If you know anything about Ayurveda (or chinese medicine) you know that cooking your food is of the essence digestively. But the repertoire of American cooking lacks cooked (or at least hot) beverages that are satiating liquid meals. Luckily other cultures have caught on to the convenience and benefits of these ‘fast food’ meals.

Below I have included raw, cooked, warm and not-too-cold recipes, and recipes with and without milk products. If you have any digestive disorders avoid the raw recipe (walnut shake) or toast the nuts before you use them. The ‘lightest’ of these smoothie-stand-in’s is Yusha.  Yusha is not a smoothie at all but a light savory soup. It is easy to make over-night in a crock pot then take with you in a thermos for whenever you get hungry. It is light, delicious, nutritious and perfect for replacing a meal on the run!

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Walnut Shake

  • ½C walnuts soaked overnight

  • 3 large Dates

  • 1T honey

  • 1 pinch each: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom powder
    few drops of Vanilla

  • 1 ½C water

Pulse all ingredients in a blender for 2-3 minutes.

There are many variations of this easy drink to try. A splash of rose water is delightful, different types of nuts or seeds can be used as long as they are soaked (avoid cashews and peanuts as they are very heating and heavy). A pinch of salt will bring out the flavors. I might be interesting to try a savory version too.

 

Takra or Seasoned Buttermilk

Takra is typically served after lunch to counter the symptoms of IBS and related digestive disorders by increasing assimilation of nutrients and reducing post-meal discomfort. But a mid morning sweet takra (savory is also good) is much like a lassi: nourishing, digestion improving and light to digest.

  • 1C Whole Milk Yogurt

  • 3C Water

  • splash of rose water

  • 1 t raw honey

  • Season with a pinch or 2: Ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace etc

Whisk Water & Yogurt vigorously until a bubbly foam appears--3 minutes is ideal. This whisking is essential to transforming the yogurt (that is heavy, heating and phlemy) into the light digestive qualities of Takra. Don’t skip it!  Add salt and spices to your liking.

 

Sahlab

Sahlab is a delightful hot breakfast (and dessert) of the middle east. When visiting Palestine I was often in a cue of children outside the elementary school waiting while a street vender ladled steaming styrofoam cups of  sahlab out of a giant mobile cauldron, sprinkling each cup with chopped nuts and spices. Originally the taste and thickening agent came from regional orchid root bulbs. Now we use cornstarch, but rice flour would also be a good choice.

This is a drinkable version, but can be made thicker so it can be enjoyed with a spoon.

(4 serves)

  • 4 cups milk

  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (or fine rice flour)

  • 3 tablespoons sugar

  • 2 teaspoons rose water (or vanilla)

Toppings:

  • ground cinnamon

  • unsweetened dried shredded coconut

  • 2 tablespoons pistachio nuts or almonds; chopped fine

Mix the cornstarch with 1/2 cup of the milk.

Bring the remaining milk and sugar to a boil, then lower to a simmer.

Add the cornstarch mixture and the rose water, stir to loosen up any starch that settled on the bottom.

Cook on low heat until it comes to a boil, stirring constantly.

Serve in individual cups. Scatter chopped pistachios over the surface of each cup; sprinkle with cinnamon and coconut.

 

 

Muhallabieh

This pudding is a favorite of Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, Palestinian, and Egyptian children. I have reduced the sugar to make a liquid breakfast cereal suitable for a thermos. Rice may be purchased already ground or crushed at home with a mortar and pestle or electric blender.

  • 4c whole milk

  • 1/4c rice: ground (or rice cereal)

  • 3/4c water

  • 1/4c sugar

  • 1 teaspoon ma'ez zahr (orange blossom essence)

  • 1/4c chopped toasted almonds, pine nuts or pistachios

Mix rice with water and add to milk which has been brought to a boil.

Stir and cook until thickened and then add sugar.

Continue cooking and stirring until mixture coats the spoon.

Add flavorings and boil a few minutes longer.

Pour into individual serving dishes and decorate with chopped nuts.

 

Suff; Ethiopian Sunflower Seed drink

This drink is nourishing, filling, and refreshing. Traditionally consumed during Lent or fasting days Suff makes a great between-meal snack or meal replacer.  Several beverages based on seeds (sunflower, flax and sesame)  are made in Ethiopia. You can use this recipe with any of these seeds.

Some recipes call for fresh ginger to be added but I like it with  a pinch of cinnamon and just a bit of honey.

  • 1\2 cup sunflower seeds

  • honey (as required) or sugar (as desired)

  • 3 cups water

Rinse and drain seeds (this is not necessary if you are using sesame or flax seeds).

Roast the seeds in a dry pan till they smell toasty.

Grind seeds until smooth in a blender or food processor with a little water.

Add the rest of the water, blend until very smooth.

Add honey and spices.

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walnut-date-shake.png

To reiterate the reasons for avoiding smoothies (as they are usually made):

  • Cold: indigestible and damaging to the digestive fire

  • Raw: indigestible and create fodder for parasites

  • Terrible food combinations (fruit with milk or yogurt, fruit with veggies etc, protein powder and other desiccated supplements)  cause digestive confusion and poor absorption. If you persist they will contribute to dysfunction in the blood and marrow  which can translate as fatigue, lethargy, sensitivity to cold. etc

  • Despite the ‘nutrients’ in smoothies you will not get the benefits when you consume food raw, cold (esp frozen!), and in poorly combined forms. Smoothies produce ama (indigestible waste) in most people (want proof: check the tongues of people who you see in Jamba Juice for thick white coatings!).

If you are an Ayurvedic adherent you have heard of the perils of smoothies. There are a number of reasons that a person who wants a long, happy and healthy life will eschew smoothies. Yet smoothies are easy to make, tasty and satisfying, convenient to carry with you, and a delivery system for all sorts of nutrition supplements. Liquid breakfasts are ideal for those of us who are not hungry enough for a meal before we leave the house but wish to avoid the temptations of a midmorning scone. Luckily there are ‘smoothie replacements’ that do not offend the rules of Ayurveda and will supply you with the benefits and convenience that smoothies do.

