Foods and spices are considered essential components of Ayurvedic health care. In many ways, delicious wholesome organic food is considered ‘medicine’ in Maharishi Ayurveda. An expert Ayurvedic consultation almost always includes modifications to diet and the inclusion of certain types of foods and certain tastes at specific times. In the Maharishi Ayurveda model of health, foods are medicinal influences in themselves, and expert Ayurvedic practitioners recommend them regularly. The Ayurvedic dietary cupboard is full of a wide and delicious variety of foods that include grains, vegetables, nuts, fruits and spices. Most of these spices have a growing body of research supporting their health-supporting properties. As modern research is showing, diet can play a significant role in restoring health and a growing list of scientific studies are pointing to the therapeutic value of both foods and spices. Ayurveda has embraced this principal of health for millennia. Please consult your physician for specific recommendations for your health needs.
The following recipes are offered as easy delicious health-supporting tools for your best health. Favor organic raw ingredients whenever possible.
Turmeric is ubiquitous in Ayurvedic cooking. It contains the flavanoid curcumin, which is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. This all-around wonder spice is said to help detoxify the liver, balance cholesterol levels, fight allergies, stimulate digestion, boost immunity and enhance the complexion. It is also an antioxidant. Ayurveda recognizes it as a heating spice, contributing bitter, pungent and astringent tastes.
Turmeric is a bright yellow-orange spice, and, used in tiny quantities, imparts a rich color and look to cooked white rice, potatoes or yellow lentils. Add it to the water in which rice or lentils are being cooked. It combines well with other spices such as cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper and cinnamon.
Here’s a quick, easy way to enjoy turmeric. Sauté half a teaspoon of cumin seeds, half a teaspoon of turmeric and half a teaspoon of sweet Hungarian paprika in a tablespoon of Ghee. Remove from heat as the spices start to release their aroma, and stir in a cup of diced steamed vegetables such as zucchini, cauliflower or broccoli. Add salt to taste and garnish with some chopped fresh cilantro. Cooked red kidney beans or cooked lentils also work well with this spice mixture.
Turmeric can stain fabrics and other materials, so handle carefully.
Ajwain, sometimes called ajowan, is a commonly used Ayurvedic spice. The Latin name for this spice is carum copticum. It tastes like caraway or thyme, only stronger. The seeds are small, gray-green in color and quite peppery when raw, but milder when cooked.
Ajwain is helpful for pacifying Vata and Kapha, and increases Pitta. It contributes the pungent taste, with a slight bitter undertone.
According to Ayurveda, ajwain is a powerful cleanser. It is helpful for stimulating the appetite and enhancing digestion. It is recommended to help alleviate gas and discomfort in the stomach. It is also helpful for the functioning of the respiratory system and the kidneys.
Ajwain is commonly added to deep-fried foods, such as fritters, in Indian cooking, to help ease of digestion. A pinch added to buttermilk or digestive lassi can promote digestion if taken after lunch. Add a pinch to rice as it is cooking, for aroma and flavor. Ajwain can be combined with other spices such as turmeric, paprika, cumin, black pepper, fennel and coriander.
Bay leaves used in cooking are from the Laurus nobilis tree. The leaves, used whole, are a little pungent and highly aromatic, and should be used sparingly. They are warming, and pacify Kapha and Vata and increase Pitta. In Ayurveda, bay leaves are used in teas to help soothe respiratory problems and indigestion.
Bay leaves combine well with pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, and this combination of whole spices is used to flavor Basmati rice. Bay leaves can be added to stews, soups, dhals and curries while they are simmering, and are generally removed before serving.
Basil is used both in its fresh and dried forms. Sweet basil is the type most commonly used in cooking; it is balancing for Vata and Kapha and for Pitta when used in lesser quantities. It is a warming herb, and contributes the sweet, bitter and pungent tastes. Holy Basil is more therapeutic and is used in many Maharishi Ayurveda herbal products. This variety balances Vata and Kapha but increases Pitta.
Basil and Holy Basil are used in Ayurveda to maintain and promote the long-term health of the respiratory tract. Basil tea can help clear Shleshma from the lungs and the respiratory area. It is also used to settle stomach disorders and to enhance digestion. A mild natural sleep aid, Basil enhances the quality of sleep. Oil of basil promotes mental clarity and is frequently a part of stimulating, Kapha-balancing aroma oil blends. A Holy Basil plant grown in your home is said to keep it free of garavisha–environmental toxins.
Dried basil is aromatic and is used to flavor soups and stews. It is potent, so use small quantities for a more subtle flavor. The dried leaves can be combined with lemon juice, powdered dry roasted cumin, black pepper and a little salt to make a dressing for a salad using cooked beans or vegetables.
Black Pepper is considered an important healing spice in Ayurveda. Along with Long Pepper and Ginger, it forms the herbal preparation called trikatu, an important ingredient in many Ayurvedic formulations. It has cleansing and antioxidant properties, and it is a bioavailability enhancer — it helps transport the benefits of other herbs to the different parts of the body. It helps the free flow of oxygen to the brain, helps enhance digestion and circulation, stimulates the appetite, and helps maintain respiratory system health and the health of the joints.
Black pepper is a warming spice and contributes the pungent taste. It is excellent for pacifying Kapha, helps pacify Vata and increases Pitta.
Aromatic black pepper is widely used as a seasoning in the Western world. In Ayurvedic cooking, black peppercorns as well as ground or cracked black pepper are common. Black peppercorns and other whole herbs such as cinnamon chips, bay leaves, cloves and cracked cardamom pods are sautéed in ghee and used to flavor Basmati rice. Ground black pepper is combined with coconut milk and other spices to make sauces for vegetables. Pepper combines well with almost every other spice or herb.
In Ayurveda, black salt is considered an aid to digestion. Ground with ajwain and lemon juice and eaten, black salt helps balance the digestion. A couple of pinches of black salt and 1/8 tsp. dry-roasted ground cumin can be used to make digestive lassi. Black salt, with lemon and cliantro, is used to make a dressing for spicy fruit salsa or chick-pea salads.
Mustard seeds, generally brown, are used quite a bit in Indian cooking. Brown mustard seeds are warming, and impart the pungent taste according to Ayurveda. They are balancing for Kapha and Vata, but increase Pitta dosha. In Ayurveda, brown mustard seeds are considered a digestive and good for alleviating stomach discomfort such as gas or cramps.
Take a little Ghee and heat it in a pan. When hot, add the mustard seeds. Watch out, they will start “popping” in hot oil or ghee. As soon as the popping begins, remove from heat and pour over the prepared dish. Stir and serve. Mustard seeds sauteed in Ghee are wonderful in lentil soups, dhals, Indian-style curries and spiced vegetables. They have a sharp flavor and are aromatic as well.
Brown mustard seeds combine well with other Ayurvedic herbs and spices such as ginger, cayenne peppers, turmeric, asafetida and coriander.
Cardamom is a warming spice, contributing the sweet and pungent tastes. It has a sharp flavor and is used extensively in desserts, especially in India and the Middle East.
According to Ayurveda, cardamom is tridoshic (good for balancing all three doshas), but people trying to keep Pitta in balance should eat it in smaller amounts. Cardamom is considered an excellent digestive, especially beneficial in reducing bloating and intestinal gas. It is excellent for balancing Kapha, particularly in the stomach and the lungs. It is also useful for pacifying Vata. The seeds are often chewed to refresh the breath.
Cardamom tastes best freshly powdered. It combines well with other sweet spices such as fennel and with pungent spices such as cloves.It can be used in baking, in sweet sauces and puddings, and in milkshakes that include fruits and nuts. Crushed cardamom can be used as a topping for fresh fruits and fruit salads. Try a large pinch of cardamom in lemon juice as a dressing on a carrot-raisin salad. Cracked cardamom pods add flavor to rice if dropped into the water at the start of cooking.
Cinnamon bark is often used in Ayurvedic herbal preparations to enhance the bio-availability of other herbs. It is a warming spice, and contributes the sweet, pungent and bitter tastes. It is excellent for pacifying Kapha and good for balancing Vata also. Individuals trying to balance Pitta can also consume cinnamon, but in relatively smaller quantities.
In Ayurveda, cinnamon is used to balance the digestion and to pacify stomach disorders. Combined with other warming herbs and spices like ginger and black pepper, it can be boiled into a herbal tea to soothe discomfort associated with colds. Its oil is used to pacify headaches and keep joints healthy.
Cinnamon is a very aromatic herb and is widely used to spice desserts and sweet dishes in the west. In Indian cooking, it is used to spice rich rice and vegetable dishes. The sticks are used to decorate rice dishes.
Cinnamon combines well with many other spices, including ginger, cloves, black pepper, paprika, saffron and nutmeg. Sauté cinnamon in ghee and add to desserts such as rice pudding or pie mixtures. A pinch can flavor nut-fruit milkshakes.
The clove is the dried unopened flower bud from an evergreen tree. The clove has been used in India and other parts of Asia for many centuries.
In Ayurveda, cloves are considered to enhance circulation, digestion and metabolism and help counter stomach disorders such as gas, bloating and nausea. The essential oil of clove is used as an ingredient in oral hygiene products to promote tooth health and freshen the breath.
