Eating for Good Health – An Ayurvedic Perspective : Part 1

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Reading Time: 11 minutes

I am often asked what Ayurveda prescribes as a healthy diet. I hesitate to write down a fixed diet plan for many reasons: there are many diet fads these days which have become accepted as healthy diets (for example the vegan diet, keto diet, millets diet, etc). Most of this is contrarian to the principles espoused in the texts.

1. universally healthy

The second is that Ayurveda is the ultimate customised medicine. The texts opine that health, regimen and medicine should all be customised to the individual, and what works for one individual is especially unique to him / her. Therefore, what works for you is a customised blend of your food culture, what you are used to your prakriti, and where you live.

2. customised approach
The third is a very interesting reason: Ayurveda recognises the importance of “patterns and habits” in the way we eat, behave and live. The Acharyas tell us that even a great diet. Or a set of behaviours considered universally healthy cannot be suddenly introduced to the system, as the system, which has reached a sense of balance with whatever it is doing, will rebel in shock. So for someone who has persisted on a diet of fried bacon, bread and no vegetables, cannot be suddenly asked to substitute fish for fried bacon and introduced to a whole lot of vegetables. The Acharyas tell us that for the system that has been used to food which we consider unhealthy will react to healthy food (if introduced suddenly) like it would react to poison!

3. gradual is better

Obviously our notion of what is healthy food ad not healthy food will have to vary by region, season and availability of food. So if you live in a dry, hot desert I cannot tell you to eat broccoli all the time, despite the fact that it is considered a nutritional superfood.

 

So rather than speak about specific foods to eat, we focus our posts on how to eat. We saw a post this week on eight Ayurvedic eating techniques, and how chewing food well, eating on time, eating when hungry, etc are timeless principles of healthy living. We saw how even the right foods eaten wrongly can cause distress to the body.

 

Speaking further on foods to eat, here is our 2 part series on Ayurvedic eating for good health. Again, these posts are in the form of eating principles, and cover aspects of eating like ethical diets (vegan / vegetarian), eating timings etc. These are atleast as important as what you eat, so do read on.

 

As with all new information, please read this with an open mind. The science of Ayurveda has evolved over thousands of years and is extremely sophisticated in its understanding of both food and its effect on human beings. Many of the things I have written down may seem contrarian to what we believe in now – but the system has survived and thrived for thousands of years

  1. Timing is everything (in health, food & life)

The time of eating is at least as important as what you eat and depending upon your body’s condition, it is sometimes more important than what you eat.

Every organ system is said to have a particular time to cleanse itself and do necessary repairs. For example, the liver, the seat of pitta in our body, cleanses itself around midnight. Cleansing of organ systems occurs ONLY after digestion is through, nutrients have been extracted and toxins have been removed from the body. So if you are eating dinner at 11 pm, your organ systems will NOT cleanse themselves, and will wait until the next available time slot to do so. Which means your body will feel dull and sluggish the next morning (especially if you are consistently eating late).

This does not mean you can get away with eating junk food like a burger everyday at 7 pm for dinner. Do read point 2.

This is corroborated by many systems of traditional medicine. TCM opines that the window to eat breakfast is between 7 am – 9 am. When you consistently eat breakfast after this window, your chi energy or stomach fire energy gets weak and dampened. This in TCM is said to lead to digestive disorders, high production of gas in the system and an inability to digest foods leading to a high accumulation of toxins.

4.damp agni

 

  1. Ideal food is local, freshly cooked, lightly spiced and eaten warm. No spoiled food should be eaten. And no food should be stored, re-heated and eaten.

Ayurveda frowns upon the wonders of modern food preservation. In fact, the Charaka Samhita specifically says that for good health one should not eat too much of pickles, traditional papads or even traditionally salted and preserved vegetables (like vadagam and vathal).These references are to HOME MADE preserved vegetables, lentils and fruits. So this definitely rules OUT eating preserved, commercially processed foods like biscuits, sauces, etc which have a shelf life of 1 year or more (so most of the time we are eating stuff that has been made at-least 6 months ago in a factory and would contain several harmful chemical preservatives).
5. processed food
Local in Ayurveda means something that not only grows naturally within 100 miles of where you live. It also means eating foods you and your digestive system are accustomed to. So if you have grown up eating rice, rice will suit your system the most. Not quinoa. And not even millets. Any new food must be slowly introduced to your digestive system. (This does not take away from your responsibility of sourcing high quality food. Most of us grew up eating untainted, pesticide-free food – so this naturally means you should source the same now. And not just buy the first available pesticide sprayed pack of rice you find in the supermarket).

6. local food
The point about spoiled food is an interesting nuance and goes to our food culture. For example cheese eating is not a practice that is universal to many parts of India. It is usually common only in cold and hilly regions. In hot and humid regions, fermenting a dairy based food will quickly lead to rot, mildew and fungus. However the same food is very well preserved in a cold, hilly region.

Cheese, especially aged cheese, tends to be very salty, sharp and concentrated. In Ayurveda, this has all the makings of a pitta food group. So it makes sense to eat this food, if it is eaten traditionally, in a cold, hilly region where the atmosphere is low in pitta dosha. The pitta in the food is welcome to stimulate digestion.

7.cheese

However in a hot, humid city like Chennai or Hyderabad, where the atmosphere is full of Pitta, the pitta dosha from the cheese would over stimulate pitta dosha. Which is probably why in practice, it does not form a part of traditional food.

If you live in the city of your childhood, it is probably best to stick to your traditional food practice. If you live in a foreign city, it is still better to stock to your traditional food unless the weather and climate is dramatically different from what you are used to. If you are living in an utterly foreign land, it makes sense to slowly acclimatise and add foods and eating practices local to where you live, while continuing to eat traditionally most of the time.

 

  1. An ideal food for you is something that is digested quickly by you and puts the least amount of stress on your digestive system. This can differ from person to person.

Ayurveda believes the more effort the body has to take in digesting your food, the more energy is diverted away from your organ systems. Also, depending upon your state of health, if your food is difficult to digest, there is a possibility that your body will not complete the job of digestion within the allotted time. The longer your food sits in your body without being processed, the more poisonous it becomes to your body.

8.putrefecation

 

Food that is undigested and sits around in your body becomes “Ama” or undigested waste + toxin. Ama prevents the healthy functioning of your organ systems and leads to faster aging and illness. Ama can accumulate across every organ system, but is linked primarily to an improperly functioning digestive system, brought on by eating improper food.

