In this article we will explore seven of the core Ayurvedic spices and how they interact with our bodies and constitutions. Spices are revered and cherished in Ayurvedic culture because of their abilities of enhancing the digestive system and cleansing toxins (Ama) from the body. In Ayurveda, meals should contain the six tastes (click the link to our article), which these particular spices are able to achieve and balance. Spices prevent gas and bloating, and increase metabolism. It is deeply vital to activate and transport the spices healing powers to the body with heat and oil (or ghee). Seeds also contain their own oils, and need to have time a bit more time on the stove to infuse their oils as opposed to ground spices. In general, Pitta dominant constitutions should use less spices than the other doshas. Spices are intended to stoke the digestive fire (Agni), and Pitta is already bountiful with fire. Spices work similarly to herbs in that they work gradually and gently throughout consistent use over time, with no dangerous side effects. It is always best to use spices in cooking, as opposed to pill and supplement form. Check out our spice box!
Cumin Seeds Pacifies: Vata & Kapha, Aggravates: Pitta Tastes: Bitter, Pungent Element: Air, Fire
Cumin seeds are carminatives, which help relieve gas and severe pain in the bowels. This is why beans and fried foods are best to cook with cumin. Cumin seeds helps with sluggish digestive systems and increases the absorption of nutrients in foods. It’s unique and pungent qualities warm the digestive tract and stimulate peristalsis so food can be digested properly. It is good to use cumin in the early Springtime, as it heats up and dries your body, which will prepare you for warmer temperatures as the season shifts. Drying out excess wetness in the body is cumins specialty, especially with congested lungs and mold allergies.
Ajwain Pacifies: Vata & Kapha, Aggravates: Pitta Tastes: Pungent, Bitter Element: Fire
The aromatic oils of thymol (also present in thyme) inside Ajwain seeds are key to blood circulation and dilating the blood vessels. The combination of Ajwains enhanced blood circulation and cardiac stimulation make it a refreshing circulatory experience. With foods that take longer to digest such as meat and dairy, Ajwan can help. It awakens the digestive system, alleviates spasms and is a mild laxative. Ajwain increases bile naturally, which can aggravate Pitta type people due to its fiery nature. For the summer months, use less because overuse may cause aggravation for the Vata dosha.
Mustard Seeds Pacifies: Vata & Kapha, Aggravates: Pitta Tastes: Pungent Element: Fire
Mustard seeds may also be referred to as black or brown mustard seeds. They are best for alleviating stomach cramps, discomfort and gas. Mustard seeds are rubefacients, which are substances that increase bloodflow to the surface of the skin, causing redness. Mustard seeds draw inflammation and congestion from deeper areas to be healed. Mustard seeds improve digestion, alleviates joint pain, and expels phlegm from the body. They are also good for maintaining spleen and tissue health.
Turmeric Pacifies: Vata & Kapha, Aggravates: Pitta Tastes: Bitter Element: Air, Fire
Turmeric is one of the most revered kitchen medicines in Ayurveda. It is an anti inflammatory, and also reduces the amount of undigested food in the digestive tract. Turmeric relates to blood, purifying it to enter the lymphatic system which includes the tissues and vessels as well. Liver health is improved while cleansing the lymphatic system, breaking up congestion. A large dose of turmeric will aggravate Pitta types, but in moderation its healing powers are positive. All doshas can benefit from a diet with turmeric, but you can also apply it externally in a face mask or body scrub to soak up the positive effects.
Fenugreek Pacifies: Vata & Kapha, Aggravates: Pitta Tastes: Bitter, Pungent Element: Fire
Fenugreek is one of the oldest and most versatile medicinal kitchen seeds in Ayurveda. To relieve mucus and congestion, you can use an ounce of crushed fenugreek seeds with seven crushed black peppercorns in a pint of water. This can also be used for ulcers and inflamed conditions of the stomach and intestines. Most bitter spices are cold, but fenugreek is unusual in that it is bitter and hot. In aiding with digestion, fenugreek increases bile acid concentration by removing cholesterol out of the bile. Those with gallstones and Kapha type individuals with weaker bile production will benefit with fenugreek in their meals. Fenugreek is also used in the treatment of diabetes and urinary disorders in conjunction with a healthy diet. In cooking fenugreek, it is roasted to reduce the bitterness and enhance its flavor.
Coriander Seed Pacifies: Pitta & Kapha, Aggravates: Vata Tastes: Pungent, Bitter Element: Air, Ether, Fire
Coriander is a tridoshic spice, meaning that any dosha can benefit greatly from its dosha balancing powers. It is a cooling spice, and works in tandem with sweet and astringent tastes. Coriander is especially beneficial to those with allergies, because it supports a healthy physiological response to allergens. Similar to turmeric, it does help purify and cleanse the blood. The quality of bitterness reduces Pitta, and the pungent quality improves digestion. Coriander seed is historically used in preserving and cooking meats and it is recommended to buy and use the whole coriander seed.
Asafoetida (Hing) Pacifies: Vata & Kapha, Aggravates: Pitta Tastes: Pungent, Bitter Element: Fire
In Ayurveda, Asafoetida is sprinkled sparingly on foods that cause gas and bloating, like beans and other legumes. This spice is excellent at cleaning the intestinal flora and removing food stagnation from the GI tract. It is also good at breaking up impacted fecal matter due to accumulations of excess junk food and meat consumption. Instead of taking a Beano, sprinkle some Asafoetida on your food!
To store spices, its is recommended to keep them in an airtight container, in a dark and cool space. Though some people do store spices in the fridge or freezer, the humidity levels can enable mold or bacterial growth. Please do not store your spices above the stove or in close proximity to the oven, as this can cause the spices to spoil more quickly. Dried herbs and ground spices are good for one year, and whole spices are good for about 3 years. Our spice box is perfect for storing and maintaining the quality of spices, check it out in the link above!
**Disclaimer: Information, statements, and reviews regarding products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Results vary person to person, and there is no guarantee of specific results. Santa Cruz Ayurveda assumes no liability for inaccuracies or misstatements about products.**
The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra LAc, OMD
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