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Typically, churnas are made from fresh herbs that have been dried and ground to very fine powders so as to make them easily assimilable. A wide variety of medicinal and culinary herbs can be made into churnas, and they may be used singly or in combinations. In the case of herbs used for cooking, the churnas can be considered something like highly specialized curry powders, blended so as to impart particular medicinal properties to the food.


Churnas: Ayurvedic Powders

Since Ayurveda recognizes that each individual is born with a constitutional type that has unique characteristics as well as requirements in terms of health, it is important to understand one's type and what are called "doshas." Technically speaking, dosha means fault; it is not the constitutional type but rather the problem that arises when the elements contributing to the dosha are aggravated or "deranged." Given the right circumstances, almost anyone can, at times, manifest some of the symptoms of vata derangement or pitta derangement or kapha derangement, but if one has such signs of imbalance, it is usually wise to restore harmony as quickly as possible so as to avoid the complications of prolonged disturbance.

There is an article on vata derangement on this site. Vata is caused by excess air or wind, and the most common symptoms of this derangement are dryness, restlessness, insomnia, and short-term memory loss. Much more serious problems can also occur. These include spasms and a host of conditions affecting the nervous system, aging, and senility.

The main characteristics of vata are that it is cold, dry, and light. Coldness can exhibit as poor circulation or detachment. Dryness affects the viscosity of joints and moisture in the tissues. It leads to brittleness of nails, hair, and bones; and is often also associated with constipation. Lightness is associated with weight loss as well as disorientation and instability.

The herbs and spices that correct for vata derangement need to be warm, moist, and heavy. The favored herbs are ginger for warmth, cinnamon for its mucilaginous properties, and asafoetida for its grounding effects. Since vata is caused by deranged air, it is useful to understand the two sides of air. The aromatic properties of food and herbs not only please the senses but neutralize toxic wind. These herbs are usually carminative, tasty, and mildly stimulating. Fennel is a lovely example of an herb with great affinity for air. It is delicate, willowy, and subtle. These mildly stimulating herbs are tolerable to people who feel fragile and they aid assimilation of nutrients. Stinky herbs, like garlic and asafoetida are grounding. They are earthy and heavy and help to anchor people who are feeling blown around by the wind.

I have been remiss in not posting more on pitta problems. Pitta can be best understood as derangement of the fire element. This can occur because of exposure to toxins or infection. It can also result from alcohol abuse or anger. The properties of pitta are that it is hot, dry, light; i.e., it is similar to vata except that it is hot rather than cold.

The symptoms of deranged fire are usually acute and painful. They have a sudden onset and are usually serious when they affect children and the elderly, but they are seldom as dangerous for people in their prime who are otherwise healthy. The most typically pitta symptom is fever, but many people today have been so heavily vaccinated and loaded with antibiotics that they do not run fevers. Instead, they exhibit other pitta symptoms such as impatience, temper, and inappropriate jealousy or competitiveness.

The herbs and spices that are used to pacify pitta are less pungent than those used for vata derangements. In theory, if you eat in a Thai or Mexican restaurant and you have a choice of one, two, or three chilis, the pitta person should go easy on the cayenne! Also, because fire resides in the digestion system, such persons may secrete more hydrochloric acid and other gastric juices. They should therefore favor the alkaloids and go easy on the acids. Coriander is one of the coolest of the culinary herbs. Nutmeg is another herb with somewhat heavier properties. Even turmeric, a member of the ginger family that imparts to curry powders the yellow color, is quite safe for those with excess fire. Perhaps more important is the fact that these people fare well on coconut and coconut milk so the spices can be added to make lovely coconut curries.

People with a tendency towards kapha derangements have slow metabolisms and usually some metabolic residuals that result in congestion and perhaps gradual weight gain. Just as pitta problems tend to occur suddenly and subside as quickly, kapha conditions are chronic and often go almost unnoticed for years.

Kapha is cold, wet, and heavy. Unlike vata types, kapha types do not feel as uncomfortable in the cold. Vata types really suffer when there is a draft or excess output from a fan or air conditioner. While those with excess kapha may not really like the cold, they are not as miserable when exposed to circulating air or wind. Also, even if their hands and feet are cold because of slow metabolism and poor circulation, they usually do not complain too bitterly about the cold. In a way, they are used to the subnormal temperatures, but this isn't healthy so the diet needs to correct for the tendency towards weak metabolism. These people need very stimulating spices, ones that are too strong for vata types and too hot for pitta persons.

These people can handle the hot curries, red chilis, cloves, and mustard. They need herbs that stimulate secretion of gastric juices, that promote assimilation, and that increase peristalsis.


Ayurveda teaches that black pepper is dosha balancing, tridoshic is the term sometimes used. This probably surprises some people, but it is worth pointing out that few Westerners have ever tasted good spices. Most the spices are old, irradiated, and lacking the volatile oils that account for much of their flavor as well as medicinal effectiveness. It is extremely important to recognize that the studies that suggest that spices are harmful are done with spices that have almost no redeeming qualities. Good spices are deliciously fragrant and savory and often beneficial.

Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2002

Huge Selection of Ayurvedic Herbs and Formulas


Introduction to Ayurveda

Digestion, Ayurvedic Concept of Digestive Fire || Parasites

Chyawanprash || Hinga Shtak, Digestive Formula || Kicharee Recipe

Kapha Dosha || Vata Dosha || Churnas

Taste and the Elements || Smell || Ayurvedic Toothpastes

Ingrid's First Exposure to Ayurveda

Dosha Balance



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*The material provided on this site is for informational purposes only. The author is not a medical doctor. The statements made represent the author's personal opinions and are not intended to replace the services of health care professionals. The content and products discussed have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information on this page and the products available on this site are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.