Ashitaba (Japanese Angelica)

Scientific name: Angelica Keiskei Koidzumi

Family: Umbelliferae

Part used: Leaf and stem

Principal Use: Poor digestion, infections, skin disease

Principal Action: Stomachic, aromatic bitter, antiseptic, antimicrobial, vulnerary

 

History and Traditional Uses of Ashitaba

Ashitaba is native to the Izu islands in the temperate Pacific Sea. In appearance, it is quite similar to its more commonly known relative, garden angelica (Angelica archangelica). It grows wild in the sandy beaches of these southerly Japanese Islands.

Ashitaba’s name, in Japanese (in English: Tomorrow's Leaf or Earth Growth), refers to an interesting botanical fact. If its leaves are picked in the morning, new leaves will be in place by the next morning. The plant is incredibly vigorous and its name reflects this! Indeed it thrives in roadsides and backyards without any care on the part of the gardener. The Izu islanders have used this wild plant as both food and medicine since the earliest times.


The tonic attributes of Ashitaba are thought to be of use to anyone in need of a blast of vitality.


General Health Tonic

In traditional medicine, the plant is seen to be a strengthening tonic. The Izu Islands used to be a place of exile, criminals and social outcasts relegated to these desolate islands as a form of punishment. The exiles were forced to withstand poor diets and hard labor. They foraged for food gathering their sustenance from the rock and sand. Surprisingly, historic records indicate that despite harsh circumstances, the exiles were healthy and lived long lives. Tradition attributes this unlikely healthfulness to the continual consumption of Ashitaba.

In fact, one of the greatest Japanese medical men, Kaibara Ekiken, described it as a powerful tonic medicine over three hundred years ago. As if often true of tonic plants, islanders use it to increase milk flow in the mother and sex drive in the father!

Digestive Tonic

Since the earliest day, it has been used to improve digestion. Medicinally speaking, like its brothers and sisters in the Angelica genus, Ashitaba has a bitter taste and contains bitter principles. Indeed, like its relatives, the bitters it contains increase appetite, improve digestion, speed elimination of waste and generally act as a digestive tonic.

Immune System Tonic

Ashitaba was also seen as a powerful medicine against infectious disease. Before vaccination was introduced, whenever smallpox raged, Ashitaba was brought to the mainland to cure those infected and prevent infection in those still well. This tradition of using Ashitaba to stop smallpox from spreading started with the Izu islanders, but was well accepted in mainland Japan long ago.

Skin Tonic -Wound Healing Agent

When you break the stems and roots of Ashitaba, a sticky yellow juice gushes out. In fact, this is one of the unusual characteristics of the plant. The juice which so readily flows from the plant is used topically to treat a host of skin conditions. The juice of the plant is applied to boils, cysts, and pustules to speed healing. It is used to clear athletes foot fungal infections. It is applied to repel insects and to speed healing and prevent infection in insect bites. Indeed, applying the juice of the plant is said to cure most skin conditions and to prevent infection in wounds. It is used both in chronic and acute skin complaints.

The Science of Ashitaba

Chemical Constituents

Coumarins: psoralen, imperatorin,columbianagin,isorhazelpitin, rhazelpiton, selinidin Chalcones: xanthoangerol

4-hydrodexydelisin glycosides: isoquercitrin. Ruteorin. Angelic acid. Bergapten.

Vitamins: β-carotene, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, iron

As a consequence of its many and varied traditional uses, the plant has been the subject of scientific research. One of the first findings was that the yellow color of the juice is due to pigments known as chalcones-compounds almost unique to Ashitaba. Chalcones are rarely found anywhere in the natural world! Research has shown that the unique healing properties of Ashitaba are at least partly due to these unique compounds.

Chalcones were revealed to be antibiotic and active against staphylococcus in vitro

Chalcones were found to work on the mucus membrane in the stomach and suppress the excessive secretion of gastric juice which in turn prevents ulcers

The chalcones were found to inhibit thromboxane 2 - they inhibit the inflammatory process

 

Practitioners Opinion

In the contemporary world a specially prepared Ashitaba powder is produced which preserves its active constituents. Its tonic attributes are thought to be of use to anyone in need of a blast of vitality.

Digestive Tonic

Ashitaba is seen as a superb supplement for those who have weak digestion, or gastric or duodenal ulcers. Whether digestive inactivity or overactivity, Ashitaba can be used to regulate a badly behaving digestive tract.

Acute and Chronic Skin Conditions

When applied topically, its wound healing activity is phenomenal. It can be used in acute and chronic skin problems, from accidents to psoriasis. It should be applied regularly until the skin condition clears.

Infectious Disease

When infection comes to town or the office cubicle, this remedy can be used to prevent infection and or limit an infection once it has taken hold.

Dosages

Internal Use

Powdered leaf 20g per day

Tincture 1:1 20ml per day

Tincture 1:5 100ml per day

Bibliography

1) Tooru Okuyama, Miraculous Ashitaba, Heart shuppan, 1994

2) Kimie Baba, Healthy vegetable Ashitaba, Chikuma shuubansha, 1995

3) Hida, Medicinal herb Ashitaba, Tsuchiya shyoten, 1991

4) Kazuo Izawa, Color Encyclopedia of Medicinal Herbs, Shufunotomo-sha, p501, 1998