The pungent taste is due to essential oils. These stimulate the appetite and aid assimilation and absorption of food. Hot spices cause an elevation of the air and fire elements and are hence both drying and exciting to all organs. Pungent foods are light, hot, and dry; their volatile oils, besides being aromatic, tend to cause a tingling sensation on the tongue; they also promote salivation and sometimes lachrymation. They balance excess water, but have to be used somewhat more carefully with air types and even more judiciously with fire types. Earth types generally benefit from the use of spices so long as the dryness is compensated for by moisture in the food.


Hot spices are vivifying and decongesting. They can be used to drain the sinuses, to promote expectoration of phlegm, to decongest cholesterol clogged arteries, and to treat obesity and diabetes. Since Westerners tend use relatively few really hot spices in their cooking and even fewer in a medicinal way, it is worth taking some time to understand the pharmacological properties of spices. For example, though many people use herbs such as thyme, marjoram, and oregano in sauces and salad dressings, they seldom realize that ginger root and black pepper can be used to clear up a cold. It is important to realize that watery disorders are a major cause of ill health, probably not just in the West, but certainly everywhere that refined sugar and other hazards of civilization have made strong inroads. People with excess water tend also to have high levels of mucus, serum cholesterol, undigested fatty acids, as well as extra pounds straining efficient functioning of their bodies. Spices will relieve many such problems and should be considered by those with excess water conditions as a substitute for pastries, ice cream, and other sweet foods. Many snack foods can be made with spices though the truth is that watery types do not need snacks between meals. Still, a spicy trail mix is a marvelous substitute for chocolate. Dalmoth, a product available in many Indian import shops is excellent as are some spicy nuts; these help to reduce craving for sugar and alcohol.

Besides aiding fat metabolism and reducing the tendency towards arteriosclerosis and myocardial infarction, many spices are antifungal, antibacterial, and vermicidal. This means that they help to wipe out low grade infections, candida albicans, and intestinal parasites. The essential oils also stimulate peristaltic action of the intestines, aid assimilation and elimination, and clear congestion in the body.

Lest this sound too much like a hymn of praise to spices, it should be mentioned that most spices are irradiated. As of September 1987, 48 spices were approved for irradiation in the U.S. This list includes almost everything you would expect to see on the spice racks of your supermarket: allspice to turmeric. Gamma radiation levels for these spices is not supposed to exceed 30,000 Gray (Gy), 30 times the irradiation permitted other food products. It is generally agreed that 1000 Gy would kill a person several times over, but the explanation where spices are concerned is that spices do not constitute a major part of the diet and that higher exposure to gamma rays is therefore "safe". My own opinion is that it is worth the trouble to find nonirradiated spices. Many health food stores, herb shops, and special mail order distributors provide such spices—not only are they free of radiation, but they taste a lot better.

It is not possible to say whether the pharmacological actions of spices are affected by radiation, but logic compels me to believe that the air element is deranged and the molecular structure is affected by radiation. The oils are also affected so that irradiated spices are drier and more irritating. It therefore makes no sense to use spices medicinally if they have been irradiated.

Since many herb books provide information on the special medicinal effects of spices (for instance, The Yoga of Herbs by Dr. Vasant Lad and David Frawley, Lotus Press), little more will be said here except that wider use of spices, at the beginning of meal preparation when the onions are being sautéed, will benefit many people. The purchase of a good Indian cookbook and some spices may be the first step towards better health for many persons.

Spices are slimming; many can also be chewed after meals, like cardamom or fennel seeds, to cleanse the mouth and give fresh breath. Aside from the warnings already given, pungent foods are excellent except where there is fever or other indications of an elevated fire element or where the palate is so unaccustomed to this taste that the spices have to be introduced slowly and gradually. In excess, spices can produce symptoms of too much air and fire: dizziness, trembling, burning sensations in the throat, impotency, spots before one's eyes, ulcers, and hemorrhoids.


The Pungent Taste
Balancing Energy
Balancing Taste


The Bitter Taste

Pungent Herbs

Zingiber officinale, Piper nigrum, Piper longum
Banyan Botanicals, 90 tablets, 500 mg, certified organic

Trikatu contains three spices that stimulate digestion and assimilation of food. It kindles agni or digestive fire and promotes reduction of excess kapha and fat. In Ayurveda, spices are used to counteract lethargy and slow metabolism as well as to improve absorption due to weak appetite and insufficency of gastric secretions.

Ingredients: Ginger root*, Black Pepper fruit*, Pippali fruit*

*Certified organically grown



Turmeric Flavonoid Complex
Vitamin C, Turmeric rhizome , Lemon Bioflavonoid Complex, Ginger rhizome
Ethical Nutrients, 60 tablets


Curcuma longa
Planetary Formulas, 60 tablets, 450 mg, 95% curcumin

Ingredients: Turmeric root



Reprinted from The Elements: Constitutional Type and Temperament by Ingrid Naiman
Copyright 1989 and 1998 by Ingrid Naiman
Revised 2004







Sacred Medicine Sanctuary
Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2004

*The material provided on this site is for informational purposes only. The author is not a medical doctor. The statements made represent the author's personal opinions and are not intended to replace the services of health care professionals. The content and products discussed have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information on this page and the products available on this site are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.