Everday Ayurvedic Herbs #2: Ginger
My passion for medicine is in using what is available. God has given us all that we need. If we know of many medicines but don’t know how to use what surrounds us we have accomplished little. One of the ancient foundational texts on Āyurveda, the Caraka Samhitā, says that Āyurveda is eternal. This means that Āyurveda is a perspective and a way of living in harmony with creation which is available to anyone, anywhere. Often my teacher, Dr. Vasant Lad, says, “I’m not teaching you what to do but how to think.”
This is because everything on Earth has its own qualities. When we learn what those qualities are, e.g. light or heavy, oily or dry, we will know how to use it medicinally. Furthermore, if we understand the path of disease and elements within the body, the client’s unique constitution and how the dosha or vitiation is moving within them then we are able to use the medicine for a specific desired action - or karma. It could just as readily be an herbal medicine as a food choice or an approach to one’s life even. It needn’t be complicated. Actually its better if its simple. What we bring together then is our understanding of the prior and the latter, that is the client’s unique position and our knowledge of any and all things that could be medicinal. This understanding is longevity science, or Āyurveda. For this reason in Āyurveda we will never say that one should take something like turmeric for its curcumin for inflamed joints because, for us, this may not be the medicine indicated. Rather the question is one of qualities and how to balance them. Herbal medicine is complicated and extensive in Āyurveda (like everything Indian). However, there are a few herbs that are safer for everyday use because they are innately balanced and encourage health on a broad scale. One such herb is ginger.
Ginger is a wonderful herb to discuss because it is both readily available in the supermarket and written extensively about in Āyurvedic texts. Over the course of these articles these are the types of herbs we will be focusing on. (see previous article on Tulsi at www.permaculture.guru)
So what are some great ways to utilize ginger in your daily life (other than that one stir fry) and what does it address? Below are a few basic examples:
- Digestive stimulant - especially with salt. If you have sluggish digestion then taking a slice of ginger with a pinch of salt on it about 30 minutes before meals prepares the body for eating and kindles agni - the digestion fire in the body.
- Rheumatoid Arthritis - If addressing Rheumatoid Arthritis then daily make a ginger decoction. This can be done by taking an inch or two of the fresh root, dicing it up and placing it in a pan with 4 cups of water. Bring to a very light boil or simmer and reduce down to 1/2 or 1/4 the original amount (i.e. 2 or 1 cup of water)
- Weight Loss - Ginger’s ability to kindle agni - the digestive fire - will aid in weight loss and increase the body’s metabolism. (It should be noted that ginger also has heavy and unctuous qualities which means that it will not deplete someone who is perhaps too thin.) In this instance ginger can simply be added to foods. A ginger decoction as given above is stronger and should be used more for Kapha types or kapha type of ailments (congestion, sluggish digestion, weight gain, edema, diabetes with polyuria, etc)
- Adding to Food - this will bring in its balanced healing properties. Cooking an herb with food (samabhakta kāla) is the gentlest way to take it and it brings its quality to all 7 tissues of the body. One of ginger’s names in Āyurveda is “Vishwaushadi” or the Universal Medicine. By having it in meals, say in a delicious ginger sweet potato and beet soup, will bring its supreme health balancing components into your daily life.
- Detoxifying (Āma Pācana) - again, most ailments, complaints and pathologies are either directly created by toxins (Āma) or negatively influenced by them. This is true of anything from the common cold to the flu or from hemorrhoids to itchy skin (have you noticed how this often happens after the flu?). For this reason, having ginger in your life on a regular basis will gently and persistently burn these toxins. This will help to create a foundation for health that you can access right within your own kitchen. As one easy example you can simply dice up an inch of ginger, put it in a cup of water in a pan and simmer for a few minutes before drinking. If you are interested in loosing weight or have asthma with congestion add a small amount of local organic honey. If not, leave the honey out.
If you have high heat in your body then use ginger with caution (do you get hangry? do you have red hair?). Here you should stick to fresh ginger at the very least and use small amounts at first. Disorders of heat - or pitta - include bleeding disorders, ulcerative colitis, severe rashes, or fevers with a high temperature. In these cases one should bring in cooling qualities instead.
If you’ve had your pulse taken by an Āyurvedic Practitioner and know that you have high Vāta orKapha then you can rest assured that ginger will help to balance your system.
As with all things, try a little and then observe your body and how it responds. Practicing the art of listening is a great benefit while learning the ins and outs of your own body. Ask yourself, did this make me feel better aside from the few moments of indulgence? As always, this takes time and discernment but with an open heart and a still mind we can all find our unique path to our best state of health. Your health isn’t only yours: the world needs you feeling your best so we can all support one another.
Richard is a certified Āyurvedic Practitioner and is a graduate of the Āyurvedic Institute (www.ayurveda.com) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he currently lives. He gives private health consultations, designs private yoga routines based on Ayurveda (Ayuryoga) and does vedic chart reading (jyotisha) - both over the phone and in person. For more info visit www.permaculture.guru or e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an appointment.