Spring is a time for new beginnings and for releasing the stored energy we built in winter. It is a time for planting the seeds of health for the coming year.

Living in the northeast United States as I do, I always feel such relief at the end of a long winter. Finally the snow melts away, the air freshens up with the fragrance of moist soil, and trees and shrubs come back to life. With the warming temperatures, our bodies also begin to open up; excessive mucus melts and rushes out of our system—this is one reason why many of us experience colds and congestion in spring.

We balanced winter’s cold and dryness with heavy, moist, sweet, fatty foods rich in protein. In spring we enter a new cycle with nature, where moisture and heaviness dominate the environment; therefore, we need to change our diet or our physiology will turn sluggish.

What happens to our digestion in spring? Due to the increased humidity in the atmosphere, we may experience a switch from Fiery or Airy to slow (Earthy) digestion, which means that an increased moisture in the stomach will lower our digestive fire and slow down our metabolism. Your appetite may go down and you may feel heavier and more tired than usual. That is why you need to gradually and comfortably adjust your diet to the balancing suggestions below. If you don’t, perpetual slow digestion may lead to excess mucus, coughs, clammy skin, weight gain, and lethargy.

Spring weather temperatures usually stay in the range of 50°F and 80°F during the day. This is the best season for annual detoxification and cleansing because our microcirculatory channels naturally soften and expand, making the release of toxins much easier. Please keep in mind that before you indulge yourself in cleansing (and it must be the right practice for you!), you need to prepare your body, and especially your liver, by adjusting your diet and perhaps adding a few self-care treatments to your regimen. There is nothing more damaging to your system than a premature, harsh, or improper detox. In this chapter I have interspersed recipes that can be used during a gentle and safe cleansing protocol.

Balance with foods from the spring harvest: peas, leafy greens, dandelion, asparagus, radish, burdock root. We also need the dryness and astringency of lentils and small beans and the pungency of ginger, chiles, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ajwain, and cardamom. In general, favor warm foods that are dry, light, and warm of pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes. Apples, pears, pomegranate, artichokes, radicchio, broccoli rabe, cruciferous vegetables, and sprouts. The drying properties of barley, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, millet, buckwheat noodles (soba), and corn make them perfect grains for spring. And get moving to enhance your metabolism—walk, exercise, hike, and dance more!

Stay away from foods that are heavy, oily, and cold and reduce the sweet, salty, and sour tastes in your menus. In this season you really want to cut down on sweets, nuts, wheat, brown rice, meat, dairy, avocados, coconuts, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sweet potatoes, because they may cause excessive congestion. (Although zucchini and lauki squash are watery summer vegetables, they support the cleansing of the liver; for that reason, I use them in small amounts in some of the recipes.) Raw honey is the best sweetener in this season (but avoid it if you have Fiery digestion). In general, on your plate you need less grains, more vegetables, and moderate amount of light protein (preferably for lunch, not dinner). It is also good to reduce salt, which makes the body retain moisture. Avoid leftovers (especially refrigerated starchy foods), as their lower digestibility increases the possibility of congestion and weight gain.

Refrain from napping during the day or sleeping after sunrise.

Tips for Improving Slow (Earthy) Digestion

The following tips are specific for slow (Earthy) digestion; they also support natural weight loss.

  • Follow the recipes and recommendations in this chapter.
  • Chew 1 teaspoon of After-Meal Spice Blend for Earthy Digestion (see Sidebar) after lunch and dinner.
  • Eat three small meals at regular times (only when you’re hungry).
  • Drink warm water throughout the day.
  • If your appetite is low, before a meal chew 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger sprinkled with tiny pinch of rock salt (not sea salt) and a splash of lime juice.
  • Cook with small amounts of sesame oil, black sesame oil (as a finishing oil), cultured ghee, and olive oil; avoid coconut oil.
  • Follow a mono diet (eating only one thing all day) once or twice a week with my Detox Kulthi Khichari and Cilantro Chutney (recipes in my cookbook, What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen)

After-Meal Spice Blend for Slow (Earthy) Digestion

This simple digestive spice mix comes in very handy when you experience Earthy digestion and have to eat out a lot. You can conveniently carry it with you and use after meals.

