Daily stress and unhealthy eating habits - either eating at irregular times, eating too much, or ‘eating on the go’ cause us to have inefficient digestive systems. As a result, most of us face symptoms such as gas, bloating, indigestion, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Research shows that 74% of the American population lives with gastric discomfort on a daily basis.
According to Ayurveda, incomplete digestion and GI problems principally occur because of a dampened agni or digestive fire in the system. One of the basic ways we can ensure a good digestive fire is through spices. In Ayurveda, there are 6 spices that are used in every meal for their medicinal value (as well as gastronomical value) in keeping the digestive system healthy and optimizing our digestive intelligence:
These round light seeds are sweet, gentle and cooling in nature and are used extensively in Ayurvedic pharmacology and Vedic cooking. While the leaves of the coriander, called Cilantro, add a fresh zing to dishes, it is the coriander seeds that are known for their cooling and cleansing digestive properties. Coriander cools down excess heat and acid in the body and is a natural carminative (a substance which prevents and eliminates gas from our digestive system). For this reason, it is particularly useful in mitigating IBS, reflux and acidity.
Cumin, known as ‘jeera’ or ‘jiraka’ or ‘promoting digestion’ in Sanskrit, is perhaps the most powerful digestive tonic of the six digestive miracle spices. Cumin’s aromatic seeds are either stir-fried whole in dishes or dry roasted and ground into a fine powder to add to dishes. Cumin boosts digestion and reduces gas, gurgling, bloating and belching. It also facilitates the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream and reduces diarrhea by helping the absorption of water from the large intestines. Cumin’s cooling and calming effect on the body supports healthy assimilation of food, while aiding in the cleansing of the intestinal tract.
Known as the universal spice in Ayurveda, ginger is the herb to rekindle a damp digestive fire and promotes the secretion of healthy digestive enzymes. Ginger is only considered to be heating to the system if taken in excess. Ginger is a tri-doshic herb, in the sense that it balances vata, pitta and kapha. It supports nutrient assimilation, improves digestion and facilitates healthy elimination. Ginger’s cleansing, toning and stimulating properties are also known to help with muscular pains and healthy blood circulation. It is also particularly useful to reduce griping, nausea, flatulence, hiccups and reflux. While ginger is heating for the upper digestion with its initial pungent taste, known as ‘rasa’ in Ayurveda, it is soothing for the lower digestion as a result of its sweet after taste, known as ‘vipaka’ in Ayurveda.
Meaning the ‘sweet one’ in Sanskrit, the delicate and fragrant seeds of fennel are valued for their post-digestive properties. Besides relieving gas, griping and bloating, fennel is also known to aid the lymphatic system, reduce nausea and soothe acid reflux. Fennel also helps in alleviating cramps and is a natural antispasmodic, which is why it is used for reducing lower abdominal pain from bowel tension and overeating. Fennel is especially effective in enhancing one’s digestive fire without aggravating pitta. Because of its soothing and balancing effect on all the vata, pitta and kapha doshas, fennel is considered to be the most sattvic (promoting a feeling of purity, liveliness and balance) of the spices.
Cardamom, also known as the ‘Queen of all spices’, has a unique flavor that can enhance the taste of even the most ordinary foods. Cardamom is especially prized because of its ability to reduce the extreme acidity of foods while also making them easier to digest. Often put in masala chai, cardamom reduces the acidic effects of caffeine, making it easier for the body’s nervous system to take it in. Likewise, it is also often used in milk products and sweets for its aromatic flavor and digestive qualities.
Due to recent research findings of its multitude health benefits in western medicine, turmeric is currently used in various varieties and forms - from its raw rhizome form encapsulated in powders and tablets to special concoctions of turmeric shots. For the digestive system, turmeric helps kindle agni (digestive fire), reduces kapha (mucus and stagnation from the digestive system, particularly the liver), calms inflammation, and helps in the elimination of ama or toxins stored in tissues in the body. It does this by reducing the build-up of undigested food in the GI tract. Because of its antibacterial properties, turmeric helps prevent pathogenic bacteria in the stomach and intestines, and helps one heal from dyspepsia, stomach ulcers and IBS. However, like ginger, turmeric must be used discreetly as it may aggravate pitta if consumed in excess.
These 6 ‘miracle spices’ can be used as incredibly powerful tools for maintaining health and preventing illness. If taken on a regular basis, these spices can reboot our digestive system’s strength and resilience, while also benefiting us through their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, blood-regulatory and therapeutic properties. One can add them to dishes while cooking, or even make tea with them on a daily basis.
Bon appetite and happy gut health!
By Isha Sharma, a global nomad native to the Himalayas and raised across six countries. Youth Ambassador and Instructor at the Art of Living, E-RYT 300 Yoga Teacher, Social Worker, Nutritionist and Mind-Body Wellness Writer.