The Wisdom of Ayurveda: Immunity-Boosting Herbs and Spices
Shama Palmer shares five immunity-boosting Ayurvedic herbs and spices perfect for your kitchen store cupboard
by Shama Palmer
I was amazed the other day to find that my local supermarket was out of both ginger and turmeric. Besides being a little disappointed that I would have to go without two of my home essentials for a day or two, I was actually happy about this. It’s great to see that people really seem to be taking care of their immunity right now.
This kind of know-how is so much more widespread now. We are reclaiming the wisdom of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, who would have readily turned to natural remedies to heal family members. Here are a few herbs and spices you can pick up in your local supermarket (supplies permitting)
Ginger is known as the universal spice in Ayurveda, and I would recommend favouring the fresh root over the dried powder form unless you specifically want to bring more heat and a drying effect into the body, for example in cases of excess Kapha dosha. The fresh root is tri-doshic, which means it is balancing to all Ayurvedic constitutional types.
Loaded with nutrients and vitamins, including vitamin B6 and minerals like magnesium and manganese, ginger is immunity-boosting. It is also anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, which makes it a great aid in the fight against infections. In Ayurveda we say it kindles the jathar agni, or digestive fire, thereby supporting our first line of immune defence in the gut. Ginger also contains many phenolic compounds such as gingerol, shogaol and paradol which have antioxidant, anti-tumour and anti-inflammatory properties.
Sip fresh ginger tea daily to kindle agni and help flush toxins from your system.
Turmeric is also tri-doshic, and can be added to the ginger tea. If you make a litre of the tea, add one small level teaspoon of turmeric powder to the freshly brewed infusion and let it steep for 15 minutes before drinking.
As my supermarket visit confirmed, we are becoming aware of the wonderful benefits of turmeric. Ayurveda would recommend it in its whole form, rather than the extracted version often offered in supplements. If you can get the fresh root, that’s fantastic – you could also try buying your supply from an organic herbs specialist. This is likely to give you a turmeric powder with more therapeutic value (my own trip to the supermarket was for a temporary emergency supply whilst I waited for my usual turmeric delivery to arrive).
Turmeric is also loaded with antioxidants and has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. Ayurveda has known this for thousands of years, and more recent scientific studies are confirming it. You can enjoy turmeric in a soothing golden milk drink as well as in ginger tea. My cousin drank golden milk whilst recovering from an infection at home recently, and compared its delicious taste and soothing effect to a turmeric latte. Please don’t forget to add a pinch of warming black pepper, which will also help to activate the therapeutic properties of turmeric.
Cinnamon is often added to ginger tea recipes in Ayurveda, and is also an ingredient in golden milk. It also has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties, as well as containing large amounts of antioxidant polyphenols. It can also ease digestion, and is said to have a prebiotic effect, promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Cinnamon is stimulating and can help to move prana (energy) around the body. Further, it is gently warming – wonderful for Vata dosha and Kapha dosha types, but meaning that whilst Pitta types can enjoy its sweet taste, they should consume less.
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Tulsi, or Holy Basil, is a dried leaf you really should introduce to your herb and spice cabinet – especially during a pandemic.
It is quite pleasant to consume as an infusion. Tulsi is a sacred plant for Hindus and is seen as an avatar of the goddess Lakshmi, the deity of material and spiritual abundance. It grows in the gardens and near the doors of many homes in India, and has long been recognised for its medicinal properties in Ayurveda.
Tulsi is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it can help the body combat the effects of stress – which we know only too well weakens our resistance to infection and disease. Again, it contains antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and also anti-ageing phenols. It also contains apigenin, a flavonoid that helps to remove waste at a cellular level.
Perhaps most importantly for these times tulsi is one of the most potent antiviral herbs of Ayurveda, and specifically targets the respiratory system to reduce symptoms of cough, cold and bronchitis. It helps to clear the lungs. It is beneficial to Vata and Kapha dosha types, but Pitta types or those with Pitta type symptoms should take it cautiously.
Moringa leaves combine nicely in an infusion with tulsi. This is another herb that can be seen growing in plenty of gardens in India. Moringa is said to penetrate deeply into the body tissues for cleansing, and yet at the same time has strengthening and rejuvenating properties.
It is slightly heating, so will reduce the properties of Vata and Kapha – but Vata types need to be cautious due to moringa’s light, sharp and dry qualities. Taking the powder form with a little ghee may be a good alternative for Vata types: the ghee will antidote the herb’s Vata-aggravating qualities. Again, Pitta types should take moringa sparingly due to its heating properties.
Nature has given us so many wonderful healing plants, hasn’t it? And it’s fantastic that they are becoming more widely known and available. However, Ayurveda is clear that nothing beats a balanced lifestyle for our health and wellbeing. Regularity in eating and sleeping routines are essential – regular daily exercise and meditation or relaxation, walking in nature, and eating a wholefood, seasonal diet are all Ayurvedic prescriptions for sustained health in body and mind. This kind of lifestyle will add power to any herbs you might chose to take.
Stress resilience is also crucial for our immunity, yet sometimes overwhelming events happen and life can pull the rug from under our feet. At these times when we need extra help, Ayurvedic herbs have much to offer here too. Please do look out for my article next month, where we’ll be looking at Ayurvedic herbs for stressful times.
Stay well and stay strong – with the self-care you deserve.
NOTE: Please always check with your doctor before using any of these substances for therapeutic purpose if you have a medical condition. The herbs are not meant to replace, but add to, professional medical care any time you become ill.
About the author
Sara Palmer (Shama) is an ayurveda practitioner and registered senior yoga teacher and therapist. If you’d like to learn more about agni, ama, ojas, your constitutional type and self care in ayurveda, Shama is running Ayurveda Living courses online.