Your Kitchen Is Your Pharmacy

I began to understand the concept of food as medicine, food as poison, in my later teenage years. This early understanding was more of an indescribable knowing, with only my own personal experience as evidence. As I matured into my early 20’s, and began to seek medical advice for issues I was having, I found myself not knowing where to turn. I remember so clearly asking a western medical doctor about diet as he was writing yet another prescription, and he said, “Oh, that has nothing to do with this”. I left the office that day, threw the prescription in the garbage, and never returned. I knew he was wrong. I knew he did not know what my medicine was.

Today I know that doctor was simply misinformed, and the product of his learning environment. We don’t know what we don’t know. He was offering me the best medicine he knew. As a health practitioner, I honor and respect different modalities. Antibiotics can be a life saving medicine, and they can also be a poison when used inappropriately. The same is true with any herb, plant, food, activity, relationship, etc.

Quite often we have the medicine we need right in our own kitchen. Knowing how to use culinary spices and food to help support your body-mind-spirit can be empowering. We ourselves are the most qualified to know what our own medicine is, and just need a little help to be pointed in the right direction. I have been taught, and have come to understand, that the outer teacher appears to show us the teacher that already lies within. We already know, intuitively, how to heal ourselves.

Spices, while giving wonderful flavor, can be used as a digestive aid, making the nutrients and elements of the food more available to us. Below is a list of some culinary spices that you may currently have in your kitchen. Some of the basic medicinal properties are listed, as well as the heating or cooling energy, and effect each herb has on the the different doṣas. If you are not familiar with the three doṣas of āyurveda, ignore that part and focus on the information that makes sense to you.

When considering what herbs may be your medicine today, remember that like increases like, and opposites balance. If you are experiencing symptoms of excess heat in the body, such as heartburn, inflammation, diarrhea, skin rashes, anger, or irritability, you would want to cool the body-mind-spirit with cooling herbs. If you are not digesting food well, and experiencing gas, bloating, or a heavy feeling after eating, that is a sign that your digestive fire is low or cold/damp. If opposites balance, in this case you would want some heating spices to help ignite your digestive fire.

As you read through this list, remember that the herbs can be used to balance the qualities of the main foods you are preparing as well as each other. They can be added to meals or taken as a tea. Eggs are heavy and can be difficult for some bodies to digest. Adding a little turmeric and black pepper will help the body receive the eggs more effectively and with more ease. Rice is cooling in nature, and can be difficult to digest on its own. Adding some warming spices like ginger or cumin creates a completely different experience for the body. Beans on their own can cause gas and bloating, but cooked well with turmeric, black pepper, fennel, cumin, and coriander are not only delicious, they will digest more easily.

Fennel seeds are great to keep around to sooth indigestion, such as heartburn or gas. Chew the seeds thoroughly before swallowing, a little at a time, until the symptoms are relieved. Drinking tea made with whole cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds is a great digestive aid. It can also help relieve menstrual cramps or other muscle spasms. Mix equal parts of each seed, and combine one teaspoon of the seed mixture per cup of water, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Turmeric: Anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, reduces toxins, improves digestion, strengthens joints and tendons, improves circulation.

Energy: heating Effect On Doṣa: reduces vāta, pitta, kapha

Ginger: Stimulates digestion, reduces gas, purifies blood, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, eases menstrual cramps, anti-nausea.

Energy: heating Effect On Doṣa: reduces vāta and kapha, increases pitta

Cumin: Digestive aid, relieves gas, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, diuretic, flushes out toxins, contains antioxidants and iron.

Energy: mildly heating Effect On Doṣa: reduces vāta and kapha, neutral for pitta

Coriander: Relieves gas, diuretic, soothes nausea, aids in treatment of urinary tract, anti-parasitic, calms muscle spasms.

Energy: cooling Effect On Doṣa: reduces vāta, pitta, kapha

Fennel: Relieves gas and cramping, expectorant, diuretic, treats coughs and hiccups, moves lymph, increases mental alertness, strengthens digestion without creating heat.

Energy: slightly cooling Effect On Doṣa: reduces vāta, pitta, kapha

Black Pepper: Stimulates digestion, loosens mucus, improves bioavailability of other herbs, stimulates sweat.

Energy: heating Effect On Doṣa: reduces vāta and kapha, increases pitta

Cardamom: Mouth freshener, reduces gas, expectorant, aids digestion, relieves asthma and bronchitis, laxative.

Energy: mildly heating Effect On Doṣa: reduces vāta and kapha, neutral for pitta

Cinnamon: Aids digestion, increases appetite, stimulates liver, controls blood sugar, diuretic, expectorant, oil is analgesic.

Energy: heating Effect On Doṣa: reduces vāta and kapha, increases pitta

Nutmeg: Aids digestion, soothes diarrhea and colitis, analgesic, anti-convulsant, sedative, stimulates menstruation, liver tonic.

Energy: heating Effect On Doṣa: reduces vāta and kapha, increases pitta

Clove: Aids digestion, analgesic, aphrodisiac, eases cough, asthma, and hiccups.

Energy: heating Effect On Dosa: reduces vāta and kapha, increases pitta