Jyotishmati Oil

Oct 3, 2012 by

Jyotishmati OilJyotishmati is a South Indian name for the renowned Ayurvedic memory herb Celastrus paniculatus. Jyotishmati oil pressed from C. paniculatus seeds has a variety of medicinal applications in Indian Ayurvedic medicine and is widely used across the Indian subcontinent. Celastrus’ long history of use is reflected in the array of common names for it in different Indian languages: celastrus has been called jyotishmati, malkanguni, malkuki, malkungi, valulavai, and staff tree. The word “jyotishmati” means “luminous” or “lustrous”, and while some scholars have suggested this name refers to the bright orange fruit that contains the seeds of Celastrus paniculatus, a more poetic interpretation holds that the name refers to the ability of jyotishmati oil to enhance memory and mental capacity, or the luminousness of a person’s mind.

Celastrus paniculatus is a climbing shrub with long, thin branches and reddish brown bark covered in elongated white lenticels. The large seeds from which jyotishmati oil is made are encased in bright orange or orange-red fruits called arils. When analyzed in the lab, expressed jyotishmati oil has been documented to be a powerful anti-oxidant that may preserve brain structures when taken internally as a tonic (over a period of a few days and beyond). The oil contains high levels of acetic acid, benzoic acid and other fatty acids, as well as the unique alkaloids celastrine and paniculatine, which may be responsible for celastrus’ memory enhancing effects. Jyotishmati oil seems to work best for improving memory, cognition and attention when you take it over a period of time, but it has also shown rapid improvements in task performance in animal models: for instance, rats treated with scopolamine (a compound that induces disorientation and spatial impairment) exhibited measurable improvements on a maze test after they were administered 50-400 milligrams of celastrus oil afterward.

As with many of the versatile Ayurvedic herbs, jyotishmati oil has numerous applications in traditional medicine. Its most famous use—the one currently being researched in Western medicine—is as a tonic to improve memory and treat mental fatigue, lack of concentration, mental impairment and even senile dementia. Jyotishmati oil is specifically indicated for in Ayurveda when it comes to treating these aspects of mind and memory. The oil may also be used to treat illnesses as severe as paralysis, psychosis and epilepsy, though data is still needed on jyotishmati oil’s effectiveness in these cases. It’s also taken internally to ease rheumatism and arthritis, dyspepsia, peptic ulcers and sores, and is used topically to treat sprains. The documented anti-inflammatory effects of celastrus oil are currently bearing out this traditional medicinal use.

Jyotishmati oil also has a couple contraindications, or diagnoses for which it should not be used. According to the Ayurvedic medicinal text Bhavaprakasha, the pressed seed oil can be an emetic that induces vomiting in larger doses, and should not be used to treat conditions accompanied by nausea or vomiting. Jyotishmati oil is not used in other cases where emesis is contraindicated.

Overall, jyotishmati oil has more cases where it can be put to use in Ayurvedic medicine than otherwise. Much like tonic herbs such as Ashwaganda and gotu kola, jyotishmati oil appears in Ayurvedic literature almost as a cure-all, suitable for use in treating many systemic ailments having to do with inflammation, energy and mental acuity. Jyotishmati oil also synergizes well with other medicinal herbs in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia: for instance, celastrus oil might be mixed with other medicines classed as warming herbs such as cinnamon and jatiphala, and taken internally to treat paralysis, joint and muscle pain, and gout. For improving mental acuity and memory, jyotishmati oil or a tea made from the seeds might be combined with herbs such as brahmi (Bacopa monnieri, another famed memory-enhancing herb) and Asian spikenard to sharpen the mind and bring the senses alert.

Jyotishmati oil is also frequently applied topically to the skin or joints: the oil was sometimes rubbed into the skin to bring relief from fatigue; in treatments to improve memory, the oil might be applied directly to the head or scalp instead of being taken internally. In lieu of the pressed oil, a seed poultice might be used to relieve the pain of sores and ulcers, and to treat a skin condition called scabies. Finally, a preparation of topical jyotishmati oil was often used to cure beri beri, an illness affecting the peripheral nervous system that is brought on by a deficiency in vitamin B1 (thiamine). It’s no coincidence that celastrus seeds and their oil contain high amounts of B vitamins, which could be an effective treatment for this condition.

In the West, celastrus seed and oil products are coming into their own as powerful memory and cognition enhancers with many ancillary benefits as anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. We only have to look back at jyotishmati oil’s long history of medicinal use in India to realize that this wonderful plant medicine has had this potential along. As more study is brought to bear on the benefits of jyotishmati oil, it will no doubt guide even more promising treatments out of the pages of Ayurveda and into our everyday lives.

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