Taste has the power to heal us, rebalance us and support us in living life as our most connected selves in a world so withdrawn from meaningful connection. Here I share seven secrets of how the ancients lived vitally, healthfully and in deeper daily union by aligning their diet with the astringent taste of spring.
It’s springtime in the northern hemisphere, and life is celebratorily re-emerging, expressing joy in its vibrant colors with a chirp on its lips. The sun’s return ushers in a natural inclination to eat lighter, more crisp meals and simpler and less cooked foods, which is natural, as it’s the taste of the season. But why? And what does it mean for your health, vitality and sense of connection?
From an Ayurvedic perspective, our predominant sense of taste is also an incredibly powerful one that helps guide us toward the right foods to choose in each season of the year. And building our awareness of our sense of taste can also connect us with the elements that we’re made of, teach us how taste can nourishe us back into balance and learn how taste can be a source of deep healing. This is part of what I like to call cyclical awareness and cyclical reconnection. It’s a simple way to practice our awareness of the changing seasonal cycles and reconnect with their innate wisdom of self-healing.
“Our senses allow us to feel and experience our emotions. If we are willing to ‘get to know’ ourselves through our senses we can enrich our lives enormously.”Excerpt from Maya Tiwari’s Wise Earth Ayurveda® “Food, Breath and Sound Inner Medicine Healing Program Manual“
The mysterious, and lesser-known, astringent taste of the spring season
Spring officially begins March 15 and runs through May 15 when you’re looking at the seasonal cycles Ayurvedically (as there are six seasons recognized throughout the year). At this time, the sun returns, and water becomes more abundant, finally freed and flowing forth from its frozen or dried-up states.
But did you realize that this same water element we see bubbling up again from the earth, refilling dried creeks from melted mountain snow or pouring down in springtime rain showers manifests in the body as our sense of taste? Think saliva or digestive juices. This sense of taste is one of Ayurveda’s most powerful (and enjoyable) tools for living a healthy, balanced, creative and long life!
And no matter where you’re located in the world, springtime, wherever you are, is a time to experiment with the power of taste yourself. Try it and watch how your body responds with vitality and health.
The water element manifests as taste in our bodies, for example, as saliva or our digestive juices.
The taste of spring is astringent, which in my personal and professional experience with my clients, friends and family (myself included) is one of the toughest tastes to recognize and shows up the least in our everyday diet, especially in the contemporary American diet. This means we’re missing out on some serious healing capacity since the astringent taste of spring is mighty at minimum. Let’s explore the top seven purifying health secrets of aligning your spring diet and food choices with the astringent taste of the spring season.
1. Reconnect with your natural ability to self-heal
Did you realize that each of the five elements have a direct relationship to each our five senses? Just like water represents taste, each element also represents sight, sound, smell and touch. “Our senses are a vital part of our mind and body and our senses are how we experience the world,” explains my honored Ayurvedic teacher, Maya Tiwari, founder of Wise Earth School of Ayurveda. “Our senses allow us to feel and experience our emotions.”
“The physiological and psychological functions of the body are known to be intricately and inherently woven. Cosmic energy and universal matter are at once intertwined in our foods, thoughts, and activities.”Maya Tiwari, Wise Earth Ayurveda Nutrition Food, Breathe & Sound manual
Coming from this perspective that our body, our thoughts, our emotions and our behaviors are interconnected, you can begin to see how health in one area can create and support health in other areas of our being.
I’m infinitely inspired by the way that the ancient seers of Ayurveda looked at the human sense of taste. And have become impassioned by the eloquent way Maya Tiwari’s work translates those ancient books, called The Vedas, to help us understand the intimate connection we have with our food — and our life — through our sense of taste. As we all know, the water element forms the basis of life on this planet. And “without water, there can be no taste and, without taste, we can’t remember our union with Mother Nature. When nature’s intrinsic taste is tampered with, it loses its ability to transmit the vibrations that our system needs to replenish our physical, emotional, and spiritual rhythms,” educates Tiwari.
“Without water, there can be no taste and, without taste, we can’t remember our union with Mother Nature.”Excerpt from Maya Tiwari’s Wise Earth Ayurveda® “Food, Breath and Sound Inner Medicine Healing Program Manual“
From Tiwari’s Ayurveda-informed perspective, our taste is quite omniscient and includes “all the impressions that are experienced, not only by the tongue, but by all the sense organs — the nose, eyes, ears, and skin. We may ‘taste’ the emotions of joy or sorrow, fear or courage, just as we may ‘taste’ music—a form of sonic taste that reaches the most profound depths of our being.”
