Hindus have evolved food preparation over several centuries much like using their kitchen as a chemistry lab. Just about every spice and herb is highly regarded in Ayurveda. No other culture on the planet has used so many different kinds of spices to create such rich variety of food preparations.
Spices, besides being prized for their aromatic and taste attributes, are important in helping the body extract and absorb nutrients from food. Spices contain a very rich and complex number of chemicals which will take years before science can fully understand their roles, their properties and interactions with food and body. Modern science has hardly made dent in this field of research, though science of Ayurveda seems to be well aware of the many properties of spices, their proper combinations and how they effect various doshas in the body.
- Turmeric – already over 500 patents on turmeric based drugs. Powerful anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial.
- Ginger – considered very much a medicinal herb. A spoonful of ginger (ginger tea, ginger and honey, sugared ginger, ginger rasam, etc) can keep you healthy. Anti-bacterial properties. Very effective in preventing travel related nausea (like sea sickness). Effective remedy for treating cold related congestion and coughs.
- Garlic – anti-flatulent properties, anti-fungal properties. If you’re suffering from any fungal infection increase your garlic. When cooking starchy foods like potatoes add garlic to prevent flatulence. Said to prevent heart disease (arteriosclerosis, high cholesterol). Reduces platelet aggregation, i.e. ability to form blood clots (doctors, especially in Europe ask you about your garlic intake before surgery).
- Cardamom – has a cooling effect on nerves and blood, helps break up kidney stones and gall stones, used for treating: chest congestion, teeth and gum infection, stomach aches.
- Cinnamon – anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, helps sugar absorption in the body (in fact, I’d even substitute it for sugar, or reduce the amount of sugar you put in your tea/coffee). It has a warming effect on the body.
- Cloves – has antiseptic properties with mild anaesthetic properties for gums and teeth. It has a warming effect on the body.
- Black Pepper – helps cure indigestion related symptoms like bloating and flatulence. Has a number of medicinal properties: black pepper when prepared in rasam (with ginger, garlic, coriander, turmeric) helps aid digestion, milk boiled with pinch of black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, turmeric (makes milk more digestible), black pepper in buttermilk (prevents indigestion), black pepper and honey to help food metabolization.
- Fenugreek – helps in sugar absorption (for those who are diabetic). Helps promote lactation for nursing mothers. Best taken soaked overnight, slightly germinated.
- Coriander (seeds) – anti-oxidant, has insulin-releasing and insulin-like activity, reduces food-decay (for which it is used in pickling vegetables).
- Cilantro (leaves of coriander) – anti-oxidant. Chemicals derived from coriander leaves have been found to have an antibacterial activity against Salmonella choleraesuis.
- Cumin – helps in digestion, anti-oxidant, anti-carcinogenic properties on stomach and liver. For its size it is rich (>70% of RDA per 100g) in iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus.
- Fennel – has carminative and purgative properties. Water soaked with few fennel seeds used to to relieve colic for babies.
- Asafoetida (பெருங்காயம், Hing) –
- Chilli – purgative properties. For its size it is rich (>70% of RDA per 100g) in Vitamin C. Increases the assimilation of non-heme iron from other ingredients in food. Used also as a topical on wounds for anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. Also used as topical analgesic.
- Omam/Ajwain – digestive aid, relieves abdominal discomfort due to indigestion. Water soaked with few omam seeds used to to relieve colic for babies.
- Mint – decongestant, used for treating chest pains and stomach pains. Traditionally used for whitening teeth.
- Trikatu (it’s actually a combination of Black Pepper + Ginger + Chili) – this triple combination is a very powerful colon cleanser. The combined power is more than several times the power of taking each individually. It is not enough if you mix these powders together (like in a capsule). You have to prepare them, like in rasam, where they chemically interact, to form something more potent than the sum of the individual components. This is why people in the south of India take a little bit of rasam with a full meal.