Shatavari is a member of the asparagus family; the plant looks very similar to its European cousin, which many of us know well having eaten its delicious tender shoots. The big difference with shatavari – or Indian asparagus – is that it keeps its treasure well hidden below the ground.
Attached to its deceptively slender stem is an extraordinary mass of long succulent roots – some grow up to a metre in length. The name shatavari is derived from the Sanskrit words shat, which means ‘100’ and vri, which means ‘root’. The word ‘avar’ means below, so the name shatavari literally translates as ‘plant that has 100 roots below the ground’. With its huge number of large, fleshy roots, it’s easy to see why.
To carry on the etymological journey, the word vari can also mean ‘husband’, which may explain why shatavari is often referred to as ‘she who has a hundred husbands’. The association with husbands and fertility is also a reference to the traditional uses of the roots, which for centuries have been used to treat and nourish women’s health.
The sweet and bitter tastes of this root give it the perfect energetic qualities to reduce hot pitta and dry vata, while increasing strengthening kapha: cooling, moistening, heavy, building. These qualities are often needed in women’s health, where our adrenaline-fuelled lifestyles can cause loss of our precious reserves.
It contains steroidal glycosides, steroidal saponins and B-sitosterol which are all natural plant compounds used to help the Shatavari plant reproduce and create seeds for furthering its genetic destiny.
Shatavari is native to the Indian subcontinent and can be found growing in surprisingly diverse environments from the humid tropical jungles of Sri Lanka to the foothills of the Himalayas.
The plant is a climber; its thin branches and feathery leaves can often be found bursting out of shrubs and trees that it uses to support its growth and search for light.
Although it is happy growing in humid jungles shatavari can also thrive in extremely arid conditions. Its capacity to capture and store moisture in dry soils is reflected in its potential for replenishing fluids in the human body and bringing balance to a stressed system.
Traditionally shatavari has always been collected from the wild. Collectors would carefully dig around the base of the plant and gently remove the roots from one side of the plant, ensuring that some of the roots are left undisturbed so that the plant can regenerate.
The growth in demand, combined with a gradual loss of traditional knowledge, has led to over-exploitation of shatavari in its natural habitat, and in some areas it is now considered endangered.
To be on the safe side we only source shatavari from organic farms where we have full assurance that it has been sustainably grown. It takes 18 months for the plant to grow from seed to being ready for harvest. Our growing partner uses a solar-powered irrigation system to help drip feed the plants. The harvest itself is no easy task; a large hole has to be dug around the roots so they are not damaged in the process oif pulling them out. It can take up to half an hour per plant which, as you can imagine, is very hot work under the powerful Indian sun.
Once harvested every root is carefully hand-peeled to remove the thick outerlayer, and then laid out on drying racks where it rapidly dehydrates in the arid desert air.
Interesting Facts and Figures:
Few people are lucky enough to taste a freshly harvested shatavari root. On our supplier visits we have often taken refuge from the burning sun to nibble on a succulent shatavari root – one of the most refreshing wild foods the jungle has to offer.
If we are very lucky we get to see her in full bloom with a glorious raceme of the cream-white flowers. A truely magestic sight.
As you can probably tell by now, shatavari is one of our favourite plants and we consider her to be a champion of champions when it comes to women's wellbeing.
Here are some of our Pukka products with shatavari in: