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Sunday, January 15, 2012

YOGI TEA

Yogi Tea

These days I regularly have a pot of Yogi Tea boiling on the stove to be stored and taken out when needed. While this herbal formula is called a “tea”, it is more properly considered a decoction. The herbs are boiled up to three hours and the liquid is then strained and the herbs thrown away.

Yogi Tea is a famous recipe that was introduced to this country by Yogi Bhajan. Apparently in Northern India, it is a widespread remedy given especially to children in the flu season. It is often served in yoga studios to replenish the body and maintain its metabolic heat after a vigorous workout. This prevents the body from cooling down too fast which can lead to toxic states of indigestion (Sans. ama, Tib. ma zhu ba) which would be stored in the body’s tissues.

The first two of these herbs, Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum: bitter/hot; warming) and Clove (Syzygium aromaticum: hot, warming) are materia medica from the division of so called “essence medicines” (rtsi sman), medicines so named, according to Tenzin Phuntsok (the famed author of the definitive 18th century Tibetan pharmacopeia, Dri Med Shel Phreng or Mālā of Stainless Crystal) because they “...destroy illness and restore the physical constituents.”

The twenty-fourth chapter of the explanatory tantra states:
Cardamom removes all cold kidney diseases.

In the winter season, the heat of the kidneys is especially vulnerable to the cold. Since the kidneys are an important site of water and kapha (Tib. bad kan) in the body, adding cardamom to one’s diet protects the heat of the kidneys and supports their function of eliminating wastes from the body. It also supports the metabolic heat of the stomach, aiding digestion overall.

The next on the list is cloves, about which it is said:
Clove removes diseases of the aorta and cold wind.

The action of clove focuses specifically on the arterial system of the body, especially the aorta. Its warming action balances the prāṇavāyu (srog ‘dzin rlung) which rests in the aorta and serves to calm and balance one’s vāta throughout the whole body after heavy effort. It also acts to support the function of the metabolic heat of the stomach. Further, clove balances the action of the udāna vāyu (gyen rgyu rlung), the upward-moving wind, thus aiding in relieving congestion of the lungs in colds and old flus.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum: sweet/hot; warming), the stuff we find in stores, which is not true Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), but rather Cassia, is up next. It is listed as a tree medicine, about which it is said:
Cassia removes cold in the stomach and the liver.

The main function of Cassia is to support digestion and stimulate the appetite (which it does through its enticing aroma). Not only does it have this function but Cassia supports the digestive heat in the liver, aiding the transformation of rasa (dwangs ma), the nutritional extract of food, into blood. It also controls vāta, which is the most important of the three humors to be on guard against, especially in cold seasons. Together with the clove, it controls vāta that can be a problem in the late fall and winter season when the cold temperatures outside aggravate the cold, rough and hard qualities of vāta and the reduced hours of sunlight often lead people to experience symptoms of cabin fever or SAD. Its expectorating functions are also excellent in combination with clove.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale:Hot; warming) is used in nearly every culture, about which it is said:
Ginger removes phlegm combined with wind, and breaks up and dissolves [unhealthy] blood.

When I make this tea, I use the fresh form of ginger, which is cooling rather than warming, according to the principle found in Indo-Tibetan medicine that in medicines, substance takes precedence over taste. In its fresh form, ginger is used as a kind of inner lubricant, aiding the overall digestion but acting as a balance against the heat of the other four herbs. It helps cleanse the channels from the small intestine to the liver that take up the rasa, and generally speaking, aids the other herbs in their metabolism-enhancing function. However, in the commercial form of Yogi Tea, the ginger present in it is dried and so adds more heat to the formula. From my point of view, this makes it more imperative to add milk or something else to balance the heat of the whole decoction.

The final herb in the list is Black Pepper (Piper Nigrum: hot; warming and hot), about which it is said:
Black pepper removes cold phlegm.

Black pepper, which is a fruit from a shrub (ldum bu), stimulates the appetite and improves one’s metabolic heat. But Acharya Vagbhata states that black pepper increases bile and is sharp, and if overused continuously can cause vāta imbalance because of its rough nature. In this formula however, the addition of clove and cinnamon balance the roughness of black pepper, along with the raw milk (if it can be gotten) and one’s sweetener of choice. Pepper prevents the accumulation of kapha, especially in the winter season.

Boiled raw cow’s milk is sweet, light and warming, reduces frequent urination, sharpens the mind, increases ojas [mdangs], removes bile and enhances potency. It cures persistent flus and colds. Raw milk is also excellent for those with so-called lactose intolerance, and seems to reduce allergies in those people who switch to its use. Otherwise, one can use Soymilk, Almond milk and so on.

Black Tea is added in a very small portion. The effect of adding tea balances the decoction with its cooling bitterness. It also offsets and balances the richness and sweetness of the milk.

Sweeteners: Maple syrup for those with excess vāta. Rock candy or sugar for those with excess pitta. Honey for those with excess kapha. If these “spoonfuls of sugar” are used, one can increase the beneficial effect of this decoction.

The recipe is as follows:

Eight cups of water
20 whole cloves
20 green cardamom pods, crushed
20 pepper corns,
eight slices of ginger
three or four sticks of Cinnamon
Milk and sweeteners to taste

Boil the cloves until one can smell their fragrance (about a minute). Add the other four ingredients, boil for half an hour. Simmer on low for another two or three hours. Strain, add milk and sweetener, store the rest for later.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it combines diet and behavior (in other words, get out there and do some yoga) and medicine in one preparation.

So cook up a pot of Yogi Tea on your stove and enjoy -- I guarantee that you will like it more than the poor substitute you will find in a teabag.


Yogi Tea Update

Hi Folks:

Just a quick update: I happened to come across a local source of true cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), also known as Ceylonese Cinnamon, and used to this to make Yogi Tea instead of cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum).

A qualitative difference exists between these two kinds of Cinnamon. Tea made from the latter is more warming, as well as possessing an oilier, more pungent and more aromatic quality -- its aroma fills the whole room. Tea made with the former is more delicate, lighter, not as warming, not as aromatic and less pungent.

While either can be used, I find that I tend to favor cassia as an ingredient for this tea over true cinnamon because of cassia's more robust flavor and aroma.

An advantage of true cinnamon however is that it is soft and crumbly, and has an undeniably more delicate and sweeter flavor, so perhaps I will reserve my small supply of true cinnamon for my various culinary adventures, and keep the cassia for the tea.

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