by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)
Spring is here, and as the sap rises in the trees, its time to consider the sluggish, stagnant energy in the biliary tree. The rakta dhatu, comprising the blood, liver, spleen and gall bladder, needs to be cleansed at this season of the year, just as gardens need to be cleared of dead foliage and trees and shrubs need to be pruned. Rakta shodhan, or blood cleansing, is vital as a preliminary to spring pancha karma. It is also essential for those who suffer from allergies such as hay fever. In the case of allergies, it is best to start a programme of blood cleansing a month before peak allergy season. The liver is the root of the rakta dhatu, so herbs that cleanse the blood also cleanse and remove stagnation from the liver, helping that organ to detoxify allergens. Blood cleansing in spring is also important for prevention of pitta issues such as acne, boils, and eczema, which may otherwise become exacerbated once the hot weather arrives.
Since time immemorial, ancient cultures have instituted a spring cleanse as integral to their annual rituals. The Canaanites burnt the old, mouldy wheat and refrained from wheat for eight days while fermenting their new dough starter from fresh winter wheat. Jewish people, in a continuation of that practice, abstain from all gluten grains for eight days, with the exception of matzo--a crisp, dry, more kapha-soothing food. Roman Catholics traditionally used to follow a vegetarian diet for forty days during Lent, while Greek and Russian Orthodox believers follow an even longer and stricter Lent. Sacralized by the dictates of religion, these practices embody the collective prajna in maintaining the health of the community through a regular spring cleansing process. As these traditions teach, blood cleansing brings much more than absence of disease. Mental clarity, emotional joy and spiritual upliftment can be enhanced by blood cleansing.
A programme of rakta shodhan includes diet and lifestyle modifications, herbal therapies and mild purgation. For a cleansing diet, one can fast for a week or more on cleansing kitcheri.
- 1/2 cup split mung beans
- 1 cup basmati rice
Wash them both thoroughly, melt ghee and add spices: fresh ginger, tumeric, ground fennel, cumin and coriander (It is best to use organic whole spices and grind them in a spice mill). Add rice, beans and 6 cups water, and then bring to boil. Turn down to simmer for 45 minutes or until mung beans are very soft in pot on stove (or make in crock pot cooking overnight--be sure there's plenty of water or you're making a much larger batch to activate the heating elements in the crock pot). After cooking, add salt to taste. If you live at altitude, cook the mung beans for 45 minutes while soaking the rice, then add the rice and cook for 45 minutes more.
Another good recipe to use daily during rakta shodhan is liver cleanse sabji. This is a recipe to cleanse old pitta from the liver and to ground and nourish vata. For pitta, choose Chioggia or golden beets rather than the standard red ones and use plenty of cilantro. For kapha add a hot green pepper and cook the vegetables more lightly to avoid releasing the sugars.
- 4 medium carrots
- 2 beets
- 1 daikon
- 2 tbsp ghee or sunflower oil
- 1 bunch bitter dark greens (turnip, kale or collard)
- 1 tsp organic turmeric powder
- 1" fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 1 T organic cumin seeds
- Pinch asafoetida
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped.
Wash and slice the root vegetables. Heat half the ghee in a wok or frying pan and stir fry the vegetables. When they begin to soften, add the greens, cover and sauté to the desired tenderness. Meanwhile, in a small fry pan, heat the rest of the ghee. When it is hot but not smoking, lower the heat and add cumin, turmeric and ginger. Fry until the cumin seeds brown, add the asafoetida and toss into the vegetables. Stir in the salt and cilantro and serve.
