The new year of the Gregorian calendar is here. Determined to shed some of the excesses of the past? Stick with real food, treat it like medicine, engage in some active yoga poses and sail into the New Year ready to set in motion your resolutions for your mind and body. This January, I offer you two common Ayurvedic herb formulas: trikatu and triphala, a total of six medicinal plants or fruits. The first of the two is trikatu churna, translated from Sanskrit into three (tri) pungents (katu) powder (churna). The formulation is made up of long pepper, black pepper and ginger. It is a classic signature taste for a South Asian palate and a time-tested medicinal formulation to stimulate, cleanse and heal: Food, medicine and taste all in one.
THE HECTIC HOLIDAYS
In this three-month series, learn to pair simple herbal and yoga techniques to build immunity, counter holiday stress and start the New Year cleansed, detoxed and armed to activate your resolutions.
NOVEMBER: Double your body strength with simple yoga postures to stimulate your dynamic immune system:
DECEMBER: Anti-stress herbs and calming yoga and breathing exercises:
JANUARY: Detox herbs to recalibrate, rebalance and activate resolutions:
EAT TO HEAL: Previous articles covering the numerous benefits of herbs and foods:
Origins and culinary and traditional medicine uses for trikatu
Review past articles on black pepper (Piper nigrum) and ginger (Zingiber officinale) to gain an understanding of their origins and medicinal and culinary uses. Long pepper, Piper longum or Pippali, from which the word pepper derives, is a Tamil and Malayalam word. Indigenous to northeast India from Assam to the Himalayas and all hotter regions of South Asia, the pungent spice arrived in Europe long before black pepper, and researchers estimate that in Roman times it costs nearly triple that of black pepper. Though today Pippali is not as prevalent in the spice world, it has its own unique flavor. Still in the pepper family and used in South Asian and African cuisines, long pepper imparts a hotter, more potent and pungent kick than its sister, black pepper.
In Ayurveda, ground dried black and long pepper fruits are mixed with ginger rhizome in a 1:1:1 ratio. The Ayurvedic formulation is used mainly to treat upper respiratory problems and improve digestion. For many traditional and integrative medicine practitioners, the core of healing begins in the gut. Support the digestive system, and often the many instances of disease can resolve themselves. To begin to cleanse, one must first support the digestive system to function optimally. The sum effect of the “three pungents,” or trikatu rasayana, may be larger than the individual plants alone. Synergy allows for greater clinical efficacy in some instances, and in others (as in many time-tested formulations), it may provide protection that each plant alone cannot provide. Often the sharp powder is mixed with honey and licked to sweeten the delivery.
Most studies are conducted on individual plant extracts. And among plant-based practitioners all over the world, there is debate as to whether the whole plant or individual extracts are best for treatments. Most biomedical research gives preference to the single-extract approach. To study an entire food or plant that is filled with hundreds or thousands of individual plant chemicals is practically too overwhelming to consider. So when I quote contemporary medical research, often what is largely available are studies on plant extracts. The major component of black pepper and long pepper is the alkaloid piperine, the pungent principle.
According to a study in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, dietary piperine stimulates digestive enzymes, improves digestive ability and significantly reduces food transit time through the gastrointestinal tract. Piperine in in vitro studies appeared to protect against oxidative damage. In fact, black pepper, long pepper or piperine powerfully influenced antioxidant molecules and antioxidant enzymes in a number of experimental situations of oxidative stress. A note of caution, however: Piperine can increase the uptake of some pharmaceutical drugs you might be taking. Always consult with your health care practitioner before initiating any course of treatment.
Yoga for detoxification
Detoxification often begins with supporting the digestive and elimination systems. All yoga poses that facilitate the gentle massaging, stretching and contracting of the abdomen are especially effective. Warmup asanas might include gentle cat, cow and forward bend, then move on to extended triangle and finish with seated spinal twists.
For a reliable source for organic plants, botanicals and spices, try Frontier; for Ayurvedic products, try Banyan Botanicals. Before taking any substances, always consult with your chosen health-care professional. To ensure proper yoga training, seek the advice of a certified yoga specialist.
Top photo: Long pepper. Credit: Sarah Khan