Lemonade as Medicine: Nimbuka-Phala-Pānaka

Lemonade pitcher

Lemon was placed in the phala-varga, the fruit family, by both ancient physicians Charaka and Sushruta, and both mention its abundant uses as both food and medicine, and catalyst in ancient chemistry

When we think of summer, we often think of lemonade - the refreshing lime-based drinks - and the use of sour-sweet citrus fruits as a fresh reminder of sunlight and early mornings

Known as nimbu or nimbuka in Sanskrt, this round green or yellow fruit is predominantly citrus in nature, with amla-rasa (sour) taste. Citric acid possesses a deep connection with the fire in the body. According to Ayurvedic wisdom, it is both deepana and pachana. The quality of deepana is that which increases the digestive fire. The quality of pachana is that which digests that which the gut is not digesting easily. Its botanical name is Citrus medica, in the Rutaceae or citrus family.

Lemon was placed in the phala-varga, the fruit family, by both ancient physicians Charaka and Sushruta, and both mention its abundant uses as both food and medicine, and catalyst in ancient chemistry. Its taste is sour (amla-rasa). Its qualities are light-to-digest (laghu) and piercing (teekshna). Its taste remains sour on the cellular level after gut digestion (vipaka) due to its abundant and resilient acids, and its cellular effect is to raise the heat in the microenvironment, known as ushna-virya. Lemon is described for its ability to relieve thirst, its ability to promote digestion, and its use in relieving excess accumulation of phlegm and kapha in the stomach. It is very useful for relieving the cough and phlegm of the common cold. Its acidity however, when eaten raw, solo, and only diluted in water, raises pitta and the acidity of the stomach.

lemon trees

Pāṇaka is a drink in which cool water, specific digestive spices, and fruits or vegetables containing abundant pulp or juice of the plant are mixed to produce a therapeutic and delicious drink that cleans the body and protects it from the heat of summer.

Nimbuka-phala-panaka centers around the ripe nimbu fruit (fruit, phala, S.), celebrated for its properties in the 15th century classic Ayurvedic text known as the Bhava Prakasha, written by physician and ancient pharmacist Bhava Misra, who originated in the southwestern area of Bengal. In this recipe the fresh-pressed juice of nimbu is used.



भागैकं निम्बुजं तोयं षड्भागं शर्करोदकम् |

लवङ्गमरिचैर्मिश्रं पानं पानकमुत्तमम् ||१३४||

निम्बूकफलभवं पानमत्यम्लं वातनाशनम् |

वह्निदीप्तिकरं रुच्यं समस्ताहारपाचकम् ||१३५||

Bhava Prakasha Nighantu, kṛtanna varga, chapter 12, slokas 134-135

Transliteration: nimbuka-phala-pānaka

bhāgaikaṁ nimbujaṁ tōyaṁ ṣaḍbhāgaṁ śarkarōdakam |

lavaṅgamaricairmiśraṁ pānaṁ pānakamuttamam ||134||

nimbūkaphalabhavaṁ pānamatyamlaṁ vātanāśanam |

vahnidīptikaraṁ rucyaṁ samastāhārapācakam ||135||

Translation: One part (bhāga) lemon juice (nimbujaṁ) is mixed with six parts (ṣaḍbhāgaṁ) of ground red cane sugar water (sarkara udaka), after which clove (lavaṅga) and black pepper (marica) are added and mixed; this is called nimbu panaka. It is sour, destroys vata (vata-nasaka), enhanced digestive fire in the gut, improves appetite (rucyam), and helps in digestion of all types of food.





Fresh ripe Lemon - 2 fruits

Fresh clean water - 1 liter

Red cane sugar - 20 gm (about 4 tsp)

Clove/lavanga, crushed - 1 gm, about 3-4 clove fruits

Black pepper, freshly ground - 1 gm


From a local lemon tree, freshly pick 2 ripe lemons. Wash them with clean water to remove any dust or grime. Cut it into 4 pieces and squeeze the juice by using two fingers to scrape along the rind, using as much pressure as possible to liberate and collect all juice into a small pot. Set aside. Add 1000 ml clean freshly boiled and air-cooled water into an earthen pot. Add 4 teaspoons red cane sugar that has been ground to powder. Add 1 gram of freshly crushed chunks of lavanga and 1 gram of freshly-ground black pepper (golmorich, kali mirch, marica, Piper nigrum). Add the lemon juice and stir well for two minutes only. Too much stirring will turn the panaka bitter. Add prayers for good health.

The rims of the serving glasses may be lined with ground cane sugar. If the lemons are very sour or bitter, line the rims with saindhav lavana. Serve with a smile.