In terms of lifestyle changes, during a period of rakta shodhan, all activities that are prajnaparadh (crimes against wisdom) should be suspended. This includes smoking, recreational drugs and activities that are habitual such as use of coffee, alcohol and white sugar. In terms of herbal therapies for rakta shodhan, it is important to consider not only the formula to recommend, but also the quality and specific provenance of the formula. In the UK, several well known blood purifiers have come under scrutiny for heavy metal contamination. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is advising UK consumers to avoid Karela tablets (made by Shriji Herbal Products); Karela capsules (Himalaya Drug Co); Yograj Guggal and Sudarshan tablets from Zandu Pharmaceuticals; SAFI liquid (Hamdard-WAKF) -a famous proprietary blood cleanser; and Mahasudarshan Churna supplied by Zandu Pharmaceuticals, D&K Pharmacy, Chhatrisha and Dabur India. The above list comprises many of the most popular blood cleansers. Hence it is of the utmost importance to recommend only the use of organic, tested, high quality herbal products such as those listed in the Banyan catalogue. Ayurvedic practitioners would be well advised to do clients the courtesy of informing them of the risks associated with the products on the MHPRA list, and to specify that they should purchase herbs only from outlets that offer tested organic products. It is all too easy to pick up a cheap bottle of contaminated Mahasudarshan at the local Indian grocery store.
Once its purity is assured, Mahasudarshan is a pre-eminent blood cleanser, excellent for allergies, acne, eczema, boils and other rakta dhatu-related conditions. Half a teaspoon can be taken in the morning on an empty stomach, mixed in honey as an anupan. For those who have difficulty complying in taking such a bitter herb, Mahasudarshan tablets are a good alternative. Triphala is indispensable to a program of rakta shodhan and can be taken in a half teaspoon dose half an hour before sleep, steeped for ten minutes in boiling water and strained. For specific blood cleansing formula, the following herbs are most valuable. Manjista (rubia cordifolia), is astringent and bitter with cooling virya and sweet vipak. Tridoshic in effect, Manjista detoxifies the liver and raktavahasrotas and is excellent for eczema, hives, psoriasis and acne. Neem (azadarachta indica), is bitter and pungent with cooling virya and pungent vipak. It is an outstanding blood cleanser and will flush the liver and biliary tree more effectively and safely than a "liver flush" program. It is excellent for skin conditions such as psoriasis, even when these have persisted for ten years or more with no response to medications and is also ideal to use for purifying the system after a fever. Harida or Turmeric (curcuma longa) is perhaps the most versatile and important medicinal herb in the world. Astringent and slightly pungent, with heating virya and pungent vipak, it is balancing to all three doshas, although in extreme excess it could increase pitta. Curcumin, its main bioactive component, has been shown to be anti-inflammatory,anti-allergic, antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-cancer, antiviral, anti-protozooal, anti-coagulant, anti-venom, anti-hypotensive and anti-diabetic, to name only a few of its more outstanding actions. Many of the above-named actions correspond with its excellent blood cleansing action and effectiveness in rashes, hives, urticaria, bites and stings, eczema, acne and boils. Guduchi (tinospora cordifolia), is bitter, astringent and pungent with heating virya and sweet vipak. It is tridoshically balancing, is an important herb for the pacification of pitta, and has affinity for the liver and raktavahasrotas. It is excellent in anemia, jaundice, skin conditions, gout and other situations calling for rakta shodhan. Guduchi is a bitter alterative while simultaneously being an important tonic with good capacity to rejuvenate pitta. Thus Guduchi is an excellent choice where there is a need to reduce ama and cleanse the blood providing a rasayana effect for pitta.
A blood cleansing regimen should be applied for at least two weeks prior to pancha karma for best outcome. Rakta moksha or blood letting is also one of the five actions included in pancha karma, and can be substituted by an additional week of rakta shodhan herbs following the pancha karma therapies and before embarking on rejuvenation. Without pancha karma, blood cleansing should be done for a month in spring on a preventative basis or, in the case of a condition such as eczema, can be continued for as much as a month after remission of symptoms. Always, after a program of blood cleansing, some rejuvenation should be done--Chyavanprash would be a good choice for most individuals.
All products mentioned in this article are available from www.banyanbotanicals.com.
Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma) is director of Alandi Ayurvedic Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and principal teacher of Alandi School of Ayurveda, a traditional ayurvedic school and apprenticeship program. She can be reached at 303-786-7437 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.