Living in India, we have all grown up hearing our elders preach about Ghee and its miraculous healing properties. In the 3 rd instalment of this series, we are will explore the medicinal treasure that Ghee offers us in the form of Ayurvedic treatment and remedies. We will delve into Shlokas of Ghee found in ancient texts and how modern science has come to support the claims of this ancient eastern medical practice: Ayurveda.
Ghee: At the heart of Ayurveda
“Ghee is sweet in taste and cooling in energy, rejuvenating, good for the eyes and vision, kindles digestion, bestows lustre and beauty, enhances memory and stamina, increases intellect, promotes longevity, is an aphrodisiac and protects the body from various diseases.” (Bhavaprakasha 6.18.1) No other substance is as widely used to prepare Ayurvedic medicines as ghee. Ghee is also cited as the best substance for preparing the body for Ayurveda’s internal detoxification (Panchakarma). One reason for this is that ghee is given as the best remedy for diseases due to aggravated Pitta and Vata doshas. Ghee alleviates Pitta dosha by its cold, sweet properties and Vata by its oiliness. Ghee is hence recommended in autumn when Pitta’s hot nature can get aggravated after summer. But there is more to ghee than its dosha balancing properties. This article explores ghee’s role in working alongside Ayurvedic herbs, as well as its own inherent healing abilities not found in other fats.
Ghee is ideal for massage and detoxification
A unique aspect of Ayurveda is its use of large amounts of oily substances in treatment. As such, oil massage can be very effective in Vata problems such as osteoarthritis, stress, insomnia and paralysis. However, ghee is more often used internally than for external massage. In Ayurvedic detoxification (Panchakarma) increasing doses of ghee are given each morning to prepare the body. Patients are also given a daily oil massage which brings toxins out of fatty tissues, followed by steam therapy to bring toxins to the surface. After several days, these are eliminated with different techniques such as vomiting, purgatives, enemas and nasal therapy to cleanse the body.
Ghee is used in most Ayurvedic formulations
“Ghee is the unctuous substance par- excellence because of its power to assimilate effectively the properties of other substances… it increases, thousand times in potency and develops manifold qualities” (Charaka Su trasthana 13/13). Ghee is widely used in medicinal formulations due to its unusual ability to assimilate the properties of herbs it is mixed with, without losing its own qualities. For example, if ghee is mixed with a drying, heating herb, it doesn’t sacrifice its own oily, cold nature. Ayurveda considers honey to be the best in this regard. This is explained by it being made from many different species of flowers, each having different properties themselves. However, Ayurveda views honey is a living substance that must not be heated or it ferments acting like a poison in the body (Charaka Sutrasthana 27/248). As most Ayurvedic formulations require heating in their preparation, ghee is favoured. However, ghee is no mere inert ‘filler’ for formulations. Its own therapeutic powers work to help cure disease, as well as increasing the effectiveness of other herbs. For example, ghee’s effect of increasing the digestive fire (Agni) allows other herbs to be more easily absorbed.
Ghee in rejuvenation and aphrodisiac therapy
Ayurveda is famed for its rejuvenation treatments. The combination of ghee and milk is one of the best rejuvenation tonics as it increases the body’s life force (Ojas). The Ayurvedic concept of Ojas covers all factors involved in the prevention of degeneration and natural immunity. It is considered the essence of all the body’s tissues, and without it, we die. Syndromes such as AIDS involve a progressive running down of the body’s supply of Ojas. Ghee has physical similarities to Ojas in being white, yellowish, tasting like honey and smelling like fried rice (Charaka Sutrasthana 17).
Ghee rejuvenates the mind
Beyond rejuvenating the body, Ayurveda has specific tonics for the mind. These have ghee as a key ingredient as its sweet taste nourishes the nerve tissue and brain. Brahmi ghee is prescribed in the fifth month of pregnancy for the mental development of the foetus as both Brahmi and ghee aid the development of consciousness and intellect. Beyond maintaining a healthy mind, ghee is also prescribed for anxiety, depression, dementia, insanity, epilepsy and other disorders of consciousness. The effectiveness of such ghee formulations in mental disorders has been researched and shown to be effective (Chandre, 2004; Girish 2004; Shekha 1999). Disappointingly, most studies focus on the herbs which are added to the ghee but ghee itself is a powerful brain tonic.
Ghee is useful in wound healing
Ghee’s regenerative properties are also useful for healing wounds and promoting the growth of healthy cells. This wound healing ability has also been clinically proven (Prasad and Dorle, 2006). Ghee formulations, containing beeswax, honey and herbs are also referenced in regards to treating all degrees of burns, due to it pacifying excessively deranged Pitta dosha. Shatadhouta ghee is described as the best medicine with which to dress burns and scalds. This ghee is softer and colder than normal ghee due to it being washed in the water a hundred times. Even more, cooling is Sahastradhouta ghee, washed 1000 times but it is rather time-consuming to make and hence more expensive!
Ghee’s widespread prevalence in Ayurvedic medicines and treatments is due to its beneficial effects on the digestion, absorption and delivery of Ayurvedic herbs, as well as its own healing properties. When the digestive capacity (Agni) and life-essence (Ojas) are weakened, the doshas are disturbed causing disease. Ghee’s actions on both Agni and Ojas are hence at the heart of all Ayurvedic chikitsa. Ghee also nourishes and regenerates the body and mind, improving the overall quality of treatment. Finally, on a practical level, ghee is rich in antioxidants and hence does not go rancid for a long time. In the days before refrigeration, this would have been invaluable in allowing formulations to be used for up to 16 months. Now that we know how bountiful Ghee is, we will discuss the global reach of Ghee in the next instalment of this series and how far it’s come to be known as a Global Superfood now.