Have your Ginger and Eat it too!

In the herbal treasure cove of Ayurveda, there is one herb that shines brighter and carries an epithet none other ginger isolated on white backgroudoes: ginger, and it is called “vishwa bhesaj” – universal or global medicine. Of course, modern research is also in on the great benefits of ginger for health. Studies find ginger to be a potent:

  • immuno-modulator – supports the immunity in its fight against foreign agents (bacterial, viral, etc);
  • anti-inflammatory – helps manage inflammation by addressing toxic build-up;
  • carminative and digestive – re-ignite and balances the digestive organ systems for optimal digestion.

Even though western medicine has yet to adopt the use of ginger medicinally, concentrated extracts of ginger can now be purchased at health food stores for all to consume. But ayurvedically speaking, this would not be a good idea. Or would it? The greatest distinctive trait of Ayurveda is its understanding of the individual physiology and its uniqueness: each body’s needs and ailments need to be addressed individually, even when the symptoms are identical. This means that not everything is good for everybody all the time. But if ginger is “vishwa bhesaj,” doesn’t it mean that it is good for all, at all times?

You may be new to Ayurveda, but you’ve probably still heard about the different body types: vata, pitta, kapha – different combinations of the elements found in nature: earth, water, fire, air, and space. Everybody is born with a unique blueprint combination of these 3 types or tendencies in different proportions. Those born with predominant pitta body type tend to have more fire, or heat, in them.
Just like our bodies are made up of the different elements of nature, so are all the edibles under the sky characterized by different combination of the elements of creation. Chilies, black pepper, ginger, for example, carry more heat or fire. If a pitta body type eats more of these fiery ingredients, they increase the heat in their body and thus imbalance themselves.
In this context, this is one way of understanding the age-old adage: you are what you eat! Our bodies are made up of the same stuff the world around us is made up of: the elements. We each carry a balance of those elements in our bodies, and we can either maintain or disrupt that balance by ingesting more or less of the elements through our food. This, in a nutshell, perhaps, is ayurvedic healing summarized: re-instating balance by working on the level of the creational elements. So that, the ayurvedic expert is one who has studied all the properties and possible combinations, and also is one who is expert at understanding which elements on which level/layer need to be addressed in the body, when and how.
So if, according to Ayurveda, we know that ginger is pungent, and hot and spicy, how come ginger is good for all at all times? How can ginger be good for pitta body types? Is this an oversight of the ayurvedic texts?

If you study the (ayur) vedic texts without a “guru,” it is easy to reach faulty conclusions, or get confused and give up! But under the guidance of one already well versed in these texts, and who has acquired not only the intellectual knowledge but also carries the experiential knowledge, you can be guided to unfold the vedic knowledge so it does not contradict itself.  This is how my father, Vaidya Kameshwar Mishra, guided me and taught me about the countless wondrous plants and ingredients in Ayurveda. So let’s study ginger together today. I would like to discover with you not only what some selective sutras say about the balancing properties of ginger, but to share with you the recipes that I was taught, recipes that make ginger a tridoshic ingredient that even high pitta body types can use in the high heat of Summer!

First, let’s look at the Charak Samhita, for it is there that we that ginger is a “medicine for all,” after listing many of its health-supporting properties, saying:

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Rocanam: it enhances the taste buds – taste plays a major psycho-dynamic role in the digestion and assimilation of food and nutrients, sharper taste buds support the digestive system;
dipanam: it enhances or sharpens the digestive fire – leaving no room for undigested bi-products or “ama;” vrsyam: it enhances the reproductive fluid – the health of the reproductive fluid is an indication of the health of all the tissues that precede it, such as the lymph, blood, muscle, fat, bone, and bone marrow; when the reproductive fluid is healthy, it means the remaining fluids are doing good, this only highlights the role of ginger on all the tissues; adraka, or ginger, is a global medicine,Screenshot 2015-08-14 19.08.31 because it is vata shamana (vata pacifying); shleshma harana (kapha pacifying); vibandeshu (helps to address constipation); rasastasyopadisyate – ginger juice is known to be good for all things!
But it’s not just the Charak Samhita, but Bhava Mishra as well, the author of many ayurvedic canonical texts, who recommends ginger across the board before every meal:

This is a very famous verse in the ayurvedic community. Literally, it says: bhojanagre, before your meal (lunch and/or dinner); sada, always; pathyam – (it is) good; lavanardrakabhaksanam, to eat soma salt mixed in with ginger.
The next line in this verse says: the purpose of this recipe is “agnisandipanam,” to increase or sharpen the digestive fire, or pachak agni. “Rucyam” means it enhances and clears the taste buds, by pacifying bhodak kapha, or the kapha that governs the tongue. The final work in the verse says: juhvakanthavisodhanam: this recipe purifies or cleans the tongue and the throat.

