Common Cold in Ayurveda

Common Colds in Ayurveda

Elevated Kapha

In Ayurveda the common cold is called Pratishyaya and is seen in most cases as an aggravation of the Kapha dosha. Colds infect the respiratory tract; the sinuses and throat are governed by the Lungs, and the Lungs are the seat of Kapha.

The first thing that happens with colds is increased secretion of mucus and phlegm, which are both the result of elevated Kapha. That is why people who are Kapha dominant, and in an unbalanced state due to diet or lifestyle errors, are more prone to colds and sinus infections. But when Kaphas are healthy and balanced, they can have the strongest immune system. It's a question of balance.

Elevated Pitta and Vatta
Some people's colds involve the tendency to red inflamed sore throat and other heat symptoms involving redness and high temperature. This shows the influence of Pitta and has to be treated with more Pitta pacifying medicines and less of the hot herbs mentioned below; however if there is mucus and phlegm we still use the below remedies.

Some people start out hot and or phlegmatic, as above, but end up with dry throat and dry cough. This is fire stimulating wind, or Pitta aggravating Vatta. These people will, for example, need to use more hot milk and honey with the below herbs, and more moistening foods, like pear juice.

The Role of Ama/Digestive Toxins

The other very important factor, especially for people that get repeated colds, or more than the average amount, that are very susceptible is the role of Ama or digestive toxins.

When the food we eat is not fully digested, what should be a clear extraction supplying the organs and tissues with high quality nutrition (Ojas) becomes instead toxic sludge that clogs the channels and tissues. This toxic sludge is called Ama.

People with this disease factor have what Chinese Medicine calls dampness and chronic food stagnation. In my San Diego Acupuncture and Ayurveda practice, I see this alot: pasty puffy skin, constipation, digestive disorders, allergies, chronic fatigue, susceptibility to lung and sinus infection, and above all frequent colds that drag on and on.

Do I Have Ama Accumulation

People with an Ama accumulation may have

*a thick coating on the tongue
*bad breath
*chronic sinus issues, allergies, chronic colds or bronchitis
*fatigue, lethargy, weakness, non-situational depression
*constipation and or digestive issues like gastritis
*foggy and hard to get up in the a.m.
*pasty, puffy skin

One of first organ systems to be affected by Ama accumulation is the respiratory system, and that makes these people more susceptible to colds and creates the conditions favorable to phlegm and mucus in the lungs and sinuses. It is as if the soil in a potted plant cannot drain well and starts to develop mold and smell badly.

How Do I Develop Ama?

The enemy of Ama is Agni--digestive fire. When Agni is burning bright, it is harder for Ama to collect. But Kapha and Vatta types tend to have weaker Agni, especially Kapha types. Both Kapha-Vatta or Vatta-Kapha have a hard time, as both doshas are cold. Whereas Pitta has naturally strong Agni, so much so that Pitta can be troubled by excessive fire in the body. Obviously, then, its hot weather that aggravates Pitta, and cold weather that aggravates Kapha and Vatta. Dry cold raises Vatta more and wet cold Kapha more.

Why We Are More Prone to Ama in Winter?

Midwinter and on is dominated by Kapha, because the weather is itself Kaphic--cold and wet. This makes us more vulnerable, especially if our Kapha is already elevated. And Kapha, being naturally cold and wet, has a more difficult time keeping strong Agni. That is why Kapha needs a diet that is light, lean, and high in vegetables and spices and low in damp producing foods like wheat, dairy, and fatty meat.

The problem, too is that the average American diet, heavy in Ama engendering Kapha building wheat, dairy, and meat, and light in cleansing green leafy vegetable and warming Agni engendering digestive spices gets even worse around holidays, with lots of sugar and heavy feasts that further weaken Agni and build Ama.

The key then is to eat a diet in winter that engenders Agni that keeps the body fires burning bright. This is easy, once you understand the common sense logic of Ayurveda

But Aren't Colds Caused by the Rhino Virus?

Yes, of course. But that begs the question of why some people never catch them and some people always do and others do occasionally. The ability to withstand exposure to a virus is a function of your immune system. Ayurveda describes this in terms of Ojas/Vigor.