See my next post for recipes!


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I love it when the modern science backs up the ancient science of Ayurveda.

Here Neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel explains how we would not have evolved into the ever-so-advanced species that we are without having discovered cooking. Without the technology of cooking we would have to spend a full half of our time chewing food. Not an efficient use to time for a smart ape. We are primates but we are not monkeys and this is one of the clearest explanations I have heard of how we became human.


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  Most of us think we should be leaner. A few of you have the opposite issue and are working on bulking up. No one is immune to worry about weight.

Most of us think we should be leaner. A few of you have the opposite issue and are working on bulking up. No one is immune to worry about weight.

In general Ayurveda doesn’t care what your weight is if everything is working properly (but it doesn’t take much to have weight issues to make us feel less vigorous). Much of what Ayurveda says about what we would call ‘the issue of weight’ is actually about building weight and  strength. 2000 years ago people were more likely to be over-active and undernourished than us moderns. But as Classical Ayurveda (what was written down) primarily addressed the courtly and warrior classes there is also knowledge about how to avoid excess heaviness. The rich have always suffered from overly rich food, more psychological than physical stresses, and laxity in daily routine (it’s hard to be a lazy serf!).

 

5 Things to do if you want to (healthily) gain weight (don’t do these things if you want to lose!):

1.     Sleep in the afternoon, especially after eating. Napping increases bulk (ie Kapha) — generally over-sleeping increases weight.

2.     Drink liquids after you eat: liquid dilutes your digestive fire (agni) and slows down the digestion process.

3.     Eat heavier, sweeter, starchier, more nourishing foods. This is the diet of a person who does a lot of physical activity and is trying to build tissues and especially muscles. Foods to prioritize:

- meat (especially chicken, fish, beef, and pork)

- wheat products, and other refined grains

- Urad dhal: a tasty small black bean used in many south Indian snacks like idly and dosa, also used in the light bean soup called dahl. Also known for making your bosom bigger.

- raisins: considered good for muscle development.

(note: many of these food requirements are also aphrodisiac as healthy weight is required to be fertile and sexual).

4.     Drink beer. Actually the texts say drink sura or varuni. Both are sweet beverages said to be like beer (perhaps bubbly) made of rice, herbs, and dates or jaggary. Unlike the sharp, heating, & light drinks like vodka or whisky which in small doses increase digestion and assimilation sweet drinks are said to increase fat weight.

5.     Don’t exercise so actively — or even move around very much. If you are a thin fidgety person and you want to build weight channel your kinetic energy into strength building exercise like weight lifting, Iyengar - type Yoga or other vata calming activity.


7 Things to do if you want to (healthily) lose weight:

1.     Make Honey your main sweetener. Get rid of all other sweeteners (especially artificial!) and use a dab of honey when you need a bit of sweet. Honey is light and a bit astringent so very good for countering overweight conditions. Just remember never to heat your honey—it becomes a poison over 125 degrees or so.

2.      Stop consuming anything cold. This especially applies to iced beverages but also any other cold food.

3.     Drink hot water instead.  Ginger and tumeric tea will be especially helpful. But don’t drink too much liquid: pay attention to your thirst and don’t overdo it. Most overweight people are carrying a lot of water weight and swelling due to being incapable of digesting all the liquid they consume to dampen their hunger.

4.     Have more sex. I know a Vaidya who insists on patients having sex when working on weight loss. This may seem like putting the cart before the horse (ie I’ll have more sex after I lose weight) but sex is the best exercise for losing weight so get started today!

5.     Don’t snack. Sit down at a table and eat as much healthy, delicious food as you need to feel satisfied, then have a pinch of fennel seeds (try an unsweetened mukvas from an Indian store) and don’t put another thing into your mouth until the next meal 3-6 hours later. It is important not to eat any less than 3 hours before bed too.

6.     Wake up earlier—take advantage of the active Vata time of the early morning and get up at 6 am or earlier.

7.     Don’t eat breakfast. When you do get hungry have a light snack of tea and toast with ghee. Make lunch time your largest meal of the day & use the agni or fire of midday to help metabolize your meal quickly and efficiently.

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This is an Indian drink: sweet, creamy, and flavored with nuts, cardamom, fennel, rose petals, and poppy seeds. Traditionally this would be made with whole milk-- the nuts and seeds alone make a milky drink that is dairy- free and so can be combined with other foods.
  • ⅓ C almonds
  • 3 T sunflower
  • 3 T hemp seeds
  • 3 T poppy seeds
  • 3.5 T raw cashews or other nuts
  • 4 C water
  • 1 C raw sugar
  • 1 t fennel seeds
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 10 green cardamom pods
  • 1 - 1" stick cinnamon
  • few strands of saffron
  • 20 rose petals, more for garnish

Combine almonds, seeds, cashews, and pistachios with 2 cups of water; soak for 1 hour. Remove and discard skins from almonds and pistachios if needed. Drain nuts and seeds; set aside.

Bring water to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan. Add sugar and saffron, stirring until sugar is dissolved; set aside. Toast the fennel, peppercorns, cardamom and cinnamon in an skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 4 minutes; let cool slightly. Transfer spices to a food processor, along with the nut mixture, medicated ghee, 1 tbsp water, and rose petals. Puree to a smooth paste. Whisk paste into water, and strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on solids. Refrigerate strained mixture until chilled or serve warm. Divide between serving glasses; garnish with grated nutmeg and rose petals, if you like.


Recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine (as usual)

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Categoriesfoods & recipes

It is always interesting to consider ‘nutrition’ from an ayurvedic perspective. Of course Ayurveda does not have a concept of vitamins, minerals, calories, and nutrients etc as modern science does. So we had to consider other ways to navigate what is a good everyday food and what foods should be saved for special occasions. 

 Get the nourishment you need in your food first.

Get the nourishment you need in your food first.

Ayurveda considers not just what is ‘nutritious’ but what is digestible and sustainable. The deeper qualities or gunas of foods and ways of preparing foods determine how good it will be for long term health.

The tools that Ayurveda uses to distinguish between everyday foods vs. special treats are more simple than you might think. These guidelines are healthy for everybody, regardless of dosha or disorder:

  • Freshly cooked; not left-over, frozen, canned, boxed, bottled or stale

  • Not raw or cold

  • Prioritize what your ancestors ate & what grows in the region you live.  Indigenous cuisines harmonize energetically, nutritionally, and medicinally for the climate and conditions of the region.

  • Pleasantly spiced

  • Moist (not too dry, including liquid and oil moisture)

  • Listen to what your body says: if you feel bloated or heavy, uncomfortable, or sleepy after you eat something you ate was too heavy (or too much!) for your digestion.

Foods that are mild and satisfying in taste are your staples, like grains and beans and roots.  The nourishing and nurturing qualities of these foods are inherent in foods are due to the predominance of earth and water elements in them. These ‘staples’ should make up 2/3 of what you eat. The remaining 1/3 is up to you: veggies, meats, sauces, spices, treats, fruits, and dairy.

  • Grains: Rice & wheat are considered the best for a long life. White rice is easier to digest than brown. Eat bread if your ancestors did; if it is freshly baked. Minimise highly refined flour products like pastries and pastas. Barley is great for weight loss. Other healthy choices include: Kamut, Buckwheat, Millet, Teff, Hominy, Wild rice, Quinoa...

  • Beans: Split Yellow Mung beans are the easiest & fastest to cook & digest. All legumes will increase Vata (produce gas and dryness), especially Chickpeas, that is why they are always cooked with lots of oil, garlic, or Asophatida/Hing. Try: aduki, lentils of all sorts, fava, yellow  and green split peas, black beans, black-eyed peas, or my favorite: refried beans.

  • Vegetables: Squash (summer & winter types) are the best! Sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, okra are good choices.  Try cooked radish or kohlrabi or turnip. Foods that take longer to grow have a stable quality (good if you want to age slowly). Consequently green leafy vegetables are to be kept to a minimum if you want a long life and no parasites. Try some less common root veggies: yam, taro, lotus, yucca. Avoid tomatoes & potatoes (south american-- but sweet potato is fine). Peas, beans, and the brassicas can cause Vata (ie gas) so prepare with a little hing and ghee. Cook & spice all vegetables.

  • Meat: Goat & wild (or ranched) meats are best. Fish should be limited unless your ancestors ate a lot of it. Generally keep flesh eating to a minimum. Light meat broth is ideal for recovering from illnesses or when stressed and for vegetarians needing extra nourishment.

  • Season Everything: spices augment digestion. They increase your absorption and assimilation of foods. Most spices are best sauteed or roasted to release their flavor & nutritional value rather than used raw. Try:  cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, thyme and fennel, ginger (fresh or dried), hing, sage, rosemary, nutmeg, saffron, paprika, lemon zest...! If cooking with spices is new to you try to limit yourself to 3 per dish. Here are a few combinations to begin with: paprika, thyme, lemon zest / cumin, coriander, fennel / fenugreek, mustard seeds, coriander / fresh hot peppers, cilantro, lime juice / fresh basil, oregano, black pepper….

  • Ghee & other oils: Ghee is the only oil that improves digestion. The others can be delicious and useful but will be heating and heavy to digest (except butter which is very heavy to digest and cooling). The less refined the better. Try: sesame, coconut, olive, and peanut. If you are very physically active animal fats will be good for you.

  • Milk: Cow or goat, un-homogenized, organic, un-ultra-pasteurized, and raw if you can get it. Always heat milk, always drink it alone (drinking with salt, sour taste, or fish constitute a bad combination and will damage digestion). If you missed dinner time but are hungry have a glass of warm milk with cinnamon, cardamom, & nutmeg.

  • Sweeteners: Generally sweeteners should be kept to a minimum. Honey should be had daily (in modest doses, and never heated).  Use sugars that are less refined like jaggery, maple syrup, or demerara.

  • Fruits are good for between meal snacks & eaten alone. Try a baked apple! Pomegranates are especially good end of summer cleansers. Bananas are heavy, cold, and phlem-y so avoid them if you have asthma, bronchitis, allergies, etc.  Dried fruit are good in small quantities.

  • Liquids: Never drink iced drinks, especially with meals; they will make you fat. A cup of water or tea with meals is good. Drink when you are thirsty; not when you are bored or tired.

  • Good snacks when you are hungry: fresh local fruit, a cup of warm milk or chai, fresh bread with butter, fresh baked cookie or cracker, handful of toasted nuts, dried fruit, seeds (sesame, pumpkin, sunflower)

Foods to avoid:

  • Raw foods, including juices. If your digestion is strong a small glass of fresh juice is fine.

  • Anything cold or iced.

  • Tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, sprouts are not great

  • Yogurt is nefarious (hot, clogging, mucous forming).

  • Bad food combinations:

    • milk with fruit

    • milk with fish

    • milk with anything with salt in it (Latte & croissant are out)

    • fruit should be eaten alone and not with other foods

 

  • Fermented or aged foods; cheese, vinegar, alcohol, sauerkraut, chutney, pickles, miso, etc should be eaten in small doses only.

  • Leftovers: anything that was not recently cooked, packaged & prepared foods, milk substitutes, energy bars, powdered mixes, bread (or anything) that has been frozen, canned, or preserved with chemicals.

