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Alandi Images Cucumbers.JPG

In English we have the phrase 'cool as a cucumber,' referring to the marvelously cooling properties of this medicinal vegetable. The coolness of cucumber has been revered in Ayurveda since ancient times, indeed, one of the Sanskrit synonyms of cucumber is sushitalam--very cooling. Cucumber is not only a delicious food for late summer and the warm days of fall--it also has many medicinal uses.

Latin Name: Cucumis sativus L.

Family: Cucurbitaceae

Sanskrit name: Trapusam; synonyms kantikphalam, sudhāvāsa, sushitalam

Hindi: Khīrā

The cucumber is native to the Himalayan foothills in the Indian subcontinent, where it forms a key part of cuisine and home remedies to this day. It was popular in the ancient world. Cucumber is listed among the products of ancient Ur and the legend of Gilgamesh describes people eating cucumbers. In the book of Numbers in the Torah, the Israelites, during their wandering in the desert, dining on manna, hanker after the foods they enjoyed in Egypt. "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic." Cucumbers were also an important food in ancient Rome and were a favourite food of Emperor Tiberius, according to Pliny the Elder. The phrase 'cool as a cucumber' is first found in John Gay's New Song of New Similes, written in 1732.

Pert as a pear-monger I'd be,
If Molly were but kind;
Cool as a cucumber could see
The rest of womankind.

Rasa: Astringent, sweet, slightly bitter

Virya: Shita (cooling)

Guna: Laghu (light)

Reduces Pitta


  • Suppresses thirst
  • Relieves fatigue
  • Relives burning sensations
  • Controls haemorrhage
  • Pacifies difficulty in urination.
  • Antibacterial

Cucumber seeds are cooling, drying, diuretic and relieve diseases of pitta and blood.

Cucumber Home Remedies

  1. Sunburn: Blend some cucumber and apply the pulp to the burned area. The cool astringency of cucumber will heal all but the worst burns.
  2. Sunburn: Cucumber milk. Blend together a medium cucumber, half a cup of organic whole milk and half a cup of pure water. Apply this topically to sunburn or irritated skin for instant relief and drink the rest.
  3. Summer heat: Blend together a medium cucumber, a handful of mint leaves, half a cup of organic whole milk and half a cup of pure water and drink to alleviate thirst and heat stress.
  4. Cystitis: Drink cucumber juice to relieve burning urination.
  5. Gout and high uric acid: drink a cup of carrot, beet cucumber juice daily. All three of these vegetables reduce uric acid; however carrots and beets tend to have a heating energy, so adding cooling cucumber to the juice blend brings balance.
  6. Sore throat: sip cucumber juice for its cooling and antibacterial effect
  7. Puffy eyes, dark circles: Apply a slice of cucumber to each eyelid and relax for ten minutes.
  8. Acne, pimples: Grate ¼ cup of cucumber. Stir in1 tsp. besan flour (available from Indian grocery stores). Apply as a cooling face pack to relieve acne.
  9. Cucumber yoni cleanse: In the Taoist White Tigress tradition of sexual health a cucumber yoni cleanse is performed weekly to maintain a clean, fresh, smelling yoni and healthy vaginal microbiome. The part of the cucumber to be inserted vaginally is peeled to allow the healing juices to seep into the vagina, while the lower part is left unpeeled to serve as a handle.

Apple: An Ayurvedic View

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Alandi Images Apple Basket.JPG

Sevam: Apple

We are all familiar with the adage, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Indeed, apple is such an important medicinal food that it has found a place in the texts of Ayurveda, where it is known as sevam (or in Hindi seb). When I lived in India in the 1980s, an apple was a rare treat, since at the time they mainly grew only in Kashmir. To be given an apple as prasad (blessed food) instead of the more common banana was a mark of the guru's special favour.

Latin name: Malus domestica Borkh.

Family: Rosaceae (Rose family)

Sanskrit: Sevam, seva, sivitikā

Hindi: Seb

Apples originated in Western Asia, a region that includes today's Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Syria--places where agriculture had some of its earliest origins. 4-5,000 years ago, the ancient Phoenicians were cultivating apples along the Mediterranean coast. In the Song of Solomon, the beloved is compared to an apple tree, "As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the young men." Clearly, the sexually rejuvenating properties of apples were well understood at the time, for another verse of the Song of Solomon says, "Sustain me with cakes of raisins, refresh me with apples: for I am sick with love."

Apples were widely grown and eaten in the Roman Empire. In Greek mythology, Paris of Troy presented the golden apple of discord to Aphrodite, goddess of love, setting in motion the cascade of events that led to the Trojan wars.

