Healing Powers of Ayurvedic Spices
Healing Powers of Ayurvedic Spices
|by Claudia Ward, LAc, Dipl. C.H. CAS|
Spice Up Your Life With Ayurveda
The Healing Powers of Herbs and Spices
Use plenty of spices and herbs in cooking. They are the heart and soul of your kitchen, not only because they can turn an ordinary dish into a feast for the taste buds, but also because they possess immense medicinal healing properties. They are high in antioxidants, prevent cancer, lower cholesterol and blood sugar, improve memory, flush out toxins, enhance digestion, and most of all they are irresistible because they add flavor and color to food. Sprinkle some freshly cracked black pepper on your salad and it helps you absorb the nutrients readily. A pinch of turmeric in your soup adds not only color but also works as an excellent anti-oxidant. Combined in the right proportions, spices lend their synergy to everyday meals.
Spices are the key to strengthening agni (digestive fire or metabolism). For this reason, the heavier foods you eat the more necessary it is to have proper spicing.
Health Benefits of Spices:
Pepper helps carry nutrition across the blood brain barrier. Since the brain is over 50% fat, it is nourished by high quality oils. Sauteeing fresh ground pepper in extra virgin olive oil or ghee is recommended for brain nourishment.
Pepper is very stimulating to the digestion, however, pepper is quite heating and potentially Pitta aggravating in nature and must be used sparingly. Black pepper helps correct digestive disorders and its vital component called piperine strengthens immunity and the functioning of the heart and kidneys.
Cinnamon improves blood glucose, triglycerides, LDL and total cholesterol, and enhances cognitive functions and memory. It prevents snoring. The active components are not destroyed by heat. Studies have shown that just 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day can lower LDL cholesterol.Cinnamon has a regulatory effect on blood sugar, making it especially beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes.
In some studies, cinnamon has shown an amazing ability to stop medication-resistant yeast infections.
Research has shown that cinnamon may reduce the proliferation of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells.
In a study at Copenhagen University, patients given half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder combined with one tablespoon of honey every morning before breakfast had significant relief in arthritis pain after one week and could walk without pain within one month.
Turmeric, the golden spice from the East brings beauty, good health and good luck to those who use it.
Curcumin the active component of turmeric is anti inflammatory and is medically promising because inflammation and oxidative damage are contributors to many diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis and various cancers. The prevalence of Alzheimer’s and certain cancers in India is among the world’s lowest. Turmeric blocks the growth skin cancer, and inhibits the spread of breast cancer into the lungs.
One 2004 study with mice showed that adding curcumin to Taxol, a commonly prescribed chemotherapy for breast cancer, enhances the drug’s effect, making the therapy less toxic and just as powerful.
Turmeric is a wonder spice and finds much use in medicine. It enhances the tissue sensitivity to hormones besides receptivity to many drugs. In India ground turmeric is mixed in hot milk to strengthen bones and heal injuries. Recent studies point towards role of turmeric in the reduction of fat and its action as an antioxidant in delaying aging. Using turmeric with black pepper enhances its potency by 2,000%.
Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Arab cultures were equally fond of this spice, which was considered to have aphrodisiac qualities and was used in love potions. Besides being a catalyst for romance, cardamom also has numerous other health benefits: Added to milk it neutralizes its mucus forming properties and detoxifies caffeine in coffee. It also clears sinuses. It stimulates the mind and heart and gives clarity and joy.
Clove is especially effective at helping the agni (fire of digestion and metabolism) It does not aggravate Pitta. it is mildly aphrodisiac and disinfects the lymphatics. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may prevent toxicity from pollutants and digestive-tract cancers.
Known as an aphrodisiac spice saffron strengthens the whole body, has a particularly powerful effect on the reproductive organs and has been used to enhance fertility.
It is a good spice for menopause and menstrual problems, since it is a revitalizer of blood, circulation and the female reproductive system, as well as the metabolism in general. Saffron is one of the best anti-Pitta spices since it regulates spleen and liver. It helps with asthmatic and bronchial disorders, reduces inflammation,
treats acne and skin conditions, and strengthens the heart.
The most cooling of all the spices that significantly improve digestion and a good choice for people high in Pitta.
Coriander seeds help with the assimilation of other spices.
They stimulate the secretion of insulin and lower blood sugar, and
have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol lowering properties.
An effective remedy for poor circulation, coughs, colds, flu, arthritis, headaches, heart disease, and poor digestion. Ginger has been known to alleviate nausea, vomiting, and motion sickness. Ginger also is a powerful anti-oxidant with cancer-fighting attributes that may even help prevent Alzheimer's. It contains potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. These substances are believed to reduce pain levels of individuals suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis and improve in their mobility when they consume ginger on a regular basis. Try chewing on a slice of fresh ginger or enjoy a cup of ginger tea made with slices of fresh ginger.
