Ritucharya: Seasonal Eating According To Ayurveda (Part One)
Image Credit: Ritucharya

Swasthyashya Swasthya Rakshanam, which means to maintain the health of the healthy, rather than Aturashya Vikara Prashamanancha, meaning to cure the diseases of the diseased. Around the globe, there is a growing emphasis on eating local and eating seasonally—Ayurveda has been preaching this for millennia.

In order to keep the health of the healthy, Ayurveda recommends dinacharya (a daily regimen) and ritucharya (a seasonal regimen). Just as we see life cycles of living organisms all around us being in sync with seasonal cycles of nature, so is it, claims Ayurveda, with human beings and their bodies. If the body is unable to adapt itself to stressors due to changes in specific traits of seasons, it may lead to Dosha Vaishamya, which in turn may render the body highly susceptible to one or more kinds of disorders. According to Ayurveda, lifestyle disorders are a result of our bodies’ inappropriate relationships with their surroundings. One way to address it is with appropriate and seasonal eating. After all, according to Ayurveda, we are what we eat.

How are seasons classified?

According to Ayurveda, the year is divided into two periods — Uttarayana (the northern solstice) and Dakshinayana (the southern solstice). Each period is formed of three ‘ritus’ or seasons. In Ayurvedic thought, each of us embodies a dominant natural constitution: either Vata, Pitta, or Kapha (or a combination). Vata types are ruled by the qualities of air and space; Pitta types are ruled by fire and water; and Kapha types are ruled by water and earth. Each of the seasons pacifies or ignites the above-mentioned energies, so it is important to ensure the body maintains its balance.

Uttarayana, the cold months, contains the seasons of Sharath, Hemanta, and Shishira. Dakshinayana, the warm months, contain the seasons Vasanta, Grishma, and Varsha.

Listed below are the seasonal foods to be eaten in accordance with the ritu we are in, according to Ayurveda. Let’s start with Shishira, the ritu we are in now.

 1.    Shishira (mid-January to mid-March)

According to Drs. Thakkar, Chaudhuri, and Sarkar, during this season, foods like amla (sour), cereals, pulses, and wheat/gram flour products are advised. The diet should also ideally include ginger, garlic, haritaki, pippali (fruits of piper longum), sugarcane products, milk, and milk products. Foods that are predominantly pungent (katu), bitter (tikta), and astringent (kashaya) are to be avoided. Shita or cold foods should also not be eaten.

2.    Vasanta, which begins in mid-March and ends in mid-May

Predominant Rasa and Mahabhuta during this season are Kashaya (astringent) and Prithvi and Vayu, respectively. Among cereals, old barley, wheat, rice, and others are preferred. Among pulses, lentil, mugda, and others can be taken. Food items tasting Tikta (bitter), Katu (pungent), and Kashaya (astringent) are to be taken. Besides those, honey is to be included in the diet. Meats like those of Shahsa (rabbit), which are easy to digest, can be taken. Foods that are hard to digest are to be avoided. Those which are Sheeta (cold), Snigdha (viscous), Guru (heavy), Amla (sour), Madhura (sweet) are not preferred. New grains, curd, cold drinks, and so on, are also to be prohibited.

3.    Grishma, the height of summer, which lasts from mid-May to mid-July

It is when we are at our weakest owing to the intense heat. This is when foods that are easiest to digest are recommended. Foods that are light to digest—those having Madhura (sweet), Snigdha (unctuous), Sheeta (cold), and Drava (liquid) Guna, such as rice, lentil, etc.—are to be taken. Drinking plenty of water and other liquids, such as cold water, buttermilk, fruit juices, meat soups, mango juice, and churned curd with pepper, is to be practiced. At bedtime, milk with sugar candy is to be taken. Lavana (salt) and food with Katu (pungent) and Amla (sour) taste and Ushna (warm) foods are to be avoided.

In the next part, we will examine what foods are recommended according to ritucharya, and what is to be avoided in the other three ritus. We will also learn what lifestyle changes and treatments can be incorporated to augment health during these seasons.