The Jewish New Year is celebrated with apples dipped in honey to offer the promise of a sweet New Year.

European colonists brought the apple to America. Apples were spread throughout the Midwestern United States by nurseryman John Chapman, the legendary Johnny Appleseed.

Chapman, John.jpg

The real Johnny Appleseed

Rasa: Sweet

Virya: Cooling

Vipak: Sweet

Guna: Heavy

Decreases vata and pitta


  • Brimhanam (building)
  • Ruchyam (promotes taste and appetite)
  • Shukral (Promotes semen)

Apple home remedies

  1. Debility, convalescence: Give warm apple juice spiced with cinnamon and clove to help restore taste, appetite and strength.
  2. Gastritis, colitis, cystitis: Cool (not chilled) apple juice helps calm burning sensations. A few fresh mint leaves could be added.
  3. Dysentery: Stewed peeled apple with goat milk is a great dysentery recipe; if mother's milk is available it is even better.
  4. Diarrhoea or dysentery: Peel and stew two apples; add a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of saffron and 1 tsp. ghee.
  5. Migraine Headache: eat an apple first thing in the morning, sprinkled with salt. Follow this with warm water. Continue this remedy for a several days at a time to help reduce frequency of migraines.
  6. Depression: Eat an apple dipped in honey and follow with a cup of warm milk spiced with cardamom or saffron. Continue this remedy daily as a brain tonic.

Dr. Lad's honey apple pulp.


5 apples

Raw honey to taste

1/8 tsp. cardamom powder

1 pinch saffron

1 pinch nutmeg

10 drops rosewater

Remove the skins and the core from the apples .

Blend or mash to a pulp.

Add honey, spices and rosewater and mix thoroughly. Eat this one hour after your meal.

Good for heart and circulatory tonic, varicose veins, sexual debility, arthritis.

Sources: Bhavprakash, Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing by Usha and Vasant Lad


Bhutanese red rice.

Would you like arsenic with that? Of course not! We all know arsenic is poisonous. In fact inorganic arsenic is a potent carcinogen, associated with higher rates of skin, bladder and lung cancers. There is no determined safe level of arsenic in rice. This points us to a more general problem--there are 'safe' levels of everything from plutonium to mercury, but nobody really knows the effects of chronic low-level exposure to these so-called 'safe' levels

News about arsenic in our rice was first broken in a 2012 study by Consumer Reports. Despite the organization's demand, the FDA has yet to set a federal limit for arsenic in rice and rice products. Now, a new study published by Consumer Reports points to ways that children and people with food allergies could be consuming excess arsenic. Children and adults with food allergies or coelic syndrome often make use of substutute foods that are rice-based. Examples include: rice cakes as a bread substitute, rice pasta as a substitute for wheat pasta and rice milk as a substitute for dairy milk. In addition, rice cereal is a favoured baby food. This is of especial concern where young chilren are concerned, as they will be far more vulnerable to toxins such as arsenic. The new consumer report states: "rice cereal and rice pasta can have much more inorganic arsenic--a carcinogen--than our 2012 data showed...Rice cakes supply close to a child's weekly limit in one serving. Rice drinks can also be high in arsenic, and children younger than 5 shouldn't drink them instead of milk."

Consumer Reports has come up with rice levels assigning a point value to different types of rice foods, with the suggestion that we consume no more than seven points a week. As they point out, just one serving of rice cereal or rice pasta alone can put a child over the recommended weekly level.

US-grown rice can be particularly dangerous, because of our prior use of lead-arsenate insecticides (banned in the 1980s but still contaminating our land and water). Rice from the Southern states has the highest arsenic levels. Brown rice has more arsenic than white rice because arsenic tends to concentrate in the germ. Basmati rice from India, Pakistan and California had much lower levels of arsenic. And among the lowest levels of all was Bhutanese red rice.

The texts of Ayurveda devote significant space to a discussion of the merits of different kinds of rice. Basmati rice--a medieval innovation--comes under the heading of shali rice (long grain rice) and as such is considered superior to many other types of rice. However, the highest praise goes to red shali rice, best and most healthful of all types of rice. Bhutanese red rice has the benefits of a whole grain, yet is low in arsenic. It is a good source of fibre and B vitamins and contains minerals such as manganese, magnesium and molybdenum. The unique colour of red rice is associated with its content of anthocyanin and proanthocyanidins, linked to blood pressure reduction and better management of diabetes. So red rice is a smart choice both Ayurvedically and in terms of lowering arsenic consumption.

