Various types of herbs and spices have been with us in the kitchen for many years, but only Ayurveda – the oldest science of health, teaches us the proper use and combination of them. Ayurveda helps us maintain the harmony of the body and peace of mind. This, in turn, allows us to better manage our emotions and energy. If you would like to know all there is to know about Ayurveda, I’ve written an entire article on it. You can read it here.
The goal of Ayurveda is, of course, to stay healthy. Many factors can influence your health, such as physical activity, diet, work, rest, or even personal hygiene. In this post, we will focus on spices and herbs that are the basis of any healthy diet.
- Ayurveda and herbs
- Ashwagandha - for horse health
- Brahmi - a divine plant
- Turmeric - Indian gold
- Piperine - not only for the taste
- Myrobalan - the sacred fruit (haritaki)
- Indian gooseberry - a fruit for longevity
- Ginger - a pain reliever spice
- Indian nettle - an energetic ornament
- Gokshura - strength and libido
- Green chiretta - a bitter king
Ayurveda and herbs
A powerful tool in Ayurveda is the use of nature’s benefits in the form of herbs and spices. Ayurvedic cuisine is rich in spices that make us better nourished and have an impact on the quality of our thoughts and actions. The second element that is very important in Ayurveda is herbs. They also help to balance both the mind and the body.
Like food products, herbs have their own flavor and energy. The energy of a given herb helps in choosing the right herb for a specific disease case. Spicy herbs are warming (pepper, chili, ginger) and stimulating in nature. The sour taste, which we associate with citrus fruit or fermented products, also has a warming effect. The bitter-tasting herbs reduce fever, and the tart herbs are astringent and reduce swelling. Sweet, bitter, and tart flavors will have cooling energy to reduce excess Pitta.
As David Frawley and Vasant Lad write in the book “Yoga of herbs“, their main activity is to stimulate the functioning of individual organs. As a result, they can cleanse and nourish the body, as well as supplement deficiencies. Getting to know the properties of herbs and spices and the ability to compose them is real art. It’s worth developing and helping yourself by using this gift of nature.
Here are the most popular Ayurvedic herbs you can use to stay healthy.
Ashwagandha – for horse health
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is often called Indian ginseng. Its traditional name means “the smell of a horse” and refers to the characteristic scent given off by a fresh root, reminiscent of this animal. Traditional Indian medicine mainly uses the root of ashwagandha, but often also its leaves and fruits. They were used in rheumatic diseases and against general exhaustion of the body, but also to support memory. It’s also a libido enhancer and improves sexual performance in men. Ashwagandha helps maintain youth and vitality if consumed regularly.
Modern science confirms that various properties of Indian ginseng support the functioning of the entire body, both physically and mentally. For this reason, it is classified as an adaptogen. Withanolides contained in this plant stimulate the multiplication of immunocompetent cells, including B and T lymphocytes.
They also inhibit the growth of bacteria, facilitating the fight against infections. Ashwagandha also supports the work of the brain by stimulating the formation of its new cells (the process of neurogenesis). Clinical studies have shown that it can alleviate cognitive dysfunction in people with Alzheimer’s disease. It has an anti-stress effect by reducing the production of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) and silencing the central nervous system. As a cherry on top, studies prove that ashwagandha increases the levels of testosterone by as much as 40%!. This is astounding considering it’s a natural herb.
Brahmi – a divine plant
Bacopa (Bacopa Monnieri) is one of the most famous herbs used in Ayurveda. It occurs in wetlands, like swamps or in shallow water reservoirs, where it grows up to 30-60 cm. Its importance in traditional medicine was so great that it was called Brahmi – after one of the main deities of Hinduism, the creator of the world, or Saraswati – after his wife, who is the embodiment of knowledge and patroness of science and fine arts.
Bacopa supports the work of the mind, improves concentration and memory, relieves anxiety, and is even a measure against epilepsy. In fact, we can use it to strengthen the body in general. Bacopa removes impurities and restores the balance between the energies of Vata and Kapha. You can also use bacopa as a tonic to improve the functions of the heart, immune system, and skin condition.
The adaptogenic and nootropic properties of Brahmi is something very much appreciated today. People often use this plant to relieve nervous tension, anxiety, and the effects of chronic stress. As a plant dedicated to the goddess Saraswati, it supports memory and the ability to concentrate and learn. It can also increase the level of acetylcholine by up to 110% – the neurotransmitter responsible for cognitive functions. In addition, it can be helpful in disorders such as insomnia, depression, and ADHD.
