The medicinal power of rauvolfia or Indian snake root

Rauvolfia is a plant from 30 centimeters to one meter in height and is found in South-West Asia, including India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, China and Indonesia. It is among the 50 most commonly used plants in Chinese medicine. It has traditionally been most commonly used in schizophrenia. It calms the nerves. In addition, it is a plant that can neutralize snake venom; this poison also acts on the nerves. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.


  • Traditional use
  • Naming
  • Active substances
  • Rauvolfia as a blood pressure lowering agent
  • Other medicinal effects of rauvolfia
  • Dose of rauvolfia
  • Safety
  • Visit a doctor or herbal therapist

Traditional use

Alexander the Great used this plant to cure his general Ptolemy 1 Soter of a poison arrow. Mahatma Ghandi is said to have used rauvolfia as a sedative. In traditional medicine, rauvolfia has mainly been used to treat insect and reptile bites. The best known medicinal effect is against schizophrenia. In addition, it has always been a folk medicine for diarrhea, dysentery and cholera.


In Latin, rauvolvia is called Rauvolfia serpentina . Serpentina means ‘snake’. In the ancient Indian language Sanskrit it was used for moon disease, an old word for schizophrenia. In English the word lunatic is still used, which comes from ‘luna’ or the moon. In Dutch we say Indian snake root to this plant.

Active substances

The root of rauvolfia is used for phytotherapeutic purposes. It contains the following active substances: indole alkaloids such as yohimban derivatives in the form of reserpine and recinnamine, yohimbine and corynantheine. It also contains heterohimbane derivatives including ajmalicine, reserpilline, isoreserpilin, serpentine and alstonine. It also contains dihydroindole derivatives, for example ajmaline.

Rauvolfia as a blood pressure lowering agent

Rauvolfia makes people calm. Rauvolvia is an antihypertensive drug. It is mainly used if high blood pressure is accompanied by rapid heart rate, fear, restlessness and increased muscle tension. Rauvolfia has a stronger blood pressure lowering effect than hawthorn, mistletoe, olive leaf and garlic. Reserpine is the active substance in rauvolfia. It ensures that less norepinephrine is produced in the brain and also ensures that the ends of the sympathetic nervous system absorb less norepinephrine. This creates a relaxing effect in the nervous system and blood vessels. That is the cause of the drop in blood pressure. The calming effect is also effective for some symptoms of high blood pressure such as restlessness, tension headaches, dizziness and tightness in the chest. A medicinal effect linked to ajmaline is that it reduces cardiac arrhythmias. In addition, rauvolfia improves sleep. However, the effect of rauvolfia does not take effect immediately. Rauvolfia only starts to work after two to three weeks and if the drug is stopped, the effect can last for several weeks.

  • Mild to moderate hypertension or high blood pressure,
  • Tachycardia or too fast heart rate.
  • High blood pressure accompanied by anxiety, restlessness, dizziness and tension headaches.
  • Indian snakeroot or rauvolfia serpentina / Source: H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Cardiac arrhythmias.

Other medicinal effects of rauvolfia


  • Accelerates intestinal peristalsis.
  • Causes miosis or pupillary constriction.
  • Is a calmer for anxiety, tension, sleep disorders and reduced emotional balance.
  • In higher doses, psychotic behavior, strong agitation and pathological anxiety are reduced, but because there are too many side effects for this medicinal plant, it is no longer used for this purpose.

Dose of rauvolfia

Rauvolfia works differently on everyone. Therefore, a low dose is given first. This has a soothing effect. The dose is increased until the antihypertensive properties are achieved. If side effects occur, the dose is reduced again. Side effects may include: stuffy nose, mild diarrhea. Herbalists will generally prescribe a standardized preparation instead of the whole root. The preparation contains the active total alkaloids. A preparation contains 2 mg total alkaloids per day. This is started and the dose is gradually increased to 6 mg per day. Isolated reserpine is prescribed in portions of 0.25 mg per day. These are given 2 to 6 times a day.


Rauvolfia has side effects and interactions. It should not be prescribed in combination with a large number of medications and conditions. This is a product that you should only use on the prescription of a herbal therapist.

Visit a doctor or herbal therapist

Much of the information about the medicinal plant mentioned in this article comes from the book Groot Handboek Medicinal Plants by Geert Verhelst. That is a handbook in phytotherapy. However, it is not suitable for self-healing. Anyone who suffers from something should consult a doctor or herbal therapist for a good diagnosis and choice of the best remedies, tailored to your personal situation. The knowledge and science mentioned here is of a purely informative nature.