It’s no secret that Ayurveda has a love affair with oil. The use of oil is a key element in many Ayurvedic practices. From abhyanga (massage with oil) to cooking with ghee, Ayurveda has many usages for oil. When we speak of Ayurvedic oil, which oils are preferred and what are some ways in which you can incorporate oil into your routine in healthful ways?
Types of Ayurvedic Oils
There is no single Ayurvedic oil. The answer is multifaceted. In fact, an important principle in clinical Ayurveda is to understand the nature of the individual, the nature of the imbalance, and the nature of the medicine. Even for daily living and self-care, it is helpful to understand one’s constitution, the time of year, the climate, and other relevant information so that one can make the best selection in terms of foods, herbs, oils, and the like. However, here are some of Ayurveda’s favorite oils and their benefits:
Ghee and Ghruta
Ghee and ghruta are perhaps the most beloved and highly regarded Ayurvedic oils. (That’s not to say that there aren’t many other fabulous, health-giving oils in Ayurvedic medicine that serve unique purposes.) However, ghee has many special attributes: it is tridoshic, easily digested, enkindles the digestive fire, and nourishes the brain. It is even used externally to moisturize and soothe the skin.
Pick up any Ayurvedic cookbook and you will observe that ghee is a widely used ingredient in Ayurvedic cooking. You can use ghee in savory and sweet dishes alike. In terms of energetics, ghee has a sweet taste, a cool energy, and an overall nourishing effect. In fact, ghee helps maintain and build ojas, one’s vital energy. This is true when taken internally and when warmed and applied externally.
In addition, taking ghee or ghruta infused with herbs amplifies the benefits of the herbs. The oils carry the beneficial constituents of the herbs deeper into one’s organic tissues.
Though ghee is incredibly nourishing and versatile, there are also other Ayurvedic oils to consider. Sesame oil is also popular in Ayurveda. It has a bitter and sweet taste, a heating energy, and an overall purifying effect (1). Sesame oil is especially balancing for Vata dosha. Its heaviness tends to increase Kapha dosha and its warm nature tends to increase Pitta dosha.
That said, sesame oil is very helpful in balancing out the cool, light, dry, rough nature of Vata dosha. It makes an excellent massage oil or skin oil and you can also use this warming, purifying oil for oil-pulling (the practice of swishing the mouth with oil). In addition, you can mix sesame oil with ghee to make an extra rich body oil. This will also reduce some of the heat from the sesame oil.
Sunflower oil is also handy to keep around the home or Ayurvedic clinic and may be used both internally and externally. This Ayurvedic oil has a sweet and astringent taste, a cool energy, and an overall nourishing effect (1). It is one of the preferred oils for Pitta dosha. Like ghee and ghruta, sunflower oil stands up to high temperature cooking so it is useful in that regard. Also, it may be used externally as a body oil. Especially for those who live in a hot, humid climate, sunflower oil is a nice choice for both internal and external use as it is slightly cool and not very heavy.
Using Ayurvedic Oils
There are many uses for oils in Ayurvedic. The most practical and popular use is for cooking. And if I had to choose one Ayurvedic oil for cooking, it would probably be ghee or ghruta. Ghee and ghruta are highly revered in Ayurveda for their numerous health benefits, but another wonderful thing about ghee and ghruta is that these Ayurvedic oils stand up to high-temperature cooking. So, you can use ghee and ghruta for frying, roasting, baking, or simply spread it on toast like butter!
Beyond cooking, there are also many ways in which you can use oils externally. In Ayurveda, dinacharya is one’s daily practice for wellness. Dinacharya includes healthful practices such as nasal rinsing, abhyanga, tongue scraping, ear oiling, and oil pulling. You can choose from several different oils for these daily practices. For instance, if you apply oil to the nostrils after doing jal neti (nasal rinsing with salt water), you can buy special nasya oils that come in dropper bottles. There are also many special scented or herbal-infused abhyanga oils on the market.
While there are benefits to purchasing special herbal body oils, ear, and nasal oils, you can also turn to your own kitchen cabinet for Ayurvedic oils for dinacharya.
For instance, you can apply a drop of slightly warmed and melted ghee inside your nostrils after doing neti. You can even use ghee to moisturize your skin. Ayurveda teaches that ghee is one of the most easily digested oils. This applies to your skin’s digestive function as well as that of the gut!
To Oil is to Love
Ever heard of the expression, “a well-oiled machine?” Well, though our bodies are not machines, Ayurveda teaches that we can nourish our tissues, bolster our digestive fire, and practice a little self-love by enjoying good quality oils internally and externally. In addition, Ayurveda considers the application of oil as a way to show love. When we apply oil to our bodies we are practicing a form of self-care and self-love. It is a way to nurture one’s skin, joints, muscles, and connective tissue. More than that, using Ayurvedic oils is a way to provide moisture, nourishment, and protection—on both a physical and subtle level.
(1) Lad, V. & U. (2009). Ayurvedic cooking for self-healing. The Ayurvedic Press.
Greta Kent-Stoll is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner (NAMA), as well as a writer, editor, and Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher. Her Ayurveda practice is based in Asheville, North Carolina and she is the co-owner of Iyengar Yoga Asheville.