The clove contributes the pungent and astringent tastes. Cloves help pacify Vata and Kapha and increase Pitta.
Cloves are used both whole and ground in Ayurvedic cooking. Whole cloves sauteed in Ghee with other spices such as cinnamon, bay leaves and peppercorns enhance the flavor of rice and pilafs. Cloves are an essential ingredient in curry powders and combine well with other Ayurvedic spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and coriander.
Coriander seeds are used commonly in Indian and Mexican cooking. They can be used whole, but are normally used ground. Coriander is a tridoshic spice highly appreciated in Ayurveda. It is a cooling spice and contributes the sweet and astringent tastes. Ayurvedic texts suggest that it is good for digestion, whets the appetite, helps combat allergies and also helps purify the blood. It can be combined with other Ayurvedic herbs such as ground turmeric, cumin, paprika, cayenne and fennel. It has a sharp aroma and smells and tastes best freshly ground in a coffee or spice mill.
Ground coriander can be added to dhals and vegetables as they are cooking. It can also be sauteed in Ghee and added to cooked vegetables or lentils.
Cumin is popular in Indian, Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisines. According to Ayurveda, it is balancing for all three doshas. It is supposed to aid digestion and help flush toxins out of the body.
Cumin can be used either as whole seeds or ground, raw or dry-roasted. Ground raw, it is a dull brown color, which is enriched by being sautéed in Ghee or oil. Powdered dry-roasted cumin is a rich brown in color. Both sautéing and roasting make the aroma and flavor of cumin come alive. Cumin combines well with a wide range of other spices, including turmeric, ground fennel, ground coriander, ground dry ginger and cinnamon.
Sprinkle ground, dry-roasted cumin on fresh yogurt, add salt to taste, and enjoy at lunch. Or blend yogurt, water (50-50) with ground, dry-roasted cumin and salt to taste for a refreshing lunchtime drink. Called “lassi” in India, this drink is excellent for digestion. This form of cumin can also be combined with some minced ginger, lemon juice, salt and black pepper to make a dressing for a warm salad of cooked white beans or lightly steamed shredded carrots. Whole cumin seeds, sautéed in Ghee, make a flavorful addition to lentil and legume soups. Wholesome and nutritious, these soups can be meals in themselves.
Dried, ground ginger is a warming spice, contributing the pungent taste. It helps pacify Vata and Kapha and increases Pitta. It is included in many Maharishi Ayurveda formulations because of its healing properties. It is useful in aiding digestion, enhancing appetite, pacifying stomach disorders and maintaining jont health and respiratory system health.
Dried ginger imparts zest to vegetable and lentil dishes. Add with other spices during cooking, or saute in Ghee and add to dishes. It has a very concentrated flavor and a little goes a long way. It is used extensively in baking and in desserts in combination with other spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.
Dried ginger combines well with a multitude of Ayurvedic spices, such as turmeric, cayenne, cumin, coriander, fennel and cinnamon.
Fragrant rose petals are considered cooling in Ayurveda, and therefore excellent for balancing Pitta. Rose petals are said to contribute the sweet, pungent, bitter and astringent tastes. Red rose petals have the best aroma. Look for rose petals and buds that are chemical-free. Shatapatri, or Rosa Centifolia, is the rose traditionally used in Ayurveda.
Rose petals and hips can be brewed into a soothing fragrant tea. Fresh or dried petals can be added to desserts and puddings. Rose Petals, in combination with saffron and cardamom, are used to flavor sweet rice.
Fennel is a cooling spice, contributing mainly the sweet taste with an undertone of the bitter taste. Its taste is reminiscent of licorice. It has a nutty flavor and a strong aroma when sautéed in Ghee.
According to Ayurveda, fennel is extremely good for digestion. It acts as a general toner for the digestive system, and is particularly good for enhancing Agni, the digestive fire, without aggravating Pitta. In India, eating a few toasted fennel seeds after a meal is a common practice, both to aid digestion and to freshen the breath.
Fennel seeds can be used whole or ground. Whole fennel seeds, sautéed in Ghee, contribute aroma and flavor to dry vegetable dishes, and ground fennel works very well in sauces. Fennel combines well with other Ayurvedic spices such as cumin, coriander, dried ginger and black pepper.
Sauté turmeric, ground cumin, ground ginger and ground fennel in Ghee, blend cashews in water to make a thin paste and add to the spices to simmer-cook into a rich sauce for vegetables. Fennel seeds can be baked into cookies and muffins and a small quantity of ground fennel can be added to rice pudding for an exotic flavor.
