As spring weaves her magic across the land, we begin to wake from our winter slumber. Winter is a season for slowing down and going inward, whereas spring is a period of growth and looking outwards. The warmer days mean we spend more time outside and our bodies need lighter food during this transition. Our digestive system can be sluggish after a long winter and needs support during this period.
If you want to increase your digestive fire, then incorporate these five culinary spices into your food this spring.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
Cardamom is a warming and a slightly stimulating spice and helps to remove any excess mucus from the system. It has a long history as a digestive aid and can help reduce heartburn, bloating, and gas. In India, cardamom is known as the ‘queen of spices’ due to the many medicinal benefits associated with this herb. Just the smell of cardamom activates the taste buds which in turn leads to the secretion of digestive enzymes. Cardamom also supports the secretion of bile within the stomach which is important in absorbing fat and fat-soluble vitamins. Research has shown that cardamom has antispasmodic properties which helps ease cramping in the stomach.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Coriander is a bitter and warming spice that can be used fresh or dried. It’s a carminative so helps to soothe the digestive system and relieve bloating, gas and indigestion. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the leaves of coriander are used to help stimulate the appetite, and to strengthen the stomach and spleen. The seeds of coriander are also known to help relieve nausea, cramping and constipation. Coriander supports the productive of digestive enzymes and also creates a beneficial environment for good gut bacteria to flourish. You can add the seeds of coriander to soups and curries or sprinkle some of the flavorsome leaves over any food you like!
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)
Cumin seeds are easy to add to many dishes and they are slightly warming, pungent and bitter. Cumin seeds are known as an enzymatic carminative; therefore, they help the body break down and efficiently absorb nutrients. The seeds also help to relieve bloating and gas so is great combined with fennel seeds for a post-dinner drink. Cumin can also help relieve an upset stomach and can act as an antidiarrheal agent. Try incorporating cumin seeds into your diet if you suffer from IBS or any digestive discomfort.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger is an incredibly warming and pungent spice that is known in Ayurveda to greatly increase our Agni (digestive fire). Clinical research trials on ginger indicate that it can help reduce nausea and vomiting related to indigestion. There is also evidence that it can help relieve painful period cramps. Ginger is another carminative so will help reduce gas and bloating associated with IBS and indigestion. Research shows that ginger helps to stimulate the appetite. Add lots of ginger to your food if you are recovering from an illness and need some extra nutritional support.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric is antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and really helps support the digestive system. Turmeric helps the digestive system break down and absorb your food more easily. Thus, resulting in less gas, bloating, and discomfort. Research into turmeric has shown positive results in helping reduce IBS symptoms and that is has a positive impact on the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. To enhance the active ingredient of Turmeric (curcumin) it is advised to add black pepper to the mix. The piperine in black pepper helps your body absorb more of the curcumin.
Spring is the time of year to introduce lighter foods to your diet. It’s also the perfect time of year to introduce a light cleanse for our digestive system. An Ayurvedic kitchari cleanse is a good place to start. I love this gentle cleanse as it means I can eat actual food during the cleanse, rather than exist on a liquid diet. Kitchari is a staple from Ayurvedic cooking and helps boost a sluggish digestive system after the winter months. A mono-nutrient cleanse like kitchari gives our digestive system a break from having to digest lots of different food.
You can do a kitchari cleanse for just one day or of for up to three days at a time. It’s pretty simple, you only eat kitchari for every meal. Make sure to drink lots of water to flush your system during the days that you are completing your cleanse.
Healing Kitchari Recipe – 3 portions
200g yellow mung dal, 100g white basmati rice, 2 tbsp of coconut oil, 1.5 liters of water.
1tbsp black pepper, 1tbsp ground coriander, 1tbsp ground cumin, 1 tbsp of fennel seeds, 1 tbsp of turmeric, 1tbsp fresh ginger, 1tsp of sea salt, 1tsp of mustard seeds, 1 tsp of cumin seeds, 3 cardamom pods- cracked open, 2 cloves, 2 bay leaves.
For the topping
A handful of fresh coriander
1 carrot and 2 cups of spinach. (optional)
- Rinse the mung dal and rice until the water runs clear.
- Measure out all of the spices into a cup and mix together.
- Heat the coconut oil in a large pot. Add all of the spices and fry together on a medium heat for a minute until fragrant. Be careful here not to burn your spices at this stage!
- Stir in the mung dal and rice. Add your water, bring to the mix to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, placing the lid on.
- Cook for at least 40 minutes (longer if using whole green mung beans), or until the dal and rice are completely soft. You want the kitchari to have a porridge-like consistency. Add more water as you go, if necessary.
- Once ready, adjust the seasoning to your taste and add the fresh coriander to the top of your dish.
- If you like, top with steamed veggies such as carrot or spinach.
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Photo: Hilary Hahn via Unsplash