How to lower your arsenic consumption:

  • Wash your rice thoroughly. This will reduce up to 30% of the arsenic

  • Use trusted suppliers such as Lundberg and Lotus Foods. These suppliers have great integrity and voluntarily test their rice. Lotus is the supplier of Bhutanese red rice.
  • Avoid processed rice products such as rice milk and rice pasta. These products are usually made of rice from the Southern States.

  • Enjoy foods such as quinoa, millet and buckwheat. For gluten free pasta, select buckwheat noodles or a quinoa pasta.

  • Give Baby a variety of foods. Rice cereal is high in arsenic. In addition, feeding babies mainly rice cereal is thought to be the reason why kids tend to favour bland, white foods such as mac 'n cheese. Introduce all kinds of foods, especially vegetables, to your baby's inquisitive palate.

What about all the arsenic I've already eaten?

If you've eaten a lot of rice and rice products down the years (especially the higher arsenic kinds), you might indeed have a higher-than-average arsenic level. Ayurveda considers this in the category of dusha visha or chronic, subclinical poisoning. According to the texts on Ayurvedic toxicology, chronic poisoning can flare up and become symptomatic when the body is under stress. So the texts recommend a specific remedy, dushivishi, for chronic poisoning. In our pharmacy, we're working on creating this formula and hope to have it available by fall (we have to grow one of the constituents ). A Pancha karma cleanse is also recommended for clearing the body of accumulated toxins. And regular use of cilantro helps chelate toxic metals and pull them out of the body.

So enjoy your rice judicioulsy, favouring basmati rice and Bhutanese red rice, and remember to keep your diet varied!

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A traditional Ayurvedic meal featuring Royal Rice

Resistant starch (RS) is the latest buzzword in glycaemic control, prebiotic support for our microbiome and improved fatty acid metabolism. How does this hot new topic relate to the ancient teachings of Ayurveda?

In this article we will consider:

  • What is resistant starch?
  • What are the different types of resistant starch?
  • How does resistant starch help us?
  • What kind of resistant starch is best for me?
  • How does it feature in an Ayurvedic diet?
  • Should I worry about resistant starch?

As some of you know, my watchword is: eventually the latest research will 'prove' controversial teachings of Ayurveda to be correct. Resistant starch is one such example, as you will see.

What is resistant starch?

Resistant starch is starch that is resistant to digestion by small bowel enzymes. As such it acts as part of our dietary fibre, passing into the large intestine and being fermented by our gut microbes. Note the word fermented here. If we introduce too much resistant starch too fast, or the wrong kind for our particular microbiome (aka agni type), we will get gas--and Ayurveda takes gas seriously as a symptom of vata buildup.

What are the different types of resistant starch?

There are four main types:

  • Type I is found in seeds, beans and whole grains and is resistant because it is encapsulated. The Ayurvedic diet is full of this type of resistant starch.
  • Type II is inherently resistant due to its amylose content. Green bananas, raw potato starch and raw plantains fall into this category (but could be very vata disturbing).
  • Type III is formed when we cook and cool starchy foods. This type of resistant starch is thankfully not destroyed when the food is re-heated--in fact it may even increase. (That's a mercy, because we don't want you to eat cold food!)
  • Type IV barely deserves a mention as it is a chemically modified high amylose industrial corn product, which we definitely don't recommend.

How does resistant starch help us?

  • Resistant starch feeds our gut microbiome, the key factor in good health.
  • Resistant starch is beneficial for glycaemic control, lowering the postprandial glucose spike--or in plain English, it helps your blood sugar not to spike up after meals. Foods with more resistant starch are considered as having a lower glycaemic index than foods with less resistant starch.
  • Regular intake of resistant starch improves insulin sensitivity.
  • Resistant starch improves fatty acid metabolism.
  • Resistant starch lowers appetite.

What kind of resistant starch is best for me?

Read this carefully--there are a lot of people who want to sell you a product with the buzzword 'resistant starch.' Probably the different types of resistant starch would have different effect on the microbiome, but the research on this isn't done yet. But Ayurveda tells us that we need 'different strokes for different folks.'

  • If you are kapha prakriti, try to meet your RS needs with type I sources. Quinoa and cooked buckwheat groats are brilliant sources of resistant starch that will best suit your metabolic type, as well as some whole beans and some seeds. If you are on our Diabetes Prevention diet, make sure to include these foods on a regular basis to help your gut bacteria and glycaemcic control.
  • If you are vata prakriti, your digestion is more delicate and you are more gas-prone. It's fine to have some Type I RS to the extent that you can tolerate it, but you can also support your microbiome with Ayurvedically prepared Type III RS. And in a few minutes I'll tell you how to make that!
  • If you are pitta and have really strong digestive fire, you might want to try including green banana in your diet! But many of us pittas are quite delicate and probably would do well with a combination of Type I and Type III RS.

