Q&A; Cooking with Mushrooms, Garlic and Onions in Yoga and Ayurveda.
I was chatting online with my friend and student, Mandy the other week when I had just finished making a Lentil, Parsnip and Mushroom Loaf. Understandably, after learning about the true Yogic diet, Mandy asked me about cooking with mushrooms…and from that came the topic also of cooking with garlic and onions in a Yogic diet. Mandy agreed that our chat might be helpful to all of you interested in both Yoga and Ayurvedic nutrition. Please read below to find out how and when to use or not use these ingredients from an Ayurveda and Yoga perspective.
Mandy: Are mushrooms OK to cook with ? I thought the yogic diet says they are fungi? I use them a lot for cooking.
Shama: You are right, Mandy. They are not recommended in the yogic diet. Mushrooms grow in the dark and damp and so are said to have those qualities, making them “tamasic” (which means they can energetically bring stagnation, heaviness, inertia). However, I do eat them in the autumn and early Winter occasionally….when they are growing in the ground around us. They are said to aggravate Vata (they have air in them) and so Ayurveda would not recommend them to be eaten too regularly. At same time however they are earthy in taste, right? This earthiness as well as their tamasic quality, from an Ayurvedic perspective, can help to antidote the Vata-type insomnia that comes in the Autumn when mushrooms start to grow. Amazing right? Nature gives us what we need to antidote the effects of the season. I like them in things like the Lentil, Parsnip and Portobello Mushroom Loaf recipe as they have a chewy texture …the big portobello ones… and they add substance to the food on a special occasion. i have a great recipe for a Mushroom and Tarragon soup which is my “mushroom” treat to myself in the Autumn. I will share the recipe soon!
Mandy: I love my onions and garlic too in cooking.
Shama: Yes, onions and garlic are also not included in a Yogic diet. Onions are also seen to have a tamasic effect, making people irritable, and garlic to have a stimulating effect on the body and mind. In Ayurveda we can cook with them but with awareness of their energetic effect however, omitting them when appropriate.
Yoga is very concerned with not stimulating the mind nor creating heaviness in the mind through diet. It looks to eat a diet of wholefoods and seasonal fruits and vegetables to keep steadiness and alertness in the mind to support spiritual endeavours. On the other hand, Ayurveda looks to the quality of the seasons and the constitutional type and dosha (humour) balance/imbalance of the individual in deciding whether a food should be included or omitted in a diet to support health and well-being. It might be OK to eat some foods in one season – the season in which they grow in your locality – but not in another. So mushrooms might be OK to eat occasionally in Autumn and maybe even early Winter, but certainly not in the more Kapha (already heavy) nature of Late Winter and Spring. Garlic and onions are pungent and therefore heating and drying and unlike mushrooms may be good to include in the diet in Late Winter. They are blood purifiers and will help to cleanse toxins from the system that have built up through the generally heavier Winter diet.,In the summer especially for a Pitta (fire/hot) type, they are not a natural choice in Ayurveda, as both these ingredients are known to be heating. In summer we want water-rich, cooling (not necessarily cold) foods.
Both garlic and onions, whilst having an effect on the mind that makes them contra-indicated for intensive Yoga practice, do have beneficial health effects. Garlic is anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, and onions are good for removing toxins from the body, easing some kind of digestive weaknesses, and they are good for treating cold and cough. As a younger woman in my 20s in London, I used to go to an amazing and renowned naturopath and guru to some, He had a small practice off the Edgeware Rd. People would gather in his place on Mondays for lunch and enjoy his special cooking with vegetables brought from his own kitchen garden in Suffolk. We would sit in a circle on the floor Indian style and ask this spiritually aware man our questions on health, life, love and anything that troubled us. He had the gift to see exactly where our weaknesses were and what antidotes we needed He put me for a while on a cleansing and strengthening daily dose of red onion soup.I will share that recipe soon! It will be perfect if you succumb to the coughs and colds that often catch us in January and February.
It is quite liberating and invites more creativity in our cooking, as well as the ability to flavour appropriately for our current state of physical and mental state of being, when we don’t count on these ingredients for flavouring every meal. When we get used to cooking the Ayurveda way, we don’t at all miss mushrooms, garlic and onions in every day cooking and can create interesting and more varied flavours . My friend Nish wanted to cook a meal in my kitchen the other day. He is a great cook but was lost in my kitchen without onions
. I rarely use them and Ayurveda has taught me to cook and spice foods in a way that brings out flavours and makes them balancing for my body and mind according to the season and my state of being. It’s a really enjoyable and healing way to cook.
Earthy taste makes them heavy and grounding energetically x