Ayurveda, uses herbs and spices to aid the body in the digestive process, (dipana, enhances agni,while pacana, burns ama /toxins). Many of these spices have been widely used by culinary traditions around the globe but little is understood about the various medicinal benefits of these herbs apart from flavor enhancement.
Below is a list of the most common Ayurvedic kitchen herbs and the benefits of each. Use them skillfully and keep your digestive system working smoothly.
Some things you should know about Herbology in the Ayurvedic tradition: K= kapha, P= pitta, V= vata. The symbol – means reduces and + means increases. Vipaka- refers to the post-digestive effect, which is the ultimate effect the herb has on the body and therefore the dosa. This effect takes place in the second stage of digestion in the lower small intestine. Generally, a pungent vipaka is good for kapha and vata (so long as it’s not too drying, or too often) and increases pitta, which is already firey, sweet vipaka is good for vata and pitta, but is building and therefore not good for kapha. Sour vipaka is good for vata.
Virya, refers to the temperature of the herb, we generally describe these as being either, heating (usna) or cooling (sheeta), vata and kapha dosha benefit from a usna virya or heating effect, whereas, pitta requires a sheet vireo. Understanding, the virya of each herb makes all difference when choosing herbs for the individual. Which is why I have compiled a list of the most common kitchen herbs listing benefits, special effects (prabhava) and the post digestive effect.
GINGER- zingiber officinale, KV-P, used for all vikruti (imbalances)- KVP, vipaka- sweet, Virya- heating.
Therapeutic Actions: digestive stimulant, rejuvenative, carminative, aphrodisiac, vasodilator, anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic, anti-cholesterol, expectorant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, promotes voice.
Traditionally used for, colds, flus, abdominal pain, indigestion, vomiting, nausea, hemorrhoids, motion sickness, belching, arthritis, heart disease, headaches, hypothermia, laryngitis.
Widely used for it’s ability to alleviate motion sickness, but also for it’s anti-microbial and antioxidant properties. Ginger stimulates peripheral circulation. I use it in formula to move medicine into the deeper and peripheral tissues, this action is called a catalyst.
TURMERIC- curcuma longa, K-PV+ (in excess), in moderation
it is tridoshara. Vipaka- pungent, Virya- heating
Therapeutic Actions: alterative (‘blood cleaning’), antibiotic,
antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antioxidant,
antiseptic, antispasmodic, cardiovascular stimulant, carminative,
stimulant,vulnerary, analgesic (pain relieving).
Traditionally used for indigestion, poor circulation, skin disorders and lung issues, such as bronchitis and coughs, rheumatoid disorders and arthritis, infections, hemorrhoids, parasites, gallstones and anemia, IBS, yeast infections, has anti-hepatotoxic effects. High in Magnesium, silicon and potassium.
Widely used for it’s anti-inflammatory benefits. this plant has been studied at length for it’s positive effect in protecting the brain from developing plaque. For more information on these finding read this PubMed article here. Precautions, Turmeric is a blood thinner and is the source for drugs such as Wayfarin. If already using blood thinners speak with your Dr. about dosages.
NOTE* 100mg-1500mg considered a medicinal dose!
BLACK PEPPER- piper nigrum, KV-P+, Used to reduce Kapha and Vata, Vipaka- pungent, Virya- heating
Therapeutic Actions: stimulant, expectorant, carminative, febrifuge,
Traditionally used as a way to reduce toxic accumulation
in the intestines. Used to increase metabolic action,
sinus congestion, poor circulation,
amenorrhea, and helps ti increase absorption of nutrients.
Black pepper is one of the most useful stimulants because it adds a penetrating power to other herbs aiding and promoting absorption. In fact, black pepper with turmeric increases bioavailability by 90%!!! Black pepper is heating and can further aggravate Pitta dosa, therefore incases where pitta is activated pippali (long pepper) is a better choice.
CUMIN- cumimum cyminum, KV-P= (in excess P +),
Vipaka- pungent, Virya- mildly heating. Primarily for rasa (plasma) and rakta (blood).
Therapeutic Actions: carminative, alterative, stimulant,
antispasmodic, galactagogue, aphrodisiac.
