Managing Summertime FIRE (Pitta)

 PITTA, which mainly consists of the element fire, is primarily hot in attribute. Therefore, it is treated with a cooling or heat-dispelling therapy. The cooling therapy should be given first whenever Pitta is to be treated.

Tastes that treat Pitta are sweet, astringent and bitter – all cooling in nature. Bitter taste, being the coldest and most drying of the tastes, is strongest in reducing Pitta.

The treatment of Pitta is intimately associated with treatment of the blood, Ratka, the tissue-element of the body that relates to Pitta. In heat-dispelling therapies, the blood is usually cooled along with Pitta. Most problems of blood heat, toxicity and bleeding relate to Pitta.

Most conditions of bodily heat, fever, inflammation, infection or acidity also relate generally to Pitta. When deranged (out of balance), Pitta will manifest itself in the above aberrations.

Heat may be dispelled from the body in various ways. We must determine the nature, depth and location of its manifestation to discover the appropriate treatment for it.

Surface heat, as in fever due to colds or temporary (not necessarily chronic or deep-seated) inflammatory skin conditions, is using treated using diaphoretic (inducing perspiration) herbs. Warming diaphoretics increase heat and cause sweating, thereby aggravating Pitta. But there is also a class of cooling diaphoretics that dispel heat and eliminate Pitta through sweating. For surface heat due to Pitta, Pitta-colds etc., these are appropriate.

Heat in the blood, which is found in many inflammatory and infectious conditions, sores, ulcers, boils, infections, etc., can be treated with alterative (health retoring) herbs. These are usually bitter or astringent anti-Pitta herbs, often possessing antibacterial properties and promoting healing. Where blood heat leads to bleeding, as is its tendency, astringent or hemostatic herbs can be used, those whose taste and energy alleviate Pitta.

For the highest heat, fever and Pitta-conditions, bitter fire-purging and heat-dispelling herbs are used. In western herbalism these are called bitter tonics. They are the strongest herbs for cooling Pitta, for sedating and detoxifying the liver, and for reducing deep-seated heat/fever in the interior of the body. Ayurveda calls them febrifuges or antipyretic herbs, and advises the use of bitter taste for bringing down fevers. Their action is similar to alteratives but they are stronger, reaching deeper tissues than blood and lymph.

Purgatives, herbs that promote excretion, those whose energy is cooling, are another strong anti-Pitta therapy. When the heat attribute of Pitta is high, or where there is high fever, this heat accumulates in the gastrointestinal tract and dries up the stool causing constipation. Then purgation can directly alleviate Pitta, and it is in this condition that the strongest purgatives tend to be used.

When, however, the liquid attribute of Pitta is high, which is generally more common, there is diarrhea or loose motion of a heat nature. In this instance, such cooling purgatives may still be used, as the cause again is heat.

Usually heat is dispelled downwards from the body -heat rises and expands and so it is dispelled by a sinking and contracting action. For this reason, not only purgative action but also diuretic action, is also helpful for relieving Pitta. Urination not only clears water, but heat and acidity from the body, and it also has a strong anti-Pitta action.

Pitta often manifests in excessive sweating, diarrhea, bleeding, inflamed ulcerated skin or membranes. For checking these excessive discharges and for promoting healing of ulcerative sores, astringent action herbs can be applied in treating Pitta conditions.

When Pitta, owing to an excess of liquid attribute, suppresses the digestive fire and leads to indigestion and the build-up of toxins, even some pungent herbs, like ginger, can be used for their stimulating digestive action. But they should be used with care, moderation or in balance with other herbs.  Bitter tonics also help increase Agni by their drying action; in addition they do not aggravate Pitta.

Herbal recommendations for Pitta conditions include:

Amla, or Amalaki (which means “the nurse”) decreases Pitta and Vata by acting as a nutritive, cooling tonic to all organ tissues. This potent antioxidant fruit is high in vitamin C and feeds the eyes via the circulatory system, nourishes a weak liver or spleen, and generally aids in any deficiency. $22.00 /90 tabs

Burdock is a bitter, detoxifying herb that decreases Pitta and Kapha. It has strong action in cleansing the blood and lymphatics. The root is considered a rejuvenative tonic for Pitta when used on a regular basis because it is bitter and cooling, while the oily seed is more diuretic. Burdock cools any and all inflammatory skin conditions, rashes and fevers. It is excellent for clearing high “Pittagenic” emotions like anger, aggression and excessive ambition. $28.20 /100 caps.

Aloe is referred to in Ayurvedic medicine as Kumari, which means “young girl” because the plant is said to impart the energy of youth and renews the feminine side of spirit. It is a Pitta rejuvenative, cools and lubricates the GI tract, alleviates constipation and heals stomach ulcers. $25.05 /32 oz.

Shatavari means “who possesses a hundred husbands” which illustrates the nourishing nature of this tonic herb on the female reproductive organs. A kind of asparagus, Shatavari imparts moisture to all mucus membranes and cools all tissues, making it a vital medicine for peri- and menopausal hot flashes, as well as for vaginal dryness, or even dry eyes. It nourishes and cleanses the blood of excessive heat, and is said to possess sattvic qualities, meaning it encourages feelings of love and devotion. $22.00 /90 tabs.

Solomon’s Seal is a nutritive tonic that works on all organ tissues and balances all doshas. Its action is demulcent, imparting moisture especially to the joints. It increases lactation, heals chronic wasting diseases and nourishes the lungs. Solomon’s Seal’s benefits are nearly countless, and its primary function is to increase what the Chinese call Yin, which is the water we lose over the course of our lives. $27.00 /2oz

This blog is an excerpt from The Yoga of Herbs by Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad