Spices are an important of ayurveda. They can assist in the augmentation of many dishes; increase, reduce, or modulate agni; and possess many healing benefits. Spices can be made into teas, cooked into foods, or blended into seasoning that can be sprinkled onto food after it is cooked.
Black pepper is known as “marich” in Sanskrit, which is a name for the sun. These potent little seeds contain good amounts of solar energy and so, contain similar properties. Pungent and heating, black pepper is good for kapha and vata and works on the circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems. Black pepper increases digestive fire (agni), which helps destroy toxins and digest food. Used with honey, black pepper is effective in clearing excess mucus from the lungs and the sinuses and drying up secretions. With turmeric and honey in a tea, black pepper is also good for colds and sore throats. Piperine, the active component in black pepper, has shown clinical benefit such as increased glucose sensitivity, reduced symptoms of human metabolic syndrome, and improved liver function.
Cardamom is a digestive stimulant and one of the strongest antioxidant spices used in cooking. Cardamom helps to increase the absorption of several additional key antioxidants (e.g., glutathione, glutathione reductase, superoxide dismutase, and catalase) and significantly reduces skin melanomas and cancer-related tumors through the body. Cardamom stimulates the spleen and agni and removes kapha from the stomach, lungs, and adipose. It is very good for pitta dosha. In numerous clinical studies, cardamom has effectively reduced tumor size.
Pungent and sweet, this aromatic bark of tree is an effective spice for strengthening and enhancing circulation. Cinnamon is heating and acts to strengthen the heart and to promote agni. Thus, it is particularly good for kapha and vata. Studies show that cinnamon is effective at reducing adipose and blood sugar. Cinnamon is widely used as a home remedy for colds and flu and aids in the absorption of other medicines.
Coriander is a household remedy for excess pitta. Whether the leafy green, fresh cilantro or the grounding, earthy coriander seed, this is a food to always have on hand. Studies show that coriander assists in reducing anxiety and extending sleep length.The cilantro leaf acts as a cooling balm to pitta or as a bitter refreshment for kapha. The seeds are humbly gracious to all doshas. Famous in ayurveda as one of the three spices (along with fennel and cumin), coriander is used to balance and reset the mind and the body. Coriander is used for digestive disorders and to help in the assimilation of other herbs.
Considered invaluable for digestion. It also contains proteins, alkaloids (nigellicines and nigelledine), and saponins (alpha-hederin) in substantial amounts, making it a beneficial antioxidant. Cumin pacifies vata and kapha and in small quantities, is helpful to pitta for digestion. It is also a cleansing spice, and helps burn ama (digestive toxins) that is considered by ayurvedic healers to be the source of many disorders. Cumin enhances appetite and is helpful to the stomach, the liver, and the intestines. Cumin is warming and offers the pungent taste.
Fennel seeds are one of the best herbs for digestion. They strengthen agni without aggravating pitta. They can be taken roasted after meals. They combine well with cumin and coriander as three cooling spices. Fennel seeds are excellent for digestive weakness in children and in the elderly. They are calming to the nerves while stimulating digestion—unlike hot spices and peppers, which may overheat or overstimulate. Studies show fennel seeds are strong antioxidants and help reduce tumor size and prevalence.
Fenugreek is a good herb for the nervous, respiratory, and reproductive systems. It promotes hair growth and can be used externally for boils, ulcers, and sores that are slow to heal. Taken with valerian, fenugreek is a good nerve tonic. Added to dishes, it promotes digestion. Fenugreek works on the plasma, blood, marrow, nerve tissues, and reproductive tissues. It is vata and kapha reducing and pitta increasing. Studies show that fenugreek is a powerful antioxidant and helps reduce oedema.
Ginger is one of the most versatile spices to have in the home. The uses of ginger to aid digestive and respiratory diseases are well known. It is also corrective in arthritic conditions and is a tonic to the heart. Ginger works on all tissues. It reduces vata and kapha, but increases pitta. Ginger is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-bacterial, and anti-microbial.
Cooling and cleansing, lemon has been known to healers as a purifying substance for the body and particularly, the skin. Highly astringent, lemon clears stagnation and firms the skin, the tissues, and other organs. Even though it is sour in taste, its cooling aspect relieves pitta. The sour taste balances vata. As an expectorant, lemon liquefies kapha, promoting its release from the body. Lemon is known for its anti-inflammatory effect.
Refreshing and invigorating, mint brings relief and pampering to pitta skin and to excess heat in the tissues. Mint has a general cooling effect on the body. It is clearing, aids memory, and eases fatigue. In clinical studies, mint has inhibited herpes labialis, reduced lesion size, and increased the rate of healing.
Nutmeg is one of the best spices for increasing nutrient absorption, particularly in the small intestine. Nutmeg works well with cardamom and ginger. It helps reduce vata in the colon and nervous system. Nutmeg is one of the best herbs to calm the mind. Taken in excess, however, it can dull the senses. It is good for the plasma, muscle, marrow, nerve tissues, and reproductive tissues. Nutmeg reduces vata and kapha, but increases pitta.
Known as “holy basil,” tulsi is one of India’s most sacred plants. Holy basil opens the heart and mind, bestowing the energy of love and devotion. Holy basil strengthens the immune system, increasing prana (life force) and improving memory. A nerve tonic, holy basil improves absorption of nutrients and strengthens the nerve tissue. It is also used topically for various skin conditions.
A potent revitalizer of the blood, of circulation, and of the female reproductive system, saffron is one of the best pitta-reducing herbs and is considered a vajikarana (an aphrodisiac) primarily for women. It is shown to modulate the immune system. It catalyzes the tonic action of other herbs, and promotes tissue growth in the reproductive organs and in the entire body. Saffron’s quality is sattvic and gives energy to devotion and compassion, to bhakti yoga. It is good for all doshas and works on the circulatory, digestive, and female reproductive systems.
Ubiquitous in ayurvedic cooking, turmeric contains the flavonoid curcumin, which is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. This all-around wonder spice helps detoxify the liver, balance cholesterol levels, fight allergies, stimulate digestion, boost immunity, and enhance the complexion. It is also an antioxidant, and has received recognition as a cancer preventative. Ayurveda recognizes turmeric as a heating spice, contributing bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes.