I'm at Rasa Ayurveda, a holistic health center in Kerala, India, where we're learning how, like an art, Ayurveda uses herbs and spices for their healthful properties. This is true for food and for drink.
Good medicine can be simple; we'll steep these dried herbs and spices to make "healing waters" that address the body's imbalances. "When you take herbs with water, you strengthen your whole system," says Z Light Miller, an Ayurvedic practitioner in Sarasota, Florida, who has used healing waters for 30 years. "Their potency goes directly into the body—it's like taking liquid medicine."
The cook at Rasa Ayurveda sets a stainless steel pot on a burner and turns on the heat. She scatters whole cumin seeds into the dry pot, and they release a woody, fiery smell. Beneficial for all body types, cumin, or jeera in Hindi, stimulates digestion. The pot sizzles as water is added, and a cloud of steam puffs up. As the jeera water cools, we learn the effects of other simple preparations. Cardamom water is good for a gassy stomach, for example, and fennel water aids breast milk production. You can drink these herbal infusions just as you would regular water: Carry a bottle with you and sip all day.
Steep herbs and spices to make simple healing tonics.
Why? Cinnamon helps reduce cholesterol and stabilize blood-sugar levels.
How? Crunch a whole cinnamon stick with a rolling pin. Add the broken chips to 1 quart of water and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain and serve warm or at room temperature.
Dried Ginger Water
Why? Food for relief from nausea, dried ginger will pierce through the heavy sensation you may get after eating a cheesy dinner or too much ice cream.
How? Grind 1 teaspoon of dried ginger and heat it to a boil in 2 quarts of water. Boil for 3 minutes. Strain and serve warm or at room temperature.
Why? Tulsi is considered a spiritual herb in India, used to balance the body's whole system. It's especially good for the lungs.
How? Drop a sprig of tulsi (holy basil) in a glass of room-temperature water and place in the sun for an hour. You can grow tulsi in a pot at home or look for its sister plant, Thai basil, in Asian markets.
Why? Besides aiding digestion, cumin flushes toxins from the body.
How? Dry roast 12 teaspoons of whole cumin seeds in a heated pot until their color darkens slightly (about 10 seconds). Add 1 quart of water and bring to a boil; boil 3 minutes. Strain and serve warm or at room temperature.