One of the simplest, yet most profound, aspects of Ayurvedic nutrition is the use of herbs in cooking. Not only do herbs make your food taste fantastic, they also provide some little-known health benefits. One of the most prominent benefits is to your digestive system.
In order to keep all bodily systems working properly, we must have the ability to transform the nutrients in our food into material that builds good tissues and generates energy, and we need the ability to properly separate out and eliminate the waste products. If digestion is compromised, this process is interrupted, and we may experience skin issues, fatigue, weight gain, or any number of other conditions. For this reason, digestion is considered the number one importance in Ayurvedic medicine.
Aside from digestive support, herbs are magic kitchen helpers that assist healthy detoxification, support the immune system, and even freshen the breath. The following are my favorite kitchen herbs that are good for all body types, with tips on how to use them, plus the down-low on other benefits they bring.
- Cumin. Whole seeds can be roasted in a dry skillet or in a small amount of ghee until their aroma is released. (This should be done before adding ground spices to the cooking pan.) Whole seeds are also used in tea—like the Digestive Seeds Tea listed below. Ground cumin can be added to curries, soups, and stews, or sprinkled on whole grains or fresh yogurt. Cumin is also good for promoting intestinal calm and comfort and helping to flush natural toxins from the system.
- Coriander. This ground spice is very versatile (I use it in just about anything from curries and veggies to fish and beans) but combines especially well with other Indian and Mexican spice mixes. In Ayurveda, coriander is known for supporting a healthy appetite, maintaining proper function of the kidneys, and purifying the blood. Although most often used as a ground spice, whole coriander seeds can also be used similarly to whole cumin seeds.
- Fennel. Cooling and sweet, fennel is one of the best herbs for improving agni, or digestive fire, without aggravating pitta. It is also one of the best herbs for supporting a comfortable digestive experience. Chewing a few whole seeds after a meal will further aid in digestion and freshen the breath! Whole seeds are often used in both cooking and tea, and ground fennel works well in sauces and soups.
- Turmeric. Ayurveda’s “golden girl,” turmeric is best known for its ability to soothe and support comfortable joint movement. However, it also supports liver detoxification, boosts the immune system, and improves agni. While it has a heating quality, turmeric is also bitter and astringent, which are good for pitta. Turmeric is wonderful in curry mixes for lentils, rice, and potatoes, and it makes your food a lovely golden-yellow color.
- Saffron. I know it’s pricy, but this herb certainly has its place in special dishes now and then, considering it is known in Ayurveda for supporting the assimilation of nutrients and formation of tissues. If we don’t have that, what do we have, after all? A little bit goes a long way. Try Saffron Rice by adding 5 strands to rice during cooking; you will marvel at the gorgeous orange color it provides!
- Cardamom. A sweet spice, cardamom is often used in desserts and combines well with other sweet spices, such as cinnamon and fennel. It supports comfortable digestion, balances kapha, and reduces vata. Cardamom can be found in whole green pods, whole seeds (these are small and dark in color), or ground into a powder. The whole pods can be crushed just enough to open slightly and added to rice at the beginning of cooking (along with saffron, as listed above—yum!). Cardamom also works well in tea, coffee, or desserts. The whole seeds can be crushed and sprinkled on top of fresh fruit, or ground and used in baked goods. While freshly ground cardamom has superior flavor and aroma, commercially ground cardamom is still wonderful when added to baked goods and puddings, such as this Slow Rice Pudding.
|Digestive Seeds Tea|
|To make the tea blend, combine all the seeds in a jar or bag and stir to evenly mix.
To brew tea, place 1 tablespoon of the seed blend in a tea strainer, tea bag, or thermos. Add 12–20 oz. hot water and steep covered for 20 minutes or more. Sip throughout the day.