Picrorhiza is a small, hairy perennial herb with woody rhizomes. It has small white or pale bluish purple flowers in cylindric spikes. The dried rhizomes of the plant constitute the drug. Its trade name picrorhiza is based on its scientific name. The drug contains bitter glucoside kutkin, a non bitter product kurrin, vanillic acid, an alcohol kutkiol, a sterol kutikisterol and an odorous principle, sesquiterpene. The herb is used extensively in conditions in which the drugs with taste are considered significant. The drug is a recognised substitute for the European gentian in Indian Pharmaceutical Codex 1952.
The herb is considered in the indigenous medicine to be a valuable bitter tonic, almost as efficacious as Indian gentian, botanically known as gentian kurroo (nilkenta). It cures periodic attacks like hysteria, epilepsy and convulsion and promotes the secretion of bile. It has antibiotic properties.
Picrorhiza is a choice drug for cirrhosis of the liver among adults in Ayurveda. Its root is given in powdered form. A teaspoon of the powder, mixed with an equal amount of honey, is administered thrice daily. In case of attendant constipation, the dose should be doubled and taken with a cup of warm water three to four times a day. It stimulates the liver to produce more bile, the secretion of which relieves congestion of the liver and the tissues which start functioning again.
Picrorhiza is one of the two major drugs considered beneficial in Ayurveda for the treatment of jaundice, the other drug being turpeth (nisoth). One or two teaspoons of the powder of the two drugs should be administered with hot water twice daily.
Picrorhiza is beneficial in the treatment of dyspepsia. It strengthens the stomach and promotes its action, while improving appetite and stimulating the secretion of gastric juices.
The herb is very useful in constipation. It induces active movement of the bowels and serves as a mild purgative.
Picrorhiza is beneficial in the treatment of ascites, a disease characterised by the accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity of the abdomen. About 50 grams of the herb is boiled in 200 ml of water till three-fourths of the water has evaporated. This decoction if taken by the patient for 21 days regularly, with fresh decoction each day can induce 4 to 5 motions on an average, leading to reduction of girth of his/her abnormal belly.