The acharyas (wisemen) of Ayurveda deciphered life's complexities, tested their theories for validity, and then disseminated that verified knowledge in the Samhitas. For these renowned seers, cow ghee also known as ghrita and gaughrita (gau means cow) is their go-to or all-purpose remedy.
This celebrated title is due to many properties that make ghee unparalleled for the human body. Ghee is a vehicle that effectively and safely carries nutrients to the most remote crevices of our bodies and assists transfer into the tissues. This unique guna (quality) is termed sanskarsaya anuvartana; ghee retains the qualities of other medicinal components added to it during sneha paka (cooking or processing) without sacrificing its own properties. In practical terms, it means that we can add useful medicinal herbs to ghee and improve its characteristics by minor modification without changing its main actions. As a result, ghee is often used as a vehicle to reach parts of our bodies that the passenger -- in this case any added medicinal herb -- wants to go, including crossing the blood-brain barrier and getting into the brain.
Another name for ghrita is sahastra-karmakrita (Sanskrit, performing a hundred tasks), gifted to describe its distinct guna of sanskarsaya anuvartana adopting actions and traits of added components.
Ghrita can be given to anyone, at any time, in any situation. For each of the three doshas, various ghrita combinations are mentioned.
- Pitta dosha - ghrita alone
- Vata dosha - ghrita + saindhava lavana (cooking salts from Sindhi rocks)
- Kapha dosha - ghrita + vyosha also known as trikatu - shunthi + maricha + pippali [dry ginger + black pepper + long pepper]
Ghee is one of 4 classic oleaginous substances categorized as sneha -- ghrita, taila (oils especially sesame oil), vasa (muscle fat) and majja (bone marrow). Sneha is also divided into 2 categories based on use for internal application and for external application. These chatur-vidha sneha (4 wise oils) are jeevaniya (providing vitality), varnya (improving complexion), and bala (rendering stamina/strength). They balance the 3 doshas, vata, pitta, and Kapha.
According to Acharya Charaka, these four snehas are used in four ways:
- Paana-oral ingestion
- Abhyanga-external application
- Nasya-instillation in the nose
Gaughrita is described by Acharya Charaka as uttam sneha (the ultimate, the superior/best of the 4 snehas), and various health benefits are expounded in the classic texts, including its ability to improve strength and immunity.
According to Acharya Sushruta and Acharya Vagbhata, subtypes of these 4 uses include:
1a - bhojana - along with meals
2a - mastika - application on the head
2b - akshi tarpana - medicated sneha into the eyes
2c - gandoosha - gargling
2d - karnapoorana - ear-filling as lubricant and vata-reducer
3a - uttar basti - instillation of medicine into the urethra
The acharyas compare the qualities of ghrita to those of Ojas, the Ayurvedic concept of strength and vitality defining the optimal intersection of spiritual, mental, and physical health. Ojas denotes bodily strength, vigor, energy, ability, power, light, brightness, and lustre, as well as vitality and is often described as the principle of vital warmth and action throughout the body. This vital power of our bodies holds everything together. The Samhitas (ayurvedic treatises) state that Ojas is the last element that can be harmed in the body; if this occurs, the consequence is fatal. Ojas play a unique role as the summation of functioning of the body; without ojas, there is no life.
Scientific studies on ghrita, both plain and medicated, have found that medicated ghrita has impressive effects in gross behavioral tests, sleeping time, analgesic impact, and stimulatory effect on cognition. Furthermore, research examining the effect of ghrita on serum lipid levels revealed a dose-dependent reduction in total cholesterol and very-low-density lipoproteins. Ghrita has also been reported to have wound healing properties.
Ghrita promotes memory, intelligence, agni (digestive fire), semen, ojas, kapha, and medas; alleviates vata, pitta, poison, insanity, pulmonary tuberculosis, inauspicious feelings, and fever. It is the best of all fats. It possesses excellent tonic and invigorating properties. It is satmya (suitability or agreeability) for every person from their childhood. It is also used in both shodhana (purification or removing impurities) and Shamana (palliative care) treatment.
Despite these amazing properties, recent ignorance has villified ghee and prevented health seekers from finding authentic ghee as a healing aid. But those who are persistent eventually find the treasure trove that is ghee and unlock its gifts.