One thing I really love about studying Ayurveda is the wisdom they teach about spices. Since I went to India for the first time 7 years ago, I’ve been using a variety of spices when I cook. Recently I even started to change the spices I use according to the seasons. Luckily, most of these spices are readily available globally by now. Sometimes I even feel like a little witch practicing in her kitchen. Anything related to digestion almost always has ginger in it. A sore throat and cough calls for black pepper-based concoctions. Turmeric is amazing for anti-inflammatory preparations.
When Ayurveda became the guiding principle of my diet and lifestyle, I finally understood how every meal offers an opportunity to build a better relationship with our body and mind. Ayurveda teaches us that the spice cabinet is our first access to the apothecary. Your pantry is in fact a holistic medicine cabinet.
Spices influence the foods we eat and that food impacts our gut, our mood, our emotions, and our overall well-being. It is also believed that food can also play an important role in regulating our mood and mental health.
For every dosha and season, Ayurveda recommends different spices. These are colorful and flavorful ingredients designed for healing, building energy, providing immune support, improving gut health, and longevity. In Ayurveda there are five basic digestive spices that have been used for thousands of years with incredible success and they support all 3 doshas. These are fennel, coriander, cumin, cardamom and ginger. Chewing a handful of these seeds after a meal is still a common practice in India. This is why you will often find a bowl of fennel seeds awaiting you at the door as you exit your favorite Indian restaurant.
Spices to support your mental health and mood
This spice is not only proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, but it can also reduce anxiety and depression. According to a study published in Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics, it can help protect brain cells from free radical damage which can cause memory loss or brain fog. Suitable for all 3 doshas.
Ayurvedic Tip: Try adding cardamom to your tea or coffee. It is also tasty in baking goods and hot cereals.
Ginger contains vitamin B6 which improves energy levels. Also an effective pain reliever, and may help to improve memory.
Best for vata and kapha dosha.
Ayurvedic Tip: Use it fresh in dressings and marinades, cooked with vegetables, or dry in baking and tea.
Saffron is used in many culinary dishes, but did you know that it can help people suffering from depression? In a study published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, saffron is an effective short-term strategy for improving mood in patients with mood disorders. A 2015 Iranian study suggests that saffron has similar effects on the brain to antidepressants. Other studies show eating dried petals has a positive effect on the treatment of depression. Best suited to pitta dosha.
Ayurvedic Tip: Coffee spiced with Saffron makes for a soothing and heart-healthy drink. Also, try adding it to your cakes or pastries for a rich and buttery aroma. Great with rice or in paella.
Capsaicin is the compound in chilies that gives them their heat. They produce endorphins, which fight depression—the hotter, the better (capsicums are too low in capsaicin). Great for kapha dosha.
Ayurvedic Tip: Sprinkle chili flakes on salads, roast vegetables, or just add a dash of it to anything you cook.
Just by smelling, cinnamon enhances cognitive processing in the brain. It’s a great source of manganese, a trace mineral that helps regulate blood sugar. Cinnamon neutralizes free radicals, enhancing mood. It stimulates neurons, influencing brain function by boosting concentration, memory, and attention. Most beneficial for vata dosha.
Ayurvedic Tip: Add in cakes and biscuits, or add a few sprinkles to your morning coffee or tea.
Its active ingredients include rosmanol, circimaritin, and salvigenin which help in cases of physical or mental fatigue, burn-out, and depression. Also shown to help with insomnia and calming nerves. Best for kapha dosha.
Ayurvedic Tip: use it to flavoring meals, potatoes, and cooking oils. Great in many Mediterranean dishes. Can also be used in teas or infusions.
Nutmeg has been used since the 16th century for its anti-anxiogenic (anti-anxiety) properties. Helpful in mitigating depression and as an anti-inflammatory. Magnesium in nutmeg can help you sleep, and acts as a mild antidepressant. Best for vata and kapha dosha.
Ayurvedic Tip: add it to cakes, puddings, and sweet sauces, to cheese dishes, over pasta, or savory dishes.
An antioxidant and anti-inflammatory spice, can stimulate the release of serotonin, shown to help with depression. Doses in some studies are too high to use in cooking (500mg twice a day), but even moderate use improved mood and mental clarity after 4–8 weeks. Best for pitta and kaha dosha.
Ayurvedic Tip: the medically active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is best absorbed by the body when used in combination with fresh ground black pepper and an oil or fat for maximum benefit. Usually used in curries, but can be added to fruit-based desserts and smoothies, scrambled tofu, roasted vegetables, and soups. Or my favorite, golden milk.
Garlic is full of vitamin B6 which is associated with busting insomnia, fighting fatigue and lifting mood. Furthermore, B6 has been shown to help stave off anxiety in patients suffering from anxiety disorders and panic attacks. The chromium in garlic is believed to behave in a similar way to antidepressants in that it can encourage the production of serotonin in the brain. The effect is most potent when garlic is consumed raw. Eating garlic is also a really good way to boost your immune system. Most benefitial for kapha dosha.
Ayurvedic Tip: Garlic can be added to literally any dish, if you plan to consume it raw, my best way is to rub it on both sides of a well toasted slice of bread.
Full spectrum, root extract is an Ayurvedic supplement which has been used and studied for centuries for its role in reducing inflammation in the body. Inflammation, if left to fester, can be one of the leading causes of low mood.
Ayurvedic Tip:Easiest way to consume ashwaganda is in tablet form or as powder added to your smoothies.
Hopefully you find what suits your dosha best and are able to pair the right spices with your diet and the current season as well to maximize the benefits of Ayurveda.
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