Because digestion is the key to great overall health according to Ayurveda, it’s essential to keep the digestive fire strong inside your body. The primary healing spices — turmeric, cumin, Himalayan pink rock salt, and coriander — help strengthen your digestion, thereby contributing to your overall health.
Contrary to the common perception that healthy food must taste bland, in Ayurveda, food must stimulate your taste buds, as the sight, smell, and taste of your food impact how well you’ll digest it. Ayurveda says food must be healthy and flavourful.
I immediately noticed a big difference in my own digestion and overall health when I started mindfully incorporating Ayurvedic spices into my meals. My students, too, who come from different racial and cultural backgrounds and are used to eating all kinds of foods, unanimously love the Ayurvedic dishes I feed them in classes and trainings. These spices make it possible for them to continue enjoying foods they’re currently eating by helping them digest their food better.
Armed with these medicinal spices, you can find relief from issues ranging from menstrual pain to the common cold. The mere presence of these spices in my kitchen inspires me to manifest radiant health each day. I invite you to avail yourself of the magical powers of these humble, but mighty, Ayurvedic spice friends in the preparations and recipes that follow.
1 Reclaim your health with khichadi
Made of cooked green and/or yellow mung dal lentils, white rice, and a variety of spices, khichadi (also called kitchari) is one of Ayurveda’s superfoods. Almost all Indians know khichadi as a healing food. Khichadi is such a go-to food that I widely recommend it to clients struggling with a variety of health challenges. It can be made with a number of seasonal spices and vegetables, so you can continually experience different flavours.
Filling, yet light, it’s wonderful for yoga practitioners who want to go deeper into their spiritual practices, as it brings about a calm mental state. For those who want to cleanse the body, it is helpful to eat a diet of khichadi for about 7 to 10 days (or until toxins disappear).
- ½ cup white basmati rice
- 1 cup green or yellow mung dal (you can also use ½ cup yellow and ½ cup green dal)
- Himalayan pink rock salt
- ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 2 teaspoons ghee
- ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
- Fresh coriander, chopped, for garnish
- Rinse the rice and dal, then add to a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover the rice and dal by 1 inch and soak for 3 to 4 hours if possible (or at least 30 minutes).
- Place the pot on the stove over high heat. Heat until it boils, then reduce the heat to low. Add the rock salt and turmeric and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has a mushy consistency, 20 to 25 minutes. Add additional water if preferred, or cook until it becomes as dry as you like.
- Place the ghee in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook until the seeds start crackling, about 10 to 15 seconds or less.
- Pour the warmed ghee mixture into the pot with the rice and dal. Serve with fresh corian-der for added flavor and digestive power.
Time-saving tips: Invest in a slow cooker. You can start cooking lentils and vegetables in it in the morning and they will be ready for you by dinner.
2 Sprinkle cumin on any savoury food to improve digestion
I can’t think of a single savoury Ayurvedic dish that doesn’t have cumin in it. Cumin is a powerful ally to call upon for digestive health. It is no coincidence that one of the many synonyms for this pervasive Ayurvedic spice is jarana, or “that which brings about digestion.” My teacher put it so aptly when she shared, “Cumin is like a matchstick that ignites fire in your body in case your internal flame isn’t working.”
This pungent, heating herb can help you digest any savoury food. Its taste is subtle enough that you can add cumin powder to dishes ranging from pasta to pizza, fajitas, or fried rice. And, unlike other heating herbs, which are best restricted to winter and spring, you can use cumin any time of the year. Cumin is an excellent spice to use anytime you need an appetite boost. Roasting cumin seeds on a dry skillet until they become slightly darker, but not black, adds more dryness and heat, which helps increase cumin’s potency to crank up your digestion. Just the fragrant smell of freshly roasted cumin seeds is enough to immediately ignite my appetite.
To combat nausea, simply sprinkle some cumin seeds or powder onto a lemon slice and lick it sporadically for quick relief. For diarrhea, drink warm water mixed with 1 teaspoon of cumin powder.