Now how your digestive system will respond to your food group is completely unique. Some of us can easily digest fried food, and can eat copious quantities of this without losing sleep or productivity. Others are extremely sensitive to certain food groups: a single Chinese meal can set us back by 2 – 3 days when we feel dull and sluggish.

9.digestive ability
These digestion patterns tend to change as we age, and by season. They also change when we are under a high amount of stress. So it is important to listen carefully to your body and develop a sense of what works for you. Limit food experimentation to a window where you can take the consequences, and always plan for “cheat” or “treat” days.

  1. Many foods we think are healthy and should be eaten in copious quantities are considered unhealthy in Ayurveda

Many foods that we now consider healthy and are eating a lot of are considered difficult to digest in Ayurveda or are considered unbalanced as they are very high in one particular dosha: these include raw vegetables (yes salads!), raw sprouts, millets, brown rice or cereals with a high amount of husk on them, fermented foods like idly and dosa, cheese, curd, milkshakes. These must be eaten with the proper preparation and caution and at times when the body is capable of digesting them.

Example 1: Fermented foods like idly and dosa are considered high in pitta as they are sour foods. Eating them every day for breakfast will mean your pitta will increase. It is important to balance them with something like a coconut based dish as coconut is both cooling (and high in kapha) and will balance the pitta in the idly / dosa. (Please note that this does not apply if you spike your coconut chutney with an impossibly high amount of green chillies). Eating a fermented food with another pitta heavy dish like a Sambhar high in tamarind or acidic tomato based chutney will not be balanced.

10.idly

 

In this there is obviously a gradation. Freshly fermented idlis are lower in pitta dosha than 3 day old batter. Batter made at home is obviously superior to something bought from outside, because we can guarantee that no other additives like baking soda have been added. Idlis eaten in cold winter season are better for the body compared to idlis eaten in summer.

 

This is because in winter, the heat of the Idlis through Pitta dosha is opposite to the cold produced by the winter – so the load on the body is less. But an idly eaten is summer is far more stimulating to Pitta dosha.

 

When you are suffering from an intense imbalance of Pitta dosha, eating an idly everyday for breakfast can throw you out of gear and is not advisable.  The key, as always is finding balance.

 

Example 2: Raw foods are considered “lekhaniya” (scraping quality), and depending upon what kind of raw foods we are describing, they may be “rooksha” (dry), rough, and “guru” or difficult to digest.

 

An example of a “guru” raw food is raw beetroot. An example of a “rooksha” and “guru” raw food are raw sprouts. From a western, raw food perspective, eating raw food is considered healthy as we get access to many nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are destroyed when cooking. So eating the raw food as a juice, smoothie or as a salad is considered health boosting.

11.raw
Ayurveda however says that the process of digesting this raw food dampens or weakens Agni, hence this food is not properly digested (especially when consumed in quantities that are much higher than what we are used to). So despite eating healthy foods, we could be increasing the ama in our body as the act of digesting this healthy food has weakened Agni.

 

Seasonal fruits and fruit juices are not necessarily a part of this list. But even here, temperance is advised – you cannot suddenly force the body to eat, digest properly and assimilate a very large quantity of fruit juice of fruit salad. Depending upon your constitution this can aggravate Agni, leading to diarrhoea, or leave you feeling sluggish and listless.

12.fruits
Example 3: Millets are now extremely popular across South India as a healthy replacement to rice. Ayurveda however considers many Millets as dry and difficult to digest, which makes sense as they are traditionally dry land crop. Substituting rice completely with Millets will mean that your vata dosha will increase. This is welcome if you have a health condition like diabetes where kapha dosha is high – so here the vata of the Millets will balance excess Kapha. In fact, millet is prescribed in diabetes for just this reason instead of rice. But if you have no such health conditions and have decided to substitute rice completely with Millets, you will be drying out your body, especially if you do this very suddenly.

13.millets
The benefits of Millets must of course be experienced by you. But this should form a part of your experimentative 10% and must be prepared using the correct format and in doses where your body does not rebel or where other symptoms like aggravated vata dosha develop.

 

Here are some of the ways you can experiment with Millets:

Changing the format of the cereal changes how your body digests it – In millets, flour is easier to digest as you have broken down the cereal physically and are not depending upon your digestive system to do this job. So if you would like to introduce Millets into your diet, perhaps Millet flour is a better first step instead of the millet grains.

13.millet flour
The timing of eating is everything, especially for a difficult to digest food. Noon time, when the sun is at its peak, is considered the time when your digestive system is the strongest. So this is the time your body can handle the rigors of digesting a difficult to digest food. Like millets. OR Quinoa. (After preparing it properly).

14.lunch
This list which I have compiled is by no means complete or a prescription in itself. This merely represents a starting point to think about your diet and your health. As with everything, your body and your health are unique and what works for you is something you will have to evolve with time and experimentation.

Part 2 of this post will tackle more of what Ayurveda says about food. In the meantime, do remember, there are no shortcuts to good health and good looking skin and hair. It is built meal by meal, and choice by choice.


Krya’s range of skin care products for pitta prone, normal to oily skin can be found here. Our skin range for vata prone, normal to dry skin can be found here. Our anti acne skin care products can be found here.   Apart from this, we have a range of products for Sensitive Skin (skin that is eczema, dermatitis & psoriasis prone) and for Sun Tanned skin . We also have a large range of Abhyanga-Snana products. 

9-ubtan

Our products are inspired by Ayurveda. completely natural, toxin free and extremely effective. If you would like help choosing the right Krya product for your skin, please call us (075500-89090) or write to us.


 

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True Lice : Launching the new Krya Anti-Lice System

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

Raise your hand if you are a parent whose child has missed school due to an attack of head lice. I am typing this sentence with one hand, with the other hand raised up. Schools, especially the kindergarten variety, routinely conduct lice checks on their wards and send the kids with lice infections home to get immediate treatment.

Lice (singular: louse) cannot fly but they can crawl really fast. So the principal method by which they spread is close human contact, which is why the smaller kids in school who play together are infected easily by lice. Lice also cannot survive for more than a few hours away from the human scalp – so generally they do not spread fast through personal items like combs and towels.

