Amy Shah, M.D., is an integrative medicine physician. She is double-board certified, and trained in the Ivy League, but she is committed to offering her patients the best of alternative as well as traditional medicine. In a recent article, she shared her favorite herb for improving digestion.
This herb comes from Ayurveda, the ancient system of healing from India. In Ayurveda, weak digestive fire (agni) is thought to create digestive imbalance (ama), which is considered the source of all disease. Amaya, which is the Sanskrit word for disease translates as “born out of ama.” In the west, ama is called “gut imbalance” or “leaky gut.”
In the Ayurvedic tradition, herbs and spices are used not just for flavoring food, but as medicine to ignite digestive fire (agni) and remove metabolic waste (ama) from the body.
The spice that is most often used to assist digestion in Ayurveda is one called Asafetida. It is frequently used in curry dishes. Asefetida, or Hing, is bitter and pungent; its smell is sometimes described as fetid. It sometimes goes by another name, “devil’s dung.” When cooked, however, its flavor is similar to onion or leek. It is often combined with tumeric in Indian cooking, and used in pickles, fried meat or as a tea.
Asafetida, and other bitter and pungent flavors, have been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to assist in digestion and burn ama. These flavors are known to:
Relieve gas and bloating
Improve heartburn and other symptoms of indigestion
Encourage digestive enzymes bile and HCL production
Calm upset stomach and nausea
Normalize blood sugar levels
Reduce sugar cravings
Support liver function and healthy skin
In addition to its intestinal benefits, Asafoetida also supports your immune system and has antiviral properties. In 2009, a research study reported that Asafoetida root produces natural antiviral drug properties that are potent against the H1N1 virus in vitro. Asafoetida has been used to treat bronchitis, asthma, whooping cough and nervousness. It is even thought to be an aphrodisiac.
You can incorporate Asafetida as a pungent spice in your diet several times a week, perhaps in a curry dish. You can also make a simple Asafetida tea.
Asefetida Tea Recipe:
½ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pinches of Asafoetida
1 squeeze of lime
Mix everything but the lime in a pot and bring to a boil. After it cools, squeeze in the lime.
Do not consume this tea too frequently, as it may cause diarrhea (it fights constipation). Asafoetida is available at Asian and Indian grocery stores, as well as online.