While Ayurveda never dictates one path for all, grass-fed ghee is an undeniably versatile, healing, sattvic food during the 42 day sacred postpartum window when the subtle qualities of an ingredient can be enough to tip the scale in any one direction.
The word for fat in Sanskrit is Sneha, which means “lavish love.”
Ghee is thought to be an ideal fat for everyone, but especially for postpartum moms as it is associated with soothing excess vata. Ghee, with its vata pacifying qualities, helps balance out the energies. Simple to make and healthy to cook with while making everything it touches taste better – what’s not to love about ghee?
East meets West: The Benefits of Ghee
Maya Tiwari says ghee is “the single most ojas-producing food on earth.” Ojas is the subtle essence that is responsible for life, radiant health, strong immunity, vigor, longevity and overall well-being.
Incorporating ghee into your diet during pregnancy and postpartum can replace some of the ojas lost during pregnancy. As Ayurvedic wisdom illustrates that some ojas is transferred over to the infant in the 8th month of pregnancy to help them survive upon birth.
Ojas gives way to tejas and then to prana. In creating more tejas, it kindles the flame of intelligence, perception, memory, courage and metabolism. “Prana is the energy and strength that comes from ojas after it has been kindled into tejas. Ojas proper is the potential, the stamina of the mind and nervous system for holding tejas and prana. Ojas has the capacity to turn into tejas (heat), which has the capacity to turn into prana (electricity)” (Frawley).
Mental benefits of ghee include:
- Promoting mental balance and harmony
- Promoting better quality sleep
- Reducing stress
Physical benefits of ghee include:
- Metabolism boosting
- Nourishing and hydrating the seven tissues
- Lubricating the joints
- Helping increase absorption of important vitamins and minerals
- Enhancing healthy breast milk production
- Helping with regular elimination
- Giving skin a healthy sheen and silky soft hair
- Improving eye health with its high Vitamin A content
- Providing an alkalizing effect on the entire body by absorbing acidity
- Helping to build a store of vital energy that maintains strong immune function
For all these reasons, ghee naturally encourages bonding between mother and baby. A happy, healthy and cared for mom is, in turn, better able to care for her family because her cup is filled.
Ghee can even be worked into an older sibling’s diet to help calmly smooth over the transition of adding a new baby to the family dynamic.
Ghee has the highest known content of butyric acid, named so after butter. From a more western perspective, we know that butyric acid has been shown to aid digestion, calm inflammation (especially gut inflammation such as those with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), improve overall gastrointestinal health and even lower insulin resistance. It’s also thought to prevent cancer and tumors. The intestines already produce butyric acid for many important functions such as boosting immunity, feeding colon cells and feeding the beneficial microbes. Low levels of butyric acid are found in those who suffer from poor digestion.
Many fats and oils contribute to clogging the liver, but ghee does not. According to Dr. Vasant Lad, ghee strengthens the liver while kindling metabolism.
If you avoid dairy products due to allergies or sensitivities, you may still be able to make ghee a part of your daily routine as the refinement of cream to butter and further refinement of butter to ghee leaves little to no traces of lactose or casein.
How do you make ghee? It’s Easy!
Clarified butter and ghee are very similar and used interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same. While all ghee is clarified butter, not all clarified butter is ghee. Ghee is cooked longer to ensure the removal of all milk fat, and this process leaves the final product with a stronger, darker, more complex, nuttier flavor and more pebbly texture than the typical clarified butter that can sometimes have some milk fat left behind.
I’ve tried a few different methods and nothing beats the stovetop, which requires more presence than the crockpot or oven method, but ensures that all milk fat is removed. This is very important because it makes for a ghee that can safely be stored on the countertop without spoilage. In fact, ghee is one of the few Ayurvedic foods that’s healing qualities improve with age. Different brands of crockpots use a wide array of different temperatures, so I feel the stovetop gives a much more consistently good result.
Whenever possible, it’s ideal to seek out organic, grass-fed butter. Higher quality equates to more nutrients, namely, vitamins A, D, E and K. Also, standard cow chow contains genetically modified grains that have been altered to withstand heavy application of pesticides. And, unfortunately, these animals bioaccumulate toxins in their fats, including their dairy fat.
By making ghee yourself, you’re saving up to 50% what you’d pay for ghee that is already made. And you’re truly the master of your own domain by being able to control factors such as purity of the butter used and how the ghee is made.
- Place a pound or more of unsalted butter (the best you can find!) in an uncovered, heavy-bottomed, cool pot on medium low. Keeping the pot uncovered allows any moisture to evaporate away and this will help keep the ghee from spoiling. Using a cool, heavy-bottomed pan will protect the ghee from scorching.
- As it melts, the butter will splutter and pop, but eventually quiet down to a gentle gurgle.
- White-colored curds will begin to form as the butter continues to lightly bubble and boil. Once these white-colored curds turn a light tan color, carefully remove the pot from the heat source. The ghee is now ready to cool until it is just barely warm.
- Pour through a few layers of cheesecloth or a fine sieve to remove all debris left from the curdling of the milk fat. Discard these remainders.
- Pour ghee into a glass container as fats are more prone to leach toxins from plastic containers.
