"I work with the GI tract. We have so many complex procedures we take our patients through, but I so often find myself reminiscing back to my childhood days and all the simple, yet powerful Ayurveda solutions my grandmother used to possess to treat so many digestive ailments," an accomplished, Indian-born, western-trained Gastroenterologist doctor confided.
Indeed, one of the most incredible discoveries from the ancient Indian medical science of Ayurveda, for me, as a western-born Indian, is how many tools it provides us to truly take our health into our own hands. While it is unfortunately not given nearly as much attention in modern Ayurvedic circles, there is an incredible subbranch of Ayurveda dedicated to the art and science of Svasthavritta, which are detailed protocols for activating health and truly preventing disease.
Ayurvedic Food and Cooking
One of the primary ways we heal ourselves and others in Ayurveda is via the food we consume. Many people wrongly believe that Indian food is synonymous with Ayurvedic food. While both often have many of the same ingredients, standard, modern Indian fare takes a lot longer to prepare because it involves a lot more ingredients, which are intended to stimulate one's taste buds.
Ayurvedic meals have fewer ingredients, take much less time to prepare, and usually taste a lot fresher because it brings out the natural flavors of our foods. They are also designed to stimulate the taste buds, because Ayurveda teaches that digestion starts with the sight and smell of food. The main intention of Ayurvedic cooking, however, is to stimulate – and sustain – amazing health.
The following are the five Ayurvedic herbs that have consistently amazed me, my loved ones, and clients the most, and that I would therefore truly recommend every kitchen have.
1. Cumin Seeds
I cannot think of a savory Ayurvedic meal I have made without adding cumin seeds. This herb helps to digest existing toxins in the body. Cumin seeds are also such a great overall digestive aid, which also help prevent all sorts of digestive disorders from cropping up to begin with.
Cumin seeds are particularly beneficial for diarrhea and vomiting, and an added benefit is that it helps to purify breast milk for lactating mothers.
Every Indian household is stocked with turmeric, and there are some great reasons why. Turmeric serves as an appetizer for food and helps boost immunity, thus preventing many health problems from cropping up.
In addition to taking it orally, turmeric can be also applied externally. External application of turmeric benefits all kinds of itching, and greatly aids in the process of wound healing. In India, turmeric is such a household go-to item for topical application onto wounds, in fact, that Johnson & Johnson created a special turmeric-infused band-aid!
I often recommend that clients drink warm milk with turmeric to help reduce swelling and otherwise aid in the healing of post-injury physical traumas.
3. Ajwain Seeds (Bishop's Weed)
When you are in pain, reach out for ajwain seeds. This has become my personal mantra for the (much rarer) instances I experience menstrual cramps. It has an almost instantaneous benefit of soothing pain, is completely natural, and has eliminated the need for the once-a-month addiction I had previously developed to taking painkillers during periods.
Suffering from bloating and gas-related pains? Ajwain is also the answer to this. Ajwain seeds can be consumed regularly as part of one's meal to prevent getting gas and bloating in the first place, and is something I often recommend to clients who are having chronic gas-related problems. When you are suffering acutely from gas, bloating, and/or any kind of pain, you can boil ajwain seeds in water and then drink it once the water cools down to a temperature you can comfortably consume.
Those with heat-related conditions should not have ajwain, however, as it is considered quite heating to the body. If you are in doubt about whether you may have heat issues, consult an Ayurveda practitioner.
An amazingly delicious herb, I always make sure I stock my spice box with cardamom. I never drink milk without adding a dash of cardamom to it; this spice is also what helps make Indian and other types of sweets taste so sweet. Cardamom also benefits hyperacidity.
The main action of cardamom in the body is reducing nausea, but did you know that cardamom can also help you fight bad breath? One of its actions in the body is cleansing the mouth. Cardamom is also an incredible herb to mix with honey or lukewarm water to give to babies who are suffering from coughing accompanied with vomiting.
5. Rock Salt
Did you ever think that your standard salt could be a culprit in preventing you from losing needed weight? It can. The reason for this is that normal salt comes from the sea (which is why it is called "sea salt"), and therefore has a lot of water in it. We always recommend weight loss clients in Ayurveda to consume Himalayan rock salt instead because this comes from land, rather than the sea, so it will not cause the same kind of water retention and weight gain that regular sea salt can create.
Rock salt also has the additional benefits of kindling the digestion and prevents many skin conditions from developing.
These five Ayurvedic spices have all contributed to making my own kitchen a bit like a magical medical clinic, in which I’m truly empowered to create as much health as I please, with my own two hands. Try adding one or all of these spices to your cooking and you, too, can begin to experience some of the magic, health, and empowerment of the amazing science of Ayurveda.