Ayurveda (Life-Knowledge) is one of the oldest medical systems in the world, originating at least five thousand years ago in what is now India. It is a comprehensive system of medicine that emphasizes the interconnectedness of the body, mind and spirit. It strives to maintain the innate harmony of the individual. Ayurveda is considered a "whole medical system" in that it involves a complete system of theory and practice that has evolved independently from or parallel to allopathic (conventional) medicine.
Many therapies utilized in Ayurveda are also used individually and are gaining popularity in the US. Examples include yoga, meditation, massage and some Ayurvedic herbal medicines. Ayurveda is a medical system that has its roots in the Vedic knowledge of ancient India. It is thought by many scholars to be the oldest healing system extant on our planet.
According to Ayurveda, the sense of taste is a natural guide map towards proper nutrition. Our tastebuds do much more than simply identify tastes; they unlock the nutritive value of foods and provide the initial spark to the entire digestive process! Ayurveda identifies six tastes by which all foods can be categorized: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter, Pungent, and Astringent.
The sweet taste is present in foods such as sugar, milk, rice, wheat, dates, maple syrup and licorice. Earth and water are the elements that make up the sweet taste. The qualities are usually oily, cooling and heavy. The sweet taste increases the vital essence of life.
In moderation: When used moderately, it is wholesome to the body and anabolic in action, promoting the growth of plasma, blood, muscles, fat, bones, marrow and reproductive fluids. Proper use gives strength and longevity. It encourages the senses, improves complexion, promotes healthy skin and hair.
In excess: In spite of all these good qualities, excessive use can produce many disorders. Sweet foods especially cause cold, cough, congestion, heaviness, loss of appetite, laziness and obesity. They may also cause abnormal muscle growth, lymphatic congestion, tumors, edema and diabetes.
Sour taste is found in foods like citrus fruits, sour cream, yogurt, vinegar, cheese, lemon, unripe mango, green grapes and fermented food. Sour substances are liquid, light, heating, oily in nature and anabolic in action.
In moderation: When used in moderation, they are refreshing and delicious to the taste, stimulate appetite, improve digestion, energize the body, nourish the heart, enlighten the mind and cause salivation.
In excess: If one uses the sour taste in excess, it can cause sensitive teeth, excessive thirst, quick, reflexive closure of eyes, hyperacidity, heartburn, acid indigestion, ulcers and perforations. As sour taste has a fermentation action, it is toxic to the blood and can cause skin conditions like dermatitis, acne, eczema, edema, boils and psoriasis. The hot qualities may lead to acidic pH in the body and may cause burning in the throat, chest, heart, bladder and urethra.
Sea salt, rock salt and kelp are common examples of the salty taste. Water and fire are the predominant elements. Salty is heating, heavy, oily and hydrophilous in nature.
In moderation: Due to its water element, it is laxative and lessens spasm and pain of the colon. Like sweet and sour tastes, it is anabolic in action. When taken in moderation, it promotes growth and maintains water electrolyte balance. Salty taste is so strong that it nullifies the effect of all tastes. It stimulates salivation, improves the flavor of food, aids digestion, absorption and elimination of wastes
In excess: Too much salt in the diet makes the blood thick and viscous, causes hypertension and worsens skin conditions. Heating sensations, fainting, wrinkling and baldness may be due to excessive use of salt. Owing to its hydrophilous nature, it may induce edema or water retention. Patchy hair loss, ulcers, bleeding disorders, skin eruption, hyperacidity and hypertension may be disorders of overuse of the salty taste.
The pungent taste is present in foods such as cayenne pepper, chili pepper, black pepper, onion, radish, garlic, mustard, ginger and asafoetida. Fire and air are the important elements present in pungent. It is light, drying and heating in nature.
In moderation: When used in the diet in moderation, it improves digestion, absorption and cleans the mouth. It clears the sinuses by stimulating nasal secretions and lacrimation. It aids circulation, breaks up clots, helps with the elimination of waste products and kills parasites and germs. It removes obstructions and brings clarity of perception.
In excess: Apart from these positive actions, pungent may cause negative reactions when it is overused in the daily diet. It can kill sperm and ova, causing sexual debility in both sexes. It may induce burning, choking, fainting, fatigue with heat and thirst. Peptic ulcers, colitis and skin conditions may also result from excessive use.
Examples of bitter taste are found in bitter melon (Momordica Charantia), turmeric root, dandelion root, aloe vera, yellow dock (Rumex crispus), fenugreek, sandalwood, rhubarb and coffee. Bitter is the taste most lacking in the North American diet. It has the air and space elements and is cool, light and dry in nature.
In moderation: Though bitter is not delicious in itself, it promotes the flavor of the other tastes. It is anti-toxic and kills germs. It helps to relieve burning sensations, itching, fainting and obstinate skin disorders. It reduces fever and stimulates firmness of the skin and muscles. In a small dose, it can relieve intestinal gas and works as a digestive bitter tonic. It is drying to the system and causes a reduction in fat, bone marrow, urine and feces.
In excess: Over-consumption of the bitter taste may deplete plasma, blood, muscles, fat, bone marrow and semen, which may result in sexual debility. Extreme dryness and roughness, emaciation and weariness may be the result of excessive eating of the bitter taste. At times, it may induce dizziness and unconsciousness.
Unripe banana, pomegranate, chickpeas, green beans, yellow split peas, okra, goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis), turmeric, lotus seed, alfalfa sprouts, mango seed, arjuna (Terminalia Arjuna) and alum (crystallized double sulfates) are examples of astringent taste. It produces a typical drying, choking sensation in the throat. It is derived from the air and earth elements and is cooling, drying and heavy in nature.
In moderation: When taken in moderation, the astringent taste absorbs water and causes dryness of mouth, difficulty of speech and constipation. It aids in healing ulcers and stops bleeding by promoting clotting.
In excess: Excessive use of astringent foods may cause choking, absolute constipation, distention, obstruction of voice, heart spasm and stagnation of circulation. It may affect the sex drive leading to depletion of sperm. It can give rise to emaciation, convulsions, Bell's palsy, stroke paralysis and other neuromuscular disorders.
Sounds like I am speaking a foreign language, huh? Well, technically I am. It took me an entire certification program to understand this ancient way of healing, and there is so much to learn! If you are interested in learning more including words like vata, pitta, and kapha...stay tuned in the New Year!
Sources and Additional Reading:
The University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, 2012