As an adaptogen, bacopa supports the functioning of the circulatory systems and helps to normalize blood glucose levels. It also supports the immune system in the fight against pathogenic microorganisms and prevents the formation of stomach ulcers. And because it relaxes the smooth muscles of the gut, it can soothe ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome. Additionally, it protects the liver against toxins and chelates heavy metals, which helps remove them from the body.
Turmeric – Indian gold
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a perennial plant related to ginger. Ayurvedic medicine treats it as a tonic to strengthen the body and balance all three doshas. It has been used for thousands of years as an agent to reduce inflammation and allergic reactions, to improve skin condition and accelerate wound healing, and to soothe upper respiratory tract infections. Turmeric was also supposed to detoxify the body, improve appetite, and aid digestion.
Modern science values primarily the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of curcumin – the main active compound from the group of polyphenols contained in the turmeric root. Curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties, limiting the development of many diseases. Since it inhibits the action of the enzyme that breaks down dopamine and serotonin, it improves mood. Studies conducted in recent years also show its potential as a factor in preventing the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Piperine – not only for the taste
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is the most popular spice used in most countries in the world. Ayurvedic experts also appreciate its pro-health properties. It balances the Kapha and Vata doshas and contributes to the increase of Pitta. It’s mainly used as an aid in digestion and to support the functioning of the intestines and their cleansing, also of parasites. It is also effective in the case of heart disorders, respiratory diseases, and as an aphrodisiac.
The main biologically active compound contained in black pepper is piperine, which belongs to the alkaloids. It is a modulator of the immune system, has anti-inflammatory properties, and supports anti-cancer prevention. It also shows antibacterial activity, thanks to which it helps to fight pathogenic microorganisms. Additionally, piperine increases the metabolic rate, which promotes fat burning and muscle building.
It also affects the central nervous system, relieving symptoms of depression, and increasing the motivation to act. One of the most interesting properties of this alkaloid is increasing the bioavailability of other substances, including vitamins, minerals, and biologically active compounds derived from herbs. Piperine significantly increases the absorption of curcumin (even by up to 2.000%!), so together they are the perfect combination
Myrobalan – the sacred fruit (haritaki)
Myrobalan (Terminalia chebula) is a large tree, reaching up to 30 meters in height. In Sanskrit, it’s called Haritaki, which means “the sacred fruit of Shiva“. It is the fruits that are used by Ayurvedic experts primarily as a support for digestive processes, nutrient absorption, and intestinal cleansing. When eaten on their own, they balance the Kapha, and when accompanied by sugar or butter, they support Pitta and Vata, respectively. They help cleanse the body of toxins, reduce inflammation, and extend life.
The results of modern research show that the fruits of Myrobalan help to normalize the level of cholesterol in the blood and prevent atherosclerosis. They are also effective in treating gastritis and gastrointestinal parasitic diseases, as well as support the work of the immune system, as they inhibit the growth of numerous bacteria and viruses. Scientists also investigate their potential in the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and sarcoidosis.
Indian gooseberry – a fruit for longevity
Phyllanthus Emblica, also known as the Indian gooseberry, Amla or Amalaki, is a tree that grows up to 8 meters. It’s considered the seat of Lakshmi – the goddess of happiness, wealth, and beauty. While it’s a fruit rather than a herb, it still deserves the seat among the most potent Ayurvedic tools. In the tantric texts, it’s listed as one of the five elements that must be in the place of sadhana, or individual spiritual practice. Its fruit is used as an ingredient in dishes, but also as medicine. They balance all three doshas and are particularly helpful in reducing Pitta. They are also used to improve digestion and reduce constipation, purify the blood, relieve asthma, and as a means of increasing vitality and supporting longevity.
Modern research confirms the legitimacy of the traditional use of Amalaki. It can significantly extend life and supports cognitive abilities and mood thanks to the ability to inhibit the breakdown of dopamine and serotonin, as well as by preventing a decrease in acetylcholine levels. It also has a positive effect on the work of the heart muscle and blood pressure. Indian gooseberry helps in reducing body weight and cholesterol levels. Its potential to improve the condition of the skin and hair has also been observed.
Ginger – a pain reliever spice
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has been cultivated for centuries in India, which is now its largest producer. According to Hindu mythology, it is a plant that helps people, animals, and even other plants. It favors symbiosis between all living organisms in the world. Its presence in the home garden stimulated the growth and fertility of people and animals.
People used ginger as a spice for centuries, but they also valued its healing properties. Its fresh, spicy-sweet rhizomes balance Kapha and Vata, alleviate asthma and counteract problems related to the digestive system, such as flatulence, constipation, vomiting, and colic. The dried root of ginger was an aphrodisiac and as a means of balancing Vata and soothing menstrual pain.
