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Sarpagandha is one of the many medicinal herbs found in the Indian subcontinent that had been a secret until recent (1940s-50s). Interestingly, this herb has its mention in the Charak Samhita, the most ancient ayurvedic text in India and has a history of struggle and conquest, just like every other herb indigenous to India. Used as medicine for snake bites, fevers and infections in traditional India, sarpagandha got its moment of fame after an Indian physician introduced it to the world through his writings. It used to be one of the most sought-after remedies for hypertension and insomnia until it got linked to depression and other side effects.

You’ll be amazed to know that most of its side effects are actually the conditions it is traditionally used to treat. This may be due to the dosage or individual physiology.

Extensive research has been done on this herb and new ones are still going on to harness all of its potentials. Meanwhile, Indians are using it like a pro. It is a sedative and a relaxant and also has a history of being used for easing childbirth by promoting uterine contractions.

Did you know?

Mahatma Gandhi used to sip sarpagandha tea to relax after a day of hard work.

Want to know more about it? Read on.

But first, here are some basic facts about sarpagandha:

  • Botanical name: Rauvolfia serpentina
  • Family: Apocynaceae
  • Common name: Indian snakewood, insanity herb, sarpagandha, devil pepper
  • Sanskrit name: Sarpagandha, chandrika
  • Parts used: Roots and leaves
  • Native region and geographical distribution: Sarpagandha grows widely in the Indian subcontinent, spreading from the Himalayas in India to Indonesia, Burma and Sri Lanka.
  1. Sarpagandha plant
  2. Sarpagandha benefits
  3. Sarpagandha use
  4. Sarpagandha dosage
  5. Sarpagandha side effects

Sarpagandha is a wonder plant with a fascinating history but what is the point of boasting off so much knowledge about a plant when you are not able to recognise it? Let us have a look at some of the characteristic features of sarpagandha that may be helpful just in case you decide to go out to buy or forage it.

Rauvolfia is a perennial and woody shrub that grows up to 60 cm in height. It grows well in shade during the monsoon season.

It bears big but simple leaves that grow near the top of the erect stem in whorls of three. They have a distinct bright green shade on the upside and a paler shade of green on the underside.

Sarpagandha stem doesn’t have many branches or it remains unbranched while its roots grow in the form on tubers with a pale brown shade. They are taproots, which can grow up to 30 cm in a 2-year-old plant and have a bitter taste when fresh. It takes about 3 years for this plant to mature and by then, the upper parts usually dry up,  leaving mostly the taproot.

This plant flowers from the months of March to May in India. It bears white coloured flowers borne on a red stalk and calyx and its ripe fruits are purple-black.

Sarpagandha has been put into the critically endangered list by the IUCN, not because of the medicinal use but because of the excessive deforestation in the tropical regions. To keep our biodiversity safe, it is important to protect their native habitats lest we lose some of the medicinal gems of nature.

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After being acquainted with the history and the plant features, it might be much easier to grab or identify it in the wild or in an ayurvedic store (if the pack doesn’t already have a name tag). Let us move on to its uses and benefits.

All thanks to research, sarpagandha is a well-known herb in the scientific community. Despite its many traditional uses, it is primarily known for its sedative, calming and hypotensive (lowers blood pressure) properties. Though, we would try and cover up as many here.

Sarpagandha for high blood pressure

You know it is one of the primary features of this plant when the very first study that introduced sarpagandha to the world was about its effectiveness in treating hypertension. According to that clinical trial, administration of sarpagandha was found to reduce blood pressure in 81% of the patients. Similar results were obtained in a subsequent study in Germany, where saragandha was reported to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in about 50 hypertension patients.

Later on, alseroxylon, an alkaloid extract prepared from this plant and serpina, a tablet made from sarpagandha root were proven to facilitate blood pressure reduction in two separate clinical studies. While alseroxylon was effective in the treatment of patients with blood pressure, which was as high as 150/100 mm Hg, serpina was found to be effective in bringing down blood pressure, which was as high as 192/122 mm Hg. Serpina has been claimed to be safe and without much side effects after being taken for about a year. However, the effects seemed to take about a week to start showing up and tend to wane within 2 weeks of discontinuing use. It was further found to be more useful for younger patients with neurotic hypertension (caused due to mental problems) than older people with long-term vascular high blood pressure (related to the heart).

Sarpagandha for insomnia

Insomnia is a type of sleep disorder wherein a person is unable to fall asleep even if they have sufficient time to. It is usually associated with symptoms like fatigue, lethargy, loss of concentration and mood swings. The good news is that you can fight insomnia easily with the help of sarpagandha root.

 According to a study published in the Journal of Ayurvedic and Holistic Medicine, consuming 500 mg sarpagandha tablets, two times a day (morning and night), for about a month is effective in improving the quality of sleep in case of primary insomnia, that is, insomnia that is not caused by any mental, physical or environmental reason.

So, if you are suffering from lack of sleep, you can ask your ayurvedic doctor about the benefits and dosage of sarpagandha for you.

Sarpagandha for the heart

Heart diseases are on the rise in the modern century due to the stressed lifestyle and unhealthy dietary habits. Traditionally, sarpagandha is used widely as a remedy for various cardiovascular disorders. In a clinical study, alseroxylon, the extract of sarpagandha was found to reduce angina symptoms along with managing coronary artery disease.

Hight blood pressure and high cholesterol are two major risk factors for heart diseases and sarpagandha is a remedy to both of these. It is a well known hypotensive agent and if the above studies were not enough, a recent pilot study has reconfirmed the effectiveness of a polyherbal formulation of sarpagandha in reducing excessive blood pressure within 8 weeks. In vivo (animal-based) studies demonstrate a marked reduction in low density (bad) cholesterol and an improvement in high density (good) cholesterol, on regular administration of this herb. So, it can be ascertained that sarpagandha has cardioprotective effects.

Sarpagandha for diabetes

Diabetes is an endocrine disorder marked by an imbalance in glucose metabolism, which brings with itself a lot of other problems, like an increased risk of dyslipidemia and cardiovascular problems like atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis (thickening of arteries and restriction of blood flow). Studies indicate that sarpagandha is not only useful against diabetes but it is also effective in managing other clinical manifestations that occur along.

Animal-based studies affirm the hypoglycemic (reducing blood sugar) properties of sarpagandha. As per the findings of this study, sarpaganda helps reduce blood glucose by various mechanisms including a reduction in body weight and the amount of sugar bound to haemoglobin.

Diabetes causes blood to flow slowly through the arteries which causes plaque buildup and atherosclerosis. In a recent preclinical study, methanolic extracts of sarpagandha have been found to alleviate all of these secondary manifestations of diabetes. So, you can rely on its use.

Sarpagandha as an antioxidant

Antioxidants are natural substances that fight off free radical damage in our body. Due to advancement in research, there has been a growing trend towards the link of free radical generation with diseases. Quite obviously since the excess of this ionic oxygen species creates stress on all the body systems, it leads to the degradation in the body and eventually the manifestation of a disease. Instead of taking supplements, antioxidants from natural substances and food sources are claimed to work better and more efficiently.

As a natural herb, saprgandha is undoubtedly one of the best antioxidants you can get your hands on. In an in vitro (lab-based) study, sarpagandha leaf extracts were demonstrated to exhibit effective antioxidant properties.

In another study, the ethanolic extract of sarpagandha roots was shown to possess significant free radical scavenging activity.  

However, it is best to talk to a doctor to know exactly how you can use this herb to get maximum benefits.

Sarpagandha for mental disorders

Sarpagandha has a controversial history in the field of psychiatry. In the Indian villages, it was sold as “paglon ki dawa” or “ medicine for mental illness”. It is used as a remedy for epilepsy and anxiety by some Himalayan tribes. When the root extracts were studied in a Europian hospital, it was shown to possess marked potential in decreasing restlessness in people suffering from mania. However, the results couldn't be reproduced in another lab. It was speculated to be due to different batches of the same herb. So, the effectiveness of sarpagandha in mental illness and mania remains a controversy.

In another study, sarpagandha extract demonstrated a significant reduction in schizophrenia symptoms and improvement in the quality of life of such patients on regular use. However, it was associated with major side effects like depression, and a combination of restlessness and sedation which makes it more difficult to manage.

Sarpagandha antibacterial activity

In vitro (lab-based) studies demonstrate the antibacterial potential of sarpagandha root and leaves. In various studies, a 50 to 100 µl extract of sarpagandha root and leaves was found to be effective in inhibiting the growth of both gram positive and gram negative bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Bacillus subtilis and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Though human studies are pending, the findings of laboratory-based studies cannot be denied.  

Sarpagandha against venom: animal-bite, snake-bite and insect-bite

In traditional medicine, sarpagandha has long been used as an antivenom treatment to cure snake bites and animal bites. There are various folk beliefs which explain the use of sarpagandha over toes to neutralise the effects of snake bite and it is also believed to be a curative treatment of animal bites. Both the roots and leaves of this plant are used by tribal regions in India as a paste to be applied along with milk on snake bite and it is also orally administered along with some other herbs to be used against snake bites. These anti-venom effects have been confirmed in laboratory and animal-based studies.

In one such study, about a 0.14 mg of sarpagandha extract was enough to neutralise a potentially lethal dose of snake venom.

In another preclinical study, aqueous extracts of sarpagandha exhibited marked antivenom potential which was effective at a dosage of 10.99 mg/3 LD50 of the Russel viper venom.

