Asava and arishta, meaning “distillate” in Sanskrit, are two naturally fermented alcoholic extracts used for making Ayurvedic wine medicines. Draksha in Sanskrit means “grape” and draksharista therefore means grape wine. This is not your regular merlot or pinot, but a very low alcohol herbally medicated wine.
Draksha is one of the most effective botanical remedies for digestive health and healing. In fact, it’s a standard household remedy prescribed routinely by Ayurvedic doctors in India for the digestive system (Triphala is another, used for balanced detoxification).
It was Hippocrates who said the oft quoted “Let your medicine be your food, and your food, your medicine.” A common principle held by traditional healing systems is that all diseases begin in the digestive tract. We all know how important probiotics and fermented foods are for the entire GI tract. Fermented foods are medicine. Well that’s another feature of Draksha. Draksharishta contains 5 – 10 % of self-generated alcohol which acts to deliver water and alcohol soluble herbal components to the body.
In ancient times, herbalists did not make tinctures by first making alcohol and then using it to extract herbs. In most cases they let the herbs make their own alcohol by fermentation. Since the time of the Vedas (5000-3000 BC), such herbal wine elixirs have been used. Draksharishtas have been in used since the period of Charaka (2000 BC).
Arishtas such as draksharishta offer several advantages over Western herbal alcoholic extracts but the main advantage is that they come out to be only 5-8% self-generated alcohol. This means that the herbs used in the preparation of arishtas make their own alcohol and are broken down and predigested in the final low alcohol preparation. Having made a few arishtas myself, such as hawthorn berry wine and beer with hops, I have always felt this to be one of the very best types of herbal preparations.
Draksha is made with grapes and herbs and is usually taken in a single tablespoon dose immediately before eating. The finished product has the advantage of being delicious as well as carminative, tonic and rejuvenative.
I first learned of the benefits of draksha when an Ayurvedic doctor would visit his student in Santa Cruz, yearly. While he was here he would see patients. Besides triphala, trikatu, guggul and other constitutional formulas, he often prescribed draksha to his patients to establish a well working core GI tract. He let his student make, sell and distribute his formula. It was an excellent product, I would say the best for all digestive imbalances.
While Draksha can be purchased from various sources, it is quite easy to make enough for yourself, family, friends, and patients.
The main ingredient in Draksha is red grapes and I think the preferred grape is concord. “Studies have confirmed that drinking red wine not only tastes good
to many people, but it’s also good for the bacteria lining your large intestine.” Further, alcohol is known to increase the rate at which things moves through the stomach. In moderate amount this is why herbal extracts and wines have been commonly used for thousands of years in most cultures. Also for this reason Traditional Chinese Medicine describes alcohol as ‘heating’ and herbs prepared in alcohol being more heating then when taken in tea or powders.
Ayurveda describes Agni as digestive fire and it is one of the reasons that cooked food is better digested and assimilated. The rule in all systems of natural healing is that when one is weak, they should consume only warm food and drink. The combination of red grapes, spices, herbs in a fermented medium of alcohol is ideal treatment for all GI complaints, with draksha being used in Ayurveda and various liqueurs called “bitters” widely used throughout Europe for digestion.
The benefits of grapes according to Ayurveda
- Semi-ripened grapes are more sour which improves appetite and taste.
- Ripened grapes are very useful in treating bleeding disorders.
- Ripened grapes help relieve thirst, act as a natural coolant and have a soothing effect.
- Dry grapes or raisins help to ease bowel movements and to cool eyes.
- Raisins are used in treating excessive thirst, respiratory problems, fever, vomiting, gout, liver problems, burning sensations, etc.
- Raisins can relieve stress, anxiety and calm the mind.
- Raisins are also used to treat intestinal disorders.
- Even though grapes are the main ingredient in wine making, they can reduce the hangover caused by excessive alcohol intake.
- It is advisable for students to regularly eat raisins soaked in water to avoid tiredness.
- Raisins help to increase male and female fertility. They help to increase the quality of semen, sperm count and motility. They are also used to treat erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. They are also known to strengthen female reproductive organs.
