BASIL is perhaps the most sacred plant of India. Its quality is pure sattva. Basil opens the heart and mind, bestowing the energy of love and devotion. Sacred to Vishnu and Krishna, it strengthens faith, compassion and clarity. Tulsi sterm are worn as rosaries and promote the energy of attachment. Basil gives the protection of the divine by clearing the aura and strengthening the immune system. It contains natural mercury, which, as the semen of Shiva, gives the speed-power of pure awareness.
BLACK PEPPER is one of the most powerful digestive stimulants. It burns up Ama and cleanses the alimentary canal (energizing Agni to destroy toxins and digest food). Black pepper can be taken nasally as a medicated ghee to relieve sinus congestion, headaches, and even epileptic seizures. It is a good antidote to cold food like cucumbers and for excessive intake of raw food and salads. Used externally, it helps ripen boils and promote suppuration. Prepared in ghee, it heals inflamed surfaces, such as in urticaria and erysipelas. With honey, it is a powerful expectorant and mucus cleanser, drying up secretions. If used excessively, black pepper can act as an irritant as its quality is rajasic.
CARDAMOM is one the best and safest digestive stimulants. It awakens the spleen, stimulates samana vayu, kindles agri, and removes kapha from the stomach and lungs. It stimulates the mind and heart, gives clarity and joy. Added to milk, it neutralizes milk's mucus forming properties and it detoxifies caffeine in a coffee. Its quality is sattvic and it is particularly good for opening and soothing the flow of the pranas in the body.
Cardamom is good for the nervous digestive upset of children or of high vata and in this regard combines well with fennel. It helps stop vomiting, belching, or acid regurgitation.
CAYENNE PEPPER is not a panacea, though it is a very valuable medicine. It is a strong stimulant, both circulatory and digestive, and a strong dispeller of internal and external cold. It is food for Agni. However, cayenne can aggravate inflammatory conditions in the body. Although it is not to be used indiscriminately, it does enhance the properties of many other herbs.
CINNAMON STICK is an effective herb for strengthening and harmonizing the flow of circulation. It is a good diaphoretic and expectorant in colds and flu, and is especially good for those of weak constitution. It is a pain reliever for toothache and muscle tension. It strengthens the heart, warms the kidney and promotes Agni. Like ginger, it is almost a universal medicine, and is less likely to aggravate Pitta than ginger. It is a good general beverage for Vata constitution.
It is the basis for the Three Aromatics, along with cardamom and bay leaves. These three help promote digestion, strengthen samana vayu, and help in the absorption of medicines. They occur together like Trikatu in many Ayurvedic formulas.
CLOVES are an effective stimulant and aromatic for the lungs and stomach. They dispel chill and disinfect the lymphatic. Along with rock candy, they are effective in colds and cough. The volatile oil is a powerful analgesic. Cloves are mildly aphrodisiac. They are very heating and their energizing effect may be a little irritating owing to their rajasic quality.
CORIANDER seeds are a good household remedy for many Pitta disorders, particularly those of the digestive tract or urinary system. It is an effective digestive agent for Pitta conditions in which most spices are contraindicated or used with caution. The fresh juice of the herb is effective internally for allergies, hay fever and skin rashes (one teaspoon three times a day), but it can also be used externally for itch and inflammation.
CUMIN SEEDS are an antidote for hot, pungent food (tomatoes, chilies, etc.). They increase digestion and absorption, and are good for diarrhea and dysentery. Cumin, coriander and fennel seeds are related plants with similar properties. The three are often used together for digestive disorders, mainly owing to high Pitta, and are used together in various formulations to promote the assimilation of the other herbs.
FENNEL SEEDS are one of the best herbs for digestion, strengthening Agin without aggravating Pitta, stopping cramping and dispelling flatulence. They can be taken roasted after meals, one teaspoon, by themselves or with rock salt. They combine well with cumin and coriander as three cooling spices. Fennel seeds are excellent for digestive weakness in children or in the elderly. They are calming to the nerves; their aroma acts upon the mind and promotes mental alertness. For urinary problems, they combine well with coriander. Fennel can be used for digestive weakness where hot spices and peppers might overheat or overstimulate.
FENUGREEK is a good herbal food for convalescence and debility, particularly that of the nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems. As gruel it will increase milk flow and promote hair growth. The seed paste can be used externally for boils, ulcers and hard to heal sores. With valerian it is good nerve tonic. It can be added to curries as a digestion-promoting spice. Fenugreek sprouts are a medicinal vegetable for indigestion, hypo-function of the liver and seminal debility. As a tonic, one teaspoon of the powder can be taken daily, heated in one cup of milk.
GARLIC is a powerful rejuvenative herb. It is a rasayana for vata, and also, to a lesser degree, for Kapha, for the bone and nerve tissue. It also is a powerful detoxifier and is good for choronic or periodic (Vata) fevers. It cleanses Ama and Kapha from the blood and lymphatics. Yet its heating attribute can aggravate the blood and cause or aggravate bleeding.
Its quality is tamasic. Garlic can increase dullness of mind while, on the other hand, may increase "groundedness." It increases semen but also has an irritant effect upon the reproductive organs. So while good as a medicine, garlic may not be a good common-usage herb for those practicing yoga.
GINGER is perhaps the best and most sattvic of the spices. Dry ginger is hotter and drier than fresh. It is a better stimulant and expectorant for reducing Kapha and increasing Agi. Fresh ginger is a better diaphoretic, better for colds, cough, vomiting and for deranged Vata.
The use of ginger in digestive and respiratory diseases is well known. It is also good in arthritic conditions and it is tonic to the heart. It relieves gas and cramps in the abdomen, including menstrual cramps due to cold. Externally, it makes a good paste for pain and headaches.
MINT (mentha arvensis, which is more common in India and also a wild mint native to the western United States) has a mild sooth- ing action on the nerves and digestion, which helps relax the body and clear the mind and senses, hence their widespread popularity and usage.
SAFFRON is a very potent but expensive revitalizer of the blood, circulation and female reproductive system, as well as of the metabolism generally. It is one of the best anti-Pitta herbs and spleen-liver regulators. It is considered to be the best stimulant and aphrodisiac, vajikarana, primarily for women. Though not actually a tonic itself, even in small amounts it catalyzes the tonic action of other herbs and promotes tissue growth in the reproductive organs and in the entire body. It can be added to milk or to other tonic herbs, like shatavari or agelica, to facilitate their function or used as a spice to promote assimilation of food into deeper tissues. Its quality is sattic and gives energy to love, devotion and compassion, to bhakti yoga.
TURMERIC is an excellent natural antibiotic, while at the same time it strengthens digestion and helps improve intestinal flora. As such it is a good antibacterial for those chronically weak or ill. It not only purifies the blood, but also warms it and stimulates formation of new blood tissue.
Turmeric gives the energy of the divine mother and grants prosperity. It is effective for cleaning the chakras, purifying the channels of the subtle body. It helps stretch the ligaments and is, therefore, good for the practice of hatha yoga. Turmeric promotes proper metabolism in the body, correcting both excesses and deficiencies. It aids in the digestion of protein.