Harad: The King of Medicines

Dr Vikas Sharma, Proloy Sankar
Harad is used as ingredient in the ayurvedic formula ‘Triphala’ and is referred to as rasayana drug in the Indian System of Medicine. Emblica officinalis, Terminalia chebula, Terminalia bellerica are used in the preparation of “triphala churan” in a ratio of 1:1:1 and this formulation is used for chronic constipation / to aid digestion.
Terminalia chebula, commonly known as harad and belonging to the family combretaceae, is an important medicinal plant in Indian traditional medicine and is most commonly used herb in Ayurvedic medicine and tibetans and ayurvedic pharmacists regard the fruit as the “King of Medicines”. Harad, a medium to large deciduous tree bearing alternate leaves, is found in tropical / subtropical Asia including China, Tibet and the tree can be found in the forests of Northern India, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal as well as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Southern Maharashtra. T. chebula has been used as a co-ingredient in the ayurvedic formula ‘Triphala’ and is commonly referred to as rasayana drug in the Indian System of Medicine. The three plants namely Emblica officinalis, Terminalia chebula, Terminalia bellerica are used in the preparation of “triphala churan” in a ratio of 1:1:1, according to ayurvedic formulations of India and this formulation can be used as a colon detoxifier, to cleanse chronic constipation, to aid digestion and as a body rejuvenator. Many medicinal and pharmacological activities of the plant have been demonstrated including antidiabetic, antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-mutagenic, anti-proliferative, anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective and wound healing.
The fruit is a drupe having five longitudinal ridges with a single angled stone. The fruits are yellow to orange brown in colour. The flower is monoecious bearing an unpleasant smell. Biochemically, harad or hartiki owns a rich myriad of glycosides namely, arjunglucoside I arungenin, chebuloside I and II and there is prominent compositional presence of various phenolic compounds like chebulin, gallic acid, chebulinic acid, chebulic acid, terchebin etc. Some tannins also join the booty of bioactives present in harad namely terflavin B. Simultaneously, it is also a rich archive of various flavonoids, saponins steroids to name a few. Harad owing to its biochemical composition proves to be a prominent medicinal exploitation arena. The studies showed that harad because of its bioactives can quench reactive oxygen species (ROS) and is an excellent candidate to be used as antioxidants. T. chebula ethanolic fruit extract which demonstrated potent dual inhibition of COX and 5-LOX, also inhibited the proliferation of HCT-15, COLO-205, MDA-MB-231, DU-145 and K562 cancer cell lines.
Harad has proven antiprotozal activity against amoeba Entamoeba histolytica and antiplasmodial activity against Plasmodium falciparum. A prominent compound present in harad i.e., gallic acid has an established antibacterial activity against various gram-negative and gram- positive human pathogenic bacteria. Various research documents suggest that the presence of ethanedioic acid in harad has a promising anti-bacterial action in controlling various enteric pathogens like E.coli and Clostridium perfingens. Synergistically extracts of harad showed biocide activity in plant pathogenic bacteria Xanthomonas campestris and has potential in controlling a large consortium of plant pathogens. Various reports suggest that extracts of harad has proven antifungal activity against diverse mycotic strains viz. Alternaria alternate, A. brassicicola, Aspergillus flavus etc. Moreover harad has documented dermatophytic activity against various dermato pathogens. Since ancient times, harad has been extensively used as a famous home based therapy for curing cough and cold. A group of investigators have reported the inhibitory activity of phenolics present in harad on cancer cell growth. Chebulagic acid present in harad has a profound effect as a remedy in curing various types of cancers. In wound management, harad occupies a prominent position along with anti-ulcer activity. A recent study even demonstrated the anti-diarrheal activity of harad fruit. Therefore, it can be assumed that harad occupies a significant share in various herbal formulations and has a past record of being used in various home remedies. It has profound use as a medicinal herb in curing a wide diversity of ailments. Owing to its enormous medicinal properties harad can be nomenclatured as “wonder herb”.
(The authors are from Division of Biochemistry, FBSc., SKUAST-J)