For women with menstrual spotting, irregular cycles, or clotting, this spice is your friend. Cumin also reduces inflammation, helps prevent problems like endometriosis, and is extremely beneficial for post-pregnancy women. It’s an excellent spice for healthy breast milk.
3 Invite a fiery fivesome into your diet and life
Ajwain seeds, fresh and dry ginger, black pepper, mustard seeds, and fenugreek seeds are excellent heating spices for igniting your digestive fire. You can freely enjoy them in winter and spring. They are also a great crew to call upon for help digesting heavier foods, like meat, as well as for weight loss.
Also called bishop’s weed seeds, ajwain seeds look like cumin but smell and taste more like thyme. These highly fragrant seeds are particularly helpful for bloating and pain relief. I love boiling them in water and drinking ajwain tea on the rare occasions I feel abdominal pain.
Ginger is called a great medicine (maha aushadhi) in Ayurveda. The dry form of ginger is a powerful force to fight against spring afflictions like colds, asthma, sore throats, runny nose, and diarrhea. Anytime I feel a cold coming on or need to stop a runny nose, I apply a paste made of dry ginger powder and water on my nose and under my eyes for as long as comfortable. To stop diarrhea, add a pinch of dry ginger to warm water and drink.
Cooking with fresh ginger, mustard seeds, and black pepper is an excellent way to prevent and reduce respiratory challenges and seasonal allergies. In addition to being part of the fiery fivesome for boosting digestive fire, fenugreek seeds (and leaves) are also a pregnant woman’s best friend, as they relieve breast tenderness and promote healthy breast milk.
4 Nourish your heart with the sound of OM
Whales can easily live more than 100 years. Do you know their longevity secret? They breathe really, really slowly. Slowing down your breathing through the practice of yogic breathing exercises (pranayama) enhances the quality of your life.
One beautifully simple breathing exercise you can practice anytime is called udgeeth, which means “song” or “singing”. I like to think of it as a whale-singing breathing exercise that makes you feel as strong and full of vibrant life force as a powerful blue whale in the ocean. I often imagine myself sitting in the mouth of such a whale as I practice it.
To do it, simply inhale through your nose, then chant OM as you exhale, holding the “O” sound for three times as long as the “M” sound. Focus on your heart as you inhale.
This is an excellent breathing exercise to practice if you suffer from low energy, depression, grief, lack of concentration, anxiety, or insomnia. Practice it before you sleep if you have trouble falling or staying asleep. Practice it in the morning to start your day on the best possible foot. Practice it anytime you find yourself absorbed in worries and sadness. It will nourish your physical and emotional heart, unlocking the power of love within you.
5 Start eating your way to greater beauty
You want the right kind and amount of moisture in your diet to lubricate your food and allow your skin to shine and glow. When you digest natural oils from skin-friendly food items, you’ll be blessed with healthy, supple skin, which stays youthful longer.
For optimal skin health and acne prevention, strive to eat lighter foods that are easier to digest. This includes cooked vegetables in place of raw. Cooking your food automatically lightens it and ensures your stomach has to do less work to digest the food in your body. It’s as if the stove pre-digests the food for you — and your skin likes that. A lot. The sweet and bitter tastes are particularly good for promoting healthy nutritive and blood tissues, which ensure healthy skin and hair. When we talk about sweet here, we mean naturally sweet foods: sweet fruits, vegetables, dairy items, spices, and grains.
Healthy Skin Starts in the Womb
Ayurveda recommends that pregnant women eat certain kinds of naturally oily foods including milk, ghee, butter, saffron, cardamom, and fresh fruits to ensure babies have good-quality, healthy skin from the start. Other natural sources of moisture can come from food such as zucchini, squashes, and raisins.
READ The Ayurveda Way: 108 Practices from the World’s Oldest System by Ananta Ripa Ajmera
EXLPORE Ananta’s blog at wholeyoga-ayurveda.com/blog