  • Anything with fake ingredients, chemicals, or things you can’t pronounce.

  • Things that don’t taste good to you.

 

 

 

The tools that Ayurveda uses to distinguish between everyday foods vs. special treats are more simple than you might think. These guidelines are healthy for everybody, regardless of dosha or disorder:

  • Freshly cooked; not left-over, frozen, canned, boxed, bottled or stale

  • Not raw or cold

  • Prioritize what your ancestors ate & what grows in the region you live.  Indigenous cuisines harmonize energetically, nutritionally, and medicinally for the climate and conditions of the region.

  • Pleasantly spiced

  • Moist (not too dry, including liquid and oil moisture)

  • Listen to what your body says: if you feel bloated or heavy, uncomfortable, or sleepy after you eat something you ate was too heavy (or too much!) for your digestion.

Foods that are mild and satisfying in taste are your staples, like grains and beans and roots.  The nourishing and nurturing qualities of these foods are inherent in foods are due to the predominance of earth and water elements in them. These ‘staples’ should make up 2/3 of what you eat. The remaining 1/3 is up to you: veggies, meats, sauces, spices, treats, fruits, and dairy.

  • Grains: Rice & wheat are considered the best for a long life. White rice is easier to digest than brown. Eat bread if your ancestors did; if it is freshly baked. Minimise highly refined flour products like pastries and pastas. Barley is great for weight loss. Other healthy choices include: Kamut, Buckwheat, Millet, Teff, Hominy, Wild rice, Quinoa...

  • Beans: Split Yellow Mung beans are the easiest & fastest to cook & digest. All legumes will increase Vata (produce gas and dryness), especially Chickpeas, that is why they are always cooked with lots of oil, garlic, or Asophatida/Hing. Try: aduki, lentils of all sorts, fava, yellow  and green split peas, black beans, black-eyed peas, or my favorite: refried beans.

  • Vegetables: Squash (summer & winter types) are the best! Sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, asparagus, cabbage, eggplant, okra are good choices.  Try cooked radish or kohlrabi or turnip. Foods that take longer to grow have a stable quality (good if you want to age slowly). Consequently green leafy vegetables are to be kept to a minimum if you want a long life and no parasites. Try some less common root veggies: yam, taro, lotus, yucca. Avoid tomatoes & potatoes (south american-- but sweet potato is fine). Peas, beans, and the brassicas can cause Vata (ie gas) so prepare with a little hing and ghee. Cook & spice all vegetables.

  • Meat: Goat & wild (or ranched) meats are best. Fish should be limited unless your ancestors ate a lot of it. Generally keep flesh eating to a minimum. Light meat broth is ideal for recovering from illnesses or when stressed and for vegetarians needing extra nourishment.

  • Season Everything: spices augment digestion. They increase your absorption and assimilation of foods. Most spices are best sauteed or roasted to release their flavor & nutritional value rather than used raw. Try:  cumin, turmeric, coriander, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, thyme and fennel, ginger (fresh or dried), hing, sage, rosemary, nutmeg, saffron, paprika, lemon zest...! If cooking with spices is new to you try to limit yourself to 3 per dish. Here are a few combinations to begin with: paprika, thyme, lemon zest / cumin, coriander, fennel / fenugreek, mustard seeds, coriander / fresh hot peppers, cilantro, lime juice / fresh basil, oregano, black pepper….

  • Ghee & other oils: Ghee is the only oil that improves digestion. The others can be delicious and useful but will be heating and heavy to digest (except butter which is very heavy to digest and cooling). The less refined the better. Try: sesame, coconut, olive, and peanut. If you are very physically active animal fats will be good for you.

  • Milk: Cow or goat, un-homogenized, organic, un-ultra-pasteurized, and raw if you can get it. Always heat milk, always drink it alone (drinking with salt, sour taste, or fish constitute a bad combination and will damage digestion). If you missed dinner time but are hungry have a glass of warm milk with cinnamon, cardamom, & nutmeg.

  • Sweeteners: Generally sweeteners should be kept to a minimum. Honey should be had daily (in modest doses, and never heated).  Use sugars that are less refined like jaggery, maple syrup, or demerara.

  • Fruits are good for between meal snacks & eaten alone. Try a baked apple! Pomegranates are especially good end of summer cleansers. Bananas are heavy, cold, and phlem-y so avoid them if you have asthma, bronchitis, allergies, etc.  Dried fruit are good in small quantities.

  • Liquids: Never drink iced drinks, especially with meals; they will make you fat. A cup of water or tea with meals is good. Drink when you are thirsty; not when you are bored or tired.

  • Good snacks when you are hungry: fresh local fruit, a cup of warm milk or chai, fresh bread with butter, fresh baked cookie or cracker, handful of toasted nuts, dried fruit, seeds (sesame, pumpkin, sunflower)

Foods to avoid:

  • Raw foods, including juices. If your digestion is strong a small glass of fresh juice is fine.

  • Anything cold or iced.

  • Tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, sprouts are not great

  • Yogurt is nefarious (hot, clogging, mucous forming).

  • Bad food combinations:

    • milk with fruit

    • milk with fish

    • milk with anything with salt in it (Latte & croissant are out)

    • fruit should be eaten alone and not with other foods

 

  • Fermented or aged foods; cheese, vinegar, alcohol, sauerkraut, chutney, pickles, miso, etc should be eaten in small doses only.

  • Leftovers: anything that was not recently cooked, packaged & prepared foods, milk substitutes, energy bars, powdered mixes, bread (or anything) that has been frozen, canned, or preserved with chemicals.

  • Anything with fake ingredients, chemicals, or things you can’t pronounce.

  • Things that don’t taste good to you.

 

 

Medicate and Thrive:

Cannabis is potent medicine. As with all good things cannabis use requires a balance of conscious attention and intelligent action.

