Ayurvastra: Herbal Healing Through Cloth

| 11/11/2010 10:12:50 AM

L.HoltSo we’ve all heard about the potential medicinal benefits of herbs taken through supplements, teas, tinctures and aromatics. But what about herbs absorbed through your skin? Salves and plasters may sound familiar, but have you ever heard of herbs infused into your clothes? In my exploration of turmeric’s benefits I became interested in Ayurvastra, a branch of Ayurvedic traditional Indian medicine that uses herb-infused and herb-dyed organic fabrics as healing agents, especially for skin, joint and respiratory conditions.

Ayurvastra, from the Sanskrit roughly meaning “life cloth,” was recently revitalized in India and around the globe. The process starts with 100 percent hand-loomed organic cotton or silk that is dyed in herbal infusions for both color and health purposes. According to Chaitanya Arora of Penchant Traders, ayurvastra functions through the principle of touch: as the skin comes into contact with the herb-infused fabric the body develops increased metabolism and rids itself of toxins. In 2006, a trial by the Government Ayurveda College in Thiruvanathapuram in southern India found Ayurvastra cloth to be effective in treating 40 patients with allergies, rheumatism, hypertension, psoriasis and other skin ailments. Despite the history of this practice, Western medicine has not yet recognized the benefits of ayurvastra clothing and products.

Healing Ayurvastra cloth is dyed and woven by hand.  

Traditionally, ayuvastra clothing is most effective when the human body is at rest because the body is already naturally healing itself. The cloth is commonly found in bedclothes and garments intended for sleep or meditation, although recent trends in the cloth’s fashionable application have resulted in more activity-oriented clothing such as harem pants, razorback tank tops, dresses, saris, burkas, shorts and embroidered tops. In the U.S., a.d.o. (anjelika dreams organic) produces fair trade, organic handmade clothing that follows this tradition.

 The herb-infused cloth is most effective when the body is as rest.  

The herbs that are used in this practice may be familiar. Turmeric is used for skin and anti-inflammatory treatment, as is madder root. These two plants also imbue the skin with antioxidants. Neem boosts skin health and has long been used in Ayurvedic practice to treat diseases such as chicken pox and measles. To treat arthritis, practitioners use curry leaves (sweet neem), acacia and Indian pepper. Acacia is traditionally recognized as an anti-inflammatory and Indian pepper similarly suppresses pain and reduces inflammation. 

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