Rasa is the ancient Sanskrit term for ‘taste,’ but it can also translate to ‘sap, juice, elixir, essence.’ In her Vedic teachings Tiwari further explains that rasa, or taste “is the primordial essence of healing within the body. It gives us the unique ability of taste through which we can safeguard our immunity. The word ‘rasa’ can also mean “love, feeling esthetic, sentiment.”
“Taste plays a critical role in nurturing, nourishing, and healing the body. It is a vital part of the process of nutrition.“Maya Tiwari, Wise Earth Ayurveda Nutrition Food, Breathe & Sound manual
Understanding the direct connection between the elements we are made of and the elements our food is made of, and by way of our sense of taste, we’re equipped to nourish our bodies, our minds, our emotions and our spirits every day through our food choices. “When we recognize this integral connection, that we are sustained by the five elements of nature, we understand that each bite of food is a blessing. This realization is the beginning of sadhana, the point from which we start to build the foundation for a healthful spiritual life,” writes Tiwari.
💡 Tip Listen to these audio presentations on more specific ways the astringent taste can help you heal. Whether you need to balance excess heat, calm your colon (ulcerative colitis), cool and ease hemorrhoids or recover from too much congestion (after illness).
2. Make a more mindful connection with your food
Think about it: when you taste something, what’s happening? First, you perceive the food with your senses. You may first smell it. Or maybe you see it or even hear it being made — the sound of a knife chopping herbs against a wooden board or the grinding of seeds or barks (like cinnamon) by hand against the porous stone of a mortar and pestle. The whirring of mixers or spinning of choppers or the sizzling sound of the saute pan. So, you’re receiving information to the brain by way of your five senses, which often also tell you something about the taste you may soon experience.
Next, your appetite climbs onboard and actual mental and physiological changes begin happening in your body — from images or visions of what the taste might be like, to actual salivation in your mouth and maybe a rumbling in your stomach as enzyme-rich juices preparing to digest the very taste you’re now sensing and imagining are stirred up in the cauldron of your hungry belly, or appetite. “The seers describe appetite as the total intelligence of the body acting in accord with its external surroundings. Thus, food is desired, ingested, digested, and returned to the earth in a natural, harmonious cycle.”
But even deeper than our appetite is the intelligence of our taste. One of my favorite mantras from Tiwari is that our “food is memory, and eating is remembering.” Just as we carry with us the memories of all the environments we’ve grown up in, the relationships that have sustained us (and even those that may have stunted us in ways), and the experiences we’ve had, our food comes to use with this same type of memory. The soil of the place it grew in. The sun, wind, water and air conditions that have shaped it into being. The relationships it relied on for survival (a companion plant, for example), and those that may have impacted its growth (a scourge of bugs, for example). All of these rich experiences make up the memory of your food.
And you just happen to have an incredible instrument you can use for remembering all of the complex, nourishing experiences of the foods you eat, digesting them and assimilating them, and then reciprocally releasing them in a way that returns that nourishing memory, as a waste product, back to the earth to begin the cycle again and nourish another life.
3. Restore balance in your diet and the food choices you make each day
So how can taste restore balance in your diet, your daily food choices and your body? Let’s go back to a tried and true Ayurvedic principle I hold dearly in my work at Conscious Content: like creates like and opposites balance. This is a fundamental guiding principle that can help us navigate our dietary choices in a more sensible and harmonious way.
“Astringency is a frequent sensory experience that can be caused by consumption of various food and beverages, including unripe fruit, nut skin, tea and red wine.”From “Chemical Senses,” journal of The National Institutes of Health
Let’s try an exercise together.
How to create balance in your body using taste and the Ayurvedic principle: like creates like and opposites balance
First, I’ll give you the anatomy of the astringent taste of spring in the image below. Then, we’ll explore a common bodily imbalance that happens during spring and explore how to balance it using the principle: like creates like and opposites balance.
1. Quickly review the features of the astringent taste of spring
Look at the Anatomy of astringent taste mind map below to get a sense of the overall elements and features of the astringent taste of spring.