Other uses of sarpagandha

Apart from the above-mentioned uses, sarpagandha is used in the tribal and folk medicine for various purposes. Some of these have been listed below:

  • In Rajasthan and Bangladesh, sarpagandha is used for the treatment of headaches.
  • Sarpagandha is used as an anti-pyretic by various tribes of India. Pills made from the dry roots of sarpagandha are taken to cure malaria. Various polyherbal formulations, containing sarpagandha as one of its constituents are also administered orally, to reduce malaria fever within a week.
  • Various parts of this plant are believed to be effective in reducing eye inflammation and treat early stages of pneumonia.
  • It is also used as a remedy for various skin ailments including itching, boils, eczema. Sarpagandha juice and paste is used for the treatment of scabies in various regions in India.
  • Fresh juice of sarpagandha root or the powder made from the dry roots is taken by some South Indian tribes for the treatment of asthma.
  • Reserpine, the active component of sarpagandha has been found to be effective in reducing the multiplication and spread of prostate cancer cells in lab studies.
  • It is also used to induce uterine contractions and facilitate childbirth.

Sarpagandha roots are directly used for the treatment of various ailments, however, for the ease of convenience and standardisation, it is also available in the form of tablets, capsules and powder.

In ayurveda, sarpagandha is prescribed either alone or in a polyherbal formulation. Or you can go the Gandhi way and sip some sarpagandha tea to relax.

There is no standard dosage for sarpagandha since it varies according to individual body type, age, gender and physical condition. Also, this herb has been shown to exhibit the same side effects which it is used for the treatment of. For safety concerns, it is advisable to take sarpagandha after consulting your doctor.

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Despite the extensive research and so many benefits, sarpagandha lost a lot of its fame after being linked to depression and some cancers. Though, the research is never ending and the claim about depression is well on its way to being abolished already, there is definitely a need to regularise dosage and administration to make the correct use of this herb.

Some of the other side effects of sarpagandha that may show up when it is not used properly include nausea, vomiting, nasal congestion, drowsiness, abdominal cramps, bradycardia, angina, skin rash, and itching.

It has also been reported to cause convulsions in some individuals and an allergy to sarpagandha may cause asthma. It may also interfere with some of the prescribed medicines and should not be taken along with hypotensive drugs.

However, most of these side effects have been noted in children instead of adults.

To sum up, sapragandha should not be taken by your own and it is important to talk to an ayurvedic doctor to know the right dosage for you so as to avoid any side effects and to reap its benefits safely.

Medicines / Products that contain Sarpagandha


  1. National Parks Board, Singapore. Rauvolfia serpentina (L.) Benth. ex Kurz. Singapore government
  2. New Crop Resource Online Program. Rauvolfia serpentina. Purdue University
  3. Ruston Jai Vakil. A clinical trail of rauwolfia serpentina in essential hypertension.January 4, 1949; Cardiological Department, King Edward Memorial Hospital, Bombay, India
  4. Douglas Lobay. Rauwolfia in the Treatment of Hypertension. 2015 Jun; 14(3): 40–46. PMID: 26770146
  5. National sleep foundation. What is Insomnia?. Washington, D.C., United States
  6. Swathi Ajay, Narayana Prakash B, Ajay GS, Suhas Kumar Shetty. Role of Sarpagandha Vati in Nidranasha (Primary Insomnia). Journal of Ayurvedic and Holistic Medicine, ISSN-2321-1563
  7. Lewis BI, Lubin RI, Wild JB. Rauwolfia serpentina in the treatment of angina pectoris.. 1956;14:227-32. PMID: 13356475
  8. Qureshi SA, Udani SK .Methanolic Root Extract of Rauwolfia serpentina Lowers Atherogenic Dyslipidemia, Arteriosclerosis and Glycosylation Indices in Type 1 Diabetic Mice. Benth. Pak J Nutr 2009;8:1103-6.
  9. Muhammad Bilal Azmi and Shamim A. Qureshi. Rauwolfia Serpentina Ameliorates Hyperglycemic, Haematinic and Antioxidant Status in Alloxan- Induced Diabetic Mice. DOI: 10.7324/JAPS.2013.3726 ISSN 2231-3354
  10. Joseph H. Barach. Arteriosclerosis and diabetes. November 1949Volume 7, Issue 5, Pages 617–624; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0002-9343(49)90383-6
  11. Hajhashemi V, Vaseghi G, Pourfarzam M, Abdollahi A.Are antioxidants helpful for disease prevention?. 2010 Jan-Jun;5(1):1-8. PubMed PMID: 21589762.
  12. Pradipto Roy.Global Pharma and Local Science: The Untold Tale of Reserpine. 2018 Feb; 60(Suppl 2): S277–S283. PMID: 29527061
  13. J. N. P. Moore,E. A. Martin .Mild Endogenous Depression.8 JAN. 5, 1957; British medical journal.
  14. Renu Chaudhary, Bharat Singh. Rauvolfia serpentine L. Benth: A potential source of clinically relevant metabolites (Medicinal properties of Rauvolfia serpentine metabolites). Natural Products: Research Reviews, Vol 3
  15. Ramamoorthy MD, Kumar A, Ayyavu M, Dhiraviam KN. Reserpine Induces Apoptosis and Cell Cycle Arrest in Hormone Independent Prostate Cancer Cells through Mitochondrial Membrane Potential Failure. 2018;18(9):1313-1322. PMID: 29424320
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