Sunday, November 8, 2009

Yogi Tea

These days I regularly have a pot of Yogi Tea boiling on the stove to be stored and taken out when needed. While this herbal formula is called a “tea”, it is more properly considered a decoction. The herbs are boiled up to three hours and the liquid is then strained and the herbs thrown away.

Yogi Tea is a famous recipe that was introduced to this country by Yogi Bhajan. Apparently in Northern India, it is a widespread remedy given especially to children in the flu season. It is often served in yoga studios to replenish the body and maintain its metabolic heat after a vigorous workout. This prevents the body from cooling down too fast which can lead to toxic states of indigestion (Sans. ama, Tib. ma zhu ba) which would be stored in the body’s tissues.

The first two of these herbs, Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum: bitter/hot; warming) and Clove (Syzygium aromaticum: hot, warming) are materia medica from the division of so called “essence medicines” (rtsi sman), medicines so named, according to Tenzin Phuntsok (the famed author of the definitive 18th century Tibetan pharmacopeia, Dri Med Shel Phreng or Mālā of Stainless Crystal) because they “...destroy illness and restore the physical constituents.”

The twenty-fourth chapter of the explanatory tantra states:
Cardamom removes all cold kidney diseases.

In the winter season, the heat of the kidneys is especially vulnerable to the cold. Since the kidneys are an important site of water and kapha (Tib. bad kan) in the body, adding cardamom to one’s diet protects the heat of the kidneys and supports their function of eliminating wastes from the body. It also supports the metabolic heat of the stomach, aiding digestion overall.

The next on the list is cloves, about which it is said:
Clove removes diseases of the aorta and cold wind.

The action of clove focuses specifically on the arterial system of the body, especially the aorta. Its warming action balances the prāṇavāyu (srog ‘dzin rlung) which rests in the aorta and serves to calm and balance one’s vāta throughout the whole body after heavy effort. It also acts to support the function of the metabolic heat of the stomach. Further, clove balances the action of the udāna vāyu (gyen rgyu rlung), the upward-moving wind, thus aiding in relieving congestion of the lungs in colds and old flus.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum aromaticum: sweet/hot; warming), the stuff we find in stores, which is not true Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), but rather Cassia, is up next. It is listed as a tree medicine, about which it is said:
Cassia removes cold in the stomach and the liver.

The main function of Cassia is to support digestion and stimulate the appetite (which it does through its enticing aroma). Not only does it have this function but Cassia supports the digestive heat in the liver, aiding the transformation of rasa (dwangs ma), the nutritional extract of food, into blood. It also controls vāta, which is the most important of the three humors to be on guard against, especially in cold seasons. Together with the clove, it controls vāta that can be a problem in the late fall and winter season when the cold temperatures outside aggravate the cold, rough and hard qualities of vāta and the reduced hours of sunlight often lead people to experience symptoms of cabin fever or SAD. Its expectorating functions are also excellent in combination with clove.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale:Hot; warming) is used in nearly every culture, about which it is said:
Ginger removes phlegm combined with wind, and breaks up and dissolves [unhealthy] blood.

When I make this tea, I use the fresh form of ginger, which is cooling rather than warming, according to the principle found in Indo-Tibetan medicine that in medicines, substance takes precedence over taste. In its fresh form, ginger is used as a kind of inner lubricant, aiding the overall digestion but acting as a balance against the heat of the other four herbs. It helps cleanse the channels from the small intestine to the liver that take up the rasa, and generally speaking, aids the other herbs in their metabolism-enhancing function. However, in the commercial form of Yogi Tea, the ginger present in it is dried and so adds more heat to the formula. From my point of view, this makes it more imperative to add milk or something else to balance the heat of the whole decoction.

The final herb in the list is Black Pepper (Piper Nigrum: hot; warming and hot), about which it is said:
Black pepper removes cold phlegm.

Black pepper, which is a fruit from a shrub (ldum bu), stimulates the appetite and improves one’s metabolic heat. But Acharya Vagbhata states that black pepper increases bile and is sharp, and if overused continuously can cause vāta imbalance because of its rough nature. In this formula however, the addition of clove and cinnamon balance the roughness of black pepper, along with the raw milk (if it can be gotten) and one’s sweetener of choice. Pepper prevents the accumulation of kapha, especially in the winter season.

Boiled raw cow’s milk is sweet, light and warming, reduces frequent urination, sharpens the mind, increases ojas [mdangs], removes bile and enhances potency. It cures persistent flus and colds. Raw milk is also excellent for those with so-called lactose intolerance, and seems to reduce allergies in those people who switch to its use. Otherwise, one can use Soymilk, Almond milk and so on.

Black Tea is added in a very small portion. The effect of adding tea balances the decoction with its cooling bitterness. It also offsets and balances the richness and sweetness of the milk.

Sweeteners: Maple syrup for those with excess vāta. Rock candy or sugar for those with excess pitta. Honey for those with excess kapha. If these “spoonfuls of sugar” are used, one can increase the beneficial effect of this decoction.

The recipe is as follows:

Eight cups of water
20 whole cloves
20 green cardamom pods, crushed
20 pepper corns,
eight slices of ginger
three or four sticks of Cinnamon
Milk and sweeteners to taste

Boil the cloves until one can smell their fragrance (about a minute). Add the other four ingredients, boil for half an hour. Simmer on low for another two or three hours. Strain, add milk and sweetener, store the rest for later.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it combines diet and behavior (in other words, get out there and do some yoga) and medicine in one preparation.

So cook up a pot of Yogi Tea on your stove and enjoy -- I guarantee that you will like it more than the poor substitute you will find in a teabag.


Anonymous said...

Malcolm: About the cinnamon in your Yogi Tea, which I'm keen to steep up asap, I thought that Ceylon cinnamon was the easiest on the Liver and best for balancing blood sugar, that although Cassia smells lovely, it can be toxic, as well as too much of Chinese cinnamon...the Latin names of which escape me right now. :)

Malcolm said...

Hi Anita:

It is true that Cassia contains 10 times the amount of courmin than true cinnamon. The reason for the identification here is two-fold, one most people confuse the two plants with one another and do not the difference.

The second reason is that in Tibetan materia medica it indeed Cassia that is identified rather than true cinnamon, which would have been historically more difficult for Tibetans to obtain. There is little doubt that in Ayurveda, true cinnamon would have been the ingredient of choice.

So, if you can afford true cinnamon, it is best to use; but in the amounts of cassia being consumed by having a cup or two of Yogi Tea a day, I think there is little danger of toxicity.

Finally, true cinnamon is not that easy to come by in the United States, and I wanted to clarify for people that the spice they call cinnamon, is actually something else.

Thanks for reading,


The UDPN said...

I gave it a try and I'm now in my second pot!
thank you for this recipe.
How long can you store it for? and is it ok to put in the fridge (for storage)?
I drink tazo chai (bag) and noticed that the ingredients are the same with the exception of star anise. mentioned about boiled raw milk. I have Unpasteurized, whole foods is not selling raw milk anymore but I did not boil it. I just pour some in the tea and sweeten it with honey.

Malcolm said...


Boiling milk, any milk, lightens it.

Unhomogenized milk is better than homogenized milk, because the fat molecules in homogenized milk pass undigested into the blood stream, and lead to various problems.

You can store it in the fridge.


The UDPN said...

Hi Malcolm,

One more if i read correctly, can i use this tea to cool the body?
I have been told that i have too much heat by chinese doctors.
I do eat a lot of chillies (the thai kind for the most part) and prefer my food very spicy.

Malcolm said...

In general, as I mentioned, this tea for supporting one's metabolism -- one can reduce the heat in it by excluding pepper. Apparently, from the point of view of Chinese medicine, clove is cooling and even though it is listed as warming in Tibetan medicine, it also actually grouped among a trio called the three cooling herbs i.e. bamboo manna, saffron and clove. Clove, as mentioned in the main post is used to control the life wind. If cardamon is added to these two herbs, it is used to remove heat from the lower region without damaging the heat of the kidneys and so forth.

So if this preparation is too warming, you can make it without pepper and and add couple of strands of saffron when you are heating it up with however much milk you like.

Dan said...

Hi M,

I'm always trying to improve my Tibetan vocabulary. Is shing-tsha the Tibetan word for cinnamon or for cassia (and by cassia don't you mean a particular variety of cinnamon, or do you mean an entirely different species?)

My enquiring mind wants to know. Excuse the confusion. I love that yogi tea. I never boil it, just steep it.

Yours, D

Malcolm said...

Shing tsha is the Tibetan word for Cinnamon in general, and specifically, the species identified by bga' ba rdo rje in his materia medica is "Cinnamomum aromaticum", though I am sure that in Southern India where Cinnamomum verum is common, it applies equally to it as well.

Dr. Arya misidentifies it in his book, where he assumes it refers to Cinnamomum tamala, which is commonly called the Indian Bay Leaf (malabathrum, which actually led me to another interesting link: The bark is not generally used, but rather the the leaves instead.

Dan said...

But that Indian 'Bay Leaf' just has a slight cinnamon 'edge' in the taste. Really nice added to dal. Much bigger than your usual bay leaves. Malabothrum / Malabathrum is actually the westernized form of the Sanskrit name Tamala-patra. It was very well known in the Mediterranean world just a few millennia ago. Here's my vocabulary entry for it:

TA MĀ LA generally, tamālapatra, which was known in Roman times as a popular Indian import (for spice and medicinal purposes) which they called Malabathrum (see Hobson-Jobson). It's much mentioned in the Periplus, dating from the 1st century. As suggested by its name, it is practically synonymous with darkness and blackness. In Aśvaghoṣa's Saundarananda (chap. 4, verse 20) a paste made from this leaf is used for making painted designs on the woman's cheeks. Sometimes called the Cinnamon Laurel, it is rather like the common Bay Leaf, but has a cinnamon-like taste, and a strong fragrance (and it's very much larger). Although in fact it sometimes has been (by western writers), it should never be confused with the leaf used in betel preparations, which is correctly called tāmbūlapattra (tambul). For a discussion of the blackness of its flowers, see Helen M. Johnson, Tamāla and Vetra, JAOS 64 (1944) 224.

If I were anyone but me I'd pick some up next trip to Kathmandu. For me it goes without saying.

Sten said...

Excellent post, fantastic recipe. An excellent drink for the cold season.

Would it be very wrong to add a little nutmeg to the decoction, for the vāta-unbalanced type? Or do you perhaps know some other delicious recipe for calming down the winds?

Malcolm said...

Hi Sten:

Nice to see your face around -- as to your question, there is no problem at all with adding a bit of nutmeg if someone has an vāta imbalance, in particular, a vāta-related heart illnesses. It also supports the metabolic heat and so on.

Unknown said...

Nice article. It helps explain why I love chai.

Wolfalohalani said...

I've seen maple syrup mentioned in recipes as a substitute for jaggery. If you want particularly to balance vata and have jaggery on hand, would you substitute it for the maple syrup or use maple syrup anyway? Thanks!

Malcolm said...

Hi Wolf:

I woud in that case use whichever one I preferred for its taste.