How does RS feature in an Ayurvedic diet?

As it turns out, Ayurveda has come up with ancient agricultural and culinary techniques that create Type III and IV RS using the basic food--rice. A new, hot off the press Sri Lankan study recently presented at 249th ACS National Meeting & Exposition in Denver, CO has served only to illustrate the advantages of these traditional techniques. Here are some highlights:

  • Traditional rice varieties like basmati rice and Bhutanese red rice have higher levels of RS and are inherently lower glycaemic than new and 'improved' varieties.
  • Parboiled rice--a traditional Indian rice processing technique--contains more RS. and hence a lower glycaemic index.
  • Traditional cooking methods create more RS in rice. For example, pilaf rice and fried rice have more RS than boiled or steamed rice.
  • In the Sri Lankan study, rice was cooked the traditional Sri Lankan way, then cooled for 12 hours in the refrigerator, with an increase in RS. This increase was not reversed by re-heating the rice. And this is important because rice can be a source of botulism and should either be eaten fresh or heated up thoroughly.

How to Make:

Lower glycaemic rice: boil the rice in extra water until it begins to fluff up. Then drain, rinse, add new water and finish cooking. This simple method lowers the glycaemic index of rice.

Yellow Rice: Adding turmeric to your rice will lower the blood sugar spike from eating rice.

Sri Lankan high RS rice: Start with a traditional and ideally a parboiled rice. Wash thoroughly and soak for an hour. Then cook the rice with a teaspoon or two of coconut oil. This should help increase the amylose in the rice--and it's delicious and traditional. After cooking the rice on the stovetop for 40 minutes, oven-dry it in a low oven for a couple of hours. Now refrigerate the rice for use the next day. Steam or better still fry it before you eat it. Voilà--higher RS rice!

Should I worry about Resistant Starch?

  • If you are on a standard American diet, (SAD) you're not getting enough RS. But then, you are not getting enough of many nutrients. So instead of adding commercial RS to your deficent diet, why not start eating an Ayurvedic diet of whole grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy oils?
  • If you are on a Paleo diet, you should worry about RS because you're probably not getting enough. Bear in mind that your microbiome is totally different from that of a hunter-gatherer who never tasted sugar or refined flour and never had any exposure to antibiotics.
  • If you are on an Ayurvedic diet, rest assured that our ancient sages have already featured plenty of RS into your diet, as long as you adhere to traditional foods, traditionally prepared.


Sunset on a Tuscan olive by Sadananda

On Thursday this week, Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday in Britain), Catholic cathedrals around the world will be conducting a special olive oil blessing, the Chrism mass. All the oil to be used throughout the year for confirmation, ordination and anointing the sick and dying will be consecrated by the local bishop. My birth name being Olivia, the ancient name of the goddess of the olive groves, I always loved this ceremony and naturally feel a special affinity for olive trees.

Olives were loved across the ancient Mediterranean world and have been cultivated in the Levant for over 6,000 years. In Greek mythology, the creation of the olive tree was the result of a contest between Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, and Poseidon, God of the Sea as to who would be the patron of a newly-built city in Attica. Poseidon struck a rock with his trident and water gushed forth, creating a spring of salty water. But then Athena struck a rock with her spear and produced the olive tree. The citizens chose the gift of Athena --peace, plenty and fruitfulness. And so she forever became the patroness of the city, named Athens to this day. The athletes competing in the Olympic games were massaged with olive oil and the victor was crowned with a wreath of olive leaves.


The Romans similarly saw the olive tree as the gift of Minerva, goddess of wisdom and healing, while to the Egyptians, Isis bestowed the olive tree.

The olives have their own Catholic saint as well--Saint Olivia of Palermo, a Sicilian noblewoman who was martyred in Tunis, or so her legend goes. She is still the patroness of Tunis, whose cathedral today is dedicated to St Vincent de Paul and St Olivia. Even more remarkable, the grand mosque of Olivia, the oldest mosque in Tunis, is said to stand over her tomb, and she is revered by the Muslims of Tunis.


Saint Olivia of Palermo with olive branches


Mosque of the olives (or of Olivia) in Tunis

Noah's flood finally came to an end when the dove returned to the ark bearing an olive branch--showing that dry land had appeared again. The dove with the olive branch has become a symbol of peace, as has 'holding out the olive branch.' Jesus spent the last night before his crucifixion in the olive grove of Gethsemane, while St Francis made his hermitage on Mt Subasio beside an olive that is growing to this day.

