Rauvolfia Serpentina: Ancient Herb for High Blood Pressure (Sarpangadha)

Table of Content

1. Introduction
2. Vernacular Names
3. Synonyms
4. Distribution
5. Morphology
6. Types of Rauvolfia
7. Ayurvedic Properties
8. Chemical Constituent
9. Identity, Purity, and Strength
10. Health Benefits
11. Therapeutic Uses
12. Doses
13. Formulations
14. Safety and Toxicity Studies
15. Sarpgandha with other herbs
16. Frequently Asked Question


1. Introduction

Rauvolfia is indigenous to India, the trade name Rauvolfia refers to a 16th-century German botanist and physician Dr. Leoonard Rauwolf. This plant is believed to have been used in the Indian system of medicine for about 4,000 years. It is mentioned in Charaka’s work. It was believed that snakes keep away from the scent of this plant, and its roots also look like serpents. The more appropriate reason for this name is that it has therapeutic values used in treating snake bite victims. There is also a belief that it is an antidote when its leaves are ground, made into a paste, and applied to the toes of snake-bitten victims. It has been very well described and used by the ancestors of Ayurveda.

2. Vernaculars Names

Assamese - Arachontita

Bengali – Chaandar, Chandra, Chotachand

Kannada – Sutranaabhu, Sarpangadhi, Sutraanabhi

Sanskrit – Nakuli, Chandrika, Chandramarah

Gujrati – Amelpodee, Sarpagandha

Malayalam – Amalpori, Chivanavilpuri, Chivan, Tulunni

Marathi – Adaki, Chandra, Harkaya, Harki

Oriya – Dhanbarua, Sanochado

Tamil – Sarppaganti, Chivan melpodi

Telugu – Sarpagandhi, Patalgani, Patala

Urdu – Asrel

3. Synonyms

Bhujangakshi – Mature fruits of this plant look like the eye of a snake.

Dhavalavitapa – The plant purifies the body.

Sarpagandha – The root of this plant has a peculiar smell that drives away snakes.

Surasa – The plant has exudates or latex.

Vishadamstraka – It has vishaghna property or acts as an antidote.


Rauvolfia Serpentina

4. Distribution

 The plant is found in the tropical Himalayas in the lower hills of Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Jammu, and Kashmir and at moderate altitudes in Sikkim, North Bihar, Patna, Uttar Pradesh, Bhagalpur, Bengal, Konkan, Assam, Burma, Sri Lanka, Andaman, Pegu, Tenasserim and Deccan Peninsula along with Ghats of Travancore and Ceylon, Java and Malay Peninsula. Mostly, it is found at 4,000 feet height above sea level in moist jungles and shaded areas. Cultivation of Rauvolfia has been started in different areas of India, such as Dehradun, Lucknow, Jammu, and Indore.

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5. Morphology

It is an erect herb with a smooth stem, the drug preferably in autumn from three or four-year-old plants. The small, erect, perennial undershrub of 30 to 40 cm in height.


Simple, glabrous in whorls 3-4, rarely opposite, dark green above, pale green below, ecliptic-lanceolate or obovate, tapering at base, acute apex, and entire margin.


Bisexual, white often tinged with red color in 5 to10 cm long peduncled corymbose cymes, pedicels stout.


Drupes, ovoid shape, green when unripe, and purplish black when fully ripe.


Soft, brownish, tuberous zigzag with irregular nodes, frequently curved and twisted bark pale brown, corky, longitudinally fissured. Dry roots are very hard, tortuous, yellowish brown surface with vertical cracks or wrinkles. The fracture is short, irregular, odorless, and tastes very bitter. Dry root when rubbed with water yields a yellowish-tinged paste. In fresh conditions, the bark gets easily separated from the woody portion whereas in dry root it doesn’t.


Indian Snakeroot

6. Types of Rauvolfia

Raj Nighantu has mentioned Nakuli and Gandha nakuli/mahasugandha. The properties of Gandha nakuli are better than Nakuli.

7. Ayurvedic Properties

Rasa (Taste): Sarpagandha is considered to have a bitter taste (Tikta Rasa).

Virya (Potency): It is cooling in nature (Sheeta Virya).

Vipaka (post-digestive taste): The post-digestive taste is pungent (Katu Vipaka).

Dosha Effects: Rauvolfia serpentina primarily balances Pitta and Kapha doshas. Due to its cooling nature, it may increase Vata dosha in excess or for certain individuals.

8. Chemical Constituent

It has carminative, hypotensive, sedative, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. It is bitter in aromatic, astringent, bitter in taste, and hot in potency. Sarpgandha root produces Alkaline reserpine, a plethora of phytonutrient compounds that have antihypertensive and antipsychotic effects on the human body. It exerts antihypertensive properties by depleting the catecholamine.

