Rasamala (Altingia excelsa) Information, Uses and More

Know about Rasamala botanical description, medicinal properties, medicinal uses in Ayurveda, It’s health benefits, dosage, contraindications and side-effect of different parts of this plant.

Altingia excelsa is also known as Rasamala, Silaras, Sill haka and Storax. It is an evergreen, large and lofty tree reaching height of 40-60 meters. It has straight trunk and the branching generally start at 20-35 meter above the ground. In India, this tree is naturally found in North Eastern states. In Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani medicine system the gum resin obtained from the tree is used for medicinal purpose.

The gum resin is obtained by incising the trunk. The exudate hardens after some time and collected.

Altingia excelsa gum resin, is official substitute for exudate of Liquidambar orientalis (Syn Liquidambar formosana Hance.). Liquidambar orientalis is known as Storax, Oriental Sweet Gum (Englsih), Turushka, Silhaka, Kapitaila (Ayurvedic), Neri-arishippal (Siddha) and Ambar Saayil, Silaaras (Unani).

General Information

Plant Description:

Leaves: Alternate, simple, elliptical to oblong or ovate to ovate-lanceolate, 6 -12 cm long by 2.5 -5.5 cm wide, with finely toothed margins.

Bark: Light grey, smooth with narrow, longitudinal fissures and irregularly flakes.

Flowers: Monoecious / unisexual. Male and female flowers are on separate inflorescences, but on the same tree. Female flowers 4-18 rounded heads borne together, 1.2-2.5 cm in diameter. Male racemes 6-14 heads per inflorescence, 1-2 cm long, consisting of masses of stamen. Petals and sepals are absent.

Fruit: Four-compartment capsule, brown in colour and contains seeds.

Seed: Flattened, obovate and surrounded by a sweetly aromatic narrow wing.

Part(s) used for medicinal purpose: Oleo-gum-resin

Plant type / Growth Habit: Large tree

Duration: Perennial

Native: China, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal and India

Distribution: Java, peninsular Malaysia, China, South east Tibet, Sumatra, Bhutan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and North Eastern India (Assam and Arunachal Pradesh)

Habitat: At 500-1500 m altitude in humid mixed hill and montane forests in rich, well-drained volcanic soils.

Vernacular names / Synonyms

  1. Scientific name: Altingia excelsa
  2. English: Storax, Oriental Sweet Gum, Rasamala
  3. Ayurvedic: Shilarasa, Turushka, Sill haka Silhaka (substitute for Liquidamber orientalis, Hamamelidaceae)
  4. Siddha: Neriyurishippal
  5. Burmese: Nantayok
  6. Malay: Tulasan, Mandung
  7. Thai: Sop, Satu, Hom

Scientific Classification

All plants are scientifically classified into main 7 levels. These levels are Kingdom, Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. A genus comprise of many species and botanical name consists of Genus (uppercase) followed by Species (lowercase). Genus consists of many species which are closely related and have lots of similarities. The genus Altingia contains 8 species and is distributed from southern Tibet to India and mainland South East Asia. Species is the lowest level and represents the group of same plant.

The botanical name of Shilarasa is Altingia excelsa. It belongs to plant family Altingiaceae. Below is given taxonomical classification of plant.

  • Kingdom: Plantae (comprising all living or extinct plants)
  • Subkingdom: Tracheobionta (have lignified tissues or xylem for conducting water and minerals)
  • Superdivision: Spermatophyta (produce seeds)
  • Division: Magnoliophyta (flowering plants)
  • Class: Magnoliopsida (flowering plant producing an embryo with paired cotyledons)
  • Order: Saxifragales
  • Family: Altingiaceae
  • Genus: Liquidambar
  • Species: Liquidambar excelsa or Altingia excelsa

Synonyms

  1. Altingia caerulea Poir.
  2. Altingia excelsa Noronha
  3. Liquidambar altingiana Bl.
  4. Liquidambar cerasifolia (Wall. & Griff.) Voigt
  5. Liquidambar rasamala Bl.
  6. Liquidambar excelsa (Noronha) Oken