Here’s how to get the most healing out of your medicine:

  • Natural. Always choose outdoor grown and organic varieties for the best long-term medication.

  • Move! Use your medicine to experience your body and the world more deeply rather than as a way to check out. Stretch, do yoga, go for a walk, garden, wrestle, play stickball !

  • Freshness counts! Get your food at the farmer’s markets, bulk bins, produce aisle, and restaurants that cook fresh daily! Avoid anything bagged, boxed, frozen, canned, dehydrated, 3-day left-overs etc.

  • Schedule! Eat lunch and dinner at the same time every day (1pm and 7 pm are ideal) to keep digestion strong, avoid energy & weight fluctuations, minimise spacey forgetfulness, and even insomnia.

  • Hydrate! Cannabis is drying, eroding to tissues & rough so use healthy liquids and oils to keep you juicy and flexible.

    • Good Oil (ghee, butter, coconut oil!) helps avoid cravings for bad foods.  Massage your skin with oil (raw sesame) before showers to protect skin, help sleep, digest better, and be more grounded.

    • Thirsty? Drink cooling juice: pomegranate, aloe, licorice, & grape for dry mouth & as a healthy way to satisfy sweet cravings. Hot tea: ginger, tulsi, or rose refresh and keep digestion strong.

Milk (whole, organic, unhomogenized) balances cannabis’ dry heat and tissue depletion. Always drink milk warm with spices: ginger, clove, cinnamon. Nutmeg will help with sleep.

If you have been in my office you know of my tendency to scribble notes to myself on colored post-its. Today I went through a stack of these post-its from the last few months and I noticed a theme: tips from my clients about how to eat healthier with less work or stress. 

This is a big struggle for those of us who try to incorporate Classical Ayurvedic principals into our everyday lives without having to sacrifice other activities (and without having to order an Auntie or Maushi from India to do our cooking!). 

Here are a few tips from my post-its (thanks to those of you who came up with these ideas!) and a few I have figured out over the years:

  • www.blueapron.com This company makes cooking at home easy; they deliver to your door ingredients and recipes to make gourmet healthy meals. You can order as many meals a week as you like and indicate veg or non-veg and they try to get as much local and sustainable ingredients as possible. I am told that the recipes are sophisticated (for us costal foodies) and yet not overwhelming for beginners, delicious, and always fresh 'cause you make it yourself! 
  • www.goodeggs.com If you are in the SF Bay or Brooklyn (and soon LA and NO) you can order farm-to-you fresh products online and pick them up the next day all packed and ready to go! This is a brilliant weaving of local sustainable food culture with technology. The selection changes daily so get the shmaltz (chicken fat) when you see it!). I will never run out of half-n-half again!
  • Get a thermos! You can get great ones at Ikea and in the kitchenwares area at Koreana Market in Oakland. Make a pot of Dahl with veggies in the morning as you are getting ready for work and keep it warm till lunch. Just buy a fresh roll and you have a great fresh lunch!
  • Slow cookers; so many choices to cook while you sleep\work\play! Cook a whole meal with this one, take lunch to work and avoid the microwave with this cute food carrier and warmer, and if you spend a lot of time in you vehicle there is this food heater that plugs into the cigarette lighter!
  • Eternally my favorite way to make cooking easier (and still getting a nourishing, fresh, and delicious dinner): rice and beans (no cheese, no sour cream) and 2 buche or lengua tacos at my taqueria: Los Pericos #5 in San Leandro. 

Any other great tips for eating fresh, healthy, and warm while on the run?

Cannabis and Ayurveda

canna tea.jpg

What every patient should know about healing with cannabis

Here in California (pre legalization) we refer to using marijuana euphemistically with words like: medicate or heal. For instance you might say: ‘ I always keep my medicine with me; I never know when I might need to heal’ or  ‘The brownies in the fridge are medicated’. It is a bit of a joke for those that use marijuana recreationally and dead serious for people who use marijuana to manage symptoms of medical conditions. The reality of marijuana as medicine is an interesting one and considering how widespread marijuana use is, worth consideration from an alternative health perspective.

The legitimacy that marijuana currently enjoys is due to the medical marijuana movement and is both heartening and discouraging to those of us who practice healing sciences. As an ayurveda practitioner\marijuana grower I met at an ayurveda conference said: ‘Marijuana is a gateway medicine to holistic, especially herbal, medicine!’. My clinical practice, consultations with patients of a medical marijuana dispensary in San Francisco, and personal experience indicate this is a ‘medicine’ that needs some management to actualize its healing potential and justify the medical nomenclature.

Ayurveda says: Everything that exists can be medicine.

Cannabis is no exception. It is considered the least problematic of the ‘intoxicant’ substances; a poison which can be used to great benefit by humans.

It is in the tradition of the great texts of ayurveda to approach complex and appealing substances first with pages of glowing praise followed by so many warnings and restrictions that only the most intrepid would not be daunted. This is the pattern I will follow in this article.

Vijaya: The Conqueror

Sanskrit synonyms for cannabis imply its potency for transformation:  "soother of grief," "the sky flyer," "the poor man's heaven" , vijaya or victory in conquest, and a dozen other glowing euphemisms. Cannabis Sativa is indigenous to India; the earliest known cultivation dated 900BC.

The positive qualities of marijuana facilitate conversation, encourage social relationships, support physical awareness, highlight a deep enjoyment of life, and elevate social contact, art, and pleasure above other (perhaps less important) pursuits. These characteristics allows cannabis to be very effective where depression and isolation are primary concerns. As is testified to by the prevalence of cannabis in poorer communities all over the world cannabis proffers grace to living in adverse circumstances.