Cumin has the special action (Prabhava) of balancing all dosas, it can be added to any combined formula to
harmonize the actions of other plants.
It is especially effective on the 5 bhuta agnis, which are the liver enzymes. Combined with Fennel, this herb acts as a powerful galactagogue, prompting lactations and reducing colic. There are no precautions. Daily use is recommended for assimilation and absorption of nutrients.
CORIANDER/CILANTRO- coriandrum sativum, PKV=, Vipaka- sweet, Virya- mildly heating
Bladder and skin.
Therapeutic Actions: diuretic, alterative, diaphoretic,
carminative, stimulant, antiseptic.
Coriander has a special action of helping to balance pitta dosa
i.e. too much fire in your energy, heat in your face, spreading
rashes, rage and judgment. It has the ability to stimulate digestion
without aggravating pitta dosa.
Traditionally used to treat saamapitta
disorders (toxic heat) and Vata disorders of the blood and urine,
such as, bladder infections.
Coriander is the seed of Cilantro. Cilantro is said to aide in the removal
of heavy metals from the blood and tissues, because of it’s high levels on selenium.
‘It is both a chelator – moving heavy metals out of the body and a mobilizer, moving mercury and other heavy metals from deeper stores to more readily removal areas’ -National Integrated Health Associates. To read more on removing neurotoxins from the body read this article.
FENNEL: foeniculum vulgare, VK-P=, Vipaka- sweet, Virya- slightly heating rasa (plasma), rakta (blood), mamsa (muscle), majja (nerves). Tridoshic spice.
Therapeutic Actions: carminative, stomachic, diuretic, digestive stimulant, antispasmodic, expectorant,
Fennel is indicated whenever there is digestive trouble and can be used safely by all ages. Excellent for all kinds of colic pain. The fruit or bulb has a tonic effect for the nervous system and is sattvic for the mind.It has the social effect (prabhava) for being helpful in lactation. There are no precautions for this herb.
CARDAMON: elettaria cardamomum, VK-P=, Vipaka- sweet, Virya- cooling cardamon
Therapeutic Actions: expectorant, carminative, stomachic, diaphoretic, digestive, stimulant, mild-antiseptic.
Cardamon, highly regarded as a digestive spice. It’s increases digestive enzymes, which we call agni in Ayurveda. It is a highly effective spice for balancing vata related digestive issues, of irregularity. Cardamon is safe for nursing mothers to drink, for digestive relief passing through the milk to relive colic symptoms. It is believed to cleanse the 5 pranas of the body directly working with prana and samana vayu. Cardamon taken with caffeine helps to reduce the toxicity of caffeine on the liver.
CINNAMON: cinnamomum zeylanicum, VK-P+, Vipaka- sweet, Virya- heating. Works on (dhatus),
rasa (plasma), rakta (blood), mamsa (muscle), majja (nervous system).
Therapeutic Actions: diaphoretic, carminative, stimulant, expectorant, diuretic, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, antiseptic, analgesic, alterative, vermifuge.
Cinnamon is traditionally used as an expectorant helping to break up mucus, relive congestion of colds and flus. Also helpful for chronic lung disorders and recent evidence suggests its excellent for stabilizing blood sugar levels. High doses should be avoided when pregnant. It is also known to reduce arterial tension, so should be avoided where cases of extreme low blood pressure are a concern.
GARLIC:allium sattivum, VK-P+, Vipaka- sweet in raw form/pungent in dry or oily form, Virya- heating, rasa (plasma), rakta (blood), media (adipose tissue), majja (nervous system), sukra/artava (reproductive).
Therapeutic Actions: stimulant/catalyst, expectorant, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, antibiotic, antiseptic, aphrodisiac, anti-parasitic, rejuvenate, alterative, hypotensive.
Traditionally used to alleviate colds and flus but in contraindicated for pittas dues to it’s highly rajasic nature. But can be roasted with oil to lessen the rajas qualities. It is also good for controlling cholesterol and also good for helping to manage arteriosclerosis. It is an APHRODISIAC so bring on the garlic breath!!