We all know that one particular day every year when we step outside in the morning and the air smells different. It's not just a change of smell we notice. It's the feel of the air as it strikes our noses, our faces, and we just know that the seasons are changing. Some years (for the Northern Hemisphere) that day happens as early as August, and other years it is as late as October. No matter, we know it when it arrives. And this is the day when we begin to think about, and make plans for, the next six months. How will we best take care of ourselves and our families? What do we need to stock up on to get us through? How can we avoid getting sick?
Most of us know that it’s an all-encompassing endeavor to incorporate Ayurveda into our daily lives, from how and when we eat, how we move, cleanse, and think, to how we act, how we love, and even how we sleep.
Overwhelming? Yes. Doable? Yes. Would a straight-up "Here's what you do list" be helpful? Heck yeah! So in this article, I am just going to focus on the six Ayurvedic herbs that you should be stocked up on during the vata and kapha seasons of fall and winter, respectively. While anyone could make a claim that some other combination of herbs might be more or less beneficial, the six that I will be talking about are meant to provide you with support for the following:
- Immune system
- Cellular vitality
- Mental clarity
Since we know that each person is a unique matrix of different strengths and challenges health-wise, the aim here is to provide a guide of tridoshic herbs that just about everyone can benefit from. By tridoshic I mean all body types, mental states, and levels of wellness, or any combination thereof. All pittas, kaphas, vatas are welcome! Naturally, these herbs are only recommended for all-around wellness, and any health concerns you have about taking ANY herb or supplement should be reviewed by your doctor or practitioner. That said, if you want to assure general health and wellness for you and your family during the "hunkering down" times of the year, here are the six Ayurvedic herbs I suggest:
Uses: digestion, detoxification, mental clarity
Described as the "remover of diseases," this herb is actually a fruit, and it is a must-have in any arsenal of active, supportive, and rejuvenative herbal medicines. Haritaki is one of three components of the widely used formula Triphala, however, of the three, it is the most tridoshic and carries with it the energy of "fearlessness."1 And who doesn’t need a little shot of fearlessness in this world!? Not only is haritaki a most effective digestive aid and lung tonic, it is also indicated for promoting balanced cholesterol levels in the blood and in the liver. Furthermore, haritaki is also known to detoxify and cleanse the plasma and lymphatic tissues. Due to its purifying and clearing actions, the extended benefits of haritaki working from the inside can often be seen in more smooth and radiant skin on the outside.
Uses: detoxification, immune support, energy
The word manjistha translates to the term "bright red." Since this herb has a very strong affinity for the blood, the fact that it is red draws comparisons to "the doctrine of signatures," which is an idea that the features of the herb represent the parts of the body it benefits. Manjistha is known for cooling, cleaning, and clearing the blood of excess heat, and removing natural toxins. In essence, all of the body's tissue layers including skin, joints, organs, the lymphatic system, and the reproductive system are positively supported.
It should be noted that manjistha is a particularly valuable herb for supporting detoxification and a healthy immune system as it acts as the ultimate clean-up crew. If you think about it, your blood goes everywhere in your body, and therefore if the quality of your blood is at its best, then the health of every part of your body from head to toe will follow suit.
Uses: digestion, detoxification, immune support, energy
Though turmeric is commonly known as a spice, it is a highly revered, prolific, and powerful herb with far-reaching health benefits. While turmeric, like manjistha, is known as a blood purifier, it does its unique heavy-lifting by supporting the function of the liver through better blood flow and bile production. When the liver is functioning optimally, the process of detoxification happens more easily and other parts of the body are less-burdened in their normal functions.
Turmeric is truly a potent herb because it can remove ama (toxic accumulations) that can negatively impact the body, including the immune system, vitality, and energy. Turmeric helps lighten the workload of the liver, nourish the heart, support comfortable movement of the joints, and strengthen digestion.
Uses: immune system, cellular vitality, energy
Even though Shilajit is lesser known in Ayurveda, it is certainly revered for its rejuvenative and detoxifying properties. Not an herb, shilajit is a mineral pitch that oozes from, and hardens on, Himalayan rocks. As a mineral pitch, it is known as an important mineral supplement and a robust and nourishing rejuvenative.
More specifically, shilajit supports the kidneys and urinary tract, purifies the blood, tones the reproductive organs, and supports the immune system. While shilajit supports overall reproductive and sexual functioning of both men and women, it also has a special affinity to the prostate and urinary channel.
Uses: mental clarity, cellular vitality, energy
As another "doctrine of signatures" herb, the leaf of the brahmi/gotu kola plant keenly resembles the part of the brain called the cerebellum. Therefore, as we would expect, this herb is best known for its actions on the brain and the mind. In the fall and winter, our thoughts and minds can get a bit scattered and foggy. Whether the dryness in the autumn air keeps us from having grounded thoughts, or the shorter and darker days of winter cloud our ability to perceive and process clearly, we can all benefit from some brain support.
The different compounds in brahmi/gotu kola not only help to cleanse the blood, but they also stimulate the circulation of the blood. That said, a very healthy and fluid blood supply easily finds its way to the vulnerable parts of our body for which brahmi/gotu kola has a strong affinity: the nerves, the mind, the skin, and the joints. Whether you need some coping calmness for a stressful situation, an added ability to concentrate on a task at hand, support for aching joints, or you'd just like your skin to appear more luminous, brahmi/gotu kola is the herb of choice. This herb is indicated as an extremely helpful support for just about any challenge or imbalance affecting the brain or nerves, and is therefore a pivotal component among the six herbs discussed here for optimal overall health and wellness.
Uses: detoxification, cellular vitality, immune support, energy, mental clarity
Last but not least, of the six essential herbs to have on hand for fall and winter, is tulsi—classically known as holy basil. Tulsi is considered an adaptogen, which makes it generally tridoshic and puts it into the realm of herbs that are able to meet your body where it's at. This herb has a very "lightening and lifting" quality to it, which makes it ideal for supporting a normal body temperature, promoting healthy respiration, supporting healthy digestion, steadying the heart, and calming you down. In the vata and kapha seasons, we can all be well-served by lightening and lifting, and tulsi is the perfect support.
After reading the above, it's no wonder that the Sanskrit translation of tulsi means "the incomparable one." Tulsi is deemed a sacred plant, and beyond its well-known adaptogenic effects on the body, it is considered sattvic for its softer but definitive influence on deep emotional resilience and devoted spiritual awareness. This herb is like the crowning glory on the library of the six essential Ayurvedic herbs for fall and winter that can promote health and longevity. Tulsi is truly one of those herbs that just about everyone can benefit from.
Fall and winter can definitely be hard on all of us as we tend to spend more time indoors, which often means less activity and more stagnation physically, mentally, and emotionally. Additionally, the cooler and darker seasons seem to breed more illnesses and, as a result of exposure, our immune systems may be tested and our vitality challenged.
There is really no limit to what the whole of Ayurveda and its healing substances can do to rebuild, maintain, and enhance your quality of mind, body, and spirit. However, it is very easy to get lost and feel overwhelmed about where to start and how much to take on. I hope this information helps you narrow down the choices and options to a doable and accessible group of Ayurvedic remedies that can truly be supportive to just about anybody. Vata and kapha season…HERE WE COME!!!