Today olive oil is revered as a bestower of good health, due to its content of oleic acid and other monounsaturated fats. The main fat used in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil consumption is associated with a low mortality from cardiovascular disease, as summarized in a review article by Marıa-Isabel Covas.

The olivey taste of olive oil is associated with special phenolic antoxidants, oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol, while carotenes and tocopherol (Vitamin E) are also important components.

Good olive oil should have a peppery, somewhat acrid taste. It's worth spending money and also taste-testing carefully. Many blogs and news sources have been reporting on a study from UC Davis indicating that a number of well-known brands of olive oil are adulterated. I have several issues with that study. Sample sizes were unscientifically small. The study was funded by the California Olive Oil Council and by some of California's largest olive producers--and recommended we buy only California olive oil. And a single study does not prove anything--the results have to be reproducible by other researchers. Even more intriguing, the link to the pdf of the actual study has been removed from UC Davis Olive Center's website. However, there is no doubt that olive oil scams abound, as they have done for 6,000 years. See this website for more information. Some tips for buying the best possible olive oil include:

  • Don't buy the cheapest--good oil isn't cheap
  • Taste test before you buy--look for the fruity, bitter and peppery taste
  • Use a light-protective container--and use up the oil quickly (never a problem in our household)
  • Buy oils bottled this year, or within their 'best by' date.
  • Buy only olive oil labeled 'extra virgin'
  • Prefer PDO and PDI olive oils, coming from a protected geographical location.

Fair Trade olive oil is also available. For my birthday I got Rumi Tree olive oil from Palestine, sold at our local fair trade shop.

Another confusing issue about olive oil is the claim some make that 'you shouldn't cook with olive oil.' This is not true. And were it true, the entire Mediterranean diet, demonstrated to be so healthy, would be invalidated. Olive oil smokes at 420'F, a far higher temperature than the 'sizzle point' at which you can effectively stir-fry or sauté your food. Some studies have subjected olive oil to high temperatures (below its smoke point) for long periods of time without destroying its special phytonutrients. I'm leaving the references at the end of the article in case you need further convincing. However, since some of the olivey flavor is lost in cooking, Spaniards and Italians (and Alakananda & Sadananda too) always add some extra, fresh olive oil at the table.

Olive trees should never be harmed, even in war. As it says in the Book of Deuteronomy in the Torah, 'Are the trees your enemy, that you should attack them?' They give us so much--shade, shelter, wood, olives and oil. (Deut. 20, 19). As gifts of the Ancient Mother, the trees and those who tend them deserve our love, respect and protection.

1. Bastida SS-M, FJ. Thermal oxidation of olive oil, sunflower oil and a mix of both oils during forty continuous domestic fryings of different foods. Food Sci Tech Int 2001;7:15-21.
2. Gennaro L, Piccioli Bocca, A, Modesti, D, Masella, R, Coni, E. Effect of biophenols on olive oil stability evaluated by thermogravimetric analysis. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 1998;46:4465-4469.
3. Allouche Y, Jimenez A, Gaforio JJ, Uceda M, Beltran G. How heating affects extra virgin olive oil quality indexes and chemical composition. J Agric Food Chem 2007;55:9646-54.
4. Cicerale S, Conlan XA, Barnett NW, Sinclair AJ, Keast RS. Influence of heat on biological activity and concentration of oleocanthal--a natural anti-inflammatory agent in virgin olive oil. J Agric Food Chem 2009;57:1326-30.

In our last blog, we discussed ways to include all six tastes in your meal, with the addition of chutneys and pickles. Another way to enhance the beauty, taste and medicinal properties of your menu is to use garnishes. In this article we will look at some Ayurvedic garnishes, their culinary use and health benefits.

Cilantro or coriander leaf is among the most popular Ayurvedic garnishes. It has a sweet taste, reduces pitta, aids digestion and soothes mucus membranes. Cilantro is anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory, alleviates arthritis and lowers blood sugar. More amazing still, it chelates heavy metals like lead and mercury, helping remove them from the body. So be sure to include plenty of cilantro in your daily diet!

As a garnish, cilantro is often paired with coconut.
Coconut is sweet and cooling, calming pitta and reducing burning sensations and pain. It is strengthening and nourishing, is high in fibre, and gives food an excellent taste.


Dhokla garnished with coconut, cilantro and mustard seeds.

