Super Spices for the Spring Season
Posted on March 22 2018
Spices are nature’s healing jewels. They not only brighten up our food with distinct flavors and colors but also provide many health benefits. In Ayurveda, which is the oldest practicing medicine in the world, spices are an integral part of every kitchen cabinet. Modern science also continues to provide ongoing evidence of the beneficial qualities of spices including antioxidants and disease fighting phytochemicals.
Every season reflects its own unique qualities or Gunas. According to Ayurveda, we live most optimally by observing seasonal cycles in nature, and following daily food and lifestyle practices that align ourselves with qualities present in our environment. Spring season, or Vasanta Ritu, is referred to as the season of Kapha (roughly March to June in the Northern Hemisphere). ‘Ka’ means water and ‘pha’ means flourished. In the spring season, there is increased moisture and warmth in the environment. These dominant kapha qualities can evoke a sense of sluggishness, heaviness and congestion. The main location of kapha in the body is in the chest. When kapha becomes aggravated, mucus increases, leading to colds, problems with sinus congestion, allergies and asthma. It is therefore important to choose foods and spices that help flush out the accumulated kapha out of the body.
Spring season is a great time to include a variety of spices in meals as they play a key role in promoting balance in our digestion, or agni. Many spices are kapha pacifying due to their pungent and bitter tastes. However, there are five super spices that stand out for the spring season due to their specific taste (rasa), and potency (virya) in providing scraping and cleansing action to remove the excess kapha imbalances from the body.
Turmeric: Turmeric is referred by many names in the Sanskrit language. The most common Sanskrit name is Haridra meaning “the yellow one”. Another Sanskrit name for turmeric is Kanchani meaning the yellow goddess. Turmeric, often referred to as yellow gold, is the leading crusader against disease. Curcumin, its active ingredient, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and shown to protect every single organ in the body. It is pungent, bitter and astringent in taste, dry and light in quality and has a heating potency. Because it is pungent and warming, it pacifies the vata and kapha doshas.
Spring Time Use: Add ½ -1 tsp of ground turmeric powder daily in soups, dals, casseroles, stir fry vegetables, salad dressings and dips. Add ½ tsp of ground turmeric powder along with a teaspoon of honey to a cup of warm water to soothe a sore throat or cold. End your day with a cup of golden milk (Add ½ tsp turmeric powder + ¼ tsp black pepper + ¼ tsp nutmeg to a 1 cup of warm dairy or nondairy milk) to boost your immune health in spring time.
Ginger- Ayurveda regards ginger as vishwabhesaj or one that provides universal medicine. It is known as Adrak in Sanskrit and is regarded as one of the most sattvic spices. It has pungent and sweet taste with a heating potency and pacifies both vata and kapha doshas. Ginger derives its intense flavor from its active compound called gingerol, which is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-disease. It is a profound digestive stimulant or tonic with soothing and protective benefits. It clears phlegm in kapha/vata cough and colds, increases peripheral circulation and clears ama (toxins) from plasma and blood.
Spring Time Use: Ginger tastes great both in sweet and savory foods. It is the best medicine during cold and flu season. A cup of ginger tea will ease symptoms of colds, respiratory infections and fever as it relieves nasal congestion and stimulates circulation. Add fresh minced ginger while cooking and in blended vegetable and fruit juices during spring season. Dry ginger is a part of the powerful pungent spice blend called trikatu (ginger, black pepper and pippali) that helps stimulate agni or digestive fire. Dry ginger combined with local raw honey adds to its drying effect and can be used in warm tea and beverages during spring.
Clove: Clove is known as Lavang in Sanskrit. It has antiseptic and antifungal properties and has many benefits for overall digestion. Its active compound, eugenol is mildly analgesic in nature. Clove is pungent and bitter in taste, has light and penetrating quality with a cooling potency. It can increase the digestive fire or agni without aggravating the pitta dosha if used moderately. Its aromatic quality settles excess vata and kapha doshas especially in the case of congested lungs.
Spring Time Use: Soothe a sore throat by keeping a clove in your mouth for at least 15- 20 minutes and occasionally chewing and sucking on the juice. Stew apples in cloves and a little bit of ghee or add cloves to cup of warm tea (chai) to clear out the phlegm during spring season cough and cold.
Black Pepper: Black Pepper or Kalimirch in Sanskrit is named after one of the names of the sun, Maricha, as it has the same qualities of warmth and light. Its heating qualities are stimulating to the circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems. Black pepper has a pungent, bitter taste and a heating potency. The active compound piperine stimulates the taste buds and triggers production of digestive enzymes. Black pepper is an excellent decongestant and alleviates kapha and vata doshas.
Spring Time Use: Black pepper enhances the bioavailability of curcumin, the active compound of turmeric so it is beneficial to use turmeric and black pepper together. Use black pepper to flavor soups, stews, vegetables and rice. Garnish over salads or fresh juices and sparkle any dish with freshly ground black pepper.
Green Cardamom: Cardamom, also known as Elaichi in Sanskrit, is regarded as the queen of spices and contains cineole, its active antioxidant compound. Cardamom stimulates agni without aggravating pitta and clears excess kapha from the stomach. It is also helpful in clearing cough associated with mucous. Cardamom refreshes the breath; is excellent to soothe sore throats and eases sinus infections. It has a delicately pleasant aroma and flavor and can be enjoyed in sweet and savory dishes.
Spring Time Use: Cardamom is an excellent antidote to the mucous generating quality of dairy products. Add to warm milk, tea and other dairy products. Add ground cardamom when making rice or simply sprinkle it over your fruit salad. Cardamom is a great spice to bake as well. Try adding cardamom to cookies, cupcakes and fruit desserts in spring season to brighten up the flavor of your baked goods.
Complimenting food with spices allows us to take full advantage of nature’s best form of healing intelligence. We know that spices are used for culinary flavor enhancement, but in Ayurveda, spices play a critical role in promoting health and overall digestion. These five super spices are excellent when used daily during spring to counterbalance the kapha qualities and help boost overall immune health all season long.
Author: Sapna Punjabi
MS, RDN, LD, AP Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Ayurvedic Practitioner