Constituents of Altingia excelsa

  1. Aromatic alcohols: phenylpropyl-, cinnamic-, benzyl alcohol
  2. Cinnamic acid (up to 30%): cinnamic acid esters, including among others cinnamylcinnamate (styracine), cinnamic acid ethyl esters
  3. Triterpenes: oleanolic acid, 3-epioleanolic acid (resin fraction)
  4. Volatile oil (depending upon source, 1 to 20%): with styrol, benzyl alcohol, cinnamic alcohol
  5. Styrene and Vanillin (up to 2%)

Important Medicinal Properties

Altingia excelsa Resin is possess medicinal properties. The understanding of these properties will help us to better utilize this herb. These also indicate the conditions in which we should avoid it.

Below is given medicinal properties along with the meaning.

  1. Anticatarrhal: Reduces catarrh.
  2. Anti-inflammatory: Reducing inflammation by acting on body mechanisms.
  3. Antimicrobial: Active against microbes.
  4. Antipyretic/antifebrile/febrifuge: Effective against fever.
  5. Antiscorbutic: Preventing or curing scurvy.
  6. Antistress: Acting to prevent or reduce stress.
  7. Astringents: Constrict tissues; styptic on mucous membranes.
  8. Carminative: Preventing the formation or causing the expulsion of flatulence.
  9. Expectorant: Promotes the secretion of sputum by the air passages, used to treat coughs.
  10. Hepatoprotective: Liver protecting.
  11. Stomachic: Promoting the appetite or assisting digestion.

Ayurvedic Properties

Shilarasa, Turushka, or Silhaka is astringent, bitter, and sweet in taste (Rasa), pungent after digestion (Vipaka), and is hot in effect (Virya). It is an Ushna Virya herb. Ushna Virya or hot potency herb, Kapha (Mucus) and increases Pitta (Bile). It has property of digestion, vomiting and purging, and gives feeling of lightness.

  • Rasa (taste on tongue): Kashaya (Astringent), Madhura (Sweet), Tikta (Bitter)
  • Guna (Pharmacological Action): Laghu (Light), Snigdha (Unctuous)
  • Virya (Action): Ushna (Heating)
  • Vipaka (transformed state after digestion): Katu (Pungent)

Action

  • Deepana: Promote appetite but do not aid in digesting undigested food
  • Kanthya: Good for throat
  • Kaphahara: Pacifies Kapha Dosha
  • Pachan: Assist in digesting undigested food, but do not increase the appetite
  • Vatahar: Pacifies Vata Dosha

Medicinal Uses of Altingia excelsa

Various parts of Altingia excelsa possess antistress, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, antiulcerogenic and antipyretic properties. The antistress qualities are comparable to Panax ginseng. The leaves are used to cure coughs. The study show the ethyl acetate extract of the root of Altingia excelsa increased the physical endurance in swimming performance in mice. It also protected the rats against stress-induced ulcers and carbon tetra chloride induced hepatotoxicity.

  1. For cough, asthma, affections of throat, difficult breathing gum resin powder half gram, is given mixed with honey.
  2. The gum resin is applied externally on scabies and leucoderma.
  3. When applied topically on wounds, it hastens healing process.
  4. The resin is applied over testes in case of orchiditis/orchitis. It is also useful in early hydrocele.

Other Uses

  1. The tender branches or leaves are eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable or mixed in a salad.
  2. The sweetly scented seeds are food for monkeys and birds

Dosage of Altingia excelsa

The powder of gum resin can be used in dose of half to one gram per day.

Precautions and Adverse Reactions

  1. No health hazards are known in conjunction with the proper
  2. administration of designated therapeutic dosages.
  3. Internal administration of the drug occasionally leads to diarrhea.
  4. It can also trigger contact allergies.
  5. External administration over large areas can lead to absorptive poisonings that are characterized by kidney damage (albuminuria, hemorrhagic nephritis).
  6. It should not be taken internally during pregnancy.

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