So again: good for all? Under all circumstances?

In my experience, as a Vaidya in the Western world, if you already feel hungry, and you are high pitta by constitution, then you should not follow what this verse says! The recommendation in this verse is ideal for those who are experiencing less or no hunger at all before a meal; only then is it ideal for them to consume some ginger mixed with rock salt (as opposed to sea or other types of salt) before their meal. But how to know when to follow and when not to follow what the sutra-s say? A little knowledge is always a dangerous thing, so if we love Ayurveda, unless we have studied it thoroughly, it is best to be under the guidance of an expert healer or teacher, otherwise we can harm ourselves, and others  as well!

If you want to study Ayurveda, you have to study it all, read it all. For that, you have to peruse the original texts – never rely on translations or interpretations. Bhava Mishra recommends ginger in this verse; but we have to keep reading Bhava Mishra and see that elsewhere, he speaks again about ginger, but it just so happens, that in another verse where he is lauding the properties of ginger, he also lists contraindications:

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According to Bhava Mishra, here is the list of contraindications for ginger:
kushta: in day-to-day parlance, kushta would translate into leprosy; but in this context, it refers to any chronic skin disease coming under the umbrella term of kushta. Almost all chronic skin diseases are connected to either recurrent allergies or autoimmune disorders. They need immunosuppression, or immuno-corrective herbs and spices. Ginger is an immuno- modulator, that’s why it would be contraindicated for skin conditions.
Pandu –  this is jaundice, or hepatitis, where the liver is weak. Therefore, anything that would stimulate the liver, such as ginger, would not be good.
Krichchhe raktapitta – krichhe means old, and raktapitta means: a disease where pitta is  very high in the blood, where the blood gets too thin and hemorrhage can happen. Scientifically speaking as well, ginger has been found to be a great blood thinner, hence the contraindication in this instance.
Vrane Jvara – fever due to chronic ulcer. Ginger is detoxifying. For anyone experiencing fever, ginger can induce a detox crisis, increasing the fever.
Daahe, or burning in the body. Burning happens when pitta is high in the body. Ginger being hot by property, it can increase pitta. So it can increase the burning sensation in the body.
Nidagha shari’ah na eva- in the the hot days of summer, or the hot days of autumn, ginger should not be administered, as it will only serve to make the heat/fire bigger, aggravating pitta and causing further imbalances.

In yet another verse, Bhava Mishra, adds yet another layer to the knowledge and use of ginger.

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Ardrakam, or ginger, is: srngaberam, syatkatubhadramatatha, rdrika – these are additional Sanskrit names for ginger. In addition, ginger is: bhedini, it carries the prabhava or property of breaking down heavy clusters of kapha, or ama, which can clog and block channels, even though ginger itself is gurvi, since it carries a lot of juice – liquids are usually high in soma. However, even while being “gurvi” or heavy, it is “tiksnosna,” or sharp and hot. This is a wondrous property of ginger to be able to maintain such a great balance in its chemical make-up. It is also  “dipani,” stokes or increases, the digestive fire; it is “katuka,” its immediate taste in the mouth its pungent, even though it carries a  “madhura pak,” its the post-digestive taste is sweet. Ginger is “ruksa” or drying – it burns off phlegm;  it is “vatakaphapaha” or pacifying to vata and kapha dosha.
Bhava Mishra ends his verse by introducing a new element, he says: these “gunah” or properties are carried by “sunthyaste’pi” – ayurvedically processed ginger which is called “sunthi.” Sunthi, or “santyardrake’ kilah” enhances the production of breast-milk. But what is “sunthi?”

Sunthi is ayurvedically processed ginger. So to recap: there is ginger, dry ginger (in root or powder form), and then there is sunthi. What is Sunthi? Sunthi is ayurvedically processed ginger; and there can be different types of sunthi, based on how and with what it was processed. Here are some properties about Sunthi from Bhav Mishra.
Ayurvedically prepared ginger enhances appetite, burns ama, and pacifies vata. it supports pachakagni, thus enhancing the digestive system as well. it is pungent, and light, it is unctuous and hot. The vipaka – post-digestive taste – is sweet. It pacifies kapha and vata, particularly the kledak kapha and the samana vata of the stomach. After balancing samana vata, apana vata goes down, that’s how it helps to support the bowel movement.