Ojas is the end result of an Agni engendering healthy diet, healthy living, a calm mind, and the blessing of a strong inherited constitution, too. You see Ojas in sparkling eyes, beautiful skin and hair, and healthy energy levels. It governs immunity, and when weak makes us susceptible to disease.

So the issue of susceptibility is key. Yes, colds are the result of an infection by a rhinovirus. And though colds are not "caused" by exposure to cold in the sense of cold being itself an infectious pathogen; it is true that if your immune system is already weakened, and you are over exposed to cold, wet, windy weather, that may be the last straw that makes you unable to fight off the bugs that are going around.

So, one thing to do when you are exposed to cold wet weather, or when you have symptoms that are in and of themselves an excess of wet and cold in your body (phlegm and mucus, feeling cold, chills, sneezing) is to warm and dry the soil of your inner garden.

Ayurvedic Guidelines to Prevent Colds

1. Cold Foods/Warm Foods. Avoid cold foods like ice-cream and yogurt. Some yogurt is fine at noon, but not at night. Follow the general Ayurvedic advice to drink liquids room temp or warm/hot. If you drink milk, drink it hot, simmered with ginger root, cardamom, or clove. Mediterranean sage tea is excellent for warming up after being out in the cold. Get it at Greek, Persian, or Arab markets.

2. Fruit: Stick to apples, pears and other seasonal or dried fruits like dates. Stewed fruits like cranberry sauce and apple sauce are good. Again try using spices. Avoid bananas, these are quite cooling. Good in summer!

3. Veggies: Avoid cold veggies like cucumber, raw tomato, salads--these are "cold" foods that dampen Agni. In summer they are fine, because Agni is naturally strong then. There are regional exceptions. A long hike in the desert sun in San Diego might lead to a small amount of cucumber with lunch, for example.

Favor warming veggies like baked hard squash, root veggies like daikon and parsnip, and as always, green leafy veggies, lightly cooked.

Drink lots of soup! Soups are easy to digest and moisten and lubricate the mucosa in the nose and throat, making it harder for rhinoviruses to penetrate. Good time for warming fish or meat soups with veggies in them like bouillabaisse made with salmon, or chicken soup with garlic and onion and dill.

4. Spices: Keep your insides warm with thermogenic spices -- cumin is an excellent burner of Ama. So are ginger, black pepper, coriander, oregano, thyme, sage, fenugreek, fennel. If you drink milk, drink it hot simmered with ginger, cardamom, clove, cinnamon. Add tea and you have masala chai!

Turmeric is an excellent spice that builds immunity and reduces Ama. So is fresh ginger. Use them in lentils, beans, meats and veggies. Any Indian cookbook or cook website will have great recipes. Substitute black pepper for chili pepper unless you are very Kapha dominant.

5. Deserts: Sweet foods are naturally dampening to Agni. Have them, in moderation, especially in early winter, but take them separate from a meal, or in small amounts at the end of a meal, and have them with something that stimulates the digestive fire, like green or black tea, or herb tea made from ginger or fennel or chai spices.

Make your homemade cookies and cakes with less sugar and with spices like cardamom or cinnamon. Stewed fruits are a better choice than cakes. Stew with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, or clove.

No ice cream or frozen yogurt in winter, please.

Honey is the most warming and least Ama building sweetener. Good choice in tea and beverages. But don't cook with it; it transforms this wonderful medicine into what Ayurveda considers a poison.

Ayurveda Treatment of Cold

When I studied Ayurveda in Sri Lanka, my teacher Vaidhya Wickeramasinghe taught me how to make a tea out of kitchen spices that is a powerful remedy for Kapha-type common colds with any combination of chills, subjective feeling of cold, aversion to wind, mild cough, stuffed nose, runny nose, easy to expel mucus, low fever, mild sore throat, fatigue. But it can also be used with the flu, though in that case I would combine it with other anti-viral, heat-clearing herbs from Chinese Medicine.