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Indian spiced beet soup garnished with cilantro and coconut

Mint is another well-loved garnish found in India--where it is called pudina--and across the Middle East. As a cooling pungent, mint affords unique benefits for pitta and for use in hot weather. But it also has benefits in winter as it is diaphoretic (promotes sweating) and helps relieve colds and flu. Mint soothes the digestion, calms the nerves and helps urinary tract inflammation.

I love to pair mint with paprika for a colourful effect. Like mint, paprika is good for urinary and respiratory problems, so there is a good synergy as well as a colour contrast.


Cucumber raita garnished with mint and paprika


Baba ganoush garnished with dill, mint and paprika; humus garnished with mint, paprika and black olives. The addition of fresh turmeric to the humus gives it a lovely golden colour.

Parsley is a favourite garnish in European foods. For a Mediterranean flavour and appearance, choose flatleaf parsley, used widely in Italian and French cuisine as well as in Tunisia and Morocco, where it is called maadnous. Curly parsley is a mainstay of garnishes and sauces in Britain. The curly leaves are a very handsome garnish with a more pungent taste than flatleaf parsley.
Unlike cilantro, parsley is mildly warming with a pungent taste. Parsley is a good diuretic and emmenogogue. Beneficial for vata and kapha, it makes an excellent garnish choice in fall and winter.


Potakhe de Potiron (chana dal and butternut squash Moroccan soup) garnished with flatleaf parsley.

Slivered almonds are a garnish useful in both sweet and savory dishes. Known in Sanskrit as vatada and in Hindi as badam, almond is heavy, oily and warming, qualities that make it perfect for vata. Yet by its sweet taste and heavy quality it also relieves pitta. It is demulcent, aphrodisiac, enhances semen production and builds ojas, our core strength and immunity. Almonds fried in ghee add a delicious taste, aroma and crunch.


Moroccan rice pilaf garnished with slivered almonds.

Pomegranate seeds are a favoured garnish in Persian and Indian cuisine, used in soups, curries and meat dishes as well as desserts. Known in Sanskrit as dadima, pomegranate is a 'superfood', pacifying all three doshas and acting as a brain tonic, demulcent and general tonic. Pomegranate lowers cholesterol and blood pressure and inhibits breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and leukemia. It adds a burst of flavour, colour and phyto-nutrients to any dish.

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Almond and rice dessert garnished with pomegranate seeds

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According to Ayurveda, A balanced meal should include all the six tastes--sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. In this blog we'll discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each taste and look at how to plan a menu that includes all six tastes for optimum health and nutrition.

The sweet taste is building and nurturing and calms pitta and vata. This does not mean you have to eat a lot of sugar. Many staples such as rice and wheat, as well as vegetables such as sweet potato, provide the sweet taste in your meal. But a hint of intense sweetness, such as a date chutney, can lift the enjoyment of the meal. The sweet taste is not beneficial to kapha, which is why we suggest that kapha individuals limit starchy and sweet foods such as rice, bread and desserts. And ancient Ayurvedic texts point out that excess of the sweet taste is associated with diabetes and obesity. Hence some of us who are blood sugar-challenged may choose to substitute mashed cauliflower for rice.
In the thali pictured above, rice and bottle gourd provide a mild sweetness and apple chutney provides a hint of intense sweetness.

The salty taste is an essential component in giving taste to food and promoting digestion. But ancient Ayurvedic texts suggest that excess salt consumption may be related to aging and cancer. Salt your dishes such as dal, kitcheri, sabji, soup, lightly--just enough to bring out the flavour. Then put a salt shaker on the table for vata. A bit of the salty taste helps vata digestion. But pitta and kapha should stay away from the salt shaker, as the salty taste is injurious for them in excess. In the thali pictured above, the dal and sabji are lightly salted.

The sour taste improves the taste of food, helping us to feel satisfied more easily. It helps kindle the digestive fire and expel gas. When a meal lacks the sour taste, we may eat more, because our senses have not been pacified by the enjoyment of the meal. In Ayurveda we provide the sour taste by using lemon or lime as a seasoning. Tomato is also a source of the sour taste. In addition, vata can eat lime pickles, since the sour taste is good for vata. The sour taste is too hot for pitta and too moist for kapha, so pitta and kapha should not eat strong tomato sauces or a lot of citrus fruits. In the thali above, lemon has been used as a seasoning in the dal. The fruit chutney provides some sourness and so does the home made fresh turmeric pickle, which is marinaded in lime.

