The wise Rishi and Ayurvedic Physician, Charaka, had 8 disciples who he sent to the 8 directions, asking them to find him any substance that does not have medicinal properties. One returned with a rock, one came back with a piece of wood and one brought cow dung. One returned empty-handed & touched the guru’s feet & said, “Sir, I have not found any such substance.” He became Charaka’s student. Hence, medicine can be found within many substances, sometimes not the obvious ones.
The word Ayurveda literally translates as the ‘science of life’ and is the traditional healing system originating in India more than 5000 years ago. In the classical texts of Ayurveda, it is said, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. Healing can start right from the home, from the kitchen clinic.
In basic management of common health imbalances, we don’t necessarily need to know the person’s Ayurvedic constitution for treatment. We can usually go ahead and treat with what we already have or what is easiest. In this article, we’ll be looking at common Indian spices that yield many therapeutic properties.
Turmeric – Indications: anemia, skin diseases, heals ulcers, regulates blood sugar, improves digestion and is useful for cuts, burns & wounds.
* Cold/congestion/cough – ½ tsp turmeric boiled with one cup milk & pinch of dry ginger powder at bedtime.
* Hemorrhoids – combine ½ tsp. castor oil & ¼ tsp. turmeric & apply topically.
* Hoarseness of voice or sore throat – stir together 1 tsp. turmeric + ½ tsp. salt a glass of warm water & gargle.
Ginger – Indications: kindles digestive fire, reduces cholesterol, anti-inflammatory, relieves gas/bloating and acts as expectorant & decongestant.
* Relieves nausea – fresh ginger slice + pinch salt + squeeze lime juice & chew.
* Aches & pains – ginger powder + baking soda bath.
* Jet lag – 1-2 capsules 1 hr. before flying to help keep agni/digestive fire high. Also stay well hydrated on the plane.
Cumin – Indications: improves digestion, decreases bloating, stops diarrhea, good for sprue syndrome, kills worms, pacifies abdominal pain and kindles agni (digestive fire).
* Indigestion – CCF tea (cumin, coriander, fennel). Combine in equal proportion & steep together in boiling water. Strain and drink this tea to improve digestion.
* Itching of skin – 1 tsp. cumin boiled in 1 cup of water, cool & wash the affected area.
* Diarrhea – 1 cup lassi: 1 part yogurt + 3 parts water + 1 tsp. roasted cumin powder churned together.
Coriander – Indications: cold, congestion, cough, relieves thirst, pacifies nausea, improves digestion and diuretic. The fresh cilantro leaf improves flavor of food. The leaf and seed encourage alkaline pH of the urine & blood.
* Fever – coriander seeds + ginger + tulsi. Steep in hot water and drink as a tea.
* Hot flashes – drink coriander + cumin milk before bed.
* Conjunctivitis – eye wash with coriander seed tea. Soak seeds in water overnight and filter carefully through coffee filter & then wash eye.
Fennel – Indications: heals hemorrhoids, digestive, improves milk supply while breastfeeding, blood cleanser and diuretic.
* For edema – CCF tea or just fennel tea.
* Bad breath – just chew the seeds.
* Migraine – Fennel oil topically to temples.
Hing/Asafoetida – Indication: analgesic, digestive, anti-spasmodic and a natural source of sulfur, iron & zinc.
* Headache – combine a very small amount of hing + a little water and place paste topically on 3rd eye & temples. Not for migraines (use sandalwood paste). Great for Vata or Kapha types of headaches.
* Belly pain in children – add water to a bit of hing, make a paste & apply to belly.
* Muscle and joint soreness/pain – apply externally onto joint; acts as analgesic. Good for reducing pain of osteoarthritis. (In inflammatory conditions: use sandalwood + turmeric.)
Cardamom – Indications: aromatic, expectorant, decongestant, broncho-dilator, pacifies bad breath.
* Low sperm count – use 1 tsp. Ashwagandha + pinch of cardamom with one cup milk. Boil milk with herbs and give milk to drink daily at night.
* Cardiac tonic – improves coronary circulation, relieves myocardial ischemia.
* To neutralize the caffeine effect of coffee or tea – add pinch of cardamom + dried ginger
These are all common spices you can have in your spice box or cupboard. Spices can last up to one year. Enjoy using food as medicine and medicine as food in your kitchen!
* The information contained in this article is intended to educate you about simple spices found at home. If you are facing a serious medical condition, please seek care from an experienced medical professional.
* Much of the information contained in this article is coming directly from lectures by Dr. Vasant Lad, BAMS, M.A.Sc.