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Using Herbs As Adjectives

Written by John Immel, Asheville, NC
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Why Black Pepper is Powerful

If you analyze black pepper you might discover some disappointing news: statistically, black pepper isn't that powerful for curing diseases. Your sense organs tell a different story. How do you know that black pepper is powerful? You put it on your tongue and taste it. What did you experience? It is probably spicy (pungent tasting), hot, irritating, and stimulating. Ayurveda uses pungency, heat, irritation, and stimulation therapeutically. Instead of using it to cure a disease, Ayurveda matches black pepper with a client that could benefit from spice, heat, irritation, and stimulation.

Ayurveda and Arthritis

Western medicine conducted a double-blind study with 1,000 patients of the top 100 herbs used to treat arthritis in Ayurveda. At the end of the study the researchers concluded that none of the top 100 Ayurvedic formulas outperformed aspirin. This news was disappointing to the medical community. Ayurveda interpreted these results differently. Perhaps each formula worked in 1 percent of the cases (or 10 patients each). Far from conducting a double-blind study, an Ayurvedic practitioner would become an expert at matching the right herb to the right 10 patients.

It may be that a formula is appropriate for only 1 percent of arthritis clients, and with those clients, the formula works 100 percent of the time. Ayurveda argues that the job of medicine is not to find a cure-all for arthritis, but to become an expert at figuring out the client. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that no two people have ever had the same disease, which makes statistical analysis impossible. Instead of looking at disease, we look at disease patterns.

A Substitute for Turmeric

Since turmeric is one of the herbs often used for arthritis in Ayurveda, it serves as a good example. Suppose turmeric has been recommended to a client for his or her unique arthritic condition. They dutifully take the turmeric before meals until one day they open their medicine cabinet (err...spice cabinet) and discover they are out of turmeric. Let's help them find a good substitute.

Every Western herbalist knows that the active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin. Do you know any substitutes for curcumin? That would be very difficult to find, as chemicals don't have substitutes. An Ayurvedic practitioner thinks of turmeric as a heating bitter. To find a substitute, we need something hot and bitter. Arugula? How about a dandelion leaf? Dandelion is bitter but cold. How about dandelion and a hot bath? Or a sweater and a dandelion leaf? How about a cup of black coffee (bitter) and walking on the sunny side of the street? These "formulas" approximate the qualities of turmeric, even if they are not an exact substitute.

Hot, cold, bitter, and sweet are all adjectives. Ayurveda finds herbs work better when you use them as an adjective, rather than a noun, like curcumin. Furthermore, as the example illustrates, when your medicine is an adjective you can find it everywhere in nature. Suddenly, medicine is everywhere you look.

The sunny side of the street may seem weak in comparison to a pharmaceutical. Sometimes it's tempting to look for the strongest and best medicines. People will even import food from other countries to support whatever new health fad is out there. Ayurveda suggests that medicine is always available from your immediate environment. Finding the best medicines is unnecessary when you have a lifestyle of supporting yourself. Many of these medicines are growing right outside your front door. Or your medicine may be a warmer shirt, or heavier socks. Making conscious choices to support your body hundreds of times every day adds up to something powerful.

In the process, you get to learn about your body. Your healing becomes effortless. It's as easy as putting on sweater when you feel cold - it doesn't require thought, it just feels good.

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About John Joseph Immel

About the Author

John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda biocharacteristics. His approach to Ayurveda is clinical, yet exudes an ease which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda, offering professional clinical training in Ayurveda for over 15 years.

John's interest in Ayurveda and specialization in digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, as well as public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.

John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well. Outside of work, John enjoys spending time with his wife and 7 kids, and pursuing his love of theology, philosophy, and language.

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