What is Ayurveda?


Ayurveda is a word from the Sanskrit language of ancient Indian meaning ‘The science of life’. Ayurveda is an ancient science of healing which is traced back to the vedic culture in India of more than 5,000 years. It is an all-encompassing healing system which encourages the maintenance of good health and prevention of dieseases by creating the right balance in one’s body, mind, and soul. This balance is achieved by diet, the use of herbs and spices with food, lifestyle and thought of mind.

In Ayurveda, natural ingredients, usually plants and herbs are the best medicinal treatment, afterall ‘we are what we eat’. Everything we consume has an impact on the our body chemistry and causes a biological reaction in the body.

Food, including herbs and spices are classified into six types of tastes: sweet, sour, salty,pungent, bitter and astringent; each taste carries out a specific function in the body.

Foods with a ‘sweet taste’ are nutritious for the body and help build body tissue; they are a sources of carbohydrates, fats and proteins which include honey, milk, breads and meat.

The ‘sour taste’ is derived from foods with organic acids such as citrus fruits, pickles and tomatoes, which stimulate appetite and also improve digestion.

The ‘salty flavour’ is obtained from sources such as salt, salted meats, anchovies and sauces; salty food serves as a mild laxative and sedatives, and promotes digestion.

Pungent foods include onions, garlic and pepper. They stimulate digestion and clear congestion (hence the good bowel motions after hot spicy food) .

Bitter foods include leafy greens, coriander, and fenugreek and are anti-inflammatory and detoxifying for the body.

Food with astringent properties include apples, pomegranates and green tea. These are diuretics and detoxify the body as well as improving circulation.

To eat healthily and have a balanced diet it is essential to have an element of all of these ‘six tastes’ in every meal. Thus various herbs and spices are important ingredients to achieve a meal that is both appetising as well as easily digestible.

Ayurvedic philosophy also looks at the five primary elements in the cosmos (space, air, fire/heat, water and earth) and relates those to our energy which would determine our mind body constitution. The three principle energies are; Vata, Piita, and Kapha. In essence all human beings possess a predominant mind-body constitution which determine their determines their physical and physiological characteristics as well as personalities. For example, Pitta-dominant persons are said to have warm bodies, with medium-sized body frames and a short temper.

Thus if you were trying to improve your diet or self manage an illness and were trying to decipher the best remedy or course of dietary action you would need to take into account a combination of factors, the tastes of food, salty, sour, etc… the nature of the illness (is it a dry cough of phlegmy) as well as the innate mind-body constitution of the person ie are they vata dominant or Kapha dominant; all these factors would need to be taken into account to offer the most effective form of treatment.

Ayurvedic philosophy is a lot to take in, so my take is to literally start at the beginning and take it step by step. I would suggest to start by having some level of understanding of food and what it does (so look at the medicinal values of food). Then begin to build on how the food works with your constitution, after all we are all different and fall somewhere in and amongst the categories above. Based on the three categories not all food groups will suitable to everyone.

You will find a lot of information relating to medicinal values of food on our blog both here on this site and The Cooking Academy website blog which is alternatively if you would like to discuss any specific ailments or conditions call the Academy on 01923 778880.

Kumud Gandhi – Food devotee, writer & broadcaster, Founder of The Cooking Academy For further information go to or contact Kumud Gandhi at


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