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Herbs and the Sattvic Life

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 179 - February 2011

"When Sattva predominates, the light of wisdom shines through every gate of the body"
(Bhagavad Gita 14: 11).

Ayurveda philosophy has much to offer in our quest for health, happiness and tranquillity. It describe three qualities known as Gunas that influence everything in creation, in the macrocosm of the universe and the microcosm of each individual being. We can observe the effects of these qualities - Sattva, Rajas and Tamas - in our everyday lives, and in particular how they influence our mental and emotional tendencies.

Sattva is the creative energy of the universe and the principle of love, purity, harmony and perception.  When people are in a Sattvic state they radiate light, and joy; they are intelligent and wise. It is this higher state which enables the awakening of the soul and a state of bliss.

Rajas is the quality of energy and turbulence. It activates all movement and is responsible for maintaining what has been created, giving a concrete shape to dreams. In the mind Rajas provokes thought and activity, but in excess it causes agitation, passion, aggression, competition, ambition, and self seeking action that causes suffering. In a Rajasic state we can be surged with energy, restless, thirsty for more stimuli, seeking fulfilment in the outer world and not at peace with ourselves. We dissipate our energy through excess activity and as we become tired and depressed Tamas takes over.

Tamas is the quality of darkness, inertia, dullness and destruction. Tamas gives us the ability to complete what was generated by Sattva and Rajas. Heavy, material and solid, it engenders calm and groundedness,  inactivity, lethargy and enables us to sleep. Excess Tamas can obstruct movement in the mind causing laziness, ignorance, stubbornness, and depression. We may feel dull and unmotivated, struggle to understand the truth and be pervaded by doubts and negative thoughts.

To promote health and balance in our lives we need a predominance of Sattva. Excess Rajas or Tamas decrease Sattva and predispose to ill health and unhappiness; yet they are still vital to the cycle of life.  Tamas enables rest and relaxation and brings recovery from the activity of Rajas. We need Rajas to survive in the world for we cannot spend all day doing nothing in a state of Sattvic bliss! Also Rajas can be used to convert Tamas into Sattva.

The inevitable question is: how can we experience more Sattva within ourselves and in our relationships?  Luckily the wisdom of Ayurveda has the answer clearly laid out for us. We can affect our mental constitution created by the balance of the Gunas through the way we lead our lives. By eating a healthy diet, living a harmonious lifestyle with love, faith and other Sattvic attributes, and with the help of certain herbs, we have a greater ability to experience inner peace and a sense of joy and fulfilment.

Food is a vehicle for the life force (Prana) and is also classified according to the Gunas. There are Sattvic, Rajasic and Tamasic foods which have the ability to increase these qualities within us by eating them.

Sattvic foods are the highest quality, pure, wholesome and life enhancing. They are juicy, nourishing, energy giving and easy to digest; rich in vital nutrients as well as the subtle nourishment necessary for vitality and consciousness. Ideally they are organic, fresh and prepared with love and awareness (just as food can affect our mind, our thoughts and emotions can also affect our food).

Sattvic foods include fresh vegetables and fruits; unroasted and unsalted nuts and seeds;  legumes; fresh dairy; whole grains; raw cane sugar and honey, rock salt and cold pressed oils. Sattvic spices include cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, fresh ginger and turmeric.

Rajasic foods are medium quality, often high in protein and carbohydrate; they tend to be stimulating and generate energy. They include meat, cheese, eggs, fish, hot, spicy and fried foods, pickles, garlic, onions, potatoes, homogenised milk, sugar, sea salt, salted bread, tea, coffee and alcohol.  Sattvic foods become Rajasic if they are fried in oil and pungent spices.

Tamasic foods are low quality, devitalised foods such as over-cooked, tinned, processed, frozen and junk foods as well as left-over stale or fermenting food.  They lack nutrients and use a lot of energy to digest. They include sweets, fizzy drinks, snacks like crisps, chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, colourings and preservatives, and are best avoided as they can impair health and vitality.

