Some ideas about spices
Spices are used to help the digestion and build agni. You cannot really go wrong with just the use of cumin, coriander, fennel, and turmeric. Add a little salt to that and all is good. The spices below are just a few to give a better idea of use and details of them.
Cumin seeds – Katu (pungent) rasa and vipaka pungent as well. Ushna (heating) but not heating to cause swelling or flare up (not atiushna). Will help with digestion. Even pitta vikruti can eat well. Specific diuretic action. If there is a problem with burning urination, along with coriander seeds will help you to reduce burning urination. Beneficial for cleansing the uterus – commonly used in the post natal period. Also good to reduce flatulence. Has ushna quality that helps to ignite agni and digestive fire inside. These heating qualities are essential for the body because it increases agnis in all dhatu, and reduces kleda. They have found that alzheimer’s is least prevalent in Indian communities. They say it is the curries, but its not. It is these herbs that prevent kleda accumulation in majja dhatu and all over the body. In pitta vikruti is still appropriate in small amounts. If someone is having severe pitta condition like herpes, we need to be aware of it. Can add roasted and crushed cumin seeds to buttermilk because it helps reduce flatulence and stays laghu because its roasted.
Dhania/Coriander – mild anushna (small amount of heat) but has an effect of cooling on the body. Kashaya (astringent) rasa, Madhura (sweet) Vipaka. Helpful for alleviating pitta, also good as a diuretic. Can be used for all 3 doshas for overall health. Unctuous in nature – being both madhura and unctuous/snigdha/oily becomes pitta alleviating/reducing/pacifying. Not atishita (excess cold) that would increase kapha. Pachaka = IS good for digestion. Rochaka = appetizing. Coriander powder with onions or tomato acts as a thickener.
Fennel/saunf is smaller finer sweeter seeds (about the size of cumin) that are used as a mouth freshener and as a digestive after meals. Dry roast, pound and add sugar to it. Smaller ones are less fibrous and easier to eat and are more potent. Cooking fennel seeds are not as flavorful as a mouth freshener. Both have all digestive properties to it. (help you to digest food).
Hing/Asafoetida – katu and tikta rasa (pungent and bitter), katu vipaka, ushna guna. But again, not super-hot herb from spices. Slightly snigdha. Tikshna/sharp and penetrating. Can be used as an anupana – can be mixed with other herbs to carry quickly. Good for flatulence, for increasing agni, vata controller in digestive channels. Usually when you cook dal is kshaya, adding hing helps to digest. Reduces kapha and kleda and therefore good for anti-worm/anti-parasitic and cleanses the environment so there’s no food for the parasite/worm to exist in. Pay attention to how much you are using compared to the bulk you are eating. Don’t be afraid of ushna spices.
Methi/fenugreek – vipaka is katu, rasa is tikta, guna is ushna. Increases agni and can increase pitta in case of hyperacidity or pitta prakopa. If you get sour belching or heartburn (Amla Pitta – sour pitta = Hyperacidity), stay away from it. Especially vata and kapha can benefit from it. Do not use raw or when pitta prakopa or vikruti. Do not use too much when cooking. 1/8 tsp. for 1 person’s meal is sufficient. Mainly a galactagogue, good for low back pain and helps with bone pain. Fenugreek seeds when you have gum swelling or toothache – soften in hot water, strain and rinse with the water. Helps to increase the agni at the level of the tooth and gum. (suck on a clove in area where there is pus in mouth will increase agni, improve pachana and heal) Cleansing effect on the rasa dhatu in small dosages. Can also soak in water to help with diabetes. Can make a methi masala powder.
Mustard Seeds – ushna, tikta and katu rasa, katu vipaka. Being tikta increases agni. Creates a proper check on kleda in body and reduce kapha. Black mustard slightly stronger than yellow. Alleviates and reduce Vata and Kapha. Increase Pitta if consumed in heavy dosages. Along with hing and black pepper can increase pitta. Moderate dosage of all spices helps alleviate this effect. Karma, processing, changes how the herb acts (like cooking them in the ghee with cumin before adding the rest of the spices changes them from being pungent to bitter). Ghee can help alleviate some of the heating qualities.
Nigella – kalonji or onion seeds – look like black sesame seeds but aren’t.
Turmeric – katu vipaka, rasa is tikta/katu. Virya is anushna – mildly heating, but has qualities similar to rakta dhatu (blood). Have it regularly and your rakta dhatu will be improved – skin color and blood quality will improve. Don’t use too much turmeric just because its good for you. Salt is not good for rakta dhatu. Spiced milk – in spiced milk you can use slightly more because its sweet. The point is to eat regularly in reasonable dosages. When in raw form has some Aap (water) mahabhuta, so best qualities are in the dry version because dry has a kleda reducing quality. Good for diabetes, skin conditions. If you are having throat pains, inflammations – hot water, salt, turmeric and gargle with it. If you have a cut, you can immediately put turmeric on it and it will stop the bleeding and help the healing.
Neti pot (jalaneti)– just salt water and that’s it unlike what is written in some Western Ayurvedic books – to treat sinus infection EAT turmeric – the infection is within the amashaya (the stomach, kind of, not the nose). Also, there are two people that died of brain eating amoebas in New Orleans at the start of the popularity of Neti pots due to Oprah and Dr. Oz. This was due to the lack of proper instruction on the necessity to dry the sinuses after use. Dr. Oz conveniently forgot to speak about the contraindications for use of Jalaneti. It was publicized that it was because the use of tap water but how ludacris that is since tap water is far cleaner than water used in India yet there are no reports from any one in India of anything like this. Ridiculous.
Raw turmeric with poached pears – yummy
Daikon radish leaves – easily digested, hot but when prepared with ghee balances all 3 doshas.
How herbs are used…
Herbs are normally added to heated ghee or oil in a pan. Heat the pan before adding the oil being used. Mustard seeds and cumin are used at the beginning. The mustard seeds pop when the oil is ready for the rest of the herbs. After a few moments the rest of the food articles are added. The ghee will act as a yogavahi which means it takes on the properties of the herbs and spreads the flavor through the food opposed to throwing the spices on the food being cooked.
The use of spices should be giving weight in their use to vikruti (imbalance of the individual) and seasonal effects.
All spices above INCREASE agni and reduce kleda. That should be the purpose of using spices in food.
Use of spices should be so subtle that we should not necessarily be able to tell what spices were used. In the West, cooking is about taste not how things work such as digestive ability or health. When we learn knowledge of how things work, our health will grow.
A really good way to learn all about spices is to make flash cards and use in the kitchen. If you are interested in doing this, I have prepared a pdf (several pages) of what I have used for stickers on mason jars that you can purchase for $35. They have all the details (Rasa, virya, vipaka, karma, guna) of most cooking herbs. Just send a comment to me with your email and we can go from there. (note here…. what is taught from the Wester world of Ayurveda is not necessarily correct as to the actions of all the herbs.)