Today in India cannabis is used in spiritual practice and rituals, taken as a sacrament on specific holidays, for use on an ascetic path, as a training aid to wrestlers, and until the last century, quite broadly used medically and recreationally by various levels of society. Cannabis is found in over 80 traditional Ayurvedic formulas, several of which are available in pharmacies in India today. It is effective for pain, digestive disorders, dysentery, sexual prowess, and a dozen other medical uses known to ancient ayurveda.

The qualities inherent in the herb are responsible for its actions in the body include: heating (ushna), drying (ruksha), and astringent (kshaya--due to it’s bitter taste). It penetrates the tissues quickly (tikshna) and has the quality of lightness (laghu).  

  • Heat increases digestive ability and relaxes the tissues to relieve pain and anxiety. But heat can also cause trouble with the blood and liver with long-term effects seen also on skin and connective tissue integrity.

  • Dry and astringent qualities can benefit glaucoma, swelling, and diabetes symptoms, but lead to constipation and dehydration of the skin (and other organs).

  • Dry, hot and penetrating qualities have a long-term negative impact on our reproductive tissue (shukra dhatu) and vitality (Ojas in ayurvedia-ese) —especially diminishing energy levels, ability to heal, and reproductive strength (yes; that means sexual depletion). Overuse can lead to dry, weak, brittle tissues that are no longer are able to do their jobs.

  • Holding (grahi) is a quality that helps the body hold onto nourishment and increases assimilation (useful for IBS etc). This holding quality effects sexual performance in men by delaying orgasm, but at the same time cannabis increases sexual awareness and drive. Perhaps this complex effect on sexuality is due to another quality that encourages the proper flow of liquids in the body (atisara).

  • The qualities of ‘drunkenness’ (madam) and distortions of sense perceptions (moham) are noted.

  • Cannabis is also known to enhance the actions of the herbs it is used with.

Contemporary use extends the list of things that can be treated with cannabis to things like support during chemo treatment, relief from seizures, sleep problems, and PTSD. Weekly I hear of new ways that cannabis can be applied to the ills of the modern world. I find that those who are medicating for physical problems often take a proactive approach to their medicine. They regulate when and how they medicate, and with what sorts of flower strains, concentrates or edibles.

The Bad and the Ugly

In balance-based traditions like ayurveda, benefits must be supported by proper use. The stronger a medicine the more dramatically its qualities affect the body. Cannabis is strong medicine;  it is considered a poison. Cannabis can be hard to manage medically and is not for everyone. Wise use is based on moderation, processing and delivery methods, and staying alert to its effects both good and bad.

What is not mentioned in the ancient texts is that the cannabis plant is seductive compared to other herbs. Cannabis is enjoyable and compelling in ways that stop the patient from heeding negative effects. A Materia Medica of Indian herbalism published in 1941  does warn of the long- term effects of cannabis use. It is noted that it will lead to indigestion, tissue depletion, ‘melancholia and impotence.   In large doses it first produces mental exaltation, intoxication, a sense of double consciousness and finally loss of memory, gloommess (sic) etc.’  (THE INDIAN MATERIA MEDICA WITH AYURVEDIC, UNANI-Tibbi, Siddha, allopathic, homeopathic, naturopathic & HOME REMEDIES. 1941. R.N. Chopra.)

Unwanted effects that I’ve seen in my practice (with chronic users) include problems arising from the blood (and other tissues) being depleted by the drying, penetrating heat and inherent instability of the herb. Symptoms you might look for include: reddish and dry skin, skin problems (either long term or temporary sensitivity to irritants), varicose veins, easy bruising, and thinness of skin.  On a mental level over-sensitivity to stimulus and consequent irritability and stubbornness indicate that Rasa Dhatu is affected. Memory and focus are well known victims to long term use. Sleep and digestive problems can be well managed with cannabis; but can be exacerbated by it too. These symptoms of mis-use can be seen in the short term and are reversible with proper use and herbs, diet and lifestyle that balalces these qualities. Long term implications will vary along these lines based on the strengths and weaknesses in individual patients.

Many of these symptoms are made worse by smoking as the qualities of smoke are heating, penetrating, drying etc. Healthy edible forms of cannabis are a good choice. With classical Indian use of cannabis the herb (in many instances the whole plant and not just the high intensity flowers that we now use) is processed first in water for 24 hours, dried, then ‘decarbed’ in ghee (fried gently). The herb is then used (as with all Ayurvedic herbs) in formulas that balance the nature of marijuana have been used successfully over many generations. Even when used for recreational or spiritual purposes (rather than strictly medical) the herb is taken with other herbs or foods to make it more assimilable and less damaging to the body.

Extensive use will increase doshas or organizing principles of the body (especially Vata & Pitta). There is an easily seen effect of erosion of all tissues (dhatus) when used chronically. In combination these actions will have problematic long-term implications. All sorts of disorders can manifest when the doshas are increased and the tissues are weakened.

Beyond the effects of cannabis on the body are its effects on the mind. There are 3 characteristics of the mind in Ayurveda: tamas (delusion and lethargy), rajas (over-activity), and sattwa (calm, clear awareness). Cannabis increases tamas and rajas when not used properly and ‘clogs’ the mind. This is generally not a permanent condition and can be corrected if you follow a healthy protocol with use.

I urge strong caution to those with mental health challenges or a history of mental health problems in the family. I have seen too many tragedies in this regard. However I strongly feel that proper and moderate use can have great benefits for some mental health challenges like mild depression (esp based on isolation and social disease), ADHD and related issues. There is increasing evidence that Asperger’s symptoms can be made more manageable with correct use.

Forms used:

Cannabis is taken in 3 different forms in India. As the attitude towards cannabis has fluctuated greatly over time in India (largely due to Muslim and British colonizers) these definitions have morphed over the years depending on what is ‘legal’ and what is available.  Bhang is generally leaves cured in a specific way and typically boiled with milk and spices. Chara is resin, akin to kif or hash. Gangha is flowers, usually taken for pleasure but also made into many different medicines. Seeds and roots are used in some formulations as well. It is good to remember that these forms of cannabis are far less potent than what is easily available in the US either on the street or in state licensed dispensaries.

