Importance of Spices as Herbs in AyurvedaIsmat Nathani
Ayurveda uses many spices to alter long-standing conditions by eliminating metabolic toxins. Also known as ‘cleansers’, certain herbs improve the immunity of the person, thereby reducing conditions such as fever.
Herbs such as ginger, black pepper, long pepper, cinnamon, coriander and turmeric are known for their alternative properties.
Spices such as cumin, fennel and peppermint are used as antacids, neutralizing the acid produced by the stomach, to retain healthy gastric acid needed for proper digestion.
Antibiotic herbs like turmeric are useful in inhibiting the growth of germs, harmful microbes and bacteria.
Ayurvedic practitioners recommend certain antipyretic herbs such as black pepper, sandalwood, safflower and coriander to reduce fever and the production of heat caused by some conditions.
An important medical property of herbs is to serve as antiseptics. Aloe, sandalwood and turmeric are commonly used antiseptics with high medicinal value.
Through the ages, Indian sages have been using anti-venomous spices & herbs which act against poisonous matter from animals such as snakes.
Certain aromatic herbs like cardamom and coriander are renowned for their appetizing qualities. Other aromatic herbs such as cloves, peppermint and turmeric add a pleasant aroma to the food, thereby increasing the taste of the meal; they serve as digestives and condiments for the food as well.
Apart from being aromatic, saffron, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom are also great astringents which help digest fats and reduce free radicals in the body.
Top Ten Ayurvedic Spices:
Turmeric has many useful therapeutic qualities, including: anti-oxidant, anti-tumoral/anti cancerous, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-hepatotoxic, anti-hyperlipidaemia, and insect repellent effects. It is widely used to heal wounds and cuts.
Turmeric is contraindicated during pregnancy and for those with diagnosed gall bladder disease.
Ginger is perhaps the best herb for digestion and the safest to consume during pregnancy. It helps break down proteins relieving the stomach and intestines of gas and aiding digestion of fatty foods.
Its warming quality improves and stimulates circulation and relaxes the muscles surrounding blood vessels, facilitating the flow of blood throughout the body. It has been widely shown to prevent as well as treat motion sickness, relax the stomach and relieve the feeling of nausea.
Studies demonstrate its extract can help reduce the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the body, reducing the risk of developing heart disease.
Whenever possible, choose fresh ginger over the dried form for a superior ginger flavour, higher levels of gingerol and ginger’s anti-inflammatory compound.
Cumin has shown beneficial mutagenic and blood-clotting effects. Other effects include: estrogenic, antispasmodic, diuretic, aphrodisiac, carminative, simulative, and analgesic.
Coriander seeds are a good household remedy for many Pitta disorders, particularly those of the digestive tract or urinary system.
The essential oil of coriander has been shown to stimulate secretion of gastric juices, and as such is useful as a carminative and spasmolytic agent. The Ayurvedic use it for digestive and gastric complaints, chest pain, upper abdominal pain, bladder infections, rashes associated with leprosy, fever, dysentery, and as an external poultice for headache.
Saffron is used in small proportions. It helps to increase appetite, reduces indigestion, diarrhoea, vomiting and acidity. It acts as a cardiac tonic and is used to treat diseases, which originate from vitiation of blood. It helps in easy flow of urine and hence is used in retention of urine. Saffron rejuvenates both the male and female reproductive system.
The dried clove flower buds, which are pungent and aromatic, are used in cooking and for therapeutic purposes.
Clove oil applied externally, has stimulating effects on the skin, producing heat and redness. Clove powder and oil are very effective in treating fever, problems related to the head, nausea, hypertension, disorders of the nose, sore gums, toothache, earache, chest pain, coughs, digestive problems, diarrhoea, cholera, intestinal worms, arthritis, backache, blisters, boils, burns, sexual debility and morning sickness in pregnancy. Over use of clove can cause excess heat and can result in skin rash.
Cinnamon has been used as a home remedy for many diseases.It is used for treating rheumatism and other inflammations. Cinnamon extracts are active against Candida albicans, the fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infection, and also Helicobacter pylori, the bacterium responsible for stomach ulcers. Cinnamon extracts have also inhibited the growth of cultured tumour cells. It is also useful as a food preservative to inhibit the growth of common food-borne bacteria such as Salmonella and E coli.Use should be limited to small quantities.
Fennel seed has been shown to stimulate gastrointestinal motility and has demonstrated an antispasmodic effect in higher concentrations.
Fennel seeds are considered one of the most balanced and sattvic of all spices. They are one of the best herbs for digestion, strengthen agni without aggravating pitta, stop cramping and dispel flatulence. One-teaspoon of roasted seeds can be taken after meals, by themselves or with rock salt. They combine well with cumin and coriander as three cooling spices. Fennel seeds are excellent for digestive weakness in children or in the elderly. They are calming to the nerves. Their aroma acts upon the mind and promotes mental alertness. For urinary problems, they combine well with coriander. Fennel can be used for digestive weakness where hot spices and peppers might overheat or over stimulate. They work to stop the griping of purgatives and can help promote menstruation and promote milk flow for nursing mothers.”
Nutmeg, commonly called Jaiphal, is a kapha and vata dosha suppressant. It helps reduce convulsions, pain and inflammation because of its hot potency. It also helps clear the respiratory passage and normalizes the digestive system.
Since ancient times Ajwain has been used as a carminative medicine. Ajwain water, distilled from the seeds, is a cure for flatulence, indigestion & low appetite. This water is a household medicine not only in south India but also in Srilanka, Malaysia and even in some Arabian countries. Some very valuable unani medicines are prepared from ajwain seeds.