecular Modeling. International Journal of Peptide Research and Therapeutics June 2019, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 517–533
  3. Ashish Turaskar et al. Antianaemic Potential of Swertia chirata on Phenylhydrazine Induced Reticulocytosis in Rats . American Journal of Phytomedicine and Clinical Therapeutics
  4. Lodhi, et al. Effect of Methanol Extract of Swertia chirata on Various Cellular Components of Blood in Rats. Int J Med Res Health Sci 2017, 6(8): 59-64
  5. Ashok Kumar Panda et al. Clinical evaluation of Swertia chirata for the treatment of P. vivax malaria. Phytomedica 5(1):15-18 · June 2004
  6. Saha P et al. Evaluation of the anticarcinogenic activity of Swertia chirata Buch.Ham, an Indian medicinal plant, on DMBA-induced mouse skin carcinogenesis model. . Phytother Res. 2004 May;18(5):373-8. PMID: 15173996
  7. Mendes Sarah Vailanka, Kabita Nayak and Sheeba, E. Anticancer activity of medicinal plant swertia chirata. International Journal Of Current Research.
  8. Zhou NJ et al. Anti-hepatitis B virus active constituents from Swertia chirayita. Fitoterapia. 2015 Jan;100:27-34. PMID: 25447162
  9. Verma H et al. Antiviral activity of the Indian medicinal plant extract Swertia chirata against herpes simplex viruses: a study by in-vitro and molecular approach. . Indian J Med Microbiol. 2008 Oct-Dec;26(4):322-6. PMID: 18974483
  10. Sreedam Chandra Das et al. Analgesic and Anti-inflammatory Activities of Ethanolic Root Extract of Swertia chirata (Gentianaceae) . 2 Jordan Journal of Biological Sciences. Volume 5, Number 1
  11. K.P.S. Kumar et al. Swertia chirata: A traditional herb and its medicinal uses. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research 2(1):262-266 · January 2010 
  12. Vijay Kumar, Johannes Van Staden. A Review of Swertia chirayita (Gentianaceae) as a Traditional Medicinal Plant . Front Pharmacol. 2015; 6: 308. PMID: 26793105
  13. K. P. Sampath Kumar et al. Swertia chirata: A traditional herb and its medicinal uses. J. Chem. Pharm. Res., 2010, 2(1): 262-266
  14. Priyanka Roy et al. Evaluation of antioxidant, antibacterial, and antidiabetic potential of two traditional medicinal plants of India: Swertia cordata and Swertia chirayita . Pharmacognosy Res. 2015 Jun; 7(Suppl 1): S57–S62. PMID: 26109789
  15. Amir Khan et al. MEDICINAL IMPORTANCE OF SWERTIA CHIRATA. Pharma Research Library [Internet]
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