Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Ayurveda of Licorice: Blessings of the Sweet Root

Yes, it's good to be sweet. As much as our society encourages us to avoid sweets, sugars and treats, we can't ignore this vital taste--and this wonderful energy--because sweetness is so good to us not only physically but also emotionally. We tend to eat salty, act bitter. We eat pungent, act sour. That's not balanced! It's best to have all the flavors--and attitudes--in moderation. This time of year--especially during this phenomenal winter of snowstorm after icestorm when we're all getting a little cranky--it's important to introduce a little sweetness into our lives.

Ayurveda is a healing system from India that draws on ancient philosophies of diet and body constitution to create balance in one's life. I am by no means an expert on Ayurveda, but I was intrigued to read about its philosophy toward certain tastes, including sweet. Here's an excerpt from Dr. Vasant Lad's Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing Second Edition:

"Excessive use [of sweet] can produce many disorders in all the doshas (body constitutions). Sweet foods especially aggravate kapha and cause cold, cough, congestion, heaviness, loss of appetite, laziness and obesity...abnormal muscle growth, lymphatic congestion, tumors, edema and diabetes." But there are good qualities to this favorite of all tastes, too: Dr. Lad says that when used moderately, sweets can be wholesome to the body and promote the growth of "plasma, blood, muscles, fat, bones, marrow and reproductive fluids." Especially sperm, he says.

I think the key is moderation. One way to get some sweet into your system this winter, without over-indulging in hard candies or sugar-laden cookies, is to drink licorice tea. This is not the same as eating little black licorice candies, which may or may not actually be licorice and certainly do not have the same healing qualities as a brewed cup of Glycyrrhiza glabra. Sweet root, or licorice, is an ancient indulgence; people have swooned over its mesmerizing taste for probably thousands of years and it has been a hot commodity across countless nations.

At the health food store, purchase a small baggie of dried licorice, and try to ensure it has not been unsealed from the vacuum-packed bags they receive the herbs it. Get it fresh. At home, spoon out one teaspoon and pour over this (into a teapot) one cup boiling water. Let steep 5-6 minutes. The tea is ready at this point, but an even better recipe is this:

  • 1 tsp Licorice root
  • 1/4 tsp Orange peel
  • 1/4-inch stick cinnamon bark
  • one tsp of other sustaining herbs such as fennel, fenugreek, ashwagandha, damiana, or nettle

Pour two cups boiling water over the mixture and infuse (brew) 7-8 minutes. Strain (don't add any sweetener!) and enjoy hot!

For a ready-made delicious mixture, check out Vineyard Herbs' Aquinnah Cliffs Licorice Tea and our other signature blends. More tomorrow on how to use this valuable herb.


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