- As it cools, you may notice that it takes on a granular texture and this is considered a ghee of high quality. Well done! Be sure to wait until the ghee is completely cool before putting on the lid or it may encourage condensation and decrease the longevity by adding moisture which will promote mold.
Making Room for the Sacred
If would like to incorporate ceremony into your ghee making process, you could prepare it on the full moon, referred to as Purnima.
Ghee is traditionally made on the waxing or full moon because it is said that the cow is governed by the moon and that its milk reflects the moon’s luminous, calming energy. It is an expansive time during the lunar cycle when the essences of plants and animals are drawn upward and healing qualities are increased.
Your monthly ghee making sadhana could be an observation of silence, so that you might appreciate the sounds of cooking it, as Vedic monks have done in the past. Bri. Maya Tiwari reflects: “suddenly as it begins to foam, it awakens with the gentle sound of raindrops falling on a tin roof.”
Conversely, you could chant the following seed sound, said to bestow longevity, over your cooking ghee 108 times:
“oṃ tryambakaṃ yajāmahe sugandhiṃ puṣṭi-vardhanam
urvārukam iva bandhanān mṛtyor mukṣīya mā ‘mṛtāt“
Mantra has a powerful effect on body and mind and need not be connected to a religion outside of your own. The only requirement is sincerity. You can listen to a beautiful rendition of this chant here to learn the pronunciation: Mahamrityunjaya – Om Tryambakam.
Cooking with Ghee
Cooking with ghee is a pleasure because of its intensely buttery taste and because it has the very high smoke point of 482 degrees Fahrenheit. This is much higher than the smoke points of olive oil, butter and even the sweetheart of many health movements, coconut oil.
Ghee can usually be replaced in a 1:1 ratio where oil is called for, but in replacing butter, you may find it helpful to use 30% less ghee (2/3 cup instead of a full cup).
A fabulous, ojas-increasing, highly digestible snack or light meal that is considered most appropriate anytime after approximately two weeks postpartum. It tastes of apple pie. Combining cloves with apples increases Vitamin C accessibility. The nutmeg is grounding, supporting digestion and sleep. The apples might not be enough substance on their own, but become much more filling once combined with the ghee.
2 sliced and peeled apples
½ cup filtered water
1 tbsp ghee
1 ½ tbsp cane sugar
A cinnamon stick
A pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
- Place all ingredients into a small saucepan.
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover to simmer – the longer it cooks, the sweeter the apples.
Using Ghee Topically in the Postpartum
Ghee can be used as an ointment for cracked nipples, a common affliction of new nursing moms. It can be applied shortly before nursing to sooth sore nipples and has the additional benefit of being nourishing to the nursing infant in these small amounts, unlike some conventional ointments that you would never want baby to ingest.
There is some evidence to show that ghee application can reduce stretchmarks.
Sesame oil is the preferred oil base for mom and baby abhyanga. But in cases of sensitive skin, ghee may be better tolerated — so don’t be afraid to give it a try.
Ghee may be contraindicated with:
- High ama (toxic) conditions
- High cholesterol
- Cardiovascular disease
Observe caution when Mom has had a caesarean section.
Clearly ghee has so many benefits and no perceived shortcomings when used in proper combination and in moderate amounts such as a spoonful or two mixed into each meal. It has a long shelf life of six to eight months, even at ambient temperatures. And it does not require refrigeration, but is best kept out of direct sunlight. Keep your ghee somewhere convenient where you’ll remember to reach for it often and use it liberally, especially during your postpartum. And if you would like to optimize your use of ghee and many other healing foods and practices during your postpartum, be sure to reach out to your local Ayurvedic doula or get in touch with the Center for Sacred Window Studies to find the one nearest you. Some travel while others can advise your friends and family from a distance through technology.
Here’s to you and the fabulous pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience that you desire.
A postpartum Ayurvedic chef, doula and planner, Cassie Snyder provides mamas in her community with nourishing meals, elixirs, abhyanga and a host of other customized services centered around the 42 day sacred window. Always learning and sharing, Cassie loves Ayurveda because it’s the only lifestyle she’s found that encompasses the uniqueness of the individual, the cycles of life and nature’s seasons. Cassie lives and serves in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Connect with Cassie on Instagram @maiden2mother and at her website: www.maidentomother.org.
All photos courtesy of the author.
- A Mother’s Blessing: Ayurvedic Wisdom for the New Mother by Aparna Khanolkar
- Touching Heaven Volume 1 – Care Principles by Ysha Oakes
- Touching Heaven – Volume 2 – Recipes by Ysha Oakes
- The Goodness of Ghee: The Ultimate Guide to Using Ghee in the Kitchen and Beyond by C.S. Bates
- The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to herbal Medicine by Dr. Vasant Lad and Dr. David Frawley
- For a Blissful Baby by Kumuda Reddy, Linda Egenes and Margaret Mullins
- Textbook of Ayurveda Volume 1: Fundamental Principles by Dr. Vasant Lad
- Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom: A Complete Prescription to Optimize Your Health, Prevent Disease, and Live with Vitality and Joy by Acharya Shunya
- The Path of Practice: A Woman’s Book of Ayurvedic Healing by Bri Maya Tiwari
- Yoga and Ayurveda by Dr. David Frawley