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Tulsi, Tulasi, or Holy Basil is a wonderfully fragrant plant considered sacred, even an earthly manifestation of the Great Mother. It has many uses in your medicine chest: it helps relieve fever by inducing sweating (though in lung infections with high Pitta, combine with other cooling herbs as Tulsi has an overall heating action), boosts digestive fire and thus enhances digestion (and combined with ginger, fennel, and/or cardamom helps with flatulence and malabsorption), it clears mucus (kapha) from the lungs and can increase lung capacity. It increases prana (life energy), helps move apana (the action of prana to move downwards and outwards) in its proper direction as well as move excess Vata (air and space element) through the intestines and calms the digestive tract. It can even help reduce weight, blood sugar, and total cholesterol levels.

Make a tea from the leaves to reduce tension headaches from high Vata (which manifests as anxiety) and congestive headaches from high Kapha (which manifests as excess mucus). Sweeten with honey to help with decongestion.

I was gifted a live Tulsi plant at my graduation from Kripalu School of Ayurveda – starting as a small (about 3″ tall) plant, it has grown to about a foot tall and bushed out considerably – I like to make a tea from a few of its leaves combined with mint that has taken over a corner of my yard and sometimes fresh grated ginger (sweetened with honey or raw sugar). Having moved it from its small pot to a larger one, it seems to be sprouting some babies (I have it outside, so I will have to observe if they are in fact baby Tulsi or some other seed that blew in). I hope I can keep this wonderful plant growing through Maryland’s winter so I can continue to enjoy its heavenly scent and divine flavor….

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the great blizzard of 2010

a view out my side door....

Spring is coming (I keep hoping, since I have about another ton of snow to move from my yard) and you may wish to think about “cleansing” your body in preparation. Your winter diet should be a bit heavier and oilier to ground your mind, moisten your skin, and lubricate your joints but the warmer weather will begin to liquify excess “kapha”, the arrangement of the five great elements in which earth and water elements predominate. If you don’t change your eating habits you will risk gaining and holding onto excess weight and you may risk having a tougher time with seasonal allergies, especially if your nature (prakriti) is kapha dominant.

Our bodies need water but the water element has qualities of coldness and heaviness, just like kapha. Ayurveda recommends that you drink your water warm as cold foods and fluids can weaken your digestive fire (agni). The classics contain an additional recommendation for water which changes its nature, making it lighter and changing its potency (virya) from cold (sheeta) to warm (ushna).

The recipe follows the same method used for making medicinal decoctions; you take x amount of water and bring it to a boil over medium heat (no nuking!) and cook it until the volume is decreased by half, ie 4 cups of water boil down to 2 cups of water. Once this is done you have “ushnodaka”, or warm (boiled) water which is good for cleansing. Be sure to drink it within 24 hours, like all medicines (and foods) in ayurveda you want to consume everything fresh! You won’t need to re-heat the water after it cools as its nature is now warm.

This ushnodaka (ushna, warm; odaka, water) can be the first step in a mini panchakarma (5 actions) which you can perform at the juncture of the seasons. Over the course of one day, you would take the following steps:
Dipana/Pachana: protecting and stoking your digestive fire
Snehana: self massage with warm oil which is appropriate for your nature (sesame for vata, sunflower for pitta, mustard for kapha)
Swedana: sweating, which can be done using vigorous exercise or by setting up a humidifier in a closed room such as your shower.
Then comes your Karma (action); warm oil basti (enema) removes excess vata from the colon, virechana (purging with herbs; you may also use milk, triphala, or castor oil) removes excess pitta from the small intestine, vamana (vomiting after drinking large quantities of salt water; I know, bleah) removes excess kapha from the stomach. If this part really doesn’t appeal to you, do the other parts and eat lightly before, during, and after.

A light diet would consist of things like kitchari (basmati rice and split mung dal). If you were to do the full mini-pk, you would have rice water that day and kitchari the second day when hungry.

In general, you would remove excess kapha in winter/spring, excess pitta in summer/fall, and excess vata in fall/winter. In this way you can avoid experiencing the maladies associated with accumulation and aggravation of the doshas (vata/pitta/kapha) such as constipation, gas and bloating, extremely dry skin, cracking joints, excess mucus, sinus infections, acid reflux, weight gain, and more!