Another verse further details the properties of “sunthi:”

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In another verse, below. Bhava Mishra says that sunthi enhances the reproductive fluids (vrsya); supports the vocal chords; pacifies nausea; smoothes the breathing; pacifies cholic pain; pacifies the cough; and supports cardiac health; supports the immune system against elephantitis; eliminates sweeling; helps in hemmorhoids; helps in tymphanitis; pacifies samana vata.

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And yet another verse, lists additional beneficial properties of sunthi, that ginger itself does not carry:

In fact, ginger is ruksh – carries dry heat, but sunthi is moist and hot! And this small difference has great consequences in the body!

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As this verse says: because sunthi is full of power of agni, it absorbs the water in the colon,ginger that’s why sunthi is “grahi” which is the prabhava that enhances absorption, but at the same time, it carries the property of “vibhandbhedini” – it breaks the old fecal matter, evacuates them. Because this sunthi has that unique prabhava of “vibhand bhedini” along with being “grahini” or absorbing, it means that with regular use of sunthi, it enhances the intelligence of the colon, so that the colon knows whatever is bad for the body, it eliminates it, and whatever is good for the body, it absorbs. now: there is a unique comparative difference between raw ginger and properly made sunthi. ginger is heavy or “guruvi” and “sunthi” is light, or “lagu.” ginger is “tikshnoshna” sharp and hot.

Being guruvi, or heavy, for high pitta/low agni people, it can create more clogging. Ginger being tikshnoshna, hot and sharp, can aggravate pachak pitta and burn the kledak kapha of the stomach. However, since sunthi is snighdoshna, hot but unctuous, it can open the channels without burning them up! Otherwise, ginger and sunthi has overall, the same effect on the physiology, but these three unique qualities of properly made sunthi, is good for the western high pitta bata people in high stress situations, and even better than raw ginger itself.

My father taught me that the pitta aggravating properties of ginger can be pacified enough to be used by a pitta type through proper “samyog” – combination with other ingredients – and “samskar” – preparations or processes. This is sunthi. And most of all, you must remember, that sunthi is not dry ginger as the common misconception has it.  The main purpose of making sunthi from ginger is to add cooling properties to it, so as to abate the heat of ginger. Ginger then becomes tri-doshically pacifying, cools pitta even as it still balances vata and kapha through its warming properties. It can then be safely used in cooking, and in varying proportions it is almost good for everybody!

If you google sunthi, many references and articles on-line refer to sunthi as dry ginger, or dry ginger powder. This is incorrect. In fact, there are 3 distinct types of sunthi, based on 3 different ways of processing/preparing the ginger. In my lineage, which is always very specific and practically oriented, we prepared each different type of sunthi to address specific imbalances, or a specific physiology. Here are the recipes that I was taught. You can make these at home – but use caution.
Recipe for sunthi: Get fresh ginger (make sure it has less fibre as that’s better) slice it thin, boil it with good spring water, dry it – you can either dry in sunshine or use a food dehydrator with controlled temperature. When the ginger s fully dry, then pulverize it and use it. This is sunthi! This sunthi is good for kapha body types. Unlike what some might say, this is not ginger powder, because when you boil it and then throw out the water, ginger’s tikshnoshan – sharp and hot – quality goes low, and it becomes more “grahi,” more absorbing, because you have infused the energy of soma through the water, and it has also lost some of the essential oils that make the ginger so sharp and hot. See the scientific explanation of this simple process of boiling and how it changes the chemical make-up of ginger:

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The essential oil (gingerol gets released into the water while getting boiled, so the pitta aggravating qualities of ginger are reduced, and it is thus safer for pitta body types. it is also good for those who have high kledak kapha – heaviness after eating, lack of appetite, slower digestion, but no hyperacidity or burning in the stomach. This is not for pitta or vata symptoms. For them, we can use this ginger in cooking, not more than 1/4 to 1/2 tsp in cooking with vegetables and lentils. If they are experiencing lack of appetite, then they can use 1/4 tsp of sunthi with  2 pinch of soma salt mixed in with lime juice.