Nevertheless, sharing combs & towels in a home under lice attack is not a good idea as parents and others in the home could get lice infection from the kids. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that every year 6 million to 12 million children in the age group 3 – 11 years in the U.S.A get an attack of head lice. (As an aside, it would great to have such meticulously collected statistics for India. Since it is not readily available we are using the U.S data to get a idea of the size of the global lice scourge) .

Head lice are wingless, blood-sucking parasitic insects that can only live on the human scalp. They lay their eggs on the human hair shaft, which hatch in about nine days. Lice can live for about a month and the female louse can lay about 10 eggs per day. So it is very easy for the lice infestation to spread really fast on a person’s scalp.

Lice are annoying. Really Really Annoying.

They spread fast and cause severe itching and irritation on the scalp. If left untreated for a long time, chronic lice infestations can cause Iron deficiency anemia due to the constant blood sucking.
Lice also cause secondary trouble by harboring several microbes that can cause other infections to the host human.

For example the typhus bacterium Rickettsia prowazekii can spread through the head louse to the hosts. Typhus , which spread through lice, was a global scourge even till the early part of the 20th Century. In 1812, Napoleon’s army of half a million men was reduced to a mere 35,000 men due to a Typhus outbreak. Typhus, courtesy of lice, killed millions of people in eastern Europe around the time of the first world war. Vladimir Lenin famously complained that “either socialism will defeat the louse or the louse will defeat socialism” .

Thankfully the Typhus epidemic has been nearly eradicated and is not a threat.

But the lice still remain with us. As they have, apparently since the dawn of time.

A wooden comb was discovered in an archaeological dig in Israel’s Negev desert, dating to ~ 100 B.C, covered with 10 head lice & 5 nits. In others finds in Egypt, lice nits were discovered on a mummy dating to 5000 B.C. interestingly the mummy was buried along with lice removing combs. So the preferred method for removing lice even 7000 years later remains the same.

What lice beneath: The problem with current lice treatments

The immediate treatment when you first discover the dreaded lice itch is to physically remove the lice with the eponymous comb. This provides temporary relief and does not carry the risk of spreading the contagion through the comb, since lice cannot survive a few hours away from the human scalp. But these little critters leave several tens of their nits (eggs) attached to the hair shaft, which hatch in the next days to continue the attack on the host’s head. Nits are very difficult to remove with the comb. This necessarily means that apart from the comb, a topical treatment like a lice-oil or shampoo is required to win the battle.

Malathion and Permethrin are two common chemical insecticides used in lice treatment products across the world.

Malathion is a very common organophosphate used as a pesticide in agriculture & in public health programs to kill mosquitoes. It is also now used commonly in head lice products where it works by killing lice and partially killing the nits ( eggs)

Malathion is bad news for human health and for the environment. While manufacturers of malathion claim that it is of low toxicity, it is also known that if malathion is absorbed into the human body, it easily metabolizes into Malaoxon which is 61 times more toxic than its parent compound.

Children who ingest malathion may experience headache, dizziness, fatigue , seizures, muscle weakness and even paralysis. Anti-lice products which contain malathion have to be applied & left on the scalp for several hours before wash off. This provides a route for malathion to easily enter the body especially when applied on small children. These products do not provide permanent relief from lice and have to be used repeatedly which aggravates the risk of absorption into the body.

Malathion is now being replaced by another chemical called permethrin in anti-lice products.

Permethrin is a broad spectrum insecticide and works by killing live lice. Common side effects of permethrin are itching, swelling and redness, stinging, numbness, tingling & skin rash. Permethrin can be absorbed through the skin and is very toxic if it accidentally comes in contact with the eyes. If permethrin is accidentally inhaled, it causes irritation in the nose and lungs, difficulty in breathing, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. After using a permethrin based product, we must remember to thoroughly wash our hands to prevent accidental ingestion with our food.

krya-anti-lice-system
On the krya blog, we have written on several occasions about the new global risk of “Super Bugs”. These super bugs are created when normal bugs develop resistance to chemicals used to kill them. Due to the indiscriminate wide-spread use of malathion & permethrin in lice products, US & Australia have now reported the emergence of “Super lice” and “ Super Nits” that can survive these chemicals. So now we have a dangerous situation where a permethrin based product is ineffective in controlling lice, causes severe side-effects and after prolonged use creates “Super lice”.

The phenomenon of Super bugs happens only with chemicals because they are inert and fixed in their pathways. However bugs like lice are alive, smart and are capable of mutating fast to evade the chemical pathways and emerge as new super bugs. This does not happen with plant based solutions as plants are intelligent, live beings capable of adapting to the bugs and helping humans fight them without any side-effects.

Now to put this in perspective , most lice products are used on small children, who are experiencing severe itching, irritation and pain due to the infestation. Why do companies formulate products with chemicals like Malathion & Permethrin which can cause irritation when used as advised and are very toxic if accidentally inhaled or ingested ?

On this note, there are several “natural” Anti-lice products which use plant based insecticides like the seeds of the Sitaphal ( Annona Squamosa / Custard Apple). Now this seed is a very effective anti-lice product and has no side-effects. However if it accidentally falls on to the eyes, it is very toxic and can even cause blindness. Due to this at Krya, we strongly advise against the use of Sitaphal seeds in Anti-lice products – the risk is just not worth it.

We have been receiving several Lice Oil requests for sometime now. We finally bit the bug (pun fully intended) last week and made our second batch of the Krya Anti Lice oil (our first test batch was met with a lot of success 2 years ago during our testing phase). For stubborn infestation cases, we’ve added an Anti Lice hair mask and made an anti Lice hairwash to go with this system.

The first people to test out the revised formulations were 2 Krya employees with slightly older school going kids with a severe lice infestation. These kids had been subjected to the usual round of anti lice brands available in the Pharmacy. They reported high eye irritation, feeling of heaviness and headaches with using their previous brands of highly toxic lice oil and shampoo. They were uncomfortable with the lingering smell of these products and also reported slight hairfall after using the commercial anti-lice shampoos. The parents were extremely concerned about the medium and long term safety of using such strong, poisonous substances in such close contact with their children.

After trying out the samples of the Krya anti lice oil, my employees were sent to work with a special request from the kids – to please buy much more of the product for any future Lice infestations!

The kids loved the fragrance of the oil, the way their scalp felt after massage, and most importantly they reported being able to easily comb out both nits and lice after oil application – the lice were not dead, but were incapacitated and were easy to comb out.