Fenugreek is excellent for pacifying Kapha, and in smaller quantities for Vata, but it increases Pitta. It is a warming spice, and contributes the bitter, pungent and sweet tastes. In Ayurveda it is used to enhance digestion and prevent stomach disorders. It is also good for the skin and hair.
Fenugreek seeds are used both whole and ground. As with many other Ayurvedic spices, it is best to saute whole or ground fenugreek in Ghee before adding it to dishes. Fenugreek combines well with other spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, fennel and dried ginger.
Hing is an Indian spice with a unique flavor. It is a dried resin, available in “rock” form or ground. Ground hing is generally cut with rice flour, and is less potent. Hing is considered good for the appetite and digestion. It is a warming spice and contributes the pungent taste. Raw hing has an unpleasant odor. To release the true flavor of hing, you have to sauté it in oil or ghee. A pinch of ground hing goes a long way.
Hing and mustard seeds sauteéd in Ghee are poured over cooked lentils for aroma and flavor. The mixture of hing and mustard seeds, along with other spices, can be used to season vegetables or to make fruit chutneys.
Kalonji refers to the small black seeds of the Love-in-a-Mist plant. Sometimes they are confused with “onion” seeds or black cumin or caraway. The seeds are deep black and sharp-cornered.
Kalonji seeds are reported to be beneficial for the respiratory system. They have also been shown to have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Crushed kalonji has an aroma somewhat like oregano. They are normally used whole, mainly in breads. The seeds taste pleasantly bitter and slightly pungent.
Kalonji seeds are generally sauteed in Ghee or dry-roasted to release the aroma and flavor and then added to vegetable dishes.
There are many varieties of mint. Spearmint and Peppermint are two common varieties. Mint is a cooling herb, with a sweet taste and a pungent after taste.
Most varieties of mint are pacifying for all three doshas, and especially helpful for balancing Pitta. Mint is good for digestion as well as for respiratory system health. Its delicious flavor is found in many Maharishi Ayurveda herbal teas.
Mint is extensively used to make digestive lassi and chutneys. Tea-cut dried mint, along with other whole spices such as cinnamon, cloves and black pepper, is used to season rice.
Nutmeg is an almost overpoweringly aromatic spice, to be used very sparingly. Fresh-grated nutmeg has a more powerful flavor and aroma than ground nutmeg. Nutmeg pacifies Vata and Kapha and increases Pitta. It contributes the pungent, bitter and astringent tastes. It is a warming spice.
In Ayurveda, it is used as a natural sleep aid, normally taken in warm milk before bed. It stimulates appetite and digestion. Nutmeg is used in desserts and in baking. In Ayurvedic cooking a pinch of nutmeg is added, with spices such as whole black pepper and bayleaf, to flavor rice or rice pilaf.
Saffron is a royal spice. In Ayurveda, saffron is considered tridoshic: balancing for all doshas. It helps in assimilation of nutrients and dhatu formation and in flushing toxins out of the tissues of the body.
Saffron is available as strands or powdered. Saffron strands are normally soaked in a little milk to release the color before addition to dishes. In Ayurvedic cooking, saffron is used widely: in desserts, vegetable dishes and to season rice. It is used for both its royal color and delicate aroma.
Saffron combines well with almost every other Ayurvedic spice.
Sweet paprika lends aroma and flavor without the “hot hot” fieriness of cayenne or hot paprika. Paprika is a warming spice, and predominantly contributes the pungent taste. It pacifies kapha and vata and increases pitta. Paprika and cayenne have antioxidant properties and are used to enhance circulation.
Sweet paprika has a bright orange color which tends to look brown and burnt if sauteed in hot oil or ghee for too long. Combines well with other Ayurvedic spices such as cumin, coriander, fennel and turmeric. Sprinkle on dishes just before taking off the heat for best results.
Rock Sale is traditionally considered the healthiest form of salt in Ayurveda, and rock salt pacifies all the three doshas. Rock salt is categorized by some Ayurvedic healers as a saatvic food, helping to nurture the spirit. It contributes the salty taste and is a cooling spice. In Ayurvedic medicine, rock salt is used as a laxative and a digestive. It is an ingredient in the Herbal Di-Gest formulation from Maharishi Ayurveda.
It is also an appetizer, especially when a pinch of it is eaten with a slice of fresh ginger before a main meal. It gets the salivary and digestive juices flowing. You can add a pinch of rock salt to digestive lassi along with some crushed mint leaves, some shredded ginger and powdered dry roasted cumin for a refreshing lunchtime beverage. You can also add it instead of common salt to foods such as khichari and vegetables.
The Spice Box