2. Compare those features to the common spring cold
Consider this common body imbalance that happens during spring: the spring cold. What are its unique features?
The unique features of a spring cold may include a stuffy nose, perhaps. A runny nose. Potentially a feeling of heaviness or lethargy. Watery eyes. Maybe a temperature increase, like a fever, or sweating.
3. Use the Ayurvedic principle to create balance
Using the Ayurvedic principle “like creates like and opposites balance,” how can you heal this person’s imbalance?
What can you see could be offered to the person with the cold above to help alleviate their symptoms and clear them up?
Here are a few of the key anatomical things to consider and compare:
1. Did you look at the primary function of the astringent taste of spring in the body?
2. Did you look at the qualities of the astringent taste? Are those like the features of the cold or not?
3. Did you look at the energetics of the air element in the astringent taste? Are those similar to the features of a spring cold? Or different?
So, what was your result?
And what did you learn? I’d love to hear what you came up with in the comments below. Or, if you have questions, feel free to throw them in the comments below, and I’ll be sure to answer!
💡 Tip You can tap or click the dialog bubble icon on the screen to jump straight to the comments.
How can I recognize the astringent taste?
Astringency is easiest to recognize in medicines meant to dry up, clear, constrict or purify. Have you ever taken Benadryl or a nasal decongestant like Sudafed? When the tablets aren’t coated, you can feel a puckering effect in your mouth. And these two medicines work to dry up, constrict and decongest, or purify.
If you’ve ever drunk a bark tea or bitten into a tree nut with a little of the bark skin on it, that puckering mouthfeel that happens is astringency. It’s caused by tannins, “the naturally occurring plant polyphenols that are usually found in plant leaves, seeds and fruit skins.”
“A second definition of astringency refers to foods that are high in minerals. Mineral rich foods tend to create a rough mouth feel. Salt and foods high in potassium and magnesium are considered astringent,” writes John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, author and Ayurvedic educator. He offers a useful table of foods with astringent quality that you can use to begin identifying this taste in your diet.
A FEW MORE EXAMPLES TO HELP YOU RECOGNIZE THE TASTE OF ASTRINGENCY:
- You over-extract a black tea with too hot of water and/or squeezing the tea bag at the end of brewing and get a taste in your cuppa that makes your mouth pucker.
- The feeling when you bite into an under-ripened banana, a raw potato skin or uncooked cranberries.
- The pursing your lips do at the bottom of your glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the most recognizable tannic red wines.
- You eat an uncooked, dried legume.
“Though astringency is primarily perceived as a disagreeable sensation, under certain circumstances astringency is desirable: it adds flavors to red wines and extends the finish, characteristics described using the term ‘smooth’ by wine writers,” describe three scientists in their National Institutes of Health journal article on Astringency: A More Stringent Definition.
Whether biomedical and life scientists believe the astringent taste is agreeable or not, it serves an important purpose in our modern diets as an accent taste for medicinal purposes.
How does the astringent taste of spring balance your body?
“Nowadays,” report the scientists defining astringency according to western terms in Chem Senses journal, “astringency is excluded from the widely accepted five basic taste modalities: salty, sour, umami, sweet, and bitter. These basic taste modalities are sensed by taste buds on the tongue, which relay sensory information to the brain through taste nerves.”
Taking a more holistic view, as Ayurveda does, taste influences not only our consciousness and our health, our immune systems to our spiritual systems, but taste interacts with us at the micro level within “every cell, atom and molecule in the body,” shares Tiwari, having “a response to each of the six tastes.”
So, while our mouth may pucker, our throat may feel dry, it may even be harder to swallow due to the roughness of the astringent taste, when your body is watery and congested with phlegm or snot, that dry roughness plays opposites to your illness to rebalance it. Drying up runny noses or watery eyes. Pulling up congestion from the lungs, throat and sinuses. The roughness breaking through sticky phlegm and snot so it can be expelled naturally by the body. The coolness of astringency balancing the heat of too much heavy density in your body or the temperature rises from fever.
What are the health balancing benefits of astringent foods?
Astringency’s “rough” quality helps scrape your insides, which sounds more uncomfortable than it really is. You won’t feel the scraping, but you will see the result, which can be a removal of fat (weight loss) or congestion buildup or scraping of toxins from organs in your respiratory system, digestive system and colon.