We will be talk much more about exactly how we formulate the Krya anti lice system in later posts, but for now, if you are looking for a really natural, non toxic, gentle solution to a lousy problem, explore here:

1. Krya Natural Anti Lice Hair Oil with Thyme & Tamanu –http://bit.ly/kryaantilicehairoil
2. Krya Natural Anti Lice Hair Mask with Sweetflag & Ram Tulasi –http://bit.ly/kryaantilicehairmask
3. Krya Natural Anti Lice Hairwash with Lemon Eucalyptus & Curry Leaf –http://bit.ly/kryaantilicehairwash
4. Krya Natural Anti Lice Hair System – comes with the Oil, Mask and Hairwash (especially recommended for chronic infestation ) –http://bit.ly/kryaantilicehairsystem

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Mindful manufacturing & maximum nutrition

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Reading Time: 11 minutes

I had 2 separate conversations yesterday that were on a topic that We’ve been quite obsessed about in the pre-work leading up the Krya factory. How do we process herbs and grains to ensure that they are easy and convenient to use without sacrificing the nutrients that go into them?

Grain processing for nutrient absorption is an ancient art. Archeological excavations indicate that plant domestication is about 11,000 years old. We first started domesticating vegetables like the bottle gourd, which was used as a vegetable and a container before the evolution of pottery and the art of ceramics. Cereal grains were domesticated around 9000 BC in the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. Apart from fruit bearing annuals, pulses like peas and grains like wheat were part of this wave of plant domestication.

4. einkorn wheat at the fertile cresecent

 

The domestication of plants and cereals grains led to a great change in our way of life: this paved the way for Man to change from being a nomadic hunter gatherer to a fixed dweller in domesticated groups which slowly evolved to cities and towns. So in a way, the cultivation of cereals and grains created human civilisation itself.

The quern stone is an important landmark in the history of grain processing. Ethnographic evidence indicates that querns were used to grind not only grains for food, but also different kinds of herbs for medicines and cosmetics. Different types of querns existed in the ancient world: saddle querns, beehive querns and rotary querns which we are familiar with in India.

2, syrian quern stone3. egyptian grain grinding

 

The evolution of the water powered mill mechanised the use of the hand quern to some extent. The force of flowing water would generate enough power for the grinding wheel to begin turning. The grinding mechanism was similar to the rotary quern and the grain would be crushed between the rotating wheel and the stationary base of the Water mill. The Barbegal Aqueduct and Mill is a Roman Watermill complex located near the town of Arles in southern France.

 

1. barbegal mill

This mill was strategically located on a Roman aqueduct created to supply drinking water from the Alpilles mountain chain to the town of Arelate (now the town of Arles) on the Rhone River. This aqueduct fed 2 parallel sets of 8 waterwheels to power the attached flourmill. The mills were thought to have been operated almost continuously for 200 years from the 1st century AD and have an estimated capacity of 4.5 tonnes of flour per day – enough to feed the 30,000 inhabitants of Arles.

How fast does it spin? 

One of the ways to analyse the quality of processing is to find out the speed of the grinding mechanism. All rotary based mechanisms where the method involves something rotating around a fixed axis ( a grinding stone in the case of a wet grinder) or even the drum of your washing machine have a measure called RPM (revolutions per minute) to measure the frequency of rotation. The greater the RPM, the greater is the precision and power of the grinding, washing or drilling device.

8. RPM - how fast does it spin

 

A modern ultrasonic dental drill can rotate upto 800,000 RPM. Depending upon the spin cycle you choose in your washing machine the drum can rotate between 500 – 2000 RPM. When cruising at a minimum idle speed, your car engine has an RPM between 750 – 900 RPM. A Formula 1 car’s racing engine is operated at nearly 20,000 RPM. The speed of ancient water mills is estimated to be about 120 RPM.

 

High speed milling machines: devolution?

With the invention of fossil fuel powered electricity, water mills were slowly substituted by electricity powered mills. Milling machines themselves also underwent several technological changes. From the stone based water mills, we moved to roller mills. Roller mills produced a huge technological breakthrough as they were able to separate wheat bran from its endosperm, helping in the introduction of “Maida” or refined wheat flour.

To achieve this super refined flour, slightly wet wheat would be passed through a roller mill. This moisture acts in 2 ways on different parts of the wheat: it softens the endosperm, helping it be ground extremely finely, and it hardens the bran leaving it as a coarse grind. Therefore, you could easily sieve and separate the super refined endosperm from its coarser, much healthier bran and sell super refined flour.

Today’s milling machines are high speed impact pulverisers. Often sold for various purposes from grinding granite and stone for the construction industry to grinding food products like grains and spices, impact pulverisers and hammer mills are sold on 2 counts: speed of food processing (as described through the RPM) and fineness of the material ground.

Krya’s experiments in herb and grain processing and our observations:

We have a line of cleaning products that include a detergent and a dish washing product and a line of personal care products that include a face wash, hair wash and a body wash. Our quest when formulating and manufacturing our products is twofold: are they able to harness all the power of the natural ingredients we use while providing our users with a certain degree of comfort and convenience during use.

The yardstick for determining whether a particular manufacturing process is good or not, really depends on the metrics for measuring a product. Most powdered products are measured on a single metric only: the size reduction of the particles that has been achieved and the evenness of the particle size. Think of any brand of compact powder or even a talcum powder you might use for your child. Apart from the fragrance, perhaps the only way you might measure the quality of your product is the even and smooth feel of the compact on your face or the powder on your child’s skin.Unfortunately this metric of smoothness and evenness has now expanded to cover all powder based products, no matter what they are originally supposed to do.

5. all powders are not the same

Turmeric grinding:

Turmeric, the ubiquitous spice in Indian cooking and medicine is used extensively as is in cooking or as a part of important spice mixes like sambhars powder and rasam powder. Turmeric is a notoriously tough root to grind. Most household mixer grinders cannot get a smooth turmeric powder, so turmeric is usually sent to the neighbourhood flour mill for processing. (Of course the mechanism of the mixer grinder is not suited to grinding at all, as it is designed for a cutting rather than a pounding action). Different kinds of industrial grinders can be used for turmeric grinder.

