Spices bring out the best in every dish and keep your taste buds entertained with different flavors. However, in Ayurvedic cooking, spices are more valued for their medicinal or healing properties. Generally speaking, spices play an important role in digestion and assimilation of food and maintain a balanced and healthy Agni, or digestive fire. But in fact, the healing effects of spices are much more than that.
Cumin is pungent in taste with a strong aromatic smell, and is slightly hot in nature. In Sanskrit, cumin is called “jeeraka”, meaning “digester”, which reveals the digestive function of this spice. Cumin enhances the appetite, burns the digestive toxins and reduces the gas. It is diuretic as well. In Ayurveda, a special digestive yogurt drink is prepared with cumin.
Coriander has sweet and astringent tastes with a sharp aroma. Due to its cooling nature, coriander may stimulates digestion without aggravating Pitta. Coriander also combats against allergies, cures skin ailments and improves eyesight. The toasted coriander seeds are used in treating nausea.
According to Ayurveda, fennel is a cooling spice in nature, contributing a sweet taste with a bitter undertone. It enhances agni without aggravating Pitta. In India, it is a common practice to eat a few toasted fennel seeds after a meal to aid digestion and freshen the breath. Moreover, fennel is highly estrogenic and thus helps to increases fertility in women. Some other therapeutic functions of fennel include releasing water retention in the body and calming the nervous system.
Black pepper is used so extensively worldwide that it has acquired the name "the King of Spices". It is pungent in taste and heating in nature. Black pepper helps to decrease Kapha and Vata, and just slightly increase Pitta. It is known for stimulating the digestive process, relieving nausea and nourishing the brain. Black pepper also encourages the absorption of other nutrients, spices, and herbs.
The bright yellow-orange powder of turmeric is one of the oldest and most significant spicies known to man. It is bitter, astringent and pungent in taste, and it balances all the three doshas. The natural anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties of turmeric are commonly used to treat asthma, arthritis and various skin conditions. The anti-cancer properties of turmeric fight effectively against cancer cells in all phases of cancer development. Turmeric is also used to reduce undesirable fat and to purify blood and even subtle body such as nadis and chakras.
Cardamom is a warming aromatic spice with sweet and pungent tastes. According to Ayurveda, cardamom is good for balancing all the three doshas. Cardamom is considered an excellent digestive, especially beneficial in reducing bloating and intestinal gas. It also destroys mucous in the stomach and upper GI. The seeds of cardamom are often chewed to refresh the breath.
Basil is an excellent healing herb. It promotes health by supporting the body's natural defense system and fighting against stress and diseases. It clears the lungs and uplifts the mind. A tea made from the fresh leaves of basil is an excellent remedy for chronic cough, cold, allergies, or asthma
Saffron has been valued for its exotic aroma and warm, slightly-sweet flavor. It strengthens all the tissues of the body. Saffron has always been used as an aphrodisiac, energy-enhancer, digestive aid, cough suppressant, antidepressant, analgesic and anti-carcinogen.
Cinnamon is pungent, sweet and bitter in taste. This aromatic bark of tree is particularly good for enhancing circulation. Its heating and detoxifying properties make it widely used home remedy for colds and flu. Cinnamon is also an excellent addition to all the desserts due to its property of accelerating sugar metabolism, and thus maintaining stable blood sugar level. According to Ayurveda, cinnamon controls both vata and kapha, without aggravating pitta unless consumed in excess.
In Ayurveda, cloves are used to enhance circulation, digestion and metabolism. It is best for enhancing the digestive fire (Agni) without overheating the system. Traditionally, whole cloves are chewed to freshen after a meal the breath and stimulate digestion. Mostly it is used in tea in winter season due to its hot nature. The clove tea can also be used for nausea, indigestion or gas. Mixed with honey it can alleviate colds and cough. Clove also has aphrodisiac properties according to Ayurveda. Clove contributes the pungent and astringent tastes. It helps pacify Vata and Kapha and increases Pitta.
Fenugreek pacifies Kapha and increases Pitta. It is a warming spice, and contributes the bitter, pungent and sweet tastes. Fenugreek lowers blood glucose and cholesterol levels, induces labor, enhances lactation in nursing mothers, increases libido and male potency, and maintains a healthy metabolism. The seeds of fenugreek can relieve acid reflux and sooth gastrointestinal inflammation. Other diseases that fenugreek helps to treat include arthritis, asthma, bronchitis and sore throat, menstrual pain and some skin problems.
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