How to Medicate for health:

I have cross-pollinated my Ayurvedic knowledge of cannabis with a harm-reduction philosophy and this has lead me to develop a basic guideline to healthy(er) use.  This guide is helpful for those who are medicating regularly for physical complaints, to take the place of more dangerous drugs (both over the counter and illicit), or as a stress relieving measure.

How to Medicate:

Balance cannabis with other herbs and foods which have qualities and actions opposite to marijuana. Focus on cooling, moistening, stable, nourishing, mind and Ojas supporting foods and herbs. Avoid ingredients that are too heavy for you to digest. As always, eat what is freshly prepared, cooked, and enjoyed with love and pleasure.

  • Always choose outdoor grown and organic varieties for the best long-term medication. Indoor grown plants are usually full of chemicals and have limited medicinal use.

  • Modest Edibles are best. Medicinal use of cannabis in Ayurveda is always in edible form and often made into a confection. Our body most sustainably processes things that we eat and digest. Keep an eye out for organic healthy edibles or make them yourself.

  • Milk balances the negative qualities of cannabis quite effectively and counters the tamasic (lethargic)  and rajasic (aggressive) qualities with the sweet, conscious, alert quality of a Satvic mental  state.

    • Traditionally bhang is made by boiling leaves in milk with dates, sugar, saffron, cardamom, rose petals, and almond meal. Yum!

  • Ghee (clarified butter) is used in the traditional purification of cannabis. The freshly dried herb is fried lightly in ghee to bring out it’s healing properties. Ghee is the ideal oil: it increases your ability to digest and assimilate nourishment, it supports vitality and reproductive health, it keeps your tissues strong, cool (balances the burning heat of cannabis), protects the eyes and skin, and will give you an appealing glow! In my opinion no one should use cannabis and not have ghee regularly in their diet.

  • Satisfy cravings with grounding, nourishing, and moistening foods: Rice, oatmeal, raisins (counter dryness and constipation) and dates (supports reproductive health), fresh baked breads, cooked veggies, limited meat, and no fast food (or canned, bottled, frozen, dehydrated, microwaved, or left-over foods). The hot, dry, light quality of cannabis is balanced by the grounding, cooling and moistening effect of naturally sweet things like milk, dates, or sweet potatoes. When the munchies strike they tell us something about what our body needs; just remember to give it the healthiest version available!

  • Spices with cooling digestive qualities help your body get the most from what you eat and enhance the experience of eating. Try: cumin, coriander, fennel, cilantro, turmeric, anise, saffron, rose.

  • If you must smoke:  grind your cannabis with a pinch of powdered herbs like fennel, vacha (calamus), sandalwood, jasmine, saffron, licorice, jatamousi (indian spikenard), sasparilla (American or Indian) etc. Western herbs to try are mullein, catnip, or mugwort.

  • Pomegranate Juice is perfect for medicating. It quenches thirst and refreshes but is also great for the digestion and removes waste liquids from the tissues. It is especially good for people who tend to get swollen or bloated or have any history of parasites. Natural grape juice is also a good choice to help you stay hydrated.

  • Coconut water (ideally from an actual coconut) is best for people who’s digestion is strong and perfect for athletes or those who work with their body.

  • Licorice or Fennel Tea is cooling, soothing, softening to the body, great for your blood and skin.


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+ 2 inches lemon grass stalk, hard papery layers discarded, the rest coarsely chopped
+ 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped ginger
+ Salt to taste
+ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
+ 2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, also sold as yams
+ 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted and coarsely ground
+ 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted and coarsely ground
 
1. mortar and pestle the lemon grass and ginger with a generous pinch of salt to a coarse paste.
Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and work the ingredients together. Bring paste and oil to a very gentle sizzle over medium-low heat for 2 minutes and turn off the heat. Allow the mixture to steep for 30 minutes. Strain into a large bowl, pressing the ginger and lemon grass to extract all of the oil. 
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment and brush the parchment with olive oil. Cut the sweet potatoes into wedges – smaller sweet potatoes will yield 8 wedges, larger yield 16.
3. Toss the sweet potato wedges in the bowl with the oil. Add the ground cumin and coriander, and salt to taste, and toss till thoroughly coated with oil. Place on the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes (turn wedges after 10 min and again after 15 min).  Wedges should be tender when pierced and there should be some caramelized bits, especially at the thin tips. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before eating.
 
Yield: Serves 4

 

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Categoriesfoods & recipes

I got the flu last week. Despite being somewhat ashamed of myself for not taking better care of myself before I got sick, 

I was interested in the opportunity to experience ill health from the inside out. This is oddly refreshing for Ayurveda practitioners. Relying on the wisdom of Ayurvedic science is reassuringly efficient when treating the flu.

Last flu season I wrote this article about Ayurveda's take on Fever and how to care for yourself when you've come down with it.


Treating Fever (in a nutshell):

  • Stop.
    • Stop working and running around.  Take a nap. 
    • Stop eating. If you have been sick for a few days and are weak and tired some rice broth is good: Boil for 30 min: 1 T rice, 1 C water, pinch of salt, squeeze of lemon, cumin, coriander. 
  • Drink. Drink boiled water or tea when you are thirsty. Ginger tea is easy. Coriander & fennel will help resurrect your digestion & help you stay cool. 
  • Stay warm. Unless dangerously hot - forcing the fever down will make reoccurrence more likely.

Read more here...

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You Are What You Digest: Yoga Therapy & Ayurveda


Even if you know the in's and outs of Ayurvedic digestive health you will want to get a refresher!