The bitter taste is detoxifying, antibacterial, cleansing to the liver and blood. It clears the palate, enhancing the other tastes, and improves digestion. It is the best taste for pitta and kapha.The American and British diets tend to be deficient in the bitter taste, leading us to crave coffee. The bitter taste can be provided by using fenugreek seeds as a seasoning, as well as by including bitter greens in the diet. A special vegetable, bitter melon, also known as karela or bitter gourd, provides plenty of the bitter taste in the meal. In the thali pictured above, Eggplant sabji with bitter melon provides healthy bitterness!

The astringent taste is anti-inflammatory and very good for pitta and kapha. However, it is challenging for vata, which is why astringent foods such as beans and lentils must be well-seasoned with tastes that are good for vata, such as lime, fresh ginger and jaggery (raw sugar). In the thali above, the dal and the fresh turmeric chutney provide astringency.

The pungent taste helps kindle digestion and hence should be included in moderation in every meal, to balance the heaviness of the sweet taste. The use of fresh ginger and mustard seeds as seasonings and the addition of chutneys and pickles to the menu bring the benefit of the pungent taste. Kapha can have a larger spoonful of pungent seasonings since the pungent taste is very good for kapha. In the thali above, the chutneys provide pungency, as does the turmeric pickle, which contains fresh ginger and yellow mustard powder.

Recipes pictured on this thali: Eggplant sabji with bitter melon, Chana Dal Puree with Tender Bottle Gourd Cubes, Turmeric Pickle, Apple Chutney.


Mountain calf in Dolomites, Italy; photo by Sadananda

1. Cost: My very first attempts at going vegetarian in 1971 were motivated largely by the cost of British beef and the fact that, living on my student grant, I had to stretch every pound of spending money three ways. So I became vegetarian until I got tired of living on cheese on toast, for I simply didn't know what vegetarians eat! Today, with grass-fed beef going for $8 per lb at Whole Foods and antibiotic-free chicken at $5 per lb, beans sound like a pretty good option. A vegetarian diet or even some meatless days could potentially reduce your food budget while still allowing you enough cash to get your five-a-day of fruits and veggies.

2. Health: That's right--health can be a reason to go vegetarian or vegan. Despite the popularity of diets like the Paleo diet that emphasize meat, many of my patients have been advised by doctors to follow a vegetarian or low-meat diet. Some of them are following Dr Esselstyn's plant based diet for heart healing, others want to manage diabetes with a low-carb vegetarian diet and still others have been advised to follow the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant foods. Vegetarians are at lower risk for developing heart disease, colo-rectal, breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, obesity and hypertension, in large part because a vegetarian diet is typically higher in fibre and lower in fat than a meat-based diet.

3: Social Justice: I became vegetarian permanently in 1974 after spending two months in Tanzania, working on a children's ward. Every child I admitted died, usually from measles complicated by malnutrition. Then I came home to my London teaching hospital, where most of my patients were sick from excess consumption. After reading Diet for a Small Planet, I was deeply impressed by the argument that seven pounds of grain goes to produce one pound of beef rather than going to feed hungry people directly. So for reasons of social justice, I chose to become vegetarian.

4. The Environment: As early as 1971, Diet for a Small Planet author Frances Moore Lappé was calling for environmental vegetarianism. Since then, the argument has only grown stronger and more urgent. From the 2000s, cattle ranching has been the main reason for destruction of the Amazonian rainforest. More compelling still, meat eating is a major contributor to climate change. Researchers at Cambridge University and the University of Aberdeen in the UK have pointed out that livestock production accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, an amount equal to that produced by all the world's cars, trucks, trains and shipping. Two thirds of all agricultural land is used to grow feed for livestock, whereas only eight per cent is used to grow food directly for human consumption. And meat production puts pressure on our dwindling freshwater supplies as well. "The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat," said Professor Gidon Eshel, at Bard College in New York. Researchers suggest cutting red meat consumption to a maximum of two portions a week to help tackle climate change.

5. Compassion: As a girl, I couldn't understand why we loved some animals--like our Siamese cat, Victoria--as family members, but ate others. Cows and sheep seemed just as loveable as cats and dogs. The violence inherent in killing farm animals for food becomes even greater when we think about the conditions many of these animals endure on factory farms. The documentary Food Inc makes this only too clear. The great Buddhist teacher, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, was born into the meat-eating culture of Tibet, but became vegetarian--and a strong advocate of vegetarianism because of the suffering endured by millions of animals who are killed for food. Personally, after becoming vegetarian for reasons of social justice, I was stunned by the renewed relationship I experienced with animals of all species. Animals began to seek me out with new confidence and intimacy--and still do. Although compassion for animals wasn't the original reason I became vegetarian, it's a major reason I have chosen to remain so for these past forty years.