Traditional uses for draksha
Draksha increases digestive power and promotes bowel movements. It also helps intestinal cleansing and is useful in relieving gastritis and hyperacidity.
Since digestive issues are at the root of so many diseases, despite its warming properties, Draksha is also used in the treatment of skin diseases of Pitta origin.
Following are the many clinical uses for draksha in Ayurveda:
- Urakshata – useful in chest injury
- Kshaya – tuberculosis, chronic respiratory diseases, weight loss
- Kasa – cold, cough
- Shwasa – Asthma
- Galamayan – throat infection / throat disorders
- Balakrut – improves strength
- Malashodhana – cleanses intestines
- Dourbalya (debility)
- Agnimandya (indigestion)
- Arsha (hemorrhoids)
- Udavarta (regurgitation)
- Raktapitta (bleeding disorders)
- Krimi (worm infestation)
- Kushtha (skin diseases)
- Kamala (jaundice)
- Pandu (anemia)
- Akshiroga (eye disorders)
- Shiroroga (diseases of the scalp)
- Galaroga (throat disorders)
- Shopha (edema)
- Gulma (gaseous tumors)
- Shosha (emaciation)
- Jwara (fever)
Draksha, Ayurvedic Grape Medicinal Wine
There are many recipe variations making draksha, but here is one that is reasonably simple taught by our outstanding medicine making teacher, Holly Hutton:
- Black Grapes: 2 lb
- 1 tsp of turmeric
- ½ tsp of salt
- Raw or coconut sugar: 2 cups
- Raisins: ½ cups
- Cloves: 1/4
- Black Pepper: 1/4 teaspoon
- Cinnamon: 1 (long piece)
- Water: 3 cups
My own addition to this which was not part of Holly’s recipe, are the powders of the following:
- 2 tsp triphala
- 2 tsp cardamom
- 2 tsp sandalwood
Keep grapes in a mix of water, salt and turmeric powder for 2 hours. Briefly rinse.
Make 3 portions for layering. Grind cinnamon, black pepper and cloves in a mixer and make fine powder and mix with sugar. Make 3 portions for layering.
In a glass jar layer one portion of grapes, followed by one portion of sugar and 1/3 of the raisins.
I would specifically recommend whole dehydrated can juice sold as Sucanat unrefined sugar available in Central American grocery stores called ‘panela’ or in Indian import stores as ‘jaggery.’ These are a healthy unrefined sugar loaded with minerals.
Continue layering similarly for second and third layer, till all ingredients are used. Cover jar with cloth and let sit for 2 days. After 2 days stir well using a wooden spatula. Then put lid on jar closing tight.
Continue to stir daily for the next 4 more days. After this close the lid (air-tight closing is important) and put in dark warm place (on top of refrigerator covered with paper bag or cloth) for 1 month.
Open after one month, strain (without squeezing). Store in an airtight jar for 2 more months. Then it is ready to take.
Recommended dosage: 1 to 2 tablespoons in a half cup of water sipped before, during or after meals.
Store in a cool, dry place.
For those inclined to make a more traditional Ayurvedic draksharista, see this recipe, which takes 40 days to prepare:
Draksha side effects and precautions
Over-dosage is best avoided.
Pregnant women should seek medical advice before taking this medicine.
Diabetes mellitus patients should avoid this preparation as its sugar content is high.
Those with gastric irritation and ulcer should avoid this as it may increase the irritation due to the hot and deep penetrative qualities of self-fermented alcohol.
If you don’t care to make your own draksha you will find many variations on this recipe in prepared form for purchase on the Internet. One that I’ve used for years clinically is Bazaar of India’s draksha. Regardless of how serious or simple your digestive problem might be, draksha alone or together with Triphala will prove to be very effective. Regardless of the condition they are treating, clinicians can rely on draksha to be a foundational and beneficial adjunct to any healing regime.
Next time you experience common digestive problems such as bloating, gas, gastritis or acid reflux, consider your state of health and the foods you are eating, but by all means use draksha.
Ayurveda and digestion
Draksha formula – traditional preparation
Sugar versus jagerry