A Sattvic lifestyle includes activities to promote health and happiness, known as achara rasayanas such as: 

Discouraging negative emotions; being gentle and forgiving of yourself; promoting positive thoughts and actions; doing what you love to do, not hurting anyone else, e.g. singing, painting, watching nature; being kind and tolerant to everybody; going out of your way to make others feel better; being generous with time, energy and wisdom; choosing to be with people who inspire and encourage you to strive for greater knowledge; always speaking the truth with kindness and compassion; maintaining personal integrity; keeping yourself and your environment clean and tidy; practising moderation in everything: work, diet, sleep, and exercise; going to bed early, getting sufficient sleep; avoiding excess stimulation from mass media entertainment; following your own spiritual path, allowing time for spiritual practices such as meditation; taking regular gentle exercise such as yoga to generate energy; spending time outside in nature to lift the spirits and purify the senses.

Sattvic Herbs

Herbs with Sattvic properties when taken regularly can help promote inner calm and wisdom and are rich in Prana, or vital energy. They can be very helpful for enhancing reflection, meditation and prayer. They include:

Gokshura (Tribulus terrestris). A wonderful rejuvenating herb that calms the nerves and promotes clarity. Taken with milk and Ashwaganda it is a powerful revitalizer;

Ashwagandha (Withnia somnifera). The best rejuvenative and strengthening herb, used for children, the elderly, people debilitated by chronic disease or from overwork, lack of sleep, or nervous exhaustion.  It is one of the best nourishing herbs for the mind, promoting clarity, calmness and deep sleep;

Vacha (Acorus calamus). Valued as the supreme tonic for the mind and spiritual self, it is a renowned rejuvenative for the brain and the nerves. It promotes cerebral circulation, increases sensitivity and perception, sharpens memory and enhances awareness;

Licorice (Glycrrhiza glabra) is a restorative and rejuvenative, nourishing the nerves, calming the mind and promoting contentment and harmony;

Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) is considered the best rejuvenative for women; it is calming and strengthening, and promotes clarity and calm; 

Saffron (Crocus sativa) is considered pure Sattva, and it is held in high esteem as an aid to meditation and spiritual development. It is also considered the best purifying herb, clearing the subtle channels of the etheric body, as well as eliminating toxic build-up in the physical body;

Other Sattvic herbs include Bacopa (Bacopa monieri), Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba),

Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi), Punarnava (Boerhavia diffusa), Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum), Nutmeg, and Rose.


  1. lalanga said..

    What a nice article, was helpfull thanks and God bless you !!

  2. brian said..

    Hi Anne,
    I was always led to believe that Nutmeg is a tamasic herb, as continued use can dull the mind(it can be used as a recreational drug) and leads to lethargy.

  3. Carmen Mutschler said..


    Thank you for the info! Do you also post recipies ore do you have a newsletter?

    Heve a good week,


    Carmen Mutschler

  4. Mike said..

    Hello Carmen, We sometimes post recipies within an article but these are by the author not by PH. We have a newsletter that goes out when a new issue is uploaded, the next is on 13 June 2019. If you go to the Home page you will see how to register, once that is done you will receive the newsletter automatically. Other than that we don't send out anything else.
    Best wishes, Mike

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About Anne McIntyre

Anne McIntyre FNIMH MAPA is a fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and a member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association. She has been practising as a herbalist for 30 years and has also trained in remedial massage, aromatherapy, counselling, homoeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including The Complete Woman's Herbal (Gaia), The Complete Floral Healer (Gaia), The Herbal Treatment of Children (Elsevier), The Top 100 Remedies (Duncan Baird), The Complete Herbal Tutor (Gaia) and Healing Drinks (Gaia). Anne's latest book Dispensing with Tradition: A practitioner's Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way has recently been published. She teaches regularly in the UK and USA and spends as much time as she can in her herb garden which she opens to the public by appointment. She practises at Artemis House, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, (Tel: 01451 810096) and in London and Wales once a month. She may be contacted on Tel: 01451 810096

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