Herbs & Tonics for a Loving Nature by Letha Hadady, D.Ac.

When you are healthy and young at heart, love can last forever. A wise diet, including a few tonic herbs, helps us maintain generosity, resilience and vigor. Love involves risk; Becoming close to someone challenges our independence and may involve self-worth. It requires energy and patience. Tonics improve many aspects of wellness because they help our body and mind to work better. They reduce mental and physical exhaustion caused by vulnerability, fear, or low self-esteem.

     It's easy to love someone who resembles you, who shares your values, and who treats you with affection. It's difficult to have loving feelings towards your mate when you see they are being overly lazy, greedy, angry, selfish, conceited, or mean-spirited. That requires a conscious decision on your part to accept your significant other's faults, while you remain calm, dignified and patient. Being in a relationship and truly loving another is an act of generosity and real compassion. Because your mate's troublesome behavior can drive a wedge between you and your family members and/or co-workers, it's useful to know which foods and herbs enhance mental clarity, balance and perspective. A healthful meal cooked with care and served tastefully may accomplish more than a lecture. Herbs that inspire confidence and emotional balance help us maintain tranquility under stressful conditions, especially relationship issues, inspiring us to grow towards a higher love. In Ayurveda, the traditional healing art from India, these herbs and tonics are considered satvic: They increase sattva, the Sanskrit word that signifies purity and comprehension of reality with mental and emotional clarity.

     A satvic diet gives energy, courage and self-determination. It omits irritating stimulants, drugs, intoxicants and foods obtained after killing or causing pain. It excludes stale and bad-smelling foods. Satvic objects include flowers, fruits, the neem tree, and milk from happy cows and goats. In Western medicine, we aim for health and fitness. In the East, we aim for that and more: knowledge, understanding, compassion and wisdom, all the fruits of a higher love.

     Satvic foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and dairy products. A satvic diet is calming and nourishing, yet light for easy digestion. Vegetarian diets can be too cooling for people who suffer in the cold weather. For this reason, yogis use warming herbs like ashwagandha, astragalus or Panax ginseng. Special spice combinations include digestive masalas which are based on cumin seed, coriander seed, ginger, pepper, and turmeric root. Hingvashtak powder is made with hing (AKA asafotida), pepper and ginger. If you have a pale tongue and excess mucus, add up to 1/4 tsp per pot of tea to ease bloating and indigestion. Chyavanprash is a nourishing, semi-sweet herbal paste made with many spices, including cinnamon, ginger, pepper, along with stimulating herbs and clarified butter. Ayurvedic herbs are available in East Indian groceries, health food stores and online.

     Ashwagandha is an East Indian ginseng, an adaptogenic nerve and vitality tonic recommended for fatigue, backache, weakness, problems associated with aging, poor memory, nerve illnesses, paralysis, and low vitality. If you suffer from winter fatigue and depression and want a warming tonic herb, 1 - 2 teaspoons of ashwagandha powder can be added to milk, juice or water. Sweeten cool liquids with honey. Used long-term, ashwagandha powder or pills strengthen chronic muscle weakness and reduce aches. Ashwagandha improves dance muscles. Pregnant women take it to ease delivery.

     Astragalus (huang qi) originates in China. Chinatown herb shops sell the sliced herb and health food stores sell capsules. Astragalus has proven anticancer properties, increases T cells, and boosts energy and immunity. It reduces water retention at the waist and night sweats. Simmer a handful of sliced astragalus in water for 45 minutes and drink the pleasant-tasting tea between meals. Astragalus is not warming and stimulating like Chinese ginseng. Cordyceps, medicinal fungi in a capsule, reduces stress, supports healthy adrenal glands, lungs, and heart. Athletes use it to run longer and recover faster after exercise. In China, you may be served duck soup containing cordyceps.

     A number of tonic herbs improve memory. In general, take them between meals. Gotu kola is a rejuvenating herb for overheated, sedentary people who do too much mental work. It enhances circulation in the legs reducing varicose veins, improves memory, and is said to help balance the hemispheres of the brain. Gingko is recommended in Europe for Alzheimer's because it enhances peripheral blood circulation in the brain.

     Shankhpushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis) is an Ayurvedic brain tonic and memory enhancer. It's digestive and has cardio-protective properties. In a 1982 study, 28 people diagnosed with anxiety were given 50 mg daily of an herbal formula containing shankhpushpi as a main ingredient. After six weeks, 91 percent of the patients had more energy and 70 percent could sleep and concentrate better. Nervousness decreased. One medical source recommends 275 mg in pill form or 1 teaspoon of the powder twice daily with meals.

     Tulsi (holy basil) tea has been recommended for everything from toothache to asthma, heart trouble, kidney stones, and poor memory. I prefer the evocative aroma and calming effects of rose tea. Rose opens the heart chakra and is calming, which begins the age-old song of love that may lie buried within, crushed by fatigue and worry.

     Letha Hadady, a New York based acupuncturist/herbalist, is the author of Asian Health Secrets, Personal Renewal, Healthy Beauty, and Feed Your Tiger. She is the Ayurvedic health correspondent for Heal India magazine. Her website is www.asianhealthsecrets.com. Email her at: lethah@earthlink.net.