Picrorhiza: Saving an Endangered Treasure

Long known to ancient medicines, Picrorhiza kurroa, a now endangered powerful herb, was first mentioned in the two most important Ayurvedic medicinal compendiums: the Carakasamhita of internal medicine and the Surustasamhita of the school of surgery, both written between 1500-1000 BCE (Smith, 2000). Historic uses of Picrorhiza include liver and lung support, fever reduction, dyspepsia, chronic diarrhea, and even scorpion stings. In traditional Chinese medicine, Picrorhiza, or hu huang lian, has been used to treat everything from hyperemia and dysentery to jaundice, hemorrhoids, epilepsy and carbuncles. Due to its usefulness throughout human history, Picrorhiza was nearly exterminated due to over-harvesting. Ayush Herbs is working to counteract this trend.

The dried root decoctions are traditionally used orally for abdominal pain, liver complaints, jaundice, malarial fever, and anemia. Root extracts are traditionally used for cough and colds while a paste of the root, sugar, and saffron flowers can be used to relieve dyspepsia and dysentery. The rhizomes were used to achieve safer children’s and veterinary doses (CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants).

According to the World Health Organization, Picrorhiza rhizome is useful in treating bronchial asthma and viral hepatitis, as well as for immune disorders and skin diseases (WHO MONOGRAPHS MEDICINE PLANTS).

Current research has been building on asthma and liver research through ethanol-extractions and has identified a number of active ingredients in Picrorhiza kurroa, including acetophenone derivatives (which have anti-asthmatic properties), iridioids (picroside I, II, III, pikuroside, kutkoside and 6-feruloyl catalpol), and cucurbitacins (extremely bitter glycosides, including apocynin). These compounds in Picrorhiza are immunomodulatory, antiviral and antibiotic, antioxidant, and hepatoprotective and anticholestatic (Atal, 1986). These extracts, especially Picroside I, also show hepatoprotective activity in diverse models of liver toxicity (Pilankar, 1981).

Additional studies include usefulness for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Shetty et al (2010) demonstrated that standardized extracts of Picrorhiza regressed lipid content of liver tissues and reduced cholestasis.

Picrorhiza has also been shown to reduce inflammation by suppressing activation of “NF-κB through inhibition of its phosphorylation and blocking activation of IκB kinase alpha in lipopolysaccharide-stimulated RAW264.7 macrophages” and reducing levels of TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-6 (inflammatory cytokines)while simultaneously increasing IL-10 (anti-inflammatory cytokine) in serum and peritoneal macrophage (Zahiruddin et al, 2017).

A small, creeping perennial in the Scrophulariaceae family, Picrorhiza is a native to the mountains of India, Nepal, Tibet and Pakistan and grown at elevations of 3,000-5,000 meters. Also known as Kharbagehindi, the plant consists of oval, flat, serrated leaves and five-lobed flowers, which are pale blue or reddish-blue in color. Picrorhiza is a wild-crafted herb taken from rocks and crevices. While known for its self-regenerating capabilities, over-harvesting has been a problem from many years, pushing it towards extinction (Subedi, 2000).

Ayush Herbs, Inc is partnered with the Himachal Pradesh Forestry management to sustainably harvest herbs in accordance with CITES identified acceptable-harvest regions and direct oversight from the government. Our teams of harvesters are working to reseed the wild plants as part of a sustainable forestry farming project, and are working to grow Picrorhiza kurroa in our network of family farms in Himachal Pradesh, India – our family home! We are proud to work with the local governing agencies, farmers, and harvesters to continue the mission of keeping India green and restoring medicinal herbs from antiquity.


 

References:

Atal CK, Sharma ML, Kaul A, Khajuria A. Immunomodulating agents of plant origin. I: preliminary screening. J Ethnopharmacol 1986;18:133-141.

Chander R, Dwivedi Y, Rastogi R, et al. Effect of different extracts of kutaki (picrorhiza kurroa) on experimentally induced abnormalities in the liver. Indian J Med Res Feb 1990;95:34-7.

Chander R, Dwivedi Y, Rastogi R, et al. Evaluation of hepatoprotective activity of picroliv (from picrorhiza kurroa) in Mastomys natalensis infected with plasmodium berghei. Indian J Med Res Feb 1990;95:34-7.

Dorsch W, Stuppner H, Wagner H, et al. Antiasthmatic effects of picrorhiza kurroa: androsin prevents allergen- and PAF-induced bronchial obstruction in guinea pigs. Int Arch Allergy Appl Immunol 1991;95:128-33.

Kumar, R., Gupta, Y., Singh, S., & Raj, A. (2016). Anti-inflammatory Effect of Picrorhiza kurroa in Experimental Models of Inflammation. Planta Medica, 82(16), 1403-1409. doi:10.1055/s-0042-106304

Pilankar PD. A study of hepatoprotective effects of some indigenous plants in experimental animals. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Mumbai. 1981

Shetty SN, Mengi S, Vaidya R, Vaidya ADB. A study of standardized extracts of Picrorhiza kurroa Royle ex Benth in experimental nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. 2010;1(3):203-210. doi:10.4103/0975-9476.72622.

Shukla B, Visen PK, Patnaik GK, et al. Cholerectic effect of picrolic, the hepatoprotective principle of picrorhiza kurroa. Planta Med Feb 1991;95:29-33.

Singh B, Rastogi RP. Chemical examination of Picrorhiza kurroa Part VI: Re-investigation of Kutkin. Indian J Chem. 1972;10:29–31.

Subedi BP. Plant profile: Kutki (Picrorhiza scrophulariiflora). Himalayan Bioresources 2000;4

Thyagarajan, S., Jayaram, S., Gopalakrishnan, V., Hari, R., Jeyakumar, P., & Sripathi, M. (2002). Herbal medicines for liver diseases in India. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 17(3), S370-376.

Vaidya AB, Antarkar DS, Doshi JC, et al. Picrorhiza kurroa (kutaki) Royle ex Benth as a hepatoprotective agent — experimental and clinical studies. J Postgrad Med Oct-Dec 1996;42:105-8.

Zahiruddin, S., Khan, W., Nehra, R., Alam, M. J., Mallick, M. N., Parveen, R., & Ahmad, S. (2017). Pharmacokinetics and comparative metabolic profiling of iridoid enriched fraction of Picrorhiza kurroa – An Ayurvedic Herb. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 197, 157-164. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2016.07.072