In very large, high capacity spice grinding operations, an impact mill or a cyclone mill is used to grind turmeric. The RPM of an impact mill starts at 1500 RPM and it can go upto 2800 RPM depending on the purpose of the mill. This kind of mill can dramatically reduce the processing time of grinding hard turmeric roots. This means that greater volumes of turmeric can be ground and processed in this factory.

Ayurvedic medicine processing:

Rasanadi chooranam is an Ayurvedic medicine which is always available at our home. This is an extremely useful preparation to control water accumulation in the sinuses. In Ayurveda, a pinch of Rasanadi chooranam is applied every time you wash your hair at the lymph nodes and certain points on your head. This chooranam helps retain heat in these points and help dry up water before it has a chance to be absorbed internally and reach the sinuses. If you suffer from water accumulation or a feeling of heaviness in your head after washing your hair, in wet weather or if your head sweats a lot, Rasanadi chooranam will make a huge difference to your health and well being.

We tested the physical characteristics and aroma of Rasanadi chooranam bought from 2 different Ayurvedic brands: One came from a government run (presumably lower funded) organisation and the other from a big brand name Ayurvedic company. The Rasanadi chooranam from the government funded Ayurvedic Company was darker in colour and coarser to touch. It was also extremely fragrant and generated a feeling of warmth as soon as it was applied on the head. However the Rasanadi chooranam from the big brand company was much lighter in colour, extremely fine to touch and had little or no aroma. It did not have the immediate warming characteristics of its poorer counterpart.

Both brands have used the same Ayurvedic formulation from the same Ayurvedic text. Both brands use a mixture of conventionally grown / cultivated herbs and forest collected herbs. The major difference lies in the way they have been processed. Clearly the bigger brand has used a more expensive, hi impact, high RPM pulveriser. This pulveriser has, through a combination of high heat, greater number of beating heads and higher energy, achieved fineness of the final product by sacrificing aroma, and some of the products functional characteristics.

Active ingredients and how to release them:

Processing food and natural medicine or cosmetics follow similar principles. The active ingredients in plants are bound up within their cell structure. Our role in creating functional products is to release these active ingredients so that they get to work as soon as you apply, soak or eat them. In grain processing which we spoke about, the active ingredients in the grain like the B vitamins and protein is readily available to the body only when we soak, ferment, or create flour. This very act of creating flour, if done improperly can completely destroy the active ingredients present within the grain.

The active ingredients of soapberry which we depend upon to produce hair magic or laundry magic in the Krya hair wash and Krya detergent is called saponins. These saponins are distributed through the outer shell of the soapberry fruit. To extract these saponins, we need to either soak the fruit in water and extract it as an aqueous extract or powder the shells and make the saponins more bio available so that they are released faster in the presence of water or mechanical action.

6. saponin extraction at krya

 

However saponins, like most active ingredients are sensitive to air, and heat. When processed in a high heat generating milling operation, they get denatured or cooked. These denatured saponins have a lower foaming action and have a completely different aromatic profile when compared to properly processed saponins.

Why process a soapberry at all? Using a whole soapberry is not as effective or convenient as using the powdered soapberry or an aqueous extract. Because it is only through subjecting the whole soapberries to some form of processing, we are able to make the saponins readily available to us.

When is herb or food processing just right? And why you should care

Food or natural products are truly nutritious and provide well being when they have been carefully made, using high quality raw materials and careful processing techniques. High heat and fast processing has 2 negative effects on plant based material: It destroys the volatile, delicate aroma compounds and it denatures vital nutrients like vitamins (some of which are extremely heat sensitive).

For example, thiamine in wheat is one of the first vitamins to be lost in high speed processing. This is especially true in high speed mills where temperatures can reach upto 204 degrees centigrade. In our skin and hair care products, we use several delicate, extremely volatile, aromatic herbs.

Lemongrass for instance, goes into our Kids body wash. Lemongrass is a dry, fibrous grass, and is especially soothing for delicate skin. Its volatile compounds are released by either carefully crushing the grass or through steam distillation to extract its essential oil. When the grass is dried at high temperatures (above 60 deg c) or processed using high speed cutters, the plant loses its vibrant, citrusy top notes. The resulting powder resembles dried hay, and simply adds volume without adding to the therapeutic qualities of our body wash.

9. krya bodywash for kids with lemongrass

 

The Just right level:

Much like Goldilocks and the three bears, there is a “just right” level in all natural product processing. But obviously this varies depends on the kind of product being spoken about.

Here are 3 checks for you to evaluate if your brand of completely natural food, cosmetic or household product has been sourced and processed correctly:

1. Is its colour distinctively lighter compared to the original raw material? The more an ingredient is crushed or processed, or sieved, the lighter it becomes. For example: refine white flour or Maida is super white in colour. This is because the brown coloured bran has been sieved out of the flour, and the endosperm has been moistened and pulverised to a very fine degree.

2. Does it have a characteristic natural aroma? Or does it smell cooked / roasted or burned? Is there any strong, distinctively “un natural” fragrance? If the food or natural cosmetic you’ve bought smells neutral, has no fragrance or has a burned / cooked fragrance, then what you’ve bought has been over processed. Alternatively, if you are buying a brand of natural hair wash and what you smell reminds you of a bubbly lemony synthetic shampoo, then obviously what you’re using is not very natural.

3. Is it extremely even and is the powder of a very high degree of fineness? It should come as no surprise to you that natural ingredients are not identical. No two grains of rice or wheat are alike. No two leaves from the same stalk have identical aromatic compounds of physical characteristics. Similarly, when food or natural products are processed, it is not possible to achieve microscopically identical particle size.

All a manufacturer can do is to sieve the final product to ensure that the particle size achieves a certain minimum or maximum threshold. Within this limit, variations will continue to exist. Complete evenness and near identical particle size can only mean repeated processing and sieving in a high speed mill.

If you are observing this in your flour, then you will be eating nutritionally weak flour. It would make sense to either switch brands or to decide to process your own flour. If you are observing this in your natural hair care or cosmetic product, then your product will not work as well as it could on you. The repeated processing the product has undergone has depleted it of any nutrients that could be absorbed by your skin and hair. Again, switching brands or making your own personal care products would make better sense.

Additional Information:

  • For low heat , carefully processed flour, ask for your organic store’s own brand of flour (to ensure freshness).
  • Krya’s skin and hair care products will be launched commercially in a month’s time. This is why its taking this time.
  • Krya’s all natural cleaning products for the home can be found here.