If you aren’t sure what you need to remove or need more guidance, make an appointment with your friendly neighborhood Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant for advice. We will be happy to help you on your journey to natural health.

While these are not substitutes for needed medical care, Western doctors are not well versed in dietary and herbal means of supporting us as our immune systems fight off invaders. Many of us are looking to reduce or even eliminate dangerous over the counter and prescription drugs from our lives, and the following home remedies may make us more comfortable with fewer (or no) side effects:

STARVE A FEVER! Often, fever reduces digestive fire (agni), so if you or you little “patient” are not hungry don’t try to eat – it will not be digested well and may may you even less comfortable. A great rule even if you are not sick is to only eat when you are hungry!

MAKE/EAT KITCHARI! (once you are hungry) Simple to make, easy to digest, high in protein, kitchari is a staple of the traditional cleansing diet and is made of various combinations of grains and beans or legumes. The easiest to digest is made of basmati rice and split mung dal but you can use any rice or grain plus whole mung or lentils. If you think the beans will be too difficult, make just the rice until it is well tolerated then make the full recipe:
1 cup rice, 1 cup split mung dal, 1 small handful cilantro leaves, chopped, 6 cups water.
If you can, soak the mung dal overnight or at least for a few hours to aid in digestibility. Wash the rice and mung twice using plenty of water, then add to your six cups with the cilantro and bring to a boil, boiling 5 minutes; turn heat to low, cover (leave the lid slightly ajar) and cook another 25 – 30 minutes.
If this seems too bland but is well tolerated, you can begin adding cooked vegetables to it, sauteed in ghee with turmeric, coriander, cumin, and add a little salt to taste.

DRINK WARM TEAS/AVOID ICED/COLD DRINKS! When you are ill, your digestive fire (agni) is usually low; protect it and stoke it and your increased agni will help you “eat” the bad bugs. Simple and delicious teas:
for fever: equal parts of lemongrass, tulsi (holy basil), and fennel; use 1 tsp of the mixture in 1 cup of boiling water, steep for 10 minutes, strain and drink. This will make you sweat which will help reduce the fever.
you can also use 2 parts each of coriander and cinnamon and 1 part ginger; steep 1 tsp of the mixture in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes.
Or, equal amounts of cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds; 1 tsp steeped in 1 cup water 10 minutes as above.

For a high fever you can make a bowl a cool water, dip 2 cloths in it and place one over the forehead and one over the navel, repeating as necessary. But if the fever is above 104 (adults), 101 (adults over 60), lasts over 3 days or is accompanied by a stiff neck or severe headache seek medical attention. Any fever in an infant or in a person with a chronic illness like heart disease, diabetes, or respiratory disease should be treated by a doctor.

The most important thing to do before you or your family get sick is to take good care of yourselves through a proper diet (avoid processed foods, too many leftovers or very old leftovers, refined sugars, fake anything, GMO anything) and regular exercise. To ward off susceptibility to illness requires all of your tissues to be well formed and your natural immunity tended. If your digestion tends to be weak (you get gas, constipation, diarrhea) you may want to eat probiotic rich foods such as natural yogurt (not the high sugared type – freshly made plain yogurt is best), kefir (ditto), kimchee, kombucha tea, raw milk, and other old fashioned foods. Be sure to adopt and maintain a regular schedule for eating (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and rising and retiring (traditionally, get up just before the sun and get to bed by 10 – 11 pm), and exercising. Avoid overdoing things and rest more when your body or brain say to!

Awaken your own natural cellular intelligence and while you may not enjoy perfect health, any illness you do experience should be milder and of shorter duration!

Peel and dice one acorn squash, peel and chop a piece of fresh ginger, chop one small jalapeno pepper (discard the seeds); saute in a little sesame oil with cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, turmeric, and cumin until almost tender. Add your favorite broth and 1 tablespoon of sorghum syrup and simmer 15 – 20 minutes then put in a blender until smooth (if it’s very thick, add more broth or a little water). Yummy as is, or add back to your saute pan after sauteing your favorite veggies (I just used one patty pan squash, some sweet red pepper, shallots). A hint of sweet, a touch of zing, warm and soothing, with texture from the veggies…. YUMMY!

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