9. Identity, Purity, and Strength

Foreign Matter – Not more than 2%

Total Ash – Not more than 8%

Acid-insoluble ash – Not more than 1%

Alcohol-soluble extractive – Not less than 4%

Water-soluble extractive – Not less than 10%

(Source: The Ayurvedic Pharmacopeia of India 2001)

10. Heath Benefits

The herb is an effective drug for lowering blood pressure and reducing fever. During delivery, it is used to stimulate uterine contractions and promote the expulsion of the fetus. This, however, is not corroborated and may be regarded as folklore. It has an extensive spectrum of valuable therapeutic actions, mainly effective in the treatment of hypertension and psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety, epilepsy, insomnia, and insanity, and used as a sedative, a hypnotic drug. Extracts of the roots are valued for the treatment of intestinal disorders, particularly diarrhea and dysentery, and as anathematic. Mixed with other plant extracts, they have been used in the treatment of cholera, colic, and fever.  The juice of the leaves has been used as a remedy for the opacity of the cornea.

Rauvolfia juice and extract obtained from the root can be used for treating gastrointestinal and circulatory diseases. The juice of tender leaves and root extract is used to treat liver pain, stomach pain, dysentery and expel intestinal worms.

Rauvolfia roots are also used to treat hypertension associated with cerebral pain, wooziness, and menorrhea in the Siddha system of medicine. In the Unani system, it is used as a nervine tonic, sedative, hypnotic, diuretic, and anesthetic.

11. Therapeutic Uses

Mental Disorders – Sarpagandha is included in Aparajita gana which is indicated in mental disorders.

Insomnia - Rauvolfia root powder is given in doses of 5gm with ghee or rose water at bedtime induces sound sleep and gives relief in panic attacks, palpitations, nervousness, anxiety, and epilepsy.

Insanity – 1 gram of powdered root can be taken thrice with milk in insanity and hysteria.

Hypertension – Taking half tsp of full root powder of Rauvolfia, twice a day or 2 tablets of Sarpagandhaghana vati once a day is effective in lowering high blood pressure.

Urticaria – 1 gram of powdered root is taken with water to prevent itching in urticaria.

12. Doses

Root Powder – 3 to 6 gm (sedative, insanity), 1 to 2gm (in hypertension)

13. Formulations

Sarpagandhadi churna, Sarpagandhaghana vati, Sarpagandhayoga, Sarpagandha vati.

Sarpgandha Churna

This is a powdered form of Sarpgandha root. It is often used in Ayurvedic preparations to address hypertension. A common dosage is half a teaspoon of Sarpgandha Churna mixed with water, taken three times a day.

Sarpgandha Ghrita

Ghrita refers to medicated ghee. Sarpgandha Ghrita is prepared by mixing Sarpgandha root powder with ghee. It is believed to have a calming effect on the mind and is used in Ayurveda to manage anxiety and insomnia.

Sarpgandha Kashayam

Kashayam is an herbal decoction prepared by boiling herbs in water. Sarpgandha Kashayam is used to regulate blood pressure and promote cardiovascular health. It is typically consumed in small quantities under the guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner.

Sarpgandha Taila

Taila means oil and Sarpgandha Taila is an oil infusion of Sarpgandha root. It is applied topically for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, making it useful for conditions like arthritis and muscle pain.

14. Safety and Toxicity Studies

Reserpine is reported to be a cardiovascular depressant with hypnotic activity, and it has relatively high toxicity. Minimum therapeutic doses of Reserpine may give rise to nasal congestion, lethargy, drowsiness, peculiar dreams, vertigo and gastrointestinal symptoms and sometimes dyspnea and urticarial rash may occur. Higher doses may cause flushing, injection of conjunctive, insomnia, bradycardia, asthenia, edema, occasionally parkinsonism, and severe mental depression which may lead to suicide. Prolonged previous use of reserpine may cause disturbances in blood pressure during operation under general anesthesia, while some patients may be highly susceptible to small parental dosage.

15. Sarpgandha with other herbs

Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is a popular herb known for its adaptogenic properties. When combined with Sarpgandha, it may enhance the stress-relieving and calming effects.

Brahmi: Brahmi is considered a brain tonic in Ayurveda, supporting mental clarity and cognitive function. It can be synergistic with Sarpgandha in promoting mental well-being.

Jatamansi: Jatamansi is an herb known for its calming and grounding properties. When combined with Sarpgandha, it can further enhance the sedative and relaxation effects.

Shankhpushpi: Shankhpushpi is often used in Ayurvedic formulations for its memory-enhancing and brain-boosting benefits. It can complement the mental health support provided by Sarpgandha.

Tagar (Valeriana wallichii): Tagar is an herb that is often used in Ayurveda for its calming and sedative properties. When combined with Sarpgandha, it may enhance relaxation and sleep-supporting effects.

Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia): Guduchi is a versatile herb known for its immune-boosting and detoxifying properties. When combined with Sarpgandha, it may provide additional support to the overall health and well-being of the body.

Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna): Arjuna is an herb commonly used for cardiovascular health. When combined with Sarpgandha, it can complement the blood pressure-regulating effects and promote a healthy heart.

Amalaki (Emblica officinalis): Amalaki, also known as Indian gooseberry, is a potent antioxidant and rejuvenating herb. When combined with Sarpgandha, it may provide additional support for overall health and vitality.

16. Frequently Asked Question

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