In Sri Lanka it is used especially during the rainy season, when colds are more predominant. It is an excellent balance for the very bitter cold herbs like Echinacea and goldenseal that are popular in USA and Europe for colds.

Dr. W's Ayurvedic Tea for Colds and Flu


6 cups water
Coriander Seed 3 tbsp
Fresh Sliced Ginger Root 5 medium slices
Dried Ginger Powder 1-2 tsp
Green Cardamom Seed or Pods 1 tbsp
Fenugreek Seed 1-2 tbsp
Cumin Seed 2 tsp
Black Cumin 2 tsp (get at Indian market or Amazon)
Fennel Seed 2 tsp
Black Peppercorns, 1-2 tbsp,
more for Kapha type or if lots of runny nose, less for Pitta type.
Cinnamon Stick or Cassia, 1-2 4" pieces
Clove 1 tsp
Long Pepper,(Pippili) if available, 4 pieces (I have seen for sale at the Chinese market in the Indonesian spice section...also and Indian grocer)
Holy Basil 2 tbsp (grow in your garden and dry for winter, Indian grocers in the health section as a powder, also at health food stores in tea bags, also Amazon.)


Bring spices and water to a boil. Simmer for around 40 minutes. If desired, and I do recommend this for Pitta-Vatta and Vatta-Pitta types, add about 1 cup of goat's, cow, soy, or nut milk and simmer another 5 minutes.

Sweeten to taste with Honey for Vatta or Kapha dominant and raw sugar for Pitta. But if a Pitta feels cold and averse to wind, I give them honey. Do not cook the honey, only add at the end.

Drink a lot of this through the day, up to a quart, as soon as you start to feel sick. If you sweat, change clothes so you don't get a chill. Stay indoors. Eat light food like toast or rice soup. Rest, rest, rest!

Try to use whole spice rather than powder. It's just that if you use who you get a clear liquid, if you use powder you can get a muddy broth.


If you are too busy to make the above, there is a product that is very popular in Sri Lanka that is now available on line.
It is very similar to the above recipe, but I warn you, it is very hot. If you are a Pitta dominant you must mix it with milk. You might still get some burning sensations in the lower GI, and use with care if you have a tendency to hemorrhoids.

Anu Thailam

One other product I like is Anu Thailam. I get it from
It is especially useful for allergies and sinusitis, but if you are catching a cold, and you have runny nose as a chief symptom, a drop of this oil in each nostril is very helpful. Read about it on the above website.

Chinese Medicine Herbals

For colds with marked heat signs, like strong, rapid onset, painful sore throat, laryngitis, dark phlegm, I like to use a Chinese formula called Yin Qiao San, which I combine with the above herbal decoction, and take at a high dose for a couple of days. If the person is very run down, I like to use Source Naturals Wellness formula at a high dose for a couple of days. If there is sinus infection or bronchitis I use other formulas like Tong Bi or Qing Fei Tang.

Why I use these and not Ayurveda in these cases is twofold: one, I think Chinese Medicine excels at the differential diagnosis and treatment of hot type febrile illness in a way I have not found Ayurveda to. There is a 2,000 year written tradition on the treatment of infectious disease with hundreds of formulas based on symptom pattern. Ayurvedic treatment is more generalized in this particular case.

Second, I will not use or sell Ayurvedic or Chinese herbal formulas unless I know they are free of heavy metal contamination. The company I use, Ayush, is the only company I know of that can supply test results from independent labs. There are some very popular companies whose products have been found to contain lead, mercury, and cadmium.

This may be the natural result of high levels in the soil, or it may be a result of the deliberate use of heavy metal in the processing of herbs, which was part of Ayurvedic and Western herbal practice until recently when heavy metal toxicity began to be understood.

Sadly, Ayush does not have the same kind of anti-viral herbal formulas that my Chinese herb companies do. And my Chinese herb companies, Blue Poppy and Kan, are able to furnish independent lab reports. The first dictum in the Hippocratic Oath is "do no harm!"

Happy Holidays!


copyright Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac. San Diego, CA All Rights Reserved, Use With PermissionAyurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego


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Cold & Flu Blend
Unknown said…
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