Astringency also helps your body to absorb all the good nutrients and memory of the foods you eat, helping you assimilate those nutrients so you body’s tissues can utilize them for proper function. This is a two-pronged benefit for Vata dosha types who may have trouble absorbing nutrients or those struggling with a leaky-gut type digestive absorption issue. This assimilation section is also beneficial for helping Kapha dosha types or Kapha imbalanced folks to lose weight.
The primary “cool” quality of astringents cools excess heat in the body (mind and spirit). What this means is they can reduce swelling by acting as a natural anti-inflammatory. So, heartburn, swelling, red, hot rashy skin issues like psoriasis or eczema (which are typically Pitta dosha type imbalances) can be cooled and cleared using the astringent taste of spring. Astringents can also help cool other imbalances like over-controlling behavior or cool anger and judgment.
What does the astringent taste balance to create health?
THE ASTRINGENT TASTE…
- increases the qualities of air + space, or vata dosha
- decreases the qualities of water + fire, or pitta dosha.
- decreases the qualities of water + earth, or kapha dosha
- decongests, or breaks down
- clears and purifies
Depending on your particular illness or dosha type, you can use the astringent taste in small quantities to lighten and clear heaviness, dry up liquid (water) or squelch inflammation (fire) and break down thickness, heaviness or stickiness (earth).
What is the balancing effect of using the astringent taste in spring?
The astringent taste, suggests Tiwari, should always be used as a minor accent in the appropriate season. “When we do not balance the tastes in our diet, we disturb the body’s tissue memory, which, in turn causes the cells to become so distorted they transmute themselves into what we call disease.”
To avoid illness or deeper disease, using the springtime season, which naturally mimics the qualities found in the astringent taste, you can team up with the season to purge, clear and purify winter gunk from your mind, body and spirit with the incredibly powerful astringent taste.
How do I use the astringent taste of spring medicinally in my diet?
Come springtime where you are, a great way to incorporate the astringent taste into your diet is to incorporate a cleansing bark tea into your diet over a week or two. Replace meals a few times per week with beans, lentils or dahls. Or, take a 1/2 teaspoon of Triphala, a very astringent three-fruit supplement, soaked for 5 minutes in warm water about an hour before bedtime for a couple of weeks during the spring season (or whenever you’re feeling the congested, runny, watery or heavy effects of an illness).
“Beans are the greatest source of strength, vitality and leanness. Dhals, the Vedic term for bean dishes, neutralize excess acids in the body. It is the food most blessed with nature’s most reserved taste — the astringent taste.”Excerpt from Maya Tiwari’s Wise Earth Ayurveda® “Food, Breath and Sound Inner Medicine Healing Program Manual“
You can even use Triphala to purify other parts of your body, including to break up gunk and floaters from your eyes, purify your mouth by using it in a mouth rinse (see directions below), or even make a face mask from it!
📌 CLEANSE YOUR MOUTH AND THROAT WITH THE POWERFUL ASTRINGENT TASTE:
Using 1/2 tsp. Triphala stirred into a 1/2 cup of warm water allowed to steep about 5 minutes, fill your mouth fully and hold the solution for about 30 seconds. Tiwari suggests that this retention exercise helps stimulate and satiate our sense as well as balancing Kapha dosha.
After 30 seconds tilt your head back and gargle the solution for 15 seconds making a sound aloud. (You may need to let some of the solution release into the sink before gargling so you don’t spill it out the sides of your mouth.)
4. Give yourself permission to be creative with your food as medicine
I don’t know about you, but throughout my lifetime I’ve noticed that sometimes having a more well-defined container gives our creativity just enough of a supportive structure from which to flourish.
“Our sense of taste allows us to ‘taste’ the entire world, making it possible to fulfill all of our desires.”Excerpt from Maya Tiwari’s Wise Earth Ayurveda® “Food, Breath and Sound Inner Medicine Healing Program Manual“
Let the taste of the season be your container. And from that supported, guided and mindful place… from the wisdom of knowing you can use a simple taste to heal and balance yourself and others, get creative! Add astringency as a small accent into recipes and explore how your body response with health!
