Understanding kashayams: How the many decoctions of herbs help us build immunity
When I was a child, my grandmother used to make me drink akashayammade ofGuduchi(Tinosporacordifolia, also known as Giloy) whenever I was running a fever. I remember creating a ruckus to drink it. Drinking the bitter and astringent decoctionwasn’t a pleasant experience at all. A spoonful of sugar is considered to help, not in this case. It was quite an ordeal to drink the unpleasant bitterness when I wasn’t sick too, unfortunatelyit was a mandatory routine to have it, because it was known to build immunity.
Most of us have had similar experiences from our childhood, where we have been made to drink kashayam for betterment of health. Irrespective of how bad they may taste, kashayams prepare the groundwork in promoting health by building immunity and fighting disease.
In Ayurveda, there are broadly 5 ways of preparingmedication – a kashayam is one of them. It is the method where a herb is boiled in a prescribed amount of water till the essence of the herb is potentiated into the decoction. Each kashayam has one herb which is its hero, and there could be several other ingredients.
The hero herb of each kashayam usually defines the kashayam’s impact on our body, and how it tempers the doshas in our body. According to Ayurveda, there are three types of bio-elements or Doshas present in our body – Vata, Pitta, Kapha. Vata refers to movement, and is dry, cold, light and minute in nature. Pitta is characterised by heat, moistness, liquidity, and sharpness and sourness, and is a marker of metabolism. Kapha is responsible for anabolism, and is characterised by heaviness, coldness, tenderness, softness, slowness and lubrication.
In the case of the Guduchikashayam which my grandmother used to give me, the heavy and unctuous herb which is hot in thermal property is known to reduce all three excessdoshas in the body. Hence, the Guduchikashayam is commonly used to build immunity and reduce fever.
Here are a few kashayams which are commonly used in our tradition.
Made primarily with Cuminum cyminum, or Jeera, this kashayam is the go-to decoction for those suffering from digestion problems. It is pungent and dry, and hot in thermal property, it is a great home-made remedy if you have an upset stomach. Recently, I had asked a patient of mine suffering from indigestion to boil 1 tsp of Jeera in a litre of water and drink little by little over the period of the day, and the impact was visible the same day.
Jeera, as it is, is a great addition to our everyday diets. It can be used as seeds in a tadka or as jeera powder. In addition to being good for digestion, it is also a source of iron.
As the name suggests, it is made of ginger (Zingiber officinale). The kashayam can be pungent, heavy and sharp, has a hot thermal property, and can be of great help to improve appetite.
Usually used to treat a cold, the main ingredient is Pippali (Piper longum or Indian Long Pepper) which is pungent but light, and hot in thermal property. It balances Vata and Kapha in our body.
Made from Yashtimadhu (Glycyrrhiza glabra or Liqourice), is also used to treat colds. Yashtimadhu is sweet in taste, heavy and unctuous in property, cold in thermal property. It is known to reduce all doshas in our body.
This bitter-sweet and acidic kashayam, made from Sesamum indicum or Sesame, is heavy and unctuous, hot in thermal property, it is often used to treat diseases of the uterus, like amenorrhea – abnormal absence of menstruation.
We tend to think of kashayams and other home-made remedies as outdated methods to treat our everyday health problems. It is indeed true that with advancement of science there are plenty of medicines to help with these health issues, but the advantage with native remedies is that they are available at home in the kitchen, are a natural and organic way to treat our body, generally without side effects. We should cherish these traditional Indian remedies. So, sit down with the elders in your family and note these recipes down before they are lost forever
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