Gold in more than just color, ghee—or clarified butter— is an Ayurvedic nectar. An integral part of the country’s culture and heritage, ghee can be found in nearly every Indian kitchen, as well as in healing treatments and spiritual rituals. Semi-solid and grainy at room temperature and liquid when heated, it is an ingredient that has made its way from classic Ayurvedic texts into the creations of nutritionists and mainstream chefs alike.
Ghee is simple enough to make, but the quality of the butter used is important, as is care and attention to preserve the nutrients. It’s best to use butter from a free range, grass-fed cow that has been well nurtured. In a pan, the butter is very gently boiled for around 10 minutes until froth gathers at the surface. Once the dairy has evaporated, the resulting fat—a rich golden color—can be strained through a cotton cloth, stored in an airtight container and kept at room temperature without turning rancid.
Dr. David Frawley, a well-known Western Ayurvedic scholar, believes that the essences of all the world’s grasses have come through the cow, then through the milk, then through the butter to be finally refined into ghee. As a tridoshic ingredient, ghee is healing for Vata, Pitta and Kapha constitutions: It has a sweet rasa (taste), cooling vīrya (potency) and sweet vipāka (post digestive effect).
Among the four types of oil used in Ayurveda, ghee is considered superior because it can incorporate the qualities of other herbs without losing its own; it carries the medicinal properties of herbs into body tissues. Used externally and internally, it’s believed to be an elixir that enhances āyuh, or life force, and a rasāyana, or immunomodulator, that improves the function of the immune system. According to the classic Ayurvedic text Bhavaprakasha Nighantu, ghee’s many therapeutic benefits include improving eyesight, radiance, energy, luster, voice, memory and body strength. A mild laxative, it also detoxifies the body and removes excessive heat and flatulence. A dīpana substance, it induces digestive fire, which in turn aids in assimilation.
Dr. Shylesh Subramanya is an Ayurvedic doctor and director of The Spa & Ayurvedic Retreat at Four Seasons Resorts Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru. He is a lifelong scholar of nature, lifestyles and culture, having come from a family of healers. Dr. Subramanya’s motto is “Health and happiness,” and he aims to help others find both in natural, holistic ways.