For the Ayurvedic practitioner, each season is associated with one of three doshas: Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. The summer season is ruled by the Pitta dosha, which is primarily composed of fire and water and characterized as light, sharp, hot, oily, liquid, spreading, and subtle.
What Does Pitta Do to You?
Pitta governs digestion (both physical and in terms of the information around us), as well as absorption, assimilation, and metabolism. It also governs body temperature, skin coloration, the luster of the eyes, intelligence, and understanding. Pitta is about transformation.
Think for a second what happens when, at 2 p.m. on a 95-degree afternoon in July, you stand under the sun, sip on a drink, and enjoy a barbeque. If you are Pitta predominant, the heat outside will aggravate you and generate heat on the inside too.
Ayurveda emphasizes that our minds and bodies are deeply connected. If you feel agitated, jealous, envious, intense, or impatient (all signs of Pitta dosha imbalance) notice what that does to your digestion. You may suffer heartburn, diarrhea, or acid reflux from eating pungent, salty, and sour foods on a hot day. You might see skin rashes or inflammation, feel burning in the eyes, or experience excessive thirst.
Balancing Pitta’s Heat
One of the key ways to balance the doshas is through what we eat and drink each day. Because the summer exacerbates the Pitta dosha, it’s important to eat foods that are the opposite of scorching. Equally important is how and when we eat.
Seeking Pitta’s opposite is to seek qualities of calm, coolness, and moderation. And so Pitta-types fare best when they minimize sour, spicy, and salty foods, such as alcohol, coffee, chilies, dark meat, and citrus fruits.
[Read: “Dosha-licious: Pitta Radiant.”]
Five favorite herbs and spices for the summer Pitta season—in no particular order—are cardamom, cumin, coriander, fennel, and mint. These five help to calm Pitta’s heat.
You can use these spices and herbs liberally in your cooking and as cooling garnishes. While most spices are heating by nature, and therefore have the potential to aggravate Pitta, these five are only mildly heating. They help to maintain a balanced digestive fire without provoking Pitta and, in some cases, are actively cooling.
In addition to adding delicious flavor and fragrant aroma to foods, green cardamom has many health benefits.
Cardamom is safe to use daily for most people, however it shouldn’t be consumed in high doses. It has warming and calming qualities, along with sweet and pungent tastes. Although considered tri-doshic (balancing for all doshas), those with Pitta imbalance should use it sparingly or in moderation, as it is heating. Cardamom has been shown to reduce indigestion, gas, and bloating by stimulating the secretion of digestive enzymes that are activated by smelling and tasting the spice. It is especially helpful after a meal, as it makes heavy and acidic foods easier to digest.
Fennel’s popularity has long been twofold as culinary and therapeutic. Most Indian restaurants serve fennel seeds at the end of the meal because fennel is both a digestive aid and freshens the breath along with soothing the throat. Fennel plays a special role in Ayurvedic digestion. Because of its cooling and sweet properties, it specifically strengthens and warms agni (the digestive fire) without provoking Pitta. Its sattvic qualities
are said to refresh the mind and promote mental alertness. Fennel is also considered to be rejuvenating for the eyes.
This is a year-round spice and is considered one of the best herbs for digestive sluggishness. Used as a flavoring in cooking to help the absorption of nutrients, cumin also helps with hives, rashes, and burns. Cumin is also therapeutic for urinary tract infections as well as inflammations in the body. Some texts assert that jeera (cumin seeds in Hindi) shouldn’t be used in high doses where Pitta or other inflammatory problems exists in the digestive system.
Coriander, aka Cilantro
Aside from the aroma, cilantro is particularly useful for Pitta disorders of the digestive tract. Coriander seed is an excellent remedy for promoting Pitta digestion as it rekindles agni but does not aggravate acidity. It's safe to use when there is inflammation in the digestive system and agni needs strengthening. Prescribed for both IBS (irritative bowel syndrome) and colic, the cilantro leaf and coriander seed are used to clear flatulence and bloating.
For gas and indigestion, try preparing a tea with an infusion of the seeds. It is an effective digestive agent for Pitta conditions in which most spices are contraindicated or used with caution.
Mint is especially useful for lowering pitta inflammation and irritation that end up causing gastritis and enteritis. The aromatic essential oils in mint cool the heat of pachaka Pitta and regulate samana vayu—sub-doshas of Pitta and Vata, respectively. Mint can help to alleviate vomiting and spasms in the gastrointestinal tract due to Pitta imbalance. Peppermint water as an external spray is excellent for cooling and soothing skin inflammation, hot flashes, and allergic itching.
Hungry now? Check out more Ayurvedic wisdom on what to eat this summer.