6. Yoga: Some years ago, when we were in Assisi, Italy, doing yoga on a roof terrace, a former Olympic gymnast who lived in the neighbourhood came to congratulate us on our excellent gymnastics! But the truth is, yoga is not a form of gymnastics or athletics, but a spiritual discipline. The Hatha Yoga texts, Gerhanda Samhita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika prescribe a building diet of strictly lacto-vegetarian foods for practitioners of yoga. Omitting this fundamental step could result in your yoga practice doing more harm than good in the long term. The Bhagavad Gita develops the theme of diet in terms of three gunas or modes of nature--sattva, rajas and tamas, or purity, passion and ignorance. Flesh foods have a strong component of rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance) and so are deemed unsuitable for practitioners of any form of yoga or meditation. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and dairy products are considered sattvik or enhancing purity and clarity of mind and are the recommended diet for spiritual practitioners.

Considering these six good reasons, perhaps you might decide vegetarianism is for you. If so, take your time to transition, to avoid shocking your system. This blog contains many great vegetarian recipes, so you won't have to struggle the way I did when I first tried vegetarianism!


Cattle on Shotley Peninsula, Suffolk, UK.

Tridoshic 'Yam' Kitcheri

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1cup split hulled mung beans
1 cup basmati rice
3 tbsp ghee
1 and half inches minced fresh ginger
2 tbsp shredded coconut
1 tsp turmeric 
1 handful cilantro leaves
8 green cardamom pods
8 whole cloves
11 black peppercorns
3 inch piece cinnamon stick
3 bay leaves Salt to taste
1 large yam, cubed (actually a golden sweet potato)

  • Rinse mung beans well with cold water and soak for a few hours 
  • Rinse rice well and soak while beans are cooking
  • Put ginger, coconut, turmeric, cilantro and some water in a blender or food processor and blend. Use enough water to blend well.
  • In a large pot, melt ghee over medium heat and sauté cardamom pods (split open first), cloves, peppercorns, cinnamon stick and bay leaves for a few minutes. Then add the blended spices and sauté for a few more minutes until lightly cooked
  • Next add beans and yams; cook for a couple more minutes. Add enough water to cover the beans with at least 3 inches of water and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes or until the beans are completely broken down. Then add the rice and cook until the rice is broken apart. Add more water as needed Salt to taste and enjoy!


Peas in pods.

Peas in pods. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I always eat my peas with honey;
I've done it all my life.
They do taste kind of funny
but It keeps them on my knife.

My father used to enjoy reading me this rhyme from the Penguin Book of Comical and Curious Verse. He also loved to grow peas in the garden of our Victorian house. We would shell them and eat them lightly steamed with butter and mint.

As a teenager I used to volunteer for Help the Aged by visiting a ninety year old widow, Mrs Scopes. She loved to tell me 'Old Wive's Tales'. One oft-repeated saying was "Peas give you cancer, my father said." As it turns out, this adage could not be further from the truth. In fact an unique constituent of green peas, coumestrol, is being investigated for its benefits in preventing cancer. A Mexico City study pointed to the potential of green peas in preventing stomach cancer (1). And the Prostate Cancer Sweden Study points to green peas as helpful in preventing prostate cancer (2). The antioxidant components of green peas may also be helpful in breast cancer (3) as well as in preventing heart disease.

According to Ayurveda, green peas are pitta soothing and laxative, beneficial for purisha vaha srotas or the colon. Enjoy green peas with rice, in kitcheri,in a sabji or vegetable curry with cauliflower and potato or in matar paneer. Or serve them like my father did, lightly steamed with butter and mint

1. Hernandez-Ramirez R, Galvan-Portillo M, Ward M et al. Dietary intake of polyphenols, nitrate and nitrite and gastric cancer risk in Mexico City. Int J Cancer. 2009 September 15; 125(6): 1424-1430. 2009.
2. Maria Hedelin, Åsa Klint, Ellen T. Chang, Rino Bellocco, Jan-Erik Johansson, Swen-Olof Andersson, Satu-Maarit Heinonen, Herman Adlercreutz, Hans-Olov Adami and Henrik Grönberg, et al.  Dietary Phytoestrogen, Serum Enterolactone and Risk of Prostate Cancer: The Cancer Prostate Sweden Study (Sweden) Cancer Causes and Control

Volume 17, Number 2 (2006), 169-180, DOI: 10.1007/s10552-005-0342-2
Pamela J. Magee* and Ian R. Rowland Phyto-oestrogens, their mechanism of action: current evidence for a role in breast and prostate cancer British Journal of Nutrition (2004), 91, 513-531


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