In Ayurveda, health is much more than the absence of disease; it is the dynamic integration of the body, mind, spirit, and environment. Herbal medicine offers a gentle approach to enhance this integration and correct subtle imbalances. For Kaphas, herbal remedies can be especially helpful for promoting detoxification and renewal.
Not a Kapha?
It’s important to keep in mind that Ayurveda does not support herbal allopathy, in which you take an herb to relieve symptoms without looking for the cause of the underlying imbalance. Herbs need to be used as part of a complete plan for mind-body balance. If your digestion is sluggish, an Ayurvedic doctor won’t simply prescribe aloe vera, gentian, or other herbs traditionally used to stimulate the digestive fire. Instead, you would be guided to look at your diet, exercise, and lifestyle—and make changes that address the root causes of your digestive issues, allowing you to return to your natural state of health and well-being.
With this Ayurvedic perspective in mind, let’s look at a few herbs that are particularly balancing for your predominant dosha, Kapha.
Composed of water and earth, the Kapha dosha is responsible for maintaining the structure and lubrication of your mind-body physiology. When Kapha becomes aggravated or excessive, you may experience congestion, sinus problems, weight gain, diabetes, excessive sleepiness, and fluid retention, among other symptoms. You can use herbs that have light, heating, and aromatic qualities as part of an overall Kapha-balancing lifestyle.
Turmeric (curcuma longa)
- Tastes: bitter, pungent, astringent
- Energetics: heating
Turmeric is a pharmacy unto itself. As a wealth of scientific studies has found, this golden spice contains potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that are valuable in preventing and treating a variety of diseases.
In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is an important detoxifying agent. Since it possesses the bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes and is mildly heating, it is useful in balancing excess Kapha in the mind-body system.
- Turmeric has a protective effect on the liver and can help reduce elevated blood cholesterol levels.
- In the treatment of arthritis, turmeric, when used alone or in combination with other herbs, can reduce pain and stiffness.
- Several studies in animals have demonstrated that turmeric can prevent or inhibit the development of certain cancer cells.
- Turmeric has a soothing effect on the digestive system and can help reduce the risk of ulcers due to stress or medication.
- As a natural antibiotic agent, turmeric can inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeast, and viruses.
One of the primary active ingredients in turmeric is curcumin. As researchers have found, the body does not easily absorb curcumin, but a chemical known as piperine in black pepper can increase the amount of curcumin your body can absorb. Turmeric and pepper are components of most curry powder blends. Studies by epidemiologists show that in India, where many people eat curry as part of their daily diet, the rates of Alzheimer’s disease are the lowest in the world. In the population of 70- to 79-year-olds, the rate is less than 25 percent of that in the United States. Scientists hypothesize that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of curcumin may help explain the low rate of Alzheimer’s in India. You can enjoy the benefits of this natural healing ingredient in soups, sautéed vegetables, and other delicious dishes.
A safe dose of turmeric for anyone is 500 mg, twice daily. Some studies show that turmeric is safe at much higher doses; however, it is important to consult with your health care provider before taking higher doses.
Ginger (zingiber officinale)
- Taste: pungent
- Energetics: heating
Ginger is a pungent, aromatic herb that has long been used in traditional healing systems to improve digestion and alleviate nausea, intestinal gas, and menstrual cramps. Modern scientific studies have found that ginger contains powerful anti-inflammatory phytonutrients known as gingerols, as well as strong antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
Known for its concentrated heating potency, ginger is often used in Ayurveda to treat Kapha disorders such as sinus congestion, sluggish digestion, and obesity. Ginger strengthens the digestive fire or Agni and helps remove accumulated toxins. Here are just a few of the recent findings about ginger’s benefits in restoring and maintaining balance and health:
- Consuming ginger on a regular basis can help reduce pain levels and swelling in people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Ginger inhibits the activation of several genes involved in the inflammatory response.
- Researchers have found that ginger contains specific compounds that may bind to human serotonin receptors, which may help to alleviate anxiety.
- Ginger is effective in preventing the symptoms of motion sickness, including nausea, dizziness, and vomiting.
- Small doses of ginger can also help relieve nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy, without the adverse side effects associated with anti-nausea drugs.
- Studies suggest that ginger may also be helpful in stabilizing metabolism, including reducing the risk of diabetes.
- Ginger may inhibit the growth of some kinds of human cancer cells, including colorectal cancer cells.
It’s better to use fresh ginger rather than dried in the form of the spice, not only because it will have a superior flavor but also because fresh ginger contains greater levels of gingerol and other anti-inflammatory compounds. If you do need to use dried ginger powder, try to find an organically grown product that has not been irradiated.
Taking one gram of powdered ginger is good for inflammatory conditions. Since ginger acts as a blood thinner, it’s important to taper off usage for two weeks before surgery. In addition, if you are undergoing chemotherapy, consult your doctor before taking ginger at medicinal doses.
- Tastes: sweet, sour, pungent, bitter, astringent
- Energetics: neutral (heating and cooling). Amalaki is cooling, while bibhitaki and haritaki are heating.
Triphala is an herbal blend made from the fruits of three trees that grow in India and the Middle East (the Sanskrit term triphala means “three fruits”). The fruits are dried, ground into powder, and blended in a precise manner developed by the ancient herbalists. It balances the Kapha dosha as well as Vata and Pitta. It also contains five of the six tastes, lacking only the salty taste. The herbs that comprise triphala have potent healing and purifying properties.
Amalaki (emblica officinalis), commonly known as Indian gooseberry or amla, is considered one of the best rejuvenating herbs in Ayurveda. It has traditionally been used to treat skin diseases, lung conditions, diabetes, and indigestion. Amalaki is a strong natural antioxidant containing high levels of vitamin C. In India, amalaki is known as the “nurse herb” because it strengthens the immune system and cools the body, balancing the Pitta dosha.
Haritaki (terminalia chebula) has the strongest laxative powers of the three fruits contained in triphala. In Tibet, haritaki is so highly revered that in Tibetan sacred paintings, it’s often depicted in the extended palm of the Medicine Buddha. The herb also has astringent properties and balances Vata.
Bibhitaki (terminalia bellerica) is an excellent rejuvenative with both laxative and astringent properties. It eliminates excess mucus in the body, balancing the Kapha dosha. In addition, bibhitaki is a powerful treatment for a variety of lung conditions, including bronchitis and asthma.
Triphala is a particularly useful herbal blend because it gently cleanses and detoxifies the body without irritating the colon. In addition, unlike other laxatives that deplete the body, triphala actually strengthens and nourishes the bones, nervous system, and reproductive organs.
The recommended dose is 500 to 1,000mg, twice daily.