Increases absorption especially in the small intestine, and is recommended for urinary incontinence. It is one of the best spices to calm the mind. For sound sleep try 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg with 1/2 cup of warm milk. Since nutmeg has hallucinogenic properties only small quantities should be used.
Cumin is an aromatic, astringent herb that benefits the digestive system, help flush toxins out of the body and acts as a stimulant to the sexual organs. Cumin is rarely used in Western herbal medicine, having been superseded by caraway which has similar properties. It is still widely used in India, however, where it is said to promote the assimilation of other herbs and improve liver function.
A general tonic to the whole digestive system, it is used in the treatment of flatulence and bloating, reducing intestinal gas and relaxing the gut as a whole. It is also used in the treatment of insomnia, colds and fevers and to improve milk production in nursing mothers. Furthermore it has powerful antioxidant and anti-cancerous properties.
Fennel is a cooling spice. According to Ayurveda, fennel is extremely good for the digestion. In India, eating a few fennel seeds after a meal is a common practice.
Fennel removes mucus and fat from the intestinal tract, and is a natural appetite suppressant.
It is one of the best herbs for digestion, relieving gas and indigestion or digestive weakness in the elderly or children. It strengthens agni without aggravating pitta. Fennel is calming for the nerves and provides mental alertness.
Fenugreek seeds burn fat and help absorption. They lower blood glucose and are therefore helpful for diabetes 2. They are useful for dissolving fat within the liver. Fresh fenugreek leaves can be found at the farmer’s markets in late winter/early spring. They are nature’s super-food due to their beneficial effect on fat metabolism, bone health, blood sugar and also their cancer-fighting properties. Fenugreek is popularly used as tonic and as anti-coagulant when consumed in various preparations. It helps relieving digestive disorders, stimulates bowel movements due to its mucilaginous content, is used for hair problems like baldness or premature graying.
Fresh, Green Herbs
Fresh green herbs have wonderful taste and excellent physiological properties but most are quite heat sensitive and should be added toward end of the cooking process.
Basil, has a purifying, holistic and uplifting influence (called "sattvic" in Vedic terms) on the mind. It also has an influence on immunity and cleansing of the chest area. If a person has a cough and cold the fresh leaves may be steeped in hot water and drunk as a tea throughout the day.
Cilantro is a potent heavy metal detoxifier.
A hospital in Japan was doing a study on heavy metal poisoning, with 100 patients. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, one day the patients all started to pass heavy metals in their urine.
The doctors looked around for the cause of this. It turned out there was a new cook, who served soup before all meals. In every bowl of soup he added "Vietnamese parsley" - that is, cilantro.
All metals were removed with the cilantro, including mercury and lead! The cilantro must be fresh. Cooling coriander leaves contain a natural antihistamine, vitamin C and bio-flavonoids which reduce allergic reactions such as hay fever. The high bioflavonoid content can also help hemorrhoids, varicose veins and spider veins.
Fresh Curry Leaves
Improve functioning of the stomach and small intestine. They are directly added to food or in the form of juice added to buttermilk and consumed at the end of lunch/dinner. Eating 10 fresh fully grown curry leaves every morning for three months is said to prevent diabetes. They may also cure diabetes due to obesity, as the leaves have weight reducing properties.
Fresh curry leaves are supposed to reduce the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good one (HDL). You can find them at the farmer’s market.
Liberal intake of curry leaves is considered beneficial in preventing premature graying of the hair. The leaves have the property to nourish the hair roots. New hair roots that grow are healthier with normal pigment.
How to Buy, Store and Prepare Spices
Because many of the active ingredients in spices are aromatic it is important to buy whole seeds rather than ground powders. When spices are ground in the factory they loose a lot of the aromatic compounds and continue to loose more as time goes by. Seeds can be ground right at the cooking time by placing combinations in a spice grinder. I use a coffee grinder for my spices (since I don’t drink coffee anymore). A mortar and pestle will also do the job.
Spices need help from heat to bring out their best qualities. Spices should be sautéed in oil or dry fried (placed in a frying pan that has no oil in it) before use. The fat-soluble components of spices are released when they are sautéed in oil or ghee. This is the reason why it is not advisable to buy turmeric or other spices as a supplement in capsules. This would be too hard on the liver, and since spices act synergistically and their water and fat soluble components are released when cooked in water or oil, the best way to make use of their healing properties is to add them to food. Even just inhaling their aroma while preparing a meal is going to get the digestive enzymes flowing and will improve digestion and will have a stimulating effect on the brain.
We hope you are now inspired to experience the wonderful taste and healing benefits of spices and herbs. The following is a spice mix recipe that is good for most constitutions, is easily prepared and can be used for many kinds of vegetable, fish or meat dishes:
1 part turmeric
1 part cumin
3 parts coriander
3 parts fennel
1 part black pepper
Grind in coffee grinder and put in an airtight container and keep in a cool place.
Cooking method: first heat olive oil or ghee then add the spice mix, cook for a few minutes until the aroma is released. Add to rice or steamed veggies or meat/fish dishes before serving.