About the Series:

This article is a part of Krya’s writings on natural products and their sourcing and processing. We are passionate about promoting a truly environmentally sustainable lifestyle and this can be achieved only if we come to rely on using high quality plant based material to clean and care for ourselves and our homes. This follows our earlier series on toxic products in our home and how you could learn to identify and detox your home from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today.

If you would like to explore our toxics series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.
  6. Do the cosmetic products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode them? Here’s Urban survival 102 telling you what you should look for in cosmetic labels
  7. Two non toxic cleaner recipes you could try in your home and a Krya factory update
  8. A holistic approach to beauty and health and a fermented Amla drink to make this February for your family

 

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The Tree of Life – the holistic approach to beauty & health

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

At Krya we have different lines of products:  A line of cleaning products for the home like our Detergent and Dishwash, and our soon to be launched floor cleaner, all purpose scrub and toilet cleaner. We also have a range of skin and hair care products which we have been testing in small commercial batches all through last year: our range includes a face wash, a body wash, a body wash for kids and a hair wash. In the near future will launch a line of botanical oils, serums and salves to moisturize and protect your skin and hair.
While these may seem like separate lines of businesses, to us, they form part of an organic holistic mother lode: they are all gentle, plant based products that help clean and care for you in the most natural and non toxic way possible.

Many times the human body is treated as a linear, system-wise, unconnected organism. By treating ourselves by parts, and essentially using the process of separation and division to look after ourselves, we sometimes fail to see the connection behind all the disparate products we use on and around ourselves.

It makes perfect sense to us as a company that advocates an alternate, more natural way of living and provides products to support that life to be in as many categories as possible.

Only with a large number of products can we begin to affect a change and make the impact that we would like to have possible. So for instance, if you suffer from asthma, are prone to sneezing / wheezing attacks, it makes sense for you to examine the impact of added synthetic fragrance not only on the soaps or moisturisers you may use, but also on the household cleaning products you are exposed to like your detergent, floor cleaner or dish cleaner.

4synthetic dishwash

When we started Krya, we thought long and hard about 2 things: the categories we would play in, and the ones we would not participate in.

Food (basic grains, lentils , fresh produce) was a category we decided not to participate in at Krya. This decision emerged out of several reasons: one of the most important being our belief that food, more than any other category of products should be hyper local.

Krya supports good food

Traditional medicine argues that the best health benefits accrue from plants, herbs, vegetables and fruits that grow naturally, easily and abundantly around where you live. This means that if you live in Chennai and have your roots in Tamilnadu like we do, the best cereal for you is probably rice. And within rice, it is probably the native, traditional breed of rice that was available in every season around where your ancestors lived. So instead of looking high and low for that quinoa brand or eating goji berries, it would do us a lot more good to eat traditional rices, or millets  and some Amla / Nellikai.

Mapillai samba rice

( Of course if you are a Bolivian or Peruvian national living in India, you could be excused for that quinoa craving.)

Quinoa - hyperlocal to the andes

Although Krya does not make food products, we fully acknowledge the vital role of good food for our health & well being. No matter how reverentially or carefully we create our skin and hair care products, they will only work as well as your overall health and nutrition permits.

So if you have not been taking care of yourself in this winter season, and have allowed yourself to experience its vata effects, then your skin and hair will feel dry and lifeless. Good nutrition, health, sleep and a positive attitude remain the base for good health. A good, well made product will only build on a strong foundation.

The Amazing Amla

One of the ingredients we use across all our skin and hair care products is the Indian gooseberry, called Amla in Hindi and Nellikai in Tamil. The Hindi name for this amazing India fruit comes from its Sanskrit name “Amlika”.

In Hindu mythology, the churning of the ocean gave us Lord Dhanvantri and the elixir of Life, Amrit. In the clash between the Devas and Asuras over who got to eat the Amrit, drops of it were said to have scattered over our world, giving rise to the Amlika Tree.

The beginning of the Holi Festival in India, is called Amlaka Ekadashi, a day when the Amla tree and its resident deity, Lord Vishnu is worshipped. The Amla tree is ceremoniously watered and bathed, and a ritual offering is done for the tree.

Amla composite

The Amla / Nellikai has been a popular and significant gift across time in India. Even emperor Ashoka was gifted half an Amla fruit by the Buddhist Sangha – a stupa was created to mark the event, called the Amlaka Stupa.

The 2000 year old Vamana Purana, states that one can survive by consuming just the fruit juice of the Amla. Amla is also called “dhatri” or the nurse. It rejuvenates the body cells, tones the tissues, strengthens our internal organs, and is believed to increase prana, and has a sattvic effect on the mind.

Amla is one of the Three great Myrobalans used extensively in Ayurveda, Siddha and in the Tibetan school of medicine. Triphala (3 fruits), a multipurpose Ayurvedic formulation used both externally and internally has many uses ranging from ama (toxin) cleansing to wound healing and regenerative properties. Amla is one of the constituents of Triphala and ranges from forming 1/3rd of Triphala to 80% of the formulation depending on its source.

Chawanprash, an all purpose medicinal jam, or leghyam which is advertised every winter to build immunity and prevent coughs and colds, has many ingredients, but is main ingredient is Amla.

Amla works great: within & without

At our work in Krya, Amla is an extremely important ingredient. It is a Vitamin C storehouse, offering nearly 3000 mg of Vitamin C per 100 gram of dried herb. Studies demonstrate that this Vitamin C is extremely bio available for the human system compared to other synthetic sources.

Amla in Krya

Ayurveda and Siddha consider Amla as a tridoshic herb, a herb that balances all the 3 doshas. In tastes, it is said to satisfy all the 6 rasas or tastes. It rejuvenates the body cells, tones the tissues and strengthens the organs. It is believed to increase the life energy / prana and has a sattvic effect on the mind.

In its internal use, Amla is believed to impart youthful vigour, strengthen the lungs, cures many illnesses including diabetes, and anaemia, and helps activate many of the body’s systems like the circulatory system, digestive system and liver and pancreas functions.

Amla is described as a kayakalpa, or an ingredient that helps keep the body ageless and help extend life.

