Even though we are each made up of all five of the mahabhutas, or great elements; earth, water, fire, air, and ether, we each also have a predominance of certain elements in our prakriti (nature). By knowing our elemental makeup, or our individual nature, we know more about how to keep ourselves in balance. In Ayurveda there are three doshas, or psychological metabolic types, which are vata (air and ether), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (earth and water). The doshas are reflected in the seasons of the year, the cycle of each day, and even throughout the cycle of our lives.
Vata is associate with the fall season (dry and cold), kapha with late winter and early spring (wet and cold), and pitta with summer (hot and wet). When the season associated with our strongest dosha comes around, that is the time we are most likely to experience symptoms of a doshic imbalance. Too much pitta, or fire, can lead to symptoms like acid stomach, excessive heat, irritability, and even anger. Excess pitta is associated with heat/toxicity in the blood and can also show up as inflammatory skin conditions like eczema or acne.
Elder and calendula are two of my favorite herbal allies and great friends in relieving excess pitta, or fire dosha at the end of summer. Calendula is super easy to grow at home and elder is a local native treeshrub here in Santa Barbara and in many other areas of the country and world. It has long been used medicinally and is know as the tree of music and medicine, as flutes and clapping sticks have been made from it pith filled, easy to hollow out branches.
Growing and wildcrafting herbs are wonderful ways to deepen our relationship with herbs as allies as well as learning their habits and traits while observing them throughout the year. Never pick and ingest an herb unless you are sure of identification from several sources. When wildcrafting, always take only a small portion of the herbs from each plant to ensure reproduction and health of the plant in it’s wild environment. If you don’t want to or can’t grow or harvest these herbs on your own, you can order them at Mountain Rose Herbs or other online bulk herb sources.
Herbs and foods can help keep our heat in check throughout the year, as well as assisting us in times of focused cleansing, like at the junctures of the seasons between winter and spring and between summer and fall. These transitional times, junctures, or joints, called sandhi in Sanskrit are “times when energy naturally changes and can be more easily worked upon and redirected”.* To participate in a guided, group cleanse, check out the guided cleanse workshop coming up this September at Carpinteria Wellness Center.
We can learn to balance the elemental makeup of our being through understanding the elemental makeup of food and herbs. Foods like zuccini, cucumber, watermelon, lemon (which has a cooling vipak, or post digestive effect), and berries can be a focus of our summer diet. Herbs like elder, calendula, mint, hibiscus, and manjistha (a wonderful Ayurvedic herb known as Indian madder), help to clear heat and keep us calm and cool during the late summer and early days of fall.
Nature always provides the antidote to her ‘excesses’ within each season, so look to what is local and seasonal where you live.
Here is a simple recipe for elder flower tea to enjoy in the last lazy days of summer;
Elder Flower Tea
1 tsp elder flowers (fresh or dried)
1c boiling water
1/2 tsp maple syrup
Steep flowers in boiling water for 5 minutes, strain and add maple syrup. This tea can also be made with an additional 1tsp of fresh or dried calendula petals. Elder flowers are bitter and pungent with a cooling tendency. They cleanse the blood, encourage the elimination of waste through the skin (diaphoretic), and are also a diuretic. Calendula is another lymphatic and blood cleansing herb that was used as a peasant tonic in Europe during the fall and winter, added to soups and broths to keep the lymphatic system clear. The lymphatic system is the foundation of the immune system especially in GALT, or gut associated lymphatic tissue. Calendula is also cooling and drying and bitter and slightly pungent in flavor.
*(from David Frawley’s book Yoga and Ayurveda)