This post was updated on June 12th, 2020
Alcohol & Ayurveda in a single breath? Smells foul? Well, Ayurveda is beyond social stigma & even beyond religion. Shri Rajiv Dixit, credited with reviving the knowledge of Ayurveda (along with Baba Ramdev, who continued the good work by teaching Yoga), never talked about the benefit of a good drink. He was dealing with alcoholism at an epidemic scale in rural India and even used Ayurvedic remedies to “cure” the disease. Using easily available spices like ginger (the sulphur in ginger helps), he and his team ran de-addiction camps with great success.
Hopefully I’m dealing with a more mature audience here. If you do not drink responsibly & the term “social drinker” does not apply to you. please leave this page now 🙂
The Good Part
- New wine is harmful for all the three doshas and is difficult to digest, so prefer old wine
- It is beneficial for Vata & Kapha types
- Alcohol increases appetite & increases the craving for food
- It brings about a feeling of overall contentment
- It cures both insomnia & hypersomnia
- It burns adipose tissue, thus aids in weight loss
- It helps build muscle
- Can be consumed daily, just like sashthika rice
- Alcohol should be consumed with “chikne padarth”. Does that require a translation?
- It’s pure and is used as an offering in the sautramani yagna (Yajurveda)
- It is beneficial for patients with pseudotumor, abdominal diseases, piles, IBS & TB
- The only liquid that mixes well with your drink is water (non medicinal purposes)
- Stick to mildly sweet, mildly hot or mildly bitter alcohol with an astringent aftertaste
- It helps eliminate waste from the body (in the form of sweat, urine & stool)
- Afternoon is the best time to get a bit tipsy
- Drinking with friends is a good idea
The Bad Part
- If consumed in excess, it acts as a poison
- It destroys the power of reasoning
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach
- Avoid alcohol that is extremely sweet or extremely bitter in taste
- Do not drink with food that produces heat
- Pitta dosha types should limit alcohol intake to the minimum
- It brings about infertility in both men & women
- Drinking in the devdas frame of mind is not recommended (drink only when happy)
Ayurvedic Properties of Drinks
The alcoholic drink prepared from punarnava paste and rice flour or dough has the same properties as that prepared from palm and dates juice. These types of alcohol are easy to digest, strengthens the heart, acts as a pain killer and cures cough & cold. This is the favorite drink of Varun dev (Lord of Water). It tastes mildly sweet before sunrise & develops a sour taste as the day progresses. Commonly available “tadi” falls in this category.
Baheda has immense medicinal values according to Ayurveda. No wonder, the alcohol prepared from it is also recommended. It has less alcohol content, is easy to digest and is healthy. This is the only drink recommended for patients with anemia & leprosy, who should otherwise practice complete abstinence from alcohol.
Wine (made from dry grapes) which is sweet in taste is good for the heart and does not produce too much heat in the body. It increases pitta & vata doshas, but only slightly. It is recommended for patients of anemia, piles, intestinal worms and can alleviate menstrual cramps.
Rum is made from either sugar, jaggery or molasses and the quality of the rum and its properties decrease in that sequence. Note that when Ayurveda mentions “sugar”, it’s not the white refined sugar we know. Sweet rum tastes sweet just because those brands add refined sugar to the final output (which otherwise contains no sugar)!  Generally this family of alcohol is good for the heart, but “not the kind of alcohol you would want to get drunk with”. Wines & liquors made from sugarcane juice are known as sidhu. It aids in digestion, improves voice, clears the complexion, acts as anti inflammatory, helps in abdominal disorders & piles & is effective in weight reduction. Again, this is highly recommended for kapha types.
Madvasava is a rum made from honey. It is a good drink if you are constipated, experiencing painful cramps, or running a cold and cold. There is mention of alcoholic drinks made from various grains (including kanji made from rice), fruits, roots, flowers, stems, leaves and barks. My heart raced at the mention of barley based alcoholic drinks in the fifth chapter of Ashtanga Hrudayam. The largest beer brands use barley. Whiskey made from malted barley reminded me of my walks in Scotland that took me to some of the iconic distilleries there. My joy was short lived though. The texts warn us not to have alcohol made from barley. It is one of those rare drinks that is not good for all the three doshas. These beers & whiskeys cause chronic constipation, which leads to severe ailments if not treated in time. Fortunately, there’s a gluten free movement going on and you can search for “gluten free” versions of your drink. Be warned though, humans can’t create food, so be even more careful of what you are drinking.
If you drink vodka, find out what your favorite brand is made from, because vodka can be made from literally anything. Modern drinks like tequila (17th century) or made from plants not native to India do not find a mention in Ayurvedic texts. Just as you should eat local, you should also drink local.
Alcohol has long been used in medicinal preparations, whether it’s allopathy, homeopathy or ayurveda. This is common knowledge, hence the term “dava daru”. States in India that have declared alcohol prohibition follow a particular pattern. Demand for ganja & cough syrup skyrockets. If these are banned , the enlightened shift to ayurvedic medicines. There are two main types, asvava & arishta (depending on how they are fermented) & both have “no added alcohol”, They are fast acting when compared to other forms of the same composition. There are records of alcoholics consuming almost a litre of these ayurvedic medicines in a day. We now know that it causes complete liver failure in a just a couple of years. It’s best to keep your dava & daru separate!
India needs to reinvent its past spirits and not try to ape the west in their drinking habits. Raw materials like punarnava and baheda have long been forgotten as a source of alcohol (although they are commonly used as medicines for everything from diabetes to cancer). Till then, choose the right poison and drink responsibly. You have heard that term before, but how much is responsible drinking? “Depends” is a cliché answer, but factually correct. Pitta doshas should drink the least, vata can drink a little more & kapha types are given the most leeway. If you still want a ballpark, based on what Sushruta prescribes in terms of arishtas, I would say 4 tolas, which is about 45 ml. To be categorized as legally drunk, the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) is set at 0.03% per 100ml blood in India. That works out to roughly 60 ml . Sushruta was definitely stricter than present laws!