BACKGROUND: Ayurveda represents the traditional medicine system of India. Since mechanistic details of therapy in terms of current biology are not available in Ayurvedic literature, modern scientific studies are necessary to understand its major concepts and procedures. It is necessary to examine effects of the whole Ayurvedic formulations rather than their "active" components as is done in most current studies. METHODS: We tested two different categories of formulations, a Rasayana (Amalaki Rasayana or AR, an herbal derivative) and a Bhasma (Rasa-Sindoor or RS, an organo-metallic derivative of mercury), for effects on longevity, development, fecundity, stress-tolerance, and heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein (hnRNP) levels of Drosophila melanogaster using at least 200 larvae or flies for each assay. RESULTS: A 0.5% (weight/volume) supplement of AR or RS affected life-history and other physiological traits in distinct ways. While the size of salivary glands, hnRNP levels in larval tissues, and thermotolerance of larvae/adult flies improved significantly following feeding either of the two formulations, the median life span and starvation resistance improved only with AR. Feeding on AR or RS supplemented food improved fecundity differently. Feeding of larvae and adults with AR increased the fecundity while the same with RS had opposite effect. On the contrary, feeding larvae on normal food and adults on AR supplement had no effect on fecundity but a comparable regime of feeding on RS-supplemented food improved fecundity. RS feeding did not cause heavy metal toxicity. CONCLUSIONS: The present study with two Ayurvedic formulations reveals formulation-specific effects on several parameters of the fly's life, which seem to generally agree with their recommended human usages in Ayurvedic practices. Thus, Drosophila, with its very rich genetic tools and well-worked-out developmental pathways promises to be a very good model for examining the cellular and molecular bases of the effects of different Ayurvedic formulations.