One of the easiest ways is to throw some of spring’s first sprouts (from your local farmer’s market or organic grocery) atop anything and everything! I love putting sunflower seed sprouts especially on top of eggs, salads, sandwiches, and you can get creative with the rest of the myriad ways you could use this astringent taste-packing powerhouse that comes perfectly poised to heal in spring!
There are countless ways to work this herb into your purification routine. And even more countless ways to accent your spring diet with the purifying and healing qualities of the astringent taste of spring. A few of my favorite recipes for bringing the taste of astringency into my spring diet creatively include:
5. Support simplicity in your diet
You’ve felt it before… the energy of springtime is all about shedding unnecessary weight, springing into action, clearing the cooped-up air of winter and cleansing things anew. What supports all of these natural impulses of the spring season better than simplifying your diet?
Aligning your diet with the taste of spring, and really the taste of each seasonal cycle, is a great way to practice simplicity. The astringent taste is meant to be used medicinally to clean out and purify. Like a spring cleaning for your insides, astringent taste should be used to “reduce bodily secretions and constrict bodily tissue” explains Tiwari in her Wise Earth Ayurveda Nutrition Food, Breathe & Sound manual.
“Unless we can be guided to remember, we continue to fluctuate aimlessly in the circus of unnatural fads.”Excerpt from Maya Tiwari’s Wise Earth Ayurveda® “Food, Breath and Sound Inner Medicine Healing Program Manual“
Ayurvedic spring eating is about simplification.
Enjoy the simple crunch and subtle flavor of the seed, nut or plant that you can taste in its spring sprouts.
Sit with a warm cup of cleansing herbal bark or leaf tea and really try to understand the smell and the taste of astringency, welcoming its healing qualities and all the ways it’s meant as seasonal medicine for you.
Notice the simple pucker in your mouth you feel when biting into an astringent fruit or vegetable skin, a cranberry, an unripened banana and welcome the wisdom in the taste and how it’s meant for your springtime purification.
6. Remove the stress of meal planning each season
The ancient Vedic seers who wrote the Vedas were wise well beyond their age. Aligning your diet and your focus in spring to working in the season’s taste is an easy way to remove the stress from your meal and menu planning.
Knowing that from March 15 – May 15 you can start working in the astringent taste in small dietary accents throughout your weekly menu, or including it as a cleansing and purification ritual for one, three, five or ten days can really lift the burden of knowing what foods to focus on incorporating for spring or which recipes will be the most healing for you during the spring season.
7. Reignite your fire for Life
The ultimate vitality is to live a life in harmony with the natural world that we’re a part of. To be vital and in harmony means we are receiving the nourishment of food’s memory through our senses, digesting and transforming that memory into nourishment, allowing that nourishment to absorb deep into our tissues and cells, and then letting go of any leftovers, or wastes, from our bodies back to the soil of the earth so it may nourish again. Vitality is including ourselves in the natural cycles of Life.
Vitality means including ourselves in the natural cycles of Life.
“The five elements in our foods nurture the five elements in our bodies and sustain proper functioning of our tissue memories.
- The smell of earth stirs fresh memory of scent;
- water brings forth our prodigious memory of taste;
- fire enables us to digest the universe and transform it into cosmic intelligence;
- air allows us to feel, touch, and perceive reality;
- and space gives us the vibratory power to intuit, and to know Truth,” describes Tiwari.
“When we ingest the earth’s food in harmony with each season’s energy, we fortify and strengthen our physical, mental, and spiritual bodies.”Excerpt from Maya Tiwari’s Wise Earth Ayurveda® “Food, Breath and Sound Inner Medicine Healing Program Manual“
Further says my Ayurvedic teacher so beautifully, “the intricate nature of the seasons is created by the course of the earth, sun and moon, and the resulting variability determines human vitality.”
Knowing that each seasonal cycle offers us the gift of foods that heal all the particular imbalances and meet all our unique seasonal needs is a pearl of priceless wisdom. “Together, the seasons produce the six tastes of natural foods necessary for human survival. When we ingest the earth’s food in harmony with each season’s energy, we fortify and strengthen our physical, mental, and spiritual bodies,” shares Tiwari.
Want to improve your health by practicing cyclical awareness and reconnecting with the seasons?
Curious to work with someone who can help you explore how you can feel more connected to your food, more balanced and vitally healthy by simply connecting with life’s natural cycles through ancient sadhana practice? Schedule time for a Consultation or a ReConnection™ session with me.