There are two situations where it is extremely important to nourish the rasa dhatu (plasma tissue). The first is after a fast, fever or severe illness, where the convalescent patient is depleted and dehydrated. The second is in situations where extra nourishment is needed for building or rebuilding, such as during pregnancy, lactation or rejuvenation.
In the case of the convalescent patient, we are faced with the task of nourishing rasa in a situation of impaired jatharagni (digestive fire which lives in the stomach and duodenum), impaired rasa dhatu agni and acute ama. Therefore our program includes dipan (kindling agni), pachan (burning toxins) as well as rehydration and nutrition. This situation may arise after someone has been sick with a fever, diarrhea or dysentery and has been fasting, after surgery, during chemotherapy treatment, in the first week or two after pancha karma, during the immediate post-partum phase, following an alcoholic binge episode, and during chronic fevers such as TB (rajayakshma).
The first important aspect of nourishing rasa in this situation is provision of proper hydration by the right use of water. Water, if used improperly, could further impair both jatharagni and rasa dhatu agni—for example if taken ice cold. In this situation warm water can be used, or better still, water boiled down to a quarter of its original quantity and then cooled down until it is lukewarm.1 Whenever possible, tender coconut water can also be provided to nourish rasa, especially in situations where there is high pitta, dysentery or diarrhea, heat stroke and after alcoholic binges.2 Coconut water is an ideal oral rehydration fluid with an excellent electrolyte content.3 Spice teas are beneficial in kindling agni and burning toxins while providing oral rehydration. Cumin is pachan (digestant) and also helps support a normal body temperature and is strength-giving and taste-promoting.4 Coriander is dipan and pachan, helps support a normal body temperature and promotes normal taste.5 Fennel is dipan, pachan, helps support a normal body temperature and promotes stomach comfort.6 Hence CCF tea is an excellent beverage for use during and after fevers and similar insults. In addition to their actions on agni and ama, these spices are excellent sources of nutrients for rasa-rakta (plasma and red blood tissues), including iron, magnesium and manganese.7
Fruit juices are another beneficial food for nourishing rasa. Grape juice (draksha) has traditionally been used in Ayurveda to nourish rasa and rakta, especially in anemia, constipation, fever, hangover and hemorrhage. Grapes are sweet and astringent with a sweet vipak and cooling energy.8 In England, it is traditional to bring dark grapes when visiting a sick person in hospital or at home. Pomegranate juice (dadima) is also given in anemia, fevers and thirst and can conveniently be made in modern juicer. Sweet pomegranate juice pacifies all three doshas. Sweet and sour pomegranate juice can sometimes be obtained from Middle Eastern markets and is an appetizer and taste promoter.9 When using juice bought in a jar, always dilute with plain water as these juices are quite concentrated and may cause diarrhea due to an osmotic effect.
When I was a child, we used many old English folk remedies that were part of our household tradition. One of these was barley water, a thin barley gruel offered to us whenever we had been sick. Little did I know at the time that this was an Ayurvedic remedy known as manda. Manda is a liquid preparation, made by cooking rice or barley in fourteen parts of water, boiling well and discarding the grains. Manda made from rice can be seasoned with pippali and as a digestant and appetizing way to nourish rasa and calm vata.10 Ghee or ginger ghee can also be added. (Ginger ghee is prepared by infusing two tablespoons fresh ginger into a pound of butter while boiling the butter to make ghee.) My family favorite, barley (yava) is calming to pitta and kapha while also balancing deranged vata and purifying the blood.11 It can also be seasoned with spices such as cumin. As a liquid food, manda directly nourishes rasa and supports hydration.
The next meal, peya, is a semisolid food (also known as kanji or conjee), prepared by cooking rice in eight parts of water and simmering it until it is soft. Indian Muslims traditionally break their Ramadan fast with this easily digestible and hydrating food, seasoned with ghee, cumin and rock salt. Vagbhat suggests seasoning it with ginger, coriander, pippali and Himalayan salt.12 Dadima (pomegranate juice) can be added for a sour taste.13 Kanji can also be fermented for added microflora, creating a ‘sour soup’. When I was in East Africa, we started every day with uji, a soured millet porridge served with soured curd. It kept me alive amid the onslaught of amoebic dysentery and was often the only thing I could eat.
Especially for people of kapha constitution, Yavagu can be prepared, using six parts water to one part barley, with a tablespoon of dashamula added to the pot.14 For non-vegetarians, meat soup, known as rasa, is an excellent way to nourish rasa. One can call to mind the traditional chicken soup such as my grandmother used to make, known as “Jewish penicillin”. The meat soup can be seasoned with with ginger, coriander, pippali and rock salt.15 For a nourishing soup with a good protein content, yusha can be prepared—a soup made from mung, urad or toor dal, seasoned with ginger, coriander, pippali and rock salt.16 The great Gujarati saint, Rang Avadhoot Bapu lived healthily to an extreme old age. His former servant told me that Bapuji took kitcheri and wild greens for lunch and mung dal yusha for dinner every day.
The next soup that can be offered after peya and its variants is vilepi or vilepika, a thicker soup made with four parts water to one part rice. This thicker gruel can be seasoned with rock salt, cumin, coriander and ghee.17 Next we introduce odana, rice cooked in extra water until it is quite soft and then drained. As the patient is able to eat thicker foods, they can be served kitcheri for a nourishing yet easily digestible meal. Encourage them to eat half the amount that would fill their stomach, so the agni is encouraged to become stronger.
- 1/2 cup split mung beans
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 1 tbsp ghee
- 1 inch piece of fresh ginger
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp each of powdered fennel, cumin and coriander
- 6 cups water
Wash mung beans and rice thoroughly. Heat the ghee, add the spices and cook for a minute, taking care not to burn the spices.
Add rice, beans and water, then bring to boil. Turn down to simmer for 45 minutes or until mung beans are very soft in pot on stove.
After cooking, add salt to taste. If you live at altitude, cook the mung beans for 45 minutes while soaking the rice, then add the rice and cook for 45 minutes more.
As ama is cleared and agni built, the debilitated patient will gradually become ready for phase two, santarpana or rasyana. Next month, we will look at nourishing rasa for building or rebuilding, such as during pregnancy, lactation or rejuvenation.
- Sushruta Samhita, Su, XLV v 16
- ibid v 17
- Chavalittamrong B , Pidatcha P, Thavisri U. Electrolytes, sugar, calories, osmolarity and pH of beverages and coconut water Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 1982 Sep;13(3):427-31.
- Bhavprakash, chapter on drugs like haritaki, v 82-85
- ibid v86-88
- ibid v89-9
- Uma Pradeep K , Eggum BO . Common Indian spices: nutrient composition, consumption and contribution to dietary value Plant Foods Hum Nutr. <too993 Sep;44(2):137-48.
- Bhavpakash, Chapter on Medicinal Fruits, v 109-113
- ibid v101-102
- Susruta Samhita su, XLVI v117.
- ibid v 17
- Vagbhat, Ashtanga Hridayam, Chi, Ch1 v 26
- ibid v 27
- ibid v30
- ibid v 34
- Tiwari, Maya, Secrets of Healing, p 354 Lotus Press 1995