Alcohol has a long history of medicinal usage in Ayurveda. Mainly it is used in the forms of asavas and arishtas (fermented herbal infusions and decoctions) or Ayurvedic wines as some people call them. Due to Western influence, tinctures made from Ayurvedic herbs are also quite common. These forms of herbal administration work especially well for those with weak digestive fires as the alcohol works to “predigest” the herbs, thus making assimilation easier for the body.
Alcohol is predominant in the subtle, spreading, hot, and sharp/penetrating gunas (qualities), which bestow upon the alcohol an affinity for certain organs and tissues of the body. The penetrating quality allows alcohol to reach the deep tissues of the body, while the subtle quality permeates the mind and consciousness. The hot and spreading qualities give a specific affinity for the liver (a very fiery organ), and the circulatory and lymphatic systems which spread throughout the body. Thus, if one is attempting to address an issue in one of these tissues, alcohol may be a good medium of choice.
The more familiar forms of alcohol which most people consume may also be consciously used to promote health. Alcohol has long been used as a digestive stimulant, which is why a person becomes hungry when having a glass of wine before a meal. There is even an old Ayurvedic saying, “if one drinks liquor they should eat meat, and if they eat meat they should drink liquor”. The belief being that liquor, the strongest form of alcohol would be needed to fully digest the meat, which is generally recognized as a very heavy substance. Equally important, meat would need to be eaten after consuming liquor to quench the strength of the digestive fire. Of course, traditionally Ayurveda does not recommend the consumption of meat or liquor for most people.
As with all else in Ayurveda moderation is the key, especially when it comes to alcohol as Ayurveda strongly advises that intoxicating substances never be used habitually. Alcohol is said to be a medicine in small amounts and a poison in excess. Modern science has shown that drinking just one beer can actually hydrate the body, while wine continues to gain more popularity as a health promoting substance. Recent studies have equated drinking one glass of red wine with the same cardiovascular benefit as spending an hour in the gym.
Then there is always the mental aspect of alcohol to be considered, as having a drink is usually associated with relaxation and socializing. It could easily be argued that the easing of tension and stress one obtains from a drink far outweighs any negative effects. Contentment and the absence of stress play a much larger role in health and longevity than most realize, as mental and physical health are intimately connected.
I’ll never forget during lecture with my teacher one evening, he conveyed that if one was feeling sad it was better to go out and have a drink with friends and express your thoughts and emotions, than to sit at home alone and keep everything bottled up inside of you. After all, any emotions left unprocessed undergo crystallization into the tissues of the body, which can lead to ill health and disease.
So the question becomes, “which form of alcohol to consume?” Personal taste certainly plays a large role in this, although there a few guidelines one may follow according to the seasons and doshas.
As a general guideline, try to stick with one drink or even half a drink for the most overall benefit.
Summer Season (Pitta)
Beer can have a cooling and relaxing effect, which makes it a good choice for summer time, especially lighter beers like lagers and hefeweizens (wheat beers) which are brewed with cooling coriander.
White wine is generally advised over red wine in the summer, and always served chilled.
Liquor should be reserved for the coldest part of the year, but if you must: Vodka made from wheat or potatoes, and silver Tequila tend be cooler than other forms of liquor.
For mixed drinks, using substances with a cooling quality is advised: coconut, pomegranate, mint, rose, hibiscus and lime are a few common options.
Autumn and Early Winter (Vata)
Choose red and white wines that are sweet.
Beer lovers, choose dark and thick beers like porters and stouts during Autumn and early winter.
Late Winter and Spring (Kapha)
Mead (Honey Wine)
Liquor, usually advised to be consumed diluted with hot water.
When consuming alcohol, favor quality over quantity. As anyone who has ever done so will tell you, drinking cheap wine or champagne is not the best idea, as it is usually full of sulfites and clarifying substances which result in a nasty headache or hangover. Try to choose Organic, Non-GMO products. Many of today’s popular beers and liquors are cheaply produced with GMO grains; a little research can go a long way to aid your decision making. Cheers!
* Alcohol should never be consumed by pregnant women.