Originally published in the March 2017 issue of the Northstar Monthly
In Ayurveda, the 5,000 year old healing system coming out of India, Shatavari is the primary tonic for women (though it can be used for men as well). Indeed, its name means “having one hundred husbands” and anyone who can do that must be vital indeed.
As a female tonic, it is nourishing and useful through every phase of a woman's adult life. Some western female tonics seem less relevant during or after menopause, especially as they can be drying. However, shatavari is a demulcent herb, so it has this soothing moistening effect that makes it very relevant for menopause and beyond.
According to Ayurveda, each phase of life is dominated by a particular kind of energy or force. We all start off very juicy and plump and growing rapidly (Kapha phase) and then move into our adult years with a warmer more firey take on life (Pitta). This is the time of creative transformation, manifesting new life either as childbearing or as other passions. We are still pretty juicy during the Pitta phase but definitely not as juicy as childhood. When we enter our later years, we enter tha Vata season of life. This is a very drying phase. In some ways, age can be seen as a process of drying out.
According to Ayurveda, the kinds of conditions you have when you have a lot of Vata in your system are trouble sleeping, a sensitive digestive system, anxiety, and dryness such as vaginal dryness. If you already have a tendency toward these issues, once you enter this phase of life you can be in for a rough ride. Fortunately, the heavy, unctuous, and sweet qualities of shatavari can help decrease Vata and enhance your physical strength and overall vitality.
During that Pitta phase of life, shatavari is just as relevant, as it also calms the excessive heat that one can have during this time. Hormonal imbalances are a form of heat that shatavari can help cool and balance. It is used to enhance fertility and is safe to use throughout pregnancy as a uterine tonic and nutritive herb. It is also safe during breastfeeding and can enhance the quality and quantity of breastmilk. It can also soothe an overly hot, or Pitta, digestive system and is specific for people who have too much stomach acid resulting in heartburn.
What with Valentine's Day, it would be remiss if I did not mention that for both women and men, shatavari can enhance libido. And the same quality of shatavari that increases breastmilk and vaginal secretions will also increase semen as well. You won't feel an immediate effect from shatavari as it is a tonic, but when taken over time, it gently balances your hormones, increases your energy, and therefor increases your libido (it's hard to be in the mood when you don't feel well).
Shatavari is a classic rasayana – a rejuvenative herb. In western herbalism, we classify shatavari as an adaptogen (a non-toxic herb that improves the function of your endocrine system – and often your nervous and immune system as well – increasing your resiliency to stress).
You can drink shatavari as a decoction or take it as a powder or pill, however, because it has a relatively mild flavor, it's fun to mix it with chocolate! You can use shatavari decoction as a base for hot cocoa, or you can use it to make these little gummies below.
Shatavari Chocolate Gummies
½ cup of shatavari decoction
¼ teaspoon almond extract
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons roasted cacao powder
3 tablespoons roasted cacao nibs
1 tablespoon agar agar powder
honey to taste (I used two heaping tablespoons)
Mix the powdered herbs, cacao nibs, extracts, honey and agar agar powder into the shatavari decoction. Let stand for 5 minutes. In order to gel, agar needs heat. After 5 minutes gently heat on the stove on medium low heat. Stir continuously. It will begin to set, becoming a thick gel. At this point, you can squish it into molds or pour it into a pan and cut it into cubes after it sets. Put it in the freezer (or outside!) for at least 15 minutes, but if you do it for a half an hour I think it has a gummier texture.
Shatavari is actually Indian asparagus so you can dig up the roots of our western asparagus (the one you might have growing right in your garden) and use those. The western asparagus is thought to have a similar effect as shatavari but to be more drying as it is a stronger diuretic.
If you are pregnant, nursing, using pharmaceuticals, or have kidney or liver disease please consult a health practitioner or herbalist before incorporating new herbs into your diet.