Spice Rack Medicine

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Liveliness does not need to come through anything extra-ordinary, superfluous, or outrageously expensive.

It can be, and is, simple.

It is day to day maintenance.

Possibilities meet you right where you stand, and are as close as the spice rack in your kitchen.

What you may not know is that many spices are in fact medicinal herbs, and in ancient times were sometimes the only medicine. Papyri from Ancient Egypt in1555 BC classified coriander, fennel, juniper, cumin, garlic and thyme as health promoting spices. In India, Susruta II also used spices and herbs such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, and pepper for healing purposes.

As we know, food is medicine and spices encourage the medicine it offers to course through the body, in addition to offering their own unique agents of healing. As you cook, you have the opportunity to identify and use plants that are supportive to your constitution and elevating to your current state, not only enhancing your ability to process and digest, but also boost your sense of overall wellness.

Some spices are heating in nature, and may not be the best for you if you are of a hot constitution. Examples include black pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, and mustard.

Other spices are cooling and would aid any sign of excess heat out of your system and pitta conditions. These include, but are not limited to, cumin, coriander, and mint.

Some are grounding, nourishing, tonifying, and therefore good for those prone to anxiety and restlessness. Cardamom, salt, tumeric, and chocolate!

Others are pungent, expansive, and light and good for those with sluggish tendencies, digestive and otherwise. Most spices serve to mitigate stagnant conditions, although some strong allies are ginger, garlic, horseradish, and paprika. 

Spices and Ayurveda

From an Ayurvedic perspective, there are three main constitutional types – vata, pitta and kapha – which each innately have a different combination of the five basic elements – space, air, fire, water and earth. Dependent on your constitution, and the balance of the five elements in your body, there are certain foods and spices that will be supportive and others that will not.

The vata type, governed by air and space, tend to exhibit these qualities in their physical structure. They are often thin, small framed, sunken in their chests, and irregular in their height - either quite tall or very short. General mobility is one that accompanies them. They love change, are active, and walk and talk rapidly. These types are calmed by the tastes of Sweet, Sour, and Salty. They are aggravated by Pungent, Bitter, and Astringent tastes.

Pitta types, those with strong fire and water elements, are naturally prone to more heat. Pitta is representative of the internal fire and is what cooks, digests, and assimilates all of the human experience, including but not limited to, food. Pitta individuals, in body and mind, are attributed by the qualities of sharp, oily, hot, and mobile. Heat generally is balanced by the flavors of Sweet, Bitter and Astringent; it is aggravated by Sour, Salty, and Pungent.

Kapha folks, in which the elements of Earth and Water predominate, are calm, grounded, slow and steady - when in balance that is. When excessive kaphas dense Earth transforms into a solid rock that is difficult to move they become sluggish, sedated, depressed, and static. Kaphas therefore do well with herbs that pick them up and are invigorating. The Pungent, Bitter and Astringent tastes all aid heavy, sticky Kapha tendencies. Sour, Salty, and Sweet increases the prevalence of Earth and Water and can lead to an imbalance.

Each individual, be they ruled by vata, pitta, or kapha is of course always free to eat what they choose. Dependent on the season, the time of day, and current lifestyle factors the food and spices used could vary dramatically to create harmony. The above six tastes mentioned and how they affect each Dosha can be integrated into the way you spice your food.

For example…

If you are a Vata type and love popcorn you can balance its overall affect by adding ghee, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

If it is a hot summers day make a tea of fennel, ginger, and mint. Or, add some dill, cumin, and coriander your dish!

If you wish to eat a heavy meal, such as meat, cheese, and potatoes (goverened by Kapha) enliven it with pungent, bitter, or astringent spices. Hot peppers, Mediterranean herbs such as thyme, sage, oregano, and marjoram are just a few examples. Any spice will do; all spices are good for Kapha.

To note: Generally when cooking spices, add the seeds to the oil, butter, or ghee first, then add the powdered spices, and allow them to cook until their aroma fills the room. Continue to add vegetables, rice, or whatever else!

If you are seeking to balance your unique constitution, note that:

  • Vata is BALANCED by: Sweet, Sour, Salty; and AGGRAVATED by Pungent, Bitter, Astringent

  • Pitta is BALANCED by: Sweet, Bitter, Astringent; and AGGRAVATED by Sour, Salty, Pungent

  • Kapha is BALANCED by: Pungent, Bitter, Astringent; and AGGRAVATED by Sweet, Sour, Salty

And, as always, it is important to eat real food, to close as many circles as possible within your food niche, and to eat thoughtfully prepared meals.

Developing a relationship with yourself, your body, and what you put in your body is the place to start. Then, track how it makes you feel, before, during, and after eating.

If you add the appropriate spices to your food, you'll likely feel lighter and more vibrant with each bite you take!

By guest writer Julie MacAdam, creative artist, yoga teacher, body worker, and lover of the earth.

Self care is a radical act — when you are vibrant and awake, you have the clarity and energy to show up for what you believe in. Cultivate Balance provides Ayurvedic consultations, Goodness Guides, and online wellness courses that support you to nurture yourself so you can nurture the world. Dive in with our FREE mini-course, The Basic Balance Challenge!