Obviously, Amla forms an important ingredient for our work at Krya and we use this ingredient quite extensively in our skin and hair formulations. In our face and body wash, it has been used for various reasons right from helping restore the acid mantle of skin abused by long years of using alkaline surfactants, to soothe and repair skin problems and even to firm up and tone skin.

In our hair wash it is used to soothe and repair damaged scalp and hair and help correct cuticle damage and restore the hair’s acid mantle.

Preserving Good Health

January – late February is the Amla season across India. I am of course referring to the indigenous Amla, which fruits once a year and not the hybrid Amla which is available throughout the year.

Our food traditions document many different methods of preserving Amla and enjoying its good nutrition through the year. Much before the advent of commercial jams that are full of E Numbers, synthetic flavours and colours and have incinerated any goodness in the fruit through high heat and chemical preservative techniques, we used to eat Amla murabba and Amla in honey.

Another way to preserve Amla is through the brining technique. While many detailed recipes are available online, the method of preservation remains simple. After washing and drying the Amla (preferably by sun drying for a short time to remove moisture), they are preserved in pure brine, and allowed to soak in the flavour in a glass or porcelain jar. By ensuring that your hands, utensils and ladles are clean in the process, you can preserve Amlas for several years using this technique. The Amlas thus preserved are not only storehouses of nutrition but also bring in the beneficial effects of fermented and cultured vegetables, helping flood your digestive tract with beneficial gut flora.

Ayurveda also lists several liquid decoctions in its medicinal arsenal. Arishtams are boiled herbal decoctions which are fermented for a period between 1 – 3 months using cane jaggery or date palm jaggery in anaerobic fermentation. The liquid thus obtained is called an “Arishtam” and usually has a natural alcohol content of upto 10%. Our family has a daily preventive dose of “Dasamoola Arishtam” every day to build our natural immunity and strength.

Asavas are fermented liquids which are not boiled. The process of making them is similar to an Arishtam (except for not boiling them) and they are usually left to ferment in either their own biological water or added water until they are ready to use.
Amla Asava is an interesting, indigenous, easy to prepare asava that you can try during this Amla season. This Asava can be had by everyone in the family (including children above the age of 2 in small doses) everyday. Regular use is said to build immunity to respiratory diseases and infectious coughs and colds, helps increase appetite and digestive powder and helps flush out ama or toxins from the body.

Amla asava is traditionally made in homes across Kerala during the Amla season. I first got to taste it in my yoga class, courtesy a fellow student whose family traditionally made it every year. The traditional method prescribed in the Sarangadhara Samhita suggests using a clay pot for the asava / Arishtam preparation.

However traditional medicine is extremely particular about the soil from which this clay pot is made, prescribing the use of river soil harvested in a particular season. Further, to prevent any oxygen from contaminating the asava, Ayurveda prescribes the use of ghee from an indigenous variety of cattle to be used inside the pot. This ghee creates a natural air lock preventing the entry of oxygen and unwanted micro organisms into the asava.

As a vegan alternative, the texts allow the use of glass or porcelain instead, which is what I have used. Care should be taken to ensure that your hands, utensils and spoons are clean and dry when making this asava to avoid contaminating the asava.

Each home in Kerala follows its own individual method of making Amla asava. I’ve given below a recipe which uses no water. I’ve followed this recipe to ensure longer shelf life of the asava so that it needs no refrigeration. Other recipes exist which use water to increase the amount of asava that is available.

As always our recipes are a starter. Once you begin making them, we hope that you will be inspired to read and research more on this subject and introduce your own unique variations to the food and medicine you prepare for your family.

Here is the Amla Asava recipe.

Amla Asava:

Ingredients: (Please use organic ingredients as much as possible. I was able to get completely organic ingredients for the entire Asava recipe)

  1. Ripe, unbruised firm Indian gooseberry – 3 Kg
  2. Date palm Jaggery – 2.5 Kg (If this is not available, you may substitute with any aged , dark cane jaggery)
  3. Cardamom peeled – 20 gm
  4. Cloves – 20 gm
  5. Cinnamon sticks – 2 – 4
  6. Black dried raisins – 150 gm
  7. Washed, clean and dried Porcelain / glass jars to hold about 4 Kg of material
  8. Washed and clean thick large squares of cloth (for tying the top of the jar)

 

Method:

Carefully inspect the Amla to ensure there are no bruise marks or black dots on the fruits. Wash in clean cool water, wipe with a clean dry cloth and dry in gentle sun for about an hour to remove all trace of moisture.

Powder the clove, cardamom and cinnamon finely, separately, under low heat, and mix the spice powder together.

Now prepare the asava by scoring 2 / 3 cuts on each Amla fruit and lining them in the porcelain jar. Follow each Amla layer with a smattering of black raisins, some of the spice powder followed by a thick layer of jaggery powder. The jaggery powder should completely cover the Amla, raisin and spice layer like a thick seal.

Continue the process until you exhaust all your material. Ensure that your last layer is the jaggery layer. Seal the porcelain jar with its cover and tie your cloth several times around the lid to ensure it is completely air tight and does not allow any oxygen to go into the jar.
Leave the asava jar in a cool dark place for 40 days. On the 41st day, open the jar and filter out the black asava extract without squeezing the gooseberries. This extract can be stored without refrigeration for upto a year and can be consumed.

When drinking your asava, remember to always drink it diluted by adding an equal quantity of water. For children, 1 teaspoon of asava with 1 teaspoon of water is a safe dosage. For adults, 3 teaspoons of asava + 3 teaspoons of water is a good dosage. It is recommended this asava be eaten the first thing after waking up on an empty stomach atleast 30 minutes before eating breakfast to help absorb nutrition from food better and improve digestion.

Amla asava composite

Good Food: The foundation for great skin & hair

We are putting the foundation for the Krya factory to manufacture our skin and hair care products. At the same time we are always exploring the idea of what constitutes good food , which is the foundation for great skin & hair.

We hope you find some inspiration for treating your body to good food with this article.

Disclaimer: The amla asava is a wonderful, time  honoured product that is very safe to use for most people. However as good corporate practice, we at Krya must mention that this blog article does not constitute medical advice & request you to use your discretion about your particular state of health or consult your doctor, before embarking on its use.

