Astringent, Anti-hemorrhagic (Stambana, Ropana)
If you’ve ever had a cup of tea or glass of wine, then you have personally experienced astringency. The tightening of the tissue of the mouth is the astringent action of the plant at work. Astringents (sometimes called Styptics) are remedies that contain constituents that have a binding action on mucous membranes, skin, and other exposed tissues.
How Astringents Work
Usually this effect is due to a group of complex chemicals called tannins. They have the effect of precipitating protein molecules (how animal skin is turned into leather). Astringents have a role in a wide range of problems in many parts of the body, but are of special importance in wound healing and conditions of the digestive system.
Their therapeutic benefits include:
A reduction of irritation on the surface of tissues due to a form of numbing
A reduction in surface inflammation
A barrier against infection is created which is of great help in wounds and burns
Long-term internal use or too much in the diet can be detrimental to health, as there may be an eventual inhibition of proper food absorption across the gut wall.
The astringent taste exert a firming, condensing and compacting action upon the tissues and organs of the body. They stop excessive discharge and secretions. Although drying, they are also moisture preserving. In addition, they have a healing action upon the skin and mucous membranes.
Astringent taste may be differentiated from astringent action in the following way: astringent tasting herbs have astringent action while herbs of other tastes may also have astringent effects upon the body.
Astringent tasting herbs are mainly used symptomatically, as in stopping bleeding or stopping diarrhea. Yet they often do not correct the condition from which the problem arises. Others herbs of different tastes may, in correcting conditions, alleviate these symptoms also. Diarrhea, for example, may be due to poor absorption in the small intestine. An astringent herb like raspberry may suppress the symptom, but will not improve absorption. In this regard, a herb like nutmeg, which is pungent and astringent, and which contains heating and digestion promoting action along with astringent action, is more the herb of choice.
It may not always be good to suppress discharges. Diarrhea caused by undigested food and phlegm may be the body’s way of naturally cleansing itself. To suppress such diarrhea with astringent taste herbs would result in holding the toxin in the body and cause further complications. The correct treatment in this case would be to promote the diarrhea with laxatives until the Phlegm is dispelled. Astringent herbs would only be used if the diarrhea continued beyond the point of cleansing.
It is important not to abuse astringent herbs by using them symptomatically like drugs, without understanding the deeper causes of the disorders they may superficially treat.
Ayurveda distinguishes between three different kinds of astringent action:
Herbs that stop bleeding, hemostatic herbs – Rakta stambhana
Herbs that stop excessive discharge of waste materials – mala stambhana
Herbs that promote healing of tissues, particularly for external use, vulnerary – ropana
Rubusidaeus (Red Raspberry)
Quercussp (White/Red Oak)
Geranium maculatum (Cranesbill)
Capsella bursa-pastoris (Shepherd’s Purse)