Ayurvedic medicine comprises the idea that there is a balance within the human body that is both physical and spiritual. This balance can and should be maintained by various means. One of these means is the proper spicing of foods. According to this idea, the body has certain doshas or rather systems. The three doshas are kapha, pitta, and vata, and have to do with the stomach (and lungs), small intestines, and colon, respectively1.
Although getting the proper spice at the proper time is not all there is to do with Ayurvedic medicine, eating properly will go a long way to help maintain a healthy balance. A spice can be warming or cooling, which means they affect the balance of the digestive system. A spice can have one of six tastes, sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent2. Below is a list of Ayurvedic Spices and some of their proposed properties.
- Anise Seeds are said to be pungent and a heating spice that promotes digestion and acts as a detoxifying Agent. It is supposed to increases pitta, while it decreases vata & kapha.
- A pungent spice, black pepper is also a heating spice. It promotes digestion and increases pitta. At the same time it stimulates vata and relieves kapha.
- Cardamom is sweet and pungent. Like many other spices it performs a heating function. It is said to promote digestion. It is good for the heart, and has the added benefit of improving the smell of breath. It may stimulate Pitta if too much is taken. It relieves vata and kapha.
- Another pungent spice is celery seed. It also is a heating spice. It will help relieve nausea. This is a spice that increases pitta, and decreases vata and kapha.
- Cinnamon is sweet, bitter, and pungent all at the same time. This is another heating spice. It relieves thirst and stimulates salivation. It also stimulates kapha, while decreasing vata and pitta.
- Pungent is a popular taste as it is also seen in cloves. This is a heating spice that promotes digestion. Without question it improves the taste and flavor of many foods. It increases pitta, and decreases vata & kapha.
- Coriander seed is pungent as well as astringent. This is a cooling spice. It is sweet, oily, dry, and light. It helps to stop burning sensation in urine, aids in absorption and increases vata and kapha. It relieves pitta.
- Cumin is bitter, pungent and astringent. It is a heating spice that is light, oily, and smooth. It promotes digestion while relieving diarrhea. It stimulates pitta as it decreases vata and kapha.
- Fenugreek (seed) is bitter and astringent. It is a dry, heating spice that helps to relieve fever and arthritis. It increases vata as well as pitta if too much is taken. It also decreases kapha.
- Though not strictly a spice, garlic has been found to be pungent. It has heating qualities. It is oily, smooth, and heavy. It is said to have anti-rheumatic qualities. It is good to relieve coughs and might be efficacious against worms. It increases pitta, and relieves vata and kapha.
- Ginger (powder) is a pungent and heating spice. It is sweet light, dry, and rough. It promotes good digestion, and is thought to be a detoxifying agent. It increases pitta if taken in excess. It relieves vata and kapha.
- Mustard seed is a pungent, heating spice. It is oily, light, and sharp. It relieves muscular pain. Mustard seed increases pitta, and decreases vata and kapha.
- Sweet saffron is astringent and cooling. It is smooth and is thought to relieve hemorrhoids. It may reduce vomiting. It increases vata and kapha, and relieves pitta.
- Salt is generally thought to be a heating, salty, heavy, and rough spice that promotes digestion. It causes water retention and hypertension. It increases pitta and kapha. It also relieves vata.
- Sesame (seed) is sweet, bitter, and astringent. It is a heating spice that is heavy, oily, and smooth. It increases pitta and kapha, while it decreases vata.
- Turmeric is bitter, pungent, and astringent. It is a heating spice thought to help in diabetes. It promotes good digestion. Turmeric increases vata and pitta if too much is consumed, and relieves kapha.
Care should be taken in the application of Ayurvedic spices3. Certain spices to excess can be toxic. However, most practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine advocate moderation in usage.
1. Living Foods
3. National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine