top of page

17 Ayurvedic Culinary Digestive Herbs That You Need to Know

Ayurveda offers many herbs and spices to help stimulate digestion, absorption, and assimilation of food.


First, we'll explore the way Ayurveda categorizes substances, then we'll look at 17 culinary digestive herbs that you need to know. If you just want to read more about the 17 Ayurvedic culinary digestive herbs, you can skip ahead.


  1. Ajwain

  2. Cardamom

  3. Cumin

  4. Cinnamon

  5. Clove

  6. Coriander

  7. Fennel

  8. Fenugreek

  9. Garlic

  10. Ginger

  11. Hing

  12. Licorice

  13. Mint

  14. Mustard seeds

  15. Black pepper

  16. Turmeric

  17. Salt



Digestive herbs: glass spice jars containing spices

 

The Ayurvedic categorization of substances


Ayurveda employs several different ways of looking at all substances:


  • tastes

  • qualities

  • potency

  • post-digestive effect

  • prabhav (special effect) (Lad 239-255)


These five concepts are used to determine which substances will bring balance and which will create imbalance.



 

6 tastes

According to Ayurveda, there are 6 tastes:

  • sweet

  • sour

  • salty

  • pungent

  • bitter

  • astringent (AH, Sū 1/14)


It is recommended to incorporate all 6 tastes into every meal (Kripalu, 7.17).




 

20 qualities (10 pairs of opposites)


The 20 qualities are used to find balance in Ayurveda:



heavy

light

slow/dull

sharp/penetrating

cold

hot

oily

dry

smooth

rough

dense

liquid/liquifying

soft

hard

static/stable

mobile

subtle

gross

clear/clearing

sticky/cloudy



The general rule with these qualities is that like increases like and opposites decrease.


That means if you are feeling dry, and you eat crackers, you will likely feel even more dry. If you are feeling dry, and instead add some oiliness through food or activities, like oiling the body, you will feel less dry and more balanced.


Dry and oily are opposites in the chart above


Check out 20 Gunas (Qualities) of Ayurveda to learn more about these qualities.



 

Potency


Potency looks specifically at whether a substance is heating or cooling.


Many culinary herbs and spices are heating, but some like cumin are pungent in taste, but cooling in potency. Even though pitta is disturbed by the pungent taste, the cooling potency of cumin means it is good for pitta dosha in moderation.



Digestive herbs: peppercorns and salt on wooden spoons and spilled on the counter

 

Post-digestive effect


Once the food has been digested and is heading out into the body's tissues, it has a certain effect on the cells and tissues of the body:


  • substances that are predominantly sweet and salty will have a sweet post-digestive effect,

  • those that are predominantly sour will have a sour post-digestive effect,

  • finally, substances that are predominantly pungent, bitter, and astringent will have a pungent post-digestive effect.


But there are exceptions to this (Lad 252-253).


Here's a chart to make that a little clearer:


Taste

Post-digestive effect

Sweet

Sweet

Salty

Sweet

Sour

Sour

Pungent

Pungent

Bitter

Pungent

Astringent

Pungent



A good example of this is lemons and limes.


They both are in the "sour" category for foods.


However, lemons have a sour post-digestive effect and limes have a sweet post-digestive effect that gives them a cooling potency, making limes the better choice for pitta dosha.



 

Prabhav--special effect


Prabhav is when two substances with the same taste, potency, and post-digestive effect have a surprisingly different action (Lad, 253).


An example of this is milk and ghee.


They both have a sweet taste, cold potency, and sweet post-digestive effect, however, ghee stimulates digestion while milk can cause slow digestion (Kripalu, 3.20)



 

17 Ayurvedic culinary digestive herbs


Adding herbs and spices to your everyday cooking is a simple way to improve digestion.


This doesn't mean that foods need to be hot and spicy, on the contrary, foods should be gently spiced.


In Ayurveda, all substances, including herbs and spices, are categorized into the six tastes, the 20 qualities, the potency, the post-digestive effect, and any special effect.


While most of these culinary digestive herbs have a pungent taste, they also incorporate other tastes.


To help figure out which of these digestive culinary spices are best for you, look at the tastes, qualities, potency, post-digestive effect, special effect, and how the spice affects each dosha.



Digestive herbs: powdered herbs spread out on a table

 


1. Ajwain

Taste: Pungent, bitter

Qualities: Light, dry, penetrating

Potency: Heating

Post-digestive effect: Pungent

Effect on doshas: Decreases vata and kapha, increases pitta



Digestive herbs: ajwain in a white bowl

Ajwain stokes the digestive fire when it is slow and sluggish. It relieves gas, digestive cramps, and bloating due to vata and kapha doshas. It clears toxins and can even remove parasites. It also supports the lungs, urine, and nerves, especially the nerves in the lower abdomen and pelvis. It should be avoided if you are experiencing acidity or high pitta, and during pregnancy because it promotes a strong downward motion (Pole, 122-123).


Ajwain is excellent for vata and kapha doshas due to its warming nature.




 

2. Cardamom

Taste: Pungent, sweet

Qualities: Light, dry

Potency: Cooling

Post-digestive effect: Sweet

Effect on doshas: Decreases all 3 doshas, but can aggravate pitta in excess


Digestive herbs: cardamom spilling out of small bowl onto a table

Cardamom is beneficial for relieving burping, gas, bloating, acidity, vomiting, nausea, and morning sickness. It helps to stimulate weak digestion without aggravating pitta dosha. It is also beneficial for clearing urine and the lungs. It should be avoided with signs of excessive heat (or pitta) in the body (Pole, 151)



 

3. Cumin

Taste: Pungent, bitter

Qualities: Light, dry

Potency: Cooling

Post-digestive effect: Pungent

Effect on doshas: Reduces all 3 doshas, but can increase pitta in excess


Digestive herbs: powdered cumin on a metal spoon

Cumin stimulates sluggish digestion while helping with the absorption of nutrients. It eases gurgling, bloating, and slow digestion. It reduces nausea and indigestion. It directs vata dosha downward and absorbs fluid from the large intestine. If can help firm up loose stools (Pole, 167).


 

4. Cinnamon

Taste: Pungent, sweet, astringent

Qualities: Dry, light, penetrating

Potency: Hot

Post-digestive effect: Sweet

Effect on doshas: Pacifying for vata and kapha doshas, may aggravate pitta (some sources indicate cinnamon is balancing for pitta when used in moderation)


Digestive herbs: cinnamon sticks

Cinnamon is good for slow, cold digestion, colic, and gas. It can reduce Candida and balance intestinal flora. It is contraindicated when there are signs of bleeding and high pitta. Caution should be used during pregnancy because it can stimulate the uterus (Pole, 160-161).



 

5. Clove

Taste: Pungent, bitter

Qualities: Unctuous, light, penetrating

Potency: Cold

Post-digestive effect: Pungent

Effect on doshas: Reduces all three doshas


Digestive herbs: cloves on a spoon and spread on countertop

Clove can stimulate a weak, sluggish digestion with pain and gas. It can help stimulate hunger when there is a lack of interest in food. It is an excellent remedy for nausea and motion sickness. It works to clear candida and other bacterial and fungal conditions. Use caution with high pitta and inflammatory conditions (Pole, 162).




 

6. Coriander

Taste: Pungent, bitter, sweet

Qualities: Light, oily

Potency: Seeds are heating; leaves are cooling

Post-digestive effect: Sweet

Effect on doshas: Reduces all three doshas, especially pitta


Digestive herbs: coriander spilling out of a glass bowl onto a surface

Coriander stimulates the digestive system without increasing acidity, so it is especially beneficial for pitta dosha. It is used with both colic and IBS because it reduces gas. This is a super-safe herb that anyone can use (Pole, 163).



 

7. Fennel

Taste: Sweet, pungent, bitter

Qualities: Light, dry

Potency: Heating (some)

Post-digestive effect: Sweet

Effect on doshas: Reduces all three doshas


Digestive herbs: fennel seeds spilling out of a glass spice jar

Fennel eases digestive gurgling sounds, cramps, gas, nausea, and slow digestion. It does not aggravate pitta even though it is heating, and its sweet post-digestive effect offers a cooling effect. This herb is used for inguinal hernias and pain in the lower abdomen. Fennel water can be used for colicky babies. There aren't any known contraindications (Pole, 175-176)




 

8. Fenugreek

Taste: Pungent, astringent, bitter, sweet

Qualities: Light, unctuous

Potency: Hot

Post-digestive effect: Pungent

Effect on doshas: Reduces vata and pitta, increases pitta


Digestive herbs: fenugreek seeds

Fenugreek is excellent for slow digestion and gas. It can be used as a laxative and increases the bulk of the stools. Diarrhea and inflammation can be eased with fenugreek. It also has a special affinity for reducing diabetes when used with other herbs. Fenugreek is said to balance sugar levels in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes (Pole, 177).



 

9. Garlic

Taste: Pungent, sweet

Qualities: Heavy, unctuous, penetrating

Potency: Heating

Post-digestive effect: Sweet

Effect on doshas: Vata and kapha reducing, pitta increasing


Digestive herbs: garlic bulbs

Garlic clears both mucus and gas from the intestines. It is used as a folk remedy all over the world for parasites, gas, infections, candida, and food poisoning. It kills bad bacteria while leaving beneficial bacteria in place (Pole, 179).



 

10. Ginger

Taste: Pungent, sweet

Qualities: Fresh--unctuous and heavy; Dried--Dry, light, penetrating

Potency: Heating (fresh--warm; dried--hot)

Post-digestive effect: Pungent

Effect on doshas: Vata and kapha reducing, pitta increasing


Digestive herbs: fresh ginger and powdered ginger

Ginger brings warmth to the digestive system, increasing the digestive capacity, and stimulating the release of digestive enzymes. It helps nausea, intestinal spasms, and gas (Pole, 183).



 

11. Hing (Asafoetida)

Taste: Pungent

Qualities: Unctuous, heavy, penetrating

Potency: Heating

Post-digestive effect: Pungent

Effect on doshas: Vata and kapha reducing, pitta increasing



Digestive herbs: hing (asafoetida)

Hing is a lesser-known culinary herb that is amazing for digestion. It can be added to beans to reduce their gaseous effects. It clears high vata from the digestive tract reducing gas, bloating, undigested food in the stool, and colic. It can also clear candida and worms from the GI tract. Hing increases digestion, but can easily disturb pitta dosha (Pole, 197).



 

12. Licorice

Taste: Sweet, bitter

Qualities: Heavy, moist

Potency: Cooling

Post-digestive effect: Sweet

Effect on doshas: reduces all 3 doshas, but may increase kapha if used in excess


Digestive herbs: licorice on a wooden spoon

Licorice is especially good for relieving ulcers in the mouth and GI tract. It reduces intestinal inflammation and spasms that are associated with pain. It reduces hyperacidity and stops bleeding in the intestines. Licorice relaxes and moistens the bowels. In low doses, it can reduce nausea caused by heat (Pole, 220).



 

13. Mint

Taste: Sweet, pungent

Qualities: Light, dry, penetrating

Potency: Cooling and heating

Post-digestive effect: Pungent

Effect on doshas: reduces all 3 doshas, but may increase vata if used in excess


Digestive herbs: fresh mint leaves

Mint is beneficial to ease gas, IBS, bloating, nervous digestion, ulcers, and nausea. It works specifically for pitta inflammation. It can be used to reduce morning sickness, spasms in the GI tract, and vomiting (Pole, 226).


A simple cup of mint tea can ease digestive complaints.



 

14. Mustard Seeds

Taste: Pungent, bitter

Qualities: Light, dry, penetrating