The butter has been boiling for hours. At exactly 100°C. Wafting, foaming in turns. Carefully skimming off the foam over and over. Soothing. Check the temperature. If it gets too high, the lactose crystallizes at the bottom and everything tastes like hard caramel candies. Or the fat overheats, worthless in the healing arts.
The butter oil is finally clear. Like liquid gold it flows heavily, aromatic. So pure that it needs days at room temperature to solidify. Alchemy. From butter we have made gold. From spreadable fat a medicinal product in the Ayurvedic way. Medicating ghee.
When my granddaughter didn’t want to drink anything I used to tell my daughter to mix a bit of ghee into the water. When she had a red bottom in her diaper I would suggest smearing a bit of ghee on the sore spots. When she had a cough you could keep her chest warm with a ghee compress. When she had a cold, a bit of ghee in her nose. When she didn’t want to sleep, a bit of ghee on the soles of her feet. Then came a time when my daughter stopped asking for advice. She had convinced herself that everything worked this way.
In the Ayurveda of northern India we use ghee like liquid love. It is everywhere. And it heals. It connects, reconciles, bolsters, detoxifies, oils, nourishes, soothes.
In the past centuries we in Europe have learned that saturated fats increase cholesterol levels, leading to arteriosclerosis and premature cardiac-related death. Whereas we were told that canola oil heats well. And that butter and eggs are dangerous. We became missionaries against bacon, crème fraiche and mascarpone. Health insurance companies even considered raising premiums for food-related diseases. Saturated fats disappeared from kitchens. Margarine and salad oil took their place. Fats that were largely refined, no longer in their natural state.
What wasn’t taken into consideration was that our cells create amazing things from natural animal fats, basic substances for hormone synthesis. The necessary reproductive hormones in particular are made from cholesterol. Estrogen requires a sufficient amount of cholesterol. Red blood cells need saturated fats to stabilize their membranes. To incorporate calcium into bones sufficient levels of saturated fats are needed as well as movement and sunlight, not expensive pills. Actually, this is not that surprising when we go back to a time in our evolution when it wasn’t industry that determined our food choices but rather we humans, when our diet didn’t yo-yo from one extreme to another.
The surface of the lung is coated with a substance called surfactant, comprised largely of fat. It keeps the surface of the lung stable and protects the bronchi. It makes breathing easier and prevents the lung from sticking together.
We know that our brain, too, is a highly fatty mass, as fat stores energy. Our brain has a continuous craving for energy and reacts sensitively to wasting available calories. It urges us to stock up – a phenomenon often visible on the hips. Saturated fats isolate electric impulses from one another in the brain and the body’s extremities, so we do not constantly endure mental short circuiting or are unable to coordinate our limbs. Fat pads against impact and keeps you warm.
Bad fats, however, such as trans-fats, produced by and present in our food due to food industries, store dangerous visceral fat around the middle of the body. Further, alcohol and drugs cause the liver to create unhealthy stores of fat as protection.
Good as well as bad fats intervene in hormone functioning autonomously. Just as visceral fat maintains its own hunger- and greed-driven metabolism, good fats are located in all important hormonal hubs of the body, keeping us happy and healthy.
Looking at the young women in my practice, who in their mid-twenties already have hormonal imbalances, anemia, the question arises as to whether this a consequence of our good intentions. Is the increase in allergies and asthma a lack of lubricating and moistening substances? Is the rise of inflammatory intestinal diseases and food intolerances of histamine, fructose and lactose due to too much of a good thing?
Now I am in India teaching a class. We are sitting on soft cushions. In front of us: colorful Ayurveda foods. Julia made delicious healing food from simple things in the kitchen. Floating on top: a small golden sea. I dish out the ghee, determining the amount based on the symptoms and signs of illness each participant shows during the retreat. A young woman with asthma and ovarian cysts gets 120 ml. A woman who works all night and has a history of ruptured discs gets 180 ml of warm, aromatic ghee. A man with a rheumatic illness that hardens and immobilizes his skin gets 160 ml of ghee.
The excitement in the first round is big, yet wanes immediately as I begin to pour ghee into the wine glasses. This we have to endure, the doubt as well. Doubt Day is usually the third day. Headaches and nausea, as with a good post-party hangover, dampen the mood. Grumbling all around. Including me. What if… ?
Not everything that is a couple thousand years old is automatically good. We have changed. Things have changed. Our wants and needs have changed.
But a few hours later the mood lightens up. The first among us have digested our fat and suddenly feel lighter. Warm. Happy. Transformed. Supple. The woman with the ruptured discs says she doesn’t feel any pain for the first time in two years.
In the face of such exaltation I continue my search.
What is it? Why can ghee help on such a broad spectrum? For starters, it contains a balanced mix of omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids. Similar to breast milk, its composition is apparently very beneficial for mobilizing old, non-reactive fat deposits out of the body. Ghee contains vitamins A and E, fat-soluble vitamins, that is, which the body absorbs directly. It stabilizes the cell membrane and lubricates the joints and mucous membranes. According to Ayurveda, certain diseases of the mucous membranes are diseases of dryness (vata). Ghee also fuels the digestive fire, agni, one of the key concepts in Ayurveda. In fact, all retreat participants report a substantial appetite and feeling of warmth! It also seems to improve problematic digestion that led to food intolerances.
Maybe it’s indescribable. Maybe it is not easier to grasp when broken down into its parts because we know too little. Perhaps feeling makes us right. The feeling of being stable and supple again, the feeling of deep sleep and warmth in your belly. Maybe we return to ourselves so deeply that we allow ourselves to feel full. Satisfied. And a bit more wise, as we experience how a good diet relieves so much discomfort caused by our daily lives, for which we believe we cannot do anything. In reality, the discomfort begins right where we can change something: in choosing what we eat.
Sometimes we overshoot the target because there is so much good! So many teachings. Let’s listen to ourselves and give things a try. Ghee is a wonderful part of this process. By the way, it tastes best when cooking with friends.
Sources: pub med, lifespa.com, Rosenberg Akademie/private records of Prof. Gupta and Elmar Stapelfeld, Own research, Wikipedia, Times of India, Ancient Gardens