Ayurveda is based on a concept of wholeness, where everything is interconnected and has an effect on us which can be understood. For example the warmth of summer helps us to feel energetic while cold rainy days generally make us feel slower and heavier. So it is in the body where warm things tend to make us feel lighter and more energized while moist or cold things can make us heavier and slow us down. It is also the same with food, including herbs and spices. They each have an energy which has a known effect on the body – either cooling or heating, moistening or drying, uplifting or grounding. Herbs and spices have been used for centuries to improve flavor, aid digestion and balance the energetics of a meal. They have a very concentrated energy and that is why they are only used in small amounts. Here are some examples of how you can use some common spices to create balance:
Tumeric is a warm and bitter spice. Things that are bitter in nature generally tend to improve our digestive capacity and benefit the liver while aiding the digestion of fats. One of my favourite uses of tumeric is as an addition to the melted butter that I pour over fresh popcorn before relaxing in front of a movie. It adds that wonderful yellow color to the popcorn while helping to digest the fat of the butter. It is a wonderful spice to add to steamed vegetables or a quick stirfry, especially if you have been feeling a little sluggish and grumpy, which could be an indication of liver stagnation.
Pepper is hot, spicy and drying in energy. If you taste something this pungent it is easy to feel that, just like a hot fire, its’ heat dries up moisture in the body. Cayenne has a similar effect on the body. Because they are hot and dry in nature they are very beneficial when added to moist, mucus forming foods such as eggs and cheese, especially when you eat these foods in the cold wet months of winter and spring. Both pepper and cayenne are very strong in their action and so should only be used in small amounts. When overused they can be a cause of further imbalance for some constitutions.
Cardamom is a light, warm and dry herb. Its’ nature is gentle, balancing and uplifting. It can actually be used to give clarity to our thoughts and improve our mood. Cardamom has been found to reduce the negative effects of caffeine on the body and so can be very beneficial as an addition to coffee or black tea, as in the traditional use of the chai spices.
Cinnamon is another light, dry, warm herb. It is a wonderful addition to balance the moist nature of yogurt, and will reduce its mucus forming effects in the body. It is also a great spice to add to any fruit dish right now. As fall is cooler in nature than summer it is a nice time to try slightly warmed or stewed fruits with cinnamon to balance and uplift.
Nutmeg is a warm and grounding herb. It has been used traditionally with warm milk as a sleeping aid for centuries for this very reason. Its’ grounding nature calms and settles us and helps induce sleep in a restless body. It is also useful when used with fruit, to balance its’ light and cool energy. This spice is especially useful in the changeable, unstable energy of fall when things are in transition and it is easy to feel imbalanced. Use in small amounts only.