Fennel cools off excess digestive acids and ajwain sharpens the digestive fire, ensuring that your food is properly digested and absorbed. If you are on a lowestrogen diet, substitute coriander seeds for the fennel. This digestive aid is also an effective natural mouth freshener!

    2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
    ½ teaspoon ajwain seeds

In a small heavy skillet, dry-toast the spices together over low heat until they darken a few shades and release their aroma. Remove from the pan and let them cool down completely, then store in an airtight jar. Chew ½ teaspoon after lunch and dinner.

Cooked Apple Pre-Breakfast Recipe

(from What to Eat for How You Feel: The New Ayurvedic Kitchen, by Divya Alter)

Single foods eaten at the right time can have the most profound effect on our health. When I first heard about the Cooked Apple from Vaidya Mishra, I was skeptical—is it really so important to eat it first thing in the morning? Why cooked and not raw? After trying it a few times I loved it so much that to date, stewing an apple is part of my morning pre-breakfast ritual.

This is the easiest, fastest recipe in my book. Yet its benefits put to shame the most extravagant culinary creations in the world. I change my cooking class recipes seasonally, but I include Cooked Apple in every class handout. I am thrilled when students come back and tell me about their morning apple experience. So here is my challenge for you: if you are a beginner in the kitchen, start with this recipe—it will build your confidence. If you don’t have time to cook, make this recipe anyway—it takes only a minute to prep and you can shower while it’s cooking—it won’t interfere with your rushed schedule. If you want to create lasting family memories for your kids, make them Cooked Apple—they will always remember waking up to the heavenly apple aroma.

Try this recipe and see how it works for you. Remember that the key is to eat it first thing in the morning, as close to the time you get up as possible.

Serves 1 Prep: 1 minute Cook: 5 minutes Gluten free; Dairy free

    ½ cup water
    2 whole cloves
    1 medium apple, preferably a sweeter variety such as Golden Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Opal, or Pink Lady

  For Fiery digestion: Make as it is or substitute a pear for the apple.
  For Earthy digestion: Add a 1-inch piece cinnamon stick in Step 1.

  1. Start boiling the water and cloves in a small saucepan. In the meantime, peel, core, and chop the apple into bite-size pieces. If you don’t have time to peel it, at least cut the apple into 4 pieces and remove the core.
  2. Add the apple pieces to the hot water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the apple is soft and translucent but not mushy.
  3. Drain (you can reserve the liquid if you like—see Note), let it cool a little, and eat first thing in the morning.

Notes:

  • You can eat this every day, no matter how you’re feeling. Of course, there may be mornings when you don’t feel like eating Cooked Apple; when that happens, don’t!
  • You may drink the cooking liquid as tea, add it to your oatmeal, or simply discard it.
  • If you didn’t peel the apple, discard the peels while eating it. Peels are hard to digest in the morning.
  • With their warming and digestive qualities, cloves open the circulatory channels in the body without overheating it.
  • Why cooked and not raw? During the six to eight hours of sleep we generally get, the metabolic fire of digestion in the stomach goes low, into a slumber mode, and in the morning it needs to be refueled again to full flame. Say you want to rekindle the embers of a bonfire: you will first feed it small twigs, and once ablaze, add logs of wood. Similarly, in the morning we have to reignite our slumbering fire of digestion with lighter, easy-to-digest foods such as a stewed apple and eat heavier foods such as grains, meat, eggs, yogurt, and raw fruit later, when our digestion is burning at its optimal strength. For most of us, late morning or afternoon is a better time for enjoying a raw apple.
  • For small children, after cooking, remove the cloves, puree the apple, and feed it warm to the child. If possible, wait for two hours until your next breast-feeding to avoid reactions from the digestive incompatibility of apple and breast milk. Of course, if your child gets hungry, you can breast-feed her or him within less than two hours.
  • Do not eat Cooked Apple if you have blood sugar issues.

An Apple a Day . . . More Benefits of Stewed Apple Pre-Breakfast

  • Serves as a gentle daily cleanse for the digestive system
  • Supports regularity
  • Strengthens digestion
  • Lowers acidity and excessive hunger
  • Optimizes dietary pH balancing
  • Boosts immunity to prevent most colds and flus