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Your mom’s masala dabba holds Ayurvedic secrets

Ayurveda reminds us that spices and herbs aren’t just used to make food aromatic and tasty. Spices are packed with healing power, and your kitchen cabinet is an apothecary! The secrets of Ayurvedic health and healing can be found in the simplest spices in your kitchen. 

If you grew up in a South Asian home, your mother probably had a masala dabba. Each katori, small container, within the dabba was filled with spices your mother or grandma used most regularly. Aside from culinary purposes, spices play a big role in healing burns, cuts, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, heartburns, skin rashes to complicated ailments. I saw my mother use ajwain for soothing gas and bloating issues and turmeric for when someone had inflammation. Cloves under the teeth was her go-to for toothaches. 

Kindling your digestive fire

Yes, spices add flavor to the food! But did you know that one of the most important uses for spices is to kindle our agni (digestive fire)? Why does that matter? Because optimal agni is necessary for appropriate digestion. Even Indian restaurants serve saunf or fennel seeds at the end of the big meal. Because fennel seeds are potent for digestion and gut immunity. Saunf is tridoshic (good for VataPitta, and Kapha) and with a sweet, astringent, and bitter taste, it has a cooling effect on the body. 

Ayurveda reminds us that it’s not what we eat but what we digest … that matters most.  Anything we eat or consume through our five senses … if it’s not utilized as energy or eliminated as waste … it turns into ama. Ama (toxins in Sanskrit), translates as uncooked or immature, and can weaken the body’s functions. This makes our mind-body vulnerable to disease and infections. You can see why proper agni and digestion are key to enjoying good health. Strong agni supports good health while weakened agni tends to accumulate ama, which leads to poor health, vulnerabilities in the mind and body, and ultimately disease. 

Spices help to regulate agni and help to ensure that we properly digest the foods that we eat. Spices give the agni a boost and make the digestion process easier. Use them liberally in your cooking. Sometimes people confuse spices for spicy. Ayurveda doesn’t recommend raising the heat in your cooking to the point you’re lighting your insides on fire. Spices can be medicinal. According to Ayurveda, each dosha (vata, pitta, and kapha) can benefit from different spices. 

The picture shows little mounds of Indian spices
A variety of Indian spices (Photo by Ratul Ghosh on Unsplash)

5 Warm Ayurvedic Spices for Vata Dosha

This dosha is made up of ether and air elements. Vata dosha is light, dry, mobile, cold, hard, rough, sharp, subtle, flowing, and clear. According to Ayurveda, to keep the Vata dosha grounded, it’s best to choose spices with opposite qualities: warming & grounding herbs and spices to offset the cold and dry energies. Food should be moist, cooked, warm, easy to digest, and moderately spiced.

1.     Cinnamon

2.     Cloves

3.     Saffron

4.     Fresh ginger

5.     Black pepper in moderation

Balancing Pitta Dosha’s Heat with 5 cooling spices

Pitta has the characteristics of being oily, sharp, hot, light, fleshy smelling, spreading, and liquid. According to Ayurveda, this is the dosha responsible for our ability to mentally digest our life experiences and biologically digest our food. Pitta Dosha is made up of fire and water elements. The spices should have cooling energetics, so they can help to calm Pitta’s heat.

1.     Green Cardamom

2.     Fennel

3.     Cumin Seeds

4.     Coriander, aka Cilantro

5.     Mint

5 Spices of Spring that Pacify Kapha Dosha 

Kapha is primarily composed of the elements earth and water. As a result, the dominant gunas or qualities in Kapha are heavy, slow, cool, oily, smooth, dense, soft, stable, gross, and cloudy. We know that Ayurveda tells us that like increases like, so, if you eat foods with opposite qualities, it will help bring Kapha back to balance. For example, spices that are light, warm, dry, and rough—can help to counterbalance the moisture, cold, and unctuousness brought upon by excess kapha. Spices help to strengthen the digestive fire and can improve overall metabolism—something Kaphas often struggle with. 

In general, people with predominantly Kapha dosha are fortunate when it comes to spices because most spices are helpful for Kapha. In fact, Kapha is the only dosha that can usually handle fiery hot foods. Here are my five of my favorite spices for this dosha:

1.     Curry Leaves

2.     Fenugreek

3.     Chili Peppers

4.     Mustard Seed

5.     Ginger

An understanding of what spices work best for your Ayurvedic dosha helps the process of healing. So, use them liberally in your cooking!

“My mother cooked like a scientist. She had a giant Chinese-style cleaver that she chopped with, and a cupboard full of spices.” ~ Kamala Harris

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are nursing, taking medications, or have a medical condition, please consult with your healthcare practitioner prior to the use of any of these spices and herbs.

Photo by Ratul Ghosh on Unsplash