Ghee: Food, Medicine, Liquid Light

Photo by Chiot's Run

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This quote is from Hippocrates, but it certainly applies to ghee, an ingredient in many traditional Indian recipes.  According to Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, ghee is food, medicine, and more. Ghee (basically clarified butter) has a higher smoking point for sautéing and a delicious flavor.  And because it’s sattvic—pure, balanced, wholesome—ghee is ideal for yoga practitioners.

Ghee helps to detoxify the body’s deep tissues, and it has been used for centuries as part of ayurvedic cleanses. As it cleanses the tissues, it also rejuvenates them. Dr. Vasant Lad, founder of the Ayurvedic Institute, recommends ghee for yoga practitioners because it lubricates connective tissues and prepares the body for stretching. Also, many nutrients are difficult to absorb without fatty acids, and ghee is often used as a delivery system for healing herbs.

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Beyond its health benefits, ghee has many spiritual associations. In India, cows are considered sacred. Krishna, the god of love, was a cowherd. Butter, given freely to us from the cow, is considered a gift from the gods. And when butter is transformed by fire into ghee, it becomes the earthly equivalent of ojas, the fluid of life. Ghee has been used for centuries to light lamps, bathe murtis (figures of the gods), and feed ceremonial fires.

Besides, ghee is simply delicious. For those worried about cholesterol counts, a small number of studies about ghee show mixed results: Some say that ghee raises total cholesterol or triglycerides, and another says it does not create fatty deposits in blood vessels. The latter fits with what ayurveda tells us, that ghee clears the body of toxins. (Even though opinions are changing about the merits of dietary fat, individuals with excessive kapha shouldn’t overdo ghee.)

Ghee is available ready-made in health food stores, but it’s even better when you make it at home, a relatively simple process. Click here for detailed instructions. You can use ghee for cooking, of course. And ghee is essential to panchakarma, the classic ayurvedic cleansing program, usually administered by trained practitioners during a retreat lasting several days. But if you have seasonal sinus problems or wintertime dry skin, you will benefit from incorporating ghee in your daily routine in very simple ways. Try it for nasya (nasal lubrication) or for a luscious facial or abhyanga (oleation and massage). Or start small, using ghee as a nourishing lip balm.

What are some ways you’ve used ghee?

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