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.
  6. Do the cosmetic products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode them? Here’s Urban survival 102 telling you what you should look for in cosmetic labels
  7. Two non toxic cleaner recipes you could try in your home and a Krya factory update
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2 non toxic cleaner recipes and a Krya factory update

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

When we started Krya, the life we left behind was hurried, quite thoughtless, filled with consumption and was full of products. I went from a seven step skin care routine and a 4 step hair care routine to a completely natural, simplified life. Having left a life immersed in the opposite of what we wanted to do at Krya, it seemed natural to wonder if we were starting something that was years ahead of its time. If we were in fact, pockets of a parallel universe living in our world.

As time goes by today, I am happy to note that our Parallel Universe is growing. And that our mission to replace harmful, synthetic, often petrochemical derived products that people use in their homes and themselves, is being aided by a growing concern and awareness around the world.

I was struck by this this week as we met different sets of people to buy equipment for the upcoming Krya factory. The manufacturer of our solar drying equipment broke off our technical discussion of the sun’s path and drying angles to tell us to “stick to our noble path”. He told us that while our going might seem slow, and sometimes difficult, what we were doing was right and needed and that we had to keep on working to help cleanse people’s bodies and lives.

He spoke from the bitter experience of watching his Mother suffer through 2 rounds of surgery for intestinal cancer, and how choosing conventional allopathic medicine did not give them the panacea they were promised.

The connection between the diseases we succumb to, the small illnesses we see in our children, and the food we eat or the products that we apply on ourselves, can seem elusive. We certainly do not equate eating a sugary caramel popcorn at our favourite movie hall with fatigue, irritability or our inability to wake up on time the next morning. Neither is the connection between a 2 am visit to the Pediatric hospital with a breathless child and the detergent used in the home, evident.

But the connections are real. And it is our Life’s work at Krya to  educate and inspire people about these connections and create, safe, completely natural alternatives to care for you as a support structure.

The factory we are working on at Siruseri is in support of our Life’s work. We have been working for more than a year on putting together a clean, thoughtfully designed manufacturing location that creates high quality products with great reverence and joy.

Our factory is located within the Sipcot IT Park, in an oasis of calm and greenery called the Golden Jubilee Biotech Park for Women. This is a special Park that has been designed to promote Women Entrepreneurship in Life sciences. Our layout and machines have been thought through to create gently processed products that retain their natural characteristics and aroma. Wherever possible we have used machines that are much slower (and therefore take more time) than their regular commercial counterparts. By reducing the speed of each batch, we are able to retain the unique natural characteristics of our herbs, leaves and fruits that become such wonderful cleaning , skin and hair care aids in the hands of our consumers.

Designing our factory and creating our manufacturing space has come at a cost: I have been unable to write more frequently in the Blog. My intention when we started this series was to provide a lot of useful and impactful information on leading a toxin free life. I apologise for this long gap in writing on this subject.

I spoke earlier about our Parallel Universe growing. In early december, Arathi, the editor of the Week’s “Smart Life” supplement wrote to us asking us to write an article for the Week’s January Issue with information on the toxicity of household cleaning products. “Give our readers some easy to use, inspiring suggestions on replacing these easily at home”, suggested Ararthi.

George Watt, a medical graduate of the University of Glasgow came to Indian in 1873 and published an authoritative 6 volume dictionary of the economic products of India. 10 years later, inspired by his monumental effort, the British Government asked George Watts to organise in 1885, an exhibition of the economically useful plants of India in calcutta. George Watts did not look back and went on to devote the next 25 years of his life in cataloguing India’s natural biodiversity and wealth.

Our true wealth in India lies in our rich, biodiverse flora and fauna. And in the context of creating non toxic cleaners for our home, our trees and plants provide us with a staggering array of formulation options to easily and efficiently clean and care for ourselves.

Here are 2 recipes that you can start with. We wrote this for our article for the Week. They are easy to make, and work extremely well. They are water based, liquid recipes, which we don’t make commercially at Krya, but are easy to make and environmentally sustainable when made by you for your home.

Multi-Purpose Surface Cleaneruse this to mop your floors, counters, bathrooms and to even scrub your toilet

1. Soapberry powder – 100 grams (Cleansing and anti-bacterial agent) (Use the Krya detergent if you have some)

2. Neem Oil – 25 ml (Anti bacterial agent, insect repellant)

3. Citronella Oil – 50 ml (Insect repellant, freshness)

4. Citric Acid – 25 grams (Preservative, mild bleaching agent)

5. Arrowroot powder – 20 grams (Thickening agent, optional)

6. Water -1.2 litres

Instructions

Mix the citric acid crystals in a small cup of warm water and stir until the crystals dissolve completely. Mix the soapberry powder in 1.2 litres of water and bring it to a boil in a thick bottomed vessel. As the liquid begins to boil, add the arrowroot powder and stir until the liquid thickens to the consistency of a watery shampoo. Once the liquid has thickened, take it off the flame and add the dissolved citric acid liquid. Let the soapberry liquid cool before filtering out the soapberry residue.

Now stir in the neem and citronella oil into the filtered soapberry liquid and mix well. Bottle the liquid cleaner and store in a cool, dry place or in the fridge (after labeling it properly!).

This recipe should give you approximately 1 litre of liquid multi purpose cleaner.

This multi-purpose surface cleaner can be used to clean floors, tiles, kitchen tops or even glass surfaces. This is a concentrate and a few spoons of this can be added to a mug of water which can then be used to clean surfaces. As mentioned before always do a patch test on a small portion of the area to be cleaned before proceeding further. If there are pets at home, you can exclude citronella oil from the recipe.

The Natural no-napthalene linen freshener:

sweet basil

A non toxic fragrant alternative to stinky napthalene balls
A handful each of the following dry herbs:
Neem leaves
Thiruneetrupachai (siva tulasi) leaves
Tulasi leaves
Lemongrass stalks
2 balls of pure camphor or edible camphor (pachai kalpuram)
4 sticks of Sweet flag (called vasambu in Tamil)Place all these ingredients in a pillow case, and coarsely crush them together. Shake well so that the ingredients are mixed well together.  Now divide this mixture into equal quantities (about a tablespoon each) and fill into muslin / cotton bags. Use this in your linen cupboard instead of naphthalene balls to keep insects and moths away.
Replace your natural pot pourri pouches every 2 – 3 months or as the fragrance fades. The old herb mixture can be composted.

 

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.
  6. Do the cosmetic products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode them? Here’s Urban survival 102 telling you what you should look for in cosmetic labels
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Urban Survival 