In the timeline of life according to Ayurveda, spring—and all new growth—is kapha. More specifically, since spring falls between the sleepy, damp kapha season of winter and the hot and passionate pitta season of summer, some might refer to it as a kapha-pitta season.
It is when the kapha that’s accumulated over winter warms up and begins to liquefy. Kapha turning liquid may become problematic for those of us prone to spring colds, sneezing and allergies. And since the liver and gallbladder are activated at this time of year, some of that liquefying kapha reveals inflammation, irritation and other pitta symptoms having to do with the realm of fire and oil. Our goal is to help kapha along; to allow it to flow through us as quickly as possible so that symptoms remain for as short a time as possible.
This natural liquification process is exemplary of why it’s such a good idea to cleanse in the spring. Nature is on your side; kapha is already moving as a result of spring warmth. Ama, or toxic build up in the body, naturally wants to express, expectorate and detoxify. It’s nature’s version of “out with the old, in with the new.” Knowing which foods will help to accelerate and support this process helps us feel better while it’s happening. Detoxification can be uncomfortable. So we want to focus on foods that lessen the discomfort while strengthening our immunity—also known as ojas, or vital fluids—so that our path to summer is a strong and vibrant one.
Kapha is increased by excessive amounts of heavy, oily, damp foods. This includes all fried foods, foods that are laden with table salt and cooked oils, leftover foods that have lost their pranic “glow,” and excessively heavy, sweet desserts. If you are a person of the kapha persuasion, this is not new news.
Overeating and under-exercising will also increase kapha. And what we want to do is balance kapha. So, the tastes to avoid (in excess; remember that everyone has their own unique constitution so there are variants to this general rule of spring) include sweet, salty and sour. The tastes to focus on are bitter, pungent and astringent.
Here are some examples of what you DO want to eat right now:
My favorite food-for-a-spring day looks something like this: Start off the day with a large mug of hot water and the juice of half a lemon. Maybe add a dash of cardamom, turmeric, tulsi (holy basil), or cayenne pepper for a little more stir to the digestive fire. For breakfast, a room temperature green smoothie really can’t be beat. It’s light, hydrating, alkaline-forming and easy to digest. Especially when that smoothie is rich in greens (which could come from fresh kale, spinach, or a green superfood powder like “Vitamineral Green” from Healthforce Nutritionals), fiber from foods like flax or chia seeds, astringent fruits like organic red grapes or pomegranate juice and a dash of pungent spice like fresh minced ginger root and ground cinnamon.
Fresh seasonal fruit make good spring snacks but it’s better to avoid snacking between meals and treat yourself instead with fresh ginger tea and raw honey. Tulsi tea is also excellent. Lunch could be a bountiful spinach salad with grated carrots, grated beets, radishes and steamed artichokes with lemon-olive oil-garlic dipping sauce. Perhaps dinner can consist of some coconut-roasted asparagus for dinner with a bowl of steaming quinoa. Add a hunking tablespoon of raw sauerkraut and you’ve got probiotics to help move that ama out.
In terms of avoiding sweet, salty and sour, there are a few exceptions. Really good quality, mineral-rich salt like Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt on your food provides electrolyte minerals and flavor that cannot be replaced or replicated by any processed food. Cooking at home whenever possible gives you control over what goes into your meals. I recommend doing it as often as possible. Simple sweet foods like red-skinned potatoes, parsnips, white sweet potatoes, and gluten-free whole grains (like amaranth, quinoa, and millet) and pearled barley can provide fiber that aids the removal of ama.
For more food ideas, any Ayurvedic cookbook can lead you in the direction of kapha-reducing recipes. The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen is filled with vegetable-based dishes that nourish the body, mind and soul. I also love The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar.
Here are a few of my favorite spring recipes for nourishing vital ojas while balancing sweet kapha:
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
1 small bunch dinosaur kale
1 tsp. Celtic sea salt
2 cups organic spring salad mix
1/2 cup sunflower sprouts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup raw hempseeds or sunflower seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. whole fennel seeds
Wash and chop the kale into very small pieces. Place in a large serving bowl with salt. Massage the kale and salt for a minute then add the remaining ingredients and toss.
Garlic Butter Dipping Sauce
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
2 Tbs. melted ghee or coconut oil
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
Dash Celtic sea salt
Melt the ghee or coconut oil over low heat. Remove from stove, add the lemon, garlic and salt and serve with artichokes, baked red potatoes, cooked whole grains and/or steamed asparagus.
Fresh Ginger Tea
Ginger is an invigorating tonic for warmth, digestive regulation and general vigor/circulation.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
4 cups water
2 inches fresh ginger root, cut into thin slices
Boil the water and ginger, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain and drink at any temperature.
Talya Lutzker is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, nutritionist, chef, and yoga teacher, and the founder of Talya’s Kitchen. Her latest cookbook is The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen. Learn more at TalyasKitchen.com.