Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
According to Ayurvedic medicine, food can and should be taken as treatment for what ails you. We’ve got to eat. So why not make your food your medicine?
Food is transformed into vital life-force energy; eating for inner strength and immunity, a clear mind, flowing circulation, and powerful digestion is only natural. And with just a bit of planning, you can transform most meals into an immune-boosting reality.
By now, we’re all familiar with the term “superfood,” a description of a vegetable, fruit, nut, or seed or some other plant part that is higher on the nutritional scale than most, and bursting with things like antioxidants, organic acids, vitamins and minerals, essential fatty acids, and more. Examples include goji berries, acerola cherry, raw honey, bee pollen, and coconut oil. Ayurveda, however, deems even the most common of everyday herbs and spices as super-charged foods. When used in accordance with Ayurvedic principles of creating balance (it helps to learn this under the watchful eye of an Ayurvedic practitioner, an expert who can help guide you in understanding what balance means for your unique constitution), illness and fatigue can really shift.
I want to share some of my favorite Ayurvedic herbs, spices and remedies with you. These are the foods in my kitchen and that I know will keep you warm, healthy, vibrant, and feeling incredibly vital—something we all need as we traverse these long cold months of winter.
Ayurvedic foods to boost immunity
Found in most health food stores and Asian markets, astragalus root is a powerful adaptogen, or plant extract that increases the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and illness, and help restore the body to normal function after either. It can be added to soups, stews, broths, and pots of grains (one or two sticks per pot).
Black Pepper and Whole Coriander Seed
These are two of the most beneficial and detoxifying spices around. Blend together in a traditional pepper grinder and add a quarter teaspoon to meals, even sweet ones (it’s so good on pumpkin pie!). Black pepper promotes healthy circulation. Coriander is the digestive regulating spice of Ayurveda; it can help heal all types of digestive issues. When digestion is good, immunity is strong.
Normally in its raw form, garlic can be too heating for pitta types, those with very fiery constitutions. But in the damp, cool winter, garlic is the antithesis to colds and flus. If you’re sick or fighting an infection, garlic can help knock it out. Add it to teas, broths, soups—even a raw clove chopped on top of your food now and then (if your stomach can handle it). It’s antibacterial and antiviral qualities can help keep you well throughout the winter season. A pinch of cayenne pepper in tea or a morning cup of hot lemon water is also a welcome winter addition.
The Wonder Herbs: Ginger and Turmeric
Called the “universal medicine,” ginger is healing, warming, energizing, anti-inflammatory, expectorating, and is as stimulating as it is delicious. It encourages healthy appetite, calms indigestion, and is one of the best common herbs for promoting healthy circulation. Turmeric is ginger’s close family member and touts many of the same benefits, but tumeric’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant prowess is even greater! It aids the body in digesting proteins and its bitter/pungent/astringent taste is one of the best for balancing the body in winter. See my recipe Ginger Turmeric Tea below.
Warm, light and circulating, ample amounts of food-sourced Vitamin C is a must year-round but especially in the winter. Its antioxidant goodness supports collagen growth, healthy tissue maintenance, and immunity. If you have grapefruit, lemons, oranges, Brussel’s sprouts or broccoli in your kitchen right now, you’re off to a good start. Just don’t overcook the veggies! Cook broccoli and Brussels sprouts just until they turn bright green to preserve a good chunk of the nutrients. More super-charged whole-food sources of vitamin C include amla berry (a revered sour fruit from India that contains one of the highest concentrations of Vitamin C on the planet), acerola cherry, fresh raspberries, and strawberries. Aim for at least 300 mg per day, more if you’re feeling fatigued or fighting something off.
Ayurvedic recipes to balance your doshas
Everyday Spice Blend
Preparation time: 2 minutes
- 1 C whole coriander seeds
- 1/3 C whole black peppercorns
- Mix both in a spice grinder and use to top most meals.
Homemade Throat Soothers
Preparation time: 10 minutes
- 3 tablespoons slippery elm bark powder
- 1 teaspoon dried ginger powder (omit for pitta)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons raw honey (for kapha) or molasses (for vata)
- Place the ingredients in a small bowl and use a spoon or bare hands to combine completely. Enjoy 1/2 teaspoon at a time, with herbal tea as desired.
Preparation time: 2 minutes
- 1/2 teaspoon raw honey (with propolis if you can get it)
- 1/2 teaspoon raw local bee pollen
- Place raw honey on a spoon and dip into bee pollen to “catch” as much as you can on the honey-covered spoon.
- Follow with a glass of water or a cup of tea. Double dipping allowed!
Ginger Turmeric Tea
Preparation time: 15 minutes
- 2 C water
- 2 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
- 2 inches fresh turmeric root, peeled and grated
- 1-2 teaspoons raw honey (1/2 teaspoon for Kapha) or coconut nectar
- Use a box or cheese grater to grate the ginger and turmeric.
- Bring the water, ginger, and turmeric root to boil in a medium saucepan.
- Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat, strain, and drink with raw honey to taste.
See also: 10 Yoga Poses to Boost Your Immunity
Talya Lutzker is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, nutritionist, chef, and yoga teacher, and the founder of Talya’s Kitchen. Her latest cookbook is The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen. Learn more at TalyasKitchen.com.