Today, people mainly use ginger for medicinal purposes on two levels: as a measure against nausea (caused, for example, by motion sickness or taking chemotherapy, and also related to pregnancy) and in rheumatic pains. The latter use is based on the anti-inflammatory properties of this plant. Its mechanism of action resembles non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and additionally protects the articular cartilage against damage. There have been many clinical studies to confirm the effectiveness of ginger in relieving the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Also, turns out it has a beneficial effect on cognitive abilities, especially working memory, and reaction time. It helps to normalize insulin secretion and blood glucose and cholesterol levels and supports the immune system.
Indian nettle – an energetic ornament
Indian nettle (Coleus forskohlii) is a plant grown in the West mainly for decorative purposes, due to the characteristic pink-purple color of the leaves. Ayurveda knows it as Makandi and has been used for millennia against heart and respiratory diseases, including asthma and bronchitis, as well as a remedy for intestinal problems such as constipation, and to treat strep throat or even epilepsy. The roots of this plant were most often used, but other parts have their benefits, too.
The Western world became interested in Makandi in the 1970s when the results of research showing its potential use as a weight reduction aid were published. Further analyzes confirmed that forskolin – the main biological compound present in the plant – is responsible for it. The main mechanism of action of forskolin is the direct activation of adenylate cyclase – an enzyme that synthesizes cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). This, in turn, increases fat burning, as well as stimulates protein synthesis in the muscles and increases their contractility. Indian nettle also widens the blood vessels, which translates into lowering blood pressure and improving its flow, especially in the coronary vessels. It also affects the work of the central nervous system: increasing the concentration of cAMP in the brain translates into an improvement in the absorption of information.
Gokshura – strength and libido
Tribulus Terrestris, most often called Gokshura by Ayurvedic experts but is also known as caltrop, goat’s head, or puncture vine. This plant is classified as sweet and cooling. It helps to bring balance between all three doshas. It is traditionally used as an aphrodisiac, but also to increase physical strength. Its diuretic properties, lowering blood pressure, relieving headaches, and preventing constipation are also appreciated.
Today, men primarily use Tribulus to increase testosterone levels. This effect is especially visible in people whose concentration of this hormone is low. Clinical trials also prove the effectiveness of Gokshura in terms of improving potency – its effect was comparable to that of sildenafil. The fame that Gokshura enjoys in the Western world, however, results from the successes of Bulgarian weightlifters in the 1990s, whose secret was to supplement this plant. Since then, people often use it to increase muscle strength and physical performance. Gokshura also helps to lower too high blood pressure, reduces cholesterol, and lowers the risk of a heart attack. Numerous studies also confirm the fact that it helps to adapt to unfavorable environmental conditions (as an adaptogen), reduces nervous tension, facilitates relaxation, and improves mood.
Green chiretta – a bitter king
Andrographis paniculata, also known as creat or green chiretta, and in Sanskrit Yavatikta, is an annual plant found in tropical regions of Asia, also in India. It reaches 30 to 100 cm in height and prefers shaded and moist places. Due to its characteristic taste, it was awarded the title of “king of bitter herbs“. It is a dry and hot plant. According to Ayurvedic tradition, it releases Pitta energy from the body. It is also useful as a liver stimulant and digestive aid, as well as in the case of nausea and vomiting.
Green chiretta helps with fever as it increases perspiration and cooling the body and, In combination with black pepper, can even treat malaria. That’s because it helps purify the blood.
Modern scientific research confirms the effectiveness of green chiretta in many fields. First of all, scientists highly appreciate the fact that it supports the immune system in the fight against pathogenic microorganisms. This is due to the presence of diterpene compounds, mainly andrographolide. It effectively inhibits the growth of bacteria such as staphylococcus aureus or spirochetes that cause malaria, Lyme disease, and syphilis. You can also use it to treat an infection with the herpes simplex virus.
The results of clinical trials also indicate the anti-cold properties of green chiretta – volunteers using this plant in the autumn and winter period suffered from cold twice less often than the control group taking placebo. The anti-inflammatory effect of the “king of bitter herbs”, confirmed by many experiments, is also important. Green chiretta supports the digestive system – it stimulates the production of liver enzymes and normalizes the work of the intestines, relieving ailments such as diarrhea, constipation, or indigestion.
We can use the herbs of Ayurveda to make up for various deficiencies in our bodies. Their main action is to gently stimulate the functioning of individual organs. If we take plants as an integral part of ourselves, we will be able to take full advantage of their true value for our health. Ancient teachers and physicians respected the kingdom of plants and herbs. It was not a superstition delight or an expression of sensitivity to beauty, but an understanding of the power that plants can give us.