Recipe for Sunthi for high pachak pitta people: (use 1 lb of ginger for 1 gallon of milk) clean the ginger root (get the less fibrous type), make thin slices and set aside. In a separate pot, bring raw milk to the boiling point, slow down the heat, then add the slices of ginger, boil on slow heat for another 10 minutes. Remove the ginger from the milk, rinse it by running good spring water through it, rub it so as to totally remove any residues of milk, then dry it in a dehydrator thoroughly, then pulverize it. Keep this powered in an airtight container and refrigerate because the residue of the milk can invite bacteria. This is ideal for high pitta/low agni pitta types, and even high pitta/high agni people. When using, start with 1/8 tsp of sunthi and cook with it, don’t eat this directly for high pitta and high agni people. Cook with with your lentils and squashes, milk, rice pudding, fruits. You can also add it to stewed fruits. Do not drink the milk cooked in this process, as it is very heating. It should only be used under specific circumstances under a vaidya expert guidance only.
Last but not least, here is a recipe for tridoshic sunthi: slice the ginger thin, clean it, get edible food-grade limestone, about 10 grams, add 1 liter of water. When you add the limestone to the water, there will be a chemical reaction. Be very careful, as the water will boil and rise, keep yourself away as the droplets can burn while the chemical reaction is on. Once it settles down after 10-15 minutes, use heavy duty gloves to be safe, and filter the water with a coffee filter, capture the water, then add the ginger slices to the lime water and soak the ginger in the water for 4 hours, then strain and rinse it thoroughly, take out all residues of the limestone, then dry it, then dehydrate the slices.

I am sharing this wisdom with you, but this process should be done under expert supervision, because when you add live limestone to the water, it bubbles and can burn you. Also there is a residue of limestone that needs to be completely rinsed out. When done properly, this is sunthi, almost tridoshic, except for those who have too high kledak kapha or too high pachak pitta. This sunthi has longer shelf-life than the one prepared with milk and water. At www.chandika.com we carry this sunthi. It is good to use, to be safe, instead of raw ginger. You can use it in your cooking, you can use for desserts, wherever the recipe calls fro ginger. It is also good to boil with milk, or bake it for ginger cookies. You can also add pinches to your herbal water. This way you get all the health benefits of ginger, minus the pitta aggravating heat and sharpness. In SVA, with the knowledge of proper samskar and samyog, preparation and combination, you can have your ginger and eat it too!

Ginger Peppermint Rose Tea – to pacify high pitta

in 8oz of water add:
2 pinches of SVA sunthi powderScreenshot 2015-08-14 19.41.59Screenshot 2015-08-14 19.42.56
2 pinch of DGL powder
2 rose buds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds

Boil for 5-8 minutes, strain, and enjoy anytime of the year or day!

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From Sashoka to Ashoka : the Story of a Bliss-Giving Tree

 Long ago, once upon a time, there was a hard-hearted man who made his living by inflicting grief upon imagesothers and his environment: he robbed and killed for a living. His name was “sashoka” – “with grief” or “full of grief.”

 One day, he set out on his daily path, and came to a rishi’s hut. He walked straight in thinking to go about his usual criminal business. The rishi was in deep meditation and did not come out of his meditative trance. It was the very first time Sashoka was witnessing the sight of deep meditative trance. The rishi did not heed him at all and stood still glowing in his silent bliss. Sashoka stood there, intrigued, drawn by the peace surrounding the rishi.
When the rishi finally opened his eyes, Sashoka was a changed man. He said to the rishi: “I want to be in peace like you. . Give me that peace that can take away my mental torment, the memory of my sins, and my sins.”
The rishi taught him how to meditate but cautioned him: “I do not have the power to get rid of your sins. However, keep meditating. In your next life, you will be reborn as a tree. You will be the tree under which Ravan will come to keep Sita hostage. Sita will be in deep grief, away from her beloved Ram. You will shelter Sita and help relieve her pain. When the monkey God Hanuman finally finds her and comes to give her the news of her imminent release from Ravan’s abduction, he will climb your branches, and through the contact of his body you will gain liberation from your sins.  And then, you will be known as the tree “a-shoka:” the one without grief and that removes grief.”
This is the time-old story of the origin of the ashoka tree as told in the Bhavishya Puran.
But there are other beautiful stories about this powerful plant. In the vedic tradition, the ashoka tree is known as a powerful grief-reliever and bliss-giver. The shastras say that one of the arrows of kamdeva, the god of love, was made from ashoka flowers! Buddhists hold that the birth of the buddha happened under the ashoka tree in Lumbini. There is also a ritual in West Bengal that occurs in the Spring, when young girls and women dance around the tree to propitiate a fortunate love-life.
The Ashoka tree is a bliss-giving tree. But did you know that science has found it to have proven properties, such as:
analgesic
anti-bacterial
anti-diabetic
anti-cancer
anti-inflammatory
anti-menorrhagic
antioxidant
anti-ulcer
cardioprotective
antipyretic    – and so many more….
Ashoka can be particularly helpful for women. Find out more, join Vaidya Mishra at his 5th SVA Cafe dedicated to this wondrous plant – from sutra to science!