If you love ghee, you have smart taste buds! Not only is ghee delicious and nutritious, but that fragrant buttery oil also holds an exalted place in Ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India). Ghee has amazing benefits as a stand-alone, and its healthful qualities are amplified when prepared with herbs such as Brahmi, Ashwagandha, Shatavari, and Arjuna.
The uses and benefits of ghee are manifold. According to Ayurveda, ghee is sweet in taste, has a slightly cool energy, and a highly nourishing effect on all the bodily tissues. It is particularly rejuvenating for the brain (Dass, 2013). Ghee is tridoshic, meaning that it may be used by all three constitutional types (vata, pitta, and kapha) without creating a disturbance to the doshas. (For more on Ayurveda and the three doshas, you can check out our blog post, Introduction to Ayurveda: a Balance of the Elements).
Cooking with ghee is a great place to start. However, ghee is more than a fabulous cooking oil. With its nourishing effects and capacity to carry herbs deep into the bodily tissues, in many cases, ghee is the ideal medium for taking herbs and spices. Herbal ghees, called Siddha Ghritam, are one of the main types of herbal preparations in Ayurveda. Other methods of herbal preparation include oils, jams, herbal milk, herbal wines, tablets, decoctions, and infusions.
To better understand the significance of ghee and why to choose it as a mode of herbal preparation, it is helpful to turn to its linguistic roots. Interestingly enough, the word for oil in Sanskrit is snehana, and ghee is a type of oil after all. The word snehana contains the root sneha, defined as love, affection, and unctuousness. This inherent link between lipids and love is an excellent indication of the subtle effects that ghee imparts. “Sneha also means love…Sneha is a bonded, secure love relationship” (Svoboda, 1999, p. 77). Thus, ghee is incredibly rejuvenating on a deep level, and is one of the premier foods for building and maintaining ojas, our vital life sap.
The nourishing quality of ghee is intensified when it is infused with herbs that are also nourishing, and likewise, the nutritive effects of the herbs are increased when ghee is used as a carrier. Thus, there is a synergy between herbal therapies and ghee, with the good qualities of each being augmented.
Though ghee equals love, in the beginning, you may not positively love the taste of herbal ghees. As you may know, plain ghee has a delicious buttery flavor and a mildly sweet natural taste. Adding spices to ghee can make it even more tasty. Medicinal herbs, however, do not necessarily have those same qualities. Many of the herbs that are great for our bodies are not so pleasing to our taste buds.
In Ayurveda, there are six main tastes: sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter, and astringent. It is important to get all six tastes in one’s diet, and each taste has its own special effects. The sweet and salty tastes are very common in the typical North American diet. However, many of us tend to be lacking our fair share of the astringent and bitter tastes.
Healthful herbs such as Ashwagandha, Brahmi, Arjuna, and the blend Triphala tend to possess tinges of the bitter and astringent tastes. When you first try an herbal ghee such as Triphala ghee, you may find the taste surprising. It may be a bit more bitter and astringent than what you are used to. Yet, that unusual flavor is a great indication of all the wonderful work that the herbs are doing inside you. For instance, foods and herbs with the bitter and astringent tastes tend to have a cleansing, purifying effect on the body. The astringent taste also has the ability to firm and tone bodily tissues. So, although herbal ghees may take a little getting used to, rest assured these unusual tasting tonics have profound benefits for your body and mind!
Here are a few great reasons to use ghee as a vehicle for taking herbs:
- First of all, ghee makes herbs more bioavailable. Ghee brings out the nutrients in the herbs when the two are prepared together, as ghee has the special capacity to adopt the nutritional qualities of the herb/s it is prepared with. Furthermore, ghee is remarkable in that it can assume the properties of herbs without losing its own beneficial attributes. A well cured herbal ghee will carry the desired herbal constituents deep into your bodily tissues, thereby optimizing absorption and nutritional delivery.
- Secondly, ghee serves as a preservative for herbs, thereby extending the herb’s shelf life. When macerated in ghee, herbs maintain their nutrients for longer, and the fragile volatile oils from the herbs are kept potent when held in ghee.
- Lastly, herbs become more concentrated when infused in ghee. Due to the slow and thorough preparation process of herbal ghees, and the way in which ghee assumes an herb’s fat soluble components, you get a more concentrated dosage of the herb by taking it as a ghee preparation.
Since herbal ghees go deep into all the bodily tissues, if you really want to rejuvenate a tired brain, nourish worn out adrenals, or recall strength to a weakened bone and muscle tissue, herbal ghee is a perfect choice.
Furthermore, herbal ghees can be cleansing as well as strengthening. Ghee is often used in Ayurvedic cleanses because it has the unique ability to pull and liquidate toxins from deep inside the body, making metabolic wastes easier to expel. Depending on the herbs that your ghee is macerated with, the energetics will change. Ghee, a great chameleon, is able to assume the qualities and properties of the herbs that it is prepared with.
At this point, you may be wondering how one actually takes an herbal ghee. In general, you do not want to cook your food in herbal ghee as you would with a tastily spiced ghee. Herbal ghee is typically taken away from meals as a supplement. One easy way to take it is to stir a spoonful into a cup of hot water and drink it like a tea. Also, herbal ghee can be added to warm milk, such as a warm turmeric milk.
As you can see, there are many reasons to choose an herbal ghee. By taking herbs in a ghee medium, you can be sure to get the most out of the herb, and you will be receiving the benefits of the ghee and herbs alike!
Dass, V. (2013). Ayurvedic herbology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
Kent-Stoll, G. (2018). Ayurvedic uses of herbal oils. The Herbal Academy. https://theherbalacademy.com/ayurvedic-uses-of-herbal-oils/ March 8, 2018.
Svoboda, R. (1999). Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic constitution. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.