Leela Yoga, Alameda
Saturday February 1st 2-5pm
 

  • Do you find yourself tired after meals? Lacking energy in general? Are you gassy or bloated? Belching more than normal? Are you a little ‘irregular’ without your kombucha or Activia®?
  • Both Classical Ayurveda and Yoga Therapy point to digestive health as essential to a healthy, long life! In this workshop, which includes discussion and movement, you'll earn hands-on skills in preserving, regaining, and maintaining digestive health including:
  • Learn Yoga sequences designed to correct digestive imbalances.
  • Take home a personal understanding of what you can do to feel better.

Please wear yoga-appropriate clothes. Come with questions about your personal digestive issues.

Early Registration: $25, Week of workshop: $35

Sign up here

Light Ayurvedic snack and tea will be provided, Ghee and Digestive formulas will be available for purchase.

LEELA YOGA
1708 LIncoln Ave, Alameda CA
510-814-3930
leelayogainfo@gmail.com

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It has been almost 2 weeks now since I returned to Oakland from 10 days at a Vipassana retreat in the desert. I am still processing what it all means and how to fit it into my life.

But so far here is what I learned at Vipassana that can apply to Ayurveda:

  • Oil an absolute necessity. Do abhyunga  (oil massage) at home or have it done for you often (and eat a lot of good fats and oils in cold dry weather).
  • Silence is an absolutely necessary. Removing the busyness of day to day life from the playpen of the mind  makes creative space to explore the nature of yourself. I can't say I was always thrilled with what I found out about myself. But I would not trade that awareness for anything.
  • Senses: Understanding the messages that your body is sending requires practice and focus. 10 days was only the start of deeply experiencing the actual physical sensations of my body (stripped of imagination, desires & aversions). This skill is key to all holistic health practices and needed to navigate the needs of your body. Furthermore the body is the exit door from the mind. How to quiet the infernal chatter that interrupts sensible action, keeps us up at night, stresses us out, and gets in the way of really experiencing life? Tune into the sensations of your body regularly. Just feel.
  •  Simplicity: We tell ourselves all sorts of stories about what we need. But what we really need is quite simple: warmth, a little food, affection. Life is not that complex and the simpler it is the richer it is as we are less likely to miss the important stuff.
  • Stale food is really bad for the digestion. I know everyone who reads this already knows. Food that is not freshly cooked is poisonous. Especially if you are doing nothing but sitting all day. I don't want to scare anyone off Vipassana; many people have said that they had good food on the retreat. I think it was a lesson in food humility for me...
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I realized after I sent my last post on Castor that there is so much more to tell about this amazing plant; and especially about the oil made from the seeds. So I must continue...

Castor oil is chakshushya or beneficial for the eyes. Put a drop in each eye before you go to bed to pull out dust and detritus. The next morning rinse your eyes with warm water to get rid of the impurities & stickiness. The oil will also pull out excess Pitta (heat and moisture) which is especially important when you spend all day at a screen or slaving over an open fire. You can also rub the oil on your feet; eyes and feet are related organs so this will help your eyes, soften and beautify your feet, and help you to feel grounded (great to do before bed!).

Castor plant is vrushya (good for re/productive health) and the oil is used in a couple of related ways. Menstrual cramps and clotting are eased with a teaspoon or 2 of oil taken nightly for the week preceding your period. Castor oil packs remedy cramps externally as the oil & heat soothe Vata & reduce the clamor of pain. Generously slather your abdomen with oil, cover with plastic wrap or an old towel then a hot water bottle. Hang out for half an hour.

Finally, internal and external use of Castor oil are beneficial in the last month of pregnancy (not earlier!). It makes joints and tissues more flexible and resilient and also has Ardho gamitwa or downward movement which assists in an easy and quick delivery.

Ayurveda says that Castor oil is beneficial to all tissues so can safely be used indefinitely. Even the FDA agrees; setting the level for regular use at a tablespoon a day. If you are inspired to try it start with 1/4 - 1/2 tsp a day at bedtime or before a meal (treating chronic constipation or skin issues for instance) then increase your dose until you get the desired results.

If someone you cook for is in need of Castor oil (but resistant to taking medicines) you can cook it into foods quite easily; just add it to your cooking oil. This is done widely in India to keep children eliminating regularly and free of parasites!

 

 This beautiful art is by Nancy Farmer

This beautiful art is by Nancy Farmer

Here's the recipe for my first  stew of the cool season. I wasn't measuring anything when I made it but it tasted so great that I am approximating so I can share. Warning thought: this is not  a recipe for people who do not have a sense of spicing; for that please see the previous goat or lamb stew recipes which are much more reliable. This culinary rif is inspired by a Peruvian Kid Stew I saw in Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel Presilla. 

  • 1 small goat roast; bone-in. Imagine other meat will work just as well.
  • 5 small cloves of garlic; chopped
  • 4 sticks of celery; coarsely chopped
  • half of a butternut squash; cut into large bite sized pieces

  • a shallot or 2; quartered
  • 2 T peanut oil or ghee
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of smoky paprika
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 4 allspice pods
  • 1 fist full of thyme from the window box
  • 1 small hot fresh red chili from the garden
  • one dried chili from the Mexican store; toasted first over a flame and broken into pieces.
  • 1 lime squeezed over the whole thing
  • salt to taste

First, salt and pepper the roast and set aside while chopping veggies and herbs. Turn the slow cooker to high and heat oil.

Chop celery, squash, and shallots separately. Add shallots and peppers to the slow cooker; sauté.  Add spices and toast till fragrant. Add the roast and snuggle the vegetables around it. Add water to the crock pot till it nearly covered the roast. Cook covered on high heat for as long as you have time (not more than 1 hour); turning the meat once or twice. Squeeze lime juice and add salt and pepper to taste. I added leftover rice from breakfast also at this point. Turn to medium (or low if you will be out a long time) and let cook until dinner, at least 2 hours. Enjoy with crusty bread and butter. Super delicious!

 

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