Punarnava: The Powerful Renewer

Before harvesting or using punarnava, please make sure to carefully read the disclaimers below.

Punarnava, the Sanskrit word for the medicinal plant commonly known in English as spreading hogweed, literally translated means “renewer” or “rejuvenator.” Punar- means “again,” and -nava translates to “new.” Punarnava is steadily gaining attention in the expansive world of natural health medicine as a powerful medicinal herb with a wonderful laundry list of health-promoting benefits supporting longevity and youthfulness.

This medicinal herb known for restoring vitality has been used in ancient Ayurvedic practices in India for centuries. Two varieties are referenced in Ayurvedic scriptures: red (rakta) and white (shweta); the white variety is the one used for medicinal purposes. The Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita makes reference to the use of [the white variety of] punarnava to balance the Kapha and Vata doshas of the tridoshas central to Ayurvedic philosophy. The Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry explains the medicinal importance of punarnava in a comprehensive article by first describing its foundation in Aruyveda: “Ayurveda is that science and art of living which guides you in the journey of life. It is the Indian wisdom for global health. In fact, the Indian sciences were always concerned about the wellbeing of not only the mankind but also of the other living things and even non-living things. (2012)” Punarnava, in the context of Ayurvedic philosophy, offers its life as a medicinal plant to provide life-giving properties to those that consume it. Properly understood, prepared, and used to reflect the science and art of living that is Ayurveda, punarnava can provide a greater sense of wellbeing for those suffering from a broad spectrum of ailments.

Punarnava—the renewer, revitalizer, rejuvenator—lives up to its name and to its legacy as a powerful medicinal herb used to regain life. Here is a list of the many benefits of consuming punarnava, which makes me wonder whether or not everyone could benefit from a little dose of renewing à la punarnava…

  • Diuretic – improves digestion; relieves urinary retention, urinary tract infections

*Punarnava reduces levels of urea in the body and contains the flavonoid arbinofuranoside, which lowers serum uric acid and can be helpful in treating urogenital disorders.

  • Antimicrobial – acts against microbes/strengthens immune system
  • Analgesic – pain relief (joint pain, especially)
  • Antispasmodic – relief for involuntary muscle spasms
  • Anti-inflammatory – relief of swelling
  • Accelerates healing of wounds
  • Helps early-stage liver disorders such as nephrotic syndrome and anemia

*Although punarnava is very high in iron, pregnant women should consult a doctor regarding use during pregnancy. It is, however, safe to use punarnava during the lactation period.

  • Relieves coughs and colds – helps to remove sputum (mucus and saliva in respiratory tract)
  • Purifies blood
  • Beneficial in managing obesity (due to the plant’s swelling-reducing properties)
  • Useful for chest injuries, cardiac disorders, asthma, hemorrhoids, abdominal colic, chronic toxic conditions, ascites, menorrhagia.
  • Improves taste and can help in treating anorexia
  • Useful for treating eye disorders such as night vision, glaucoma, persistent irritation to the eyes, and could benefit gradually developing visual impairments if taken regularly.

It is always important to note that self-treatment using any natural method is not advised. Please consult your primary care physician before using a supplement. Most especially, those with high blood pressure and kidney disorders should consult a doctor prior to using punarnava due to its diuretic qualities. Likewise, always consult an herbalist/expert in plant identification before harvesting and ingesting any wild foraged herb.  And be extra cautious if you are looking for punarnava in the wild; you shouldn’t confuse it with giant hogweed (as opposed to spreading hogweed), which is highly toxic and common in the New England part of the U.S.—best to leave this one to the experienced herbalists.

Punarnava is native to India, and is also found in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, and much of Africa, North and South America, Myanmar, and China. In various places, the plant goes by different names, which can be found here. During summertime in tropical places where the plant grows, it dries, but parts of the plant may be harvested and dried for later consumption. Punarnava, known as spreading hogweed, red spiderling, or tarvine in English, grows in parts of Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina.

Punarnava (scientific name Boerrhavia diffusa) in natural or raw form—that is, not in processed, capsule form—has a bitter, astringent taste and cooling qualities once ingested. The leaves are small and fleshy, the flowers a range of whitish-pink-red, and the roots like a slender, woody tuber. The small fruit of the plant is sticky and grows low to the ground to facilitate transportation of seed by migratory animals. The [medicinally most significant] root, leaves, and stem of the entire plant may be used to prepare a few traditional mediums for consumption. The whole plant with flowers removed may be prepared with lentils; the root may be ground to a paste and reduced with water to make a drinkable decoction; or the roots may be chopped and cooked in castor oil to create a strong remedy for constipation. The seeds of the punarnava plant may be used as an aphrodisiac. A decoction made from the roots of punarnava can be useful in topical treatment of snake or rodent bites, along with other skin ailments or irritations.

Medicinal remedies featuring punarnava in various forms are common in Ayurvedic treatment, as a testament to the herb’s impactful, health-boosting characteristics. A compound of the herb is used in most dietary supplements used to treat obesity, and the herb is commercially available in a variety of forms such as capsule, powder, dried raw root, dried leaf (like a tea), and in a prepared decoction. Again, it is important to consult a doctor before using punarnava as a treatment, but once understood in the context of each person’s unique body functioning, punarnava could have life-altering effects. Improve digestion and joint pain? Boost the immune system through coming cold season? Restore that natural, youthful glow? Yes, please!

Note: If you plan to forage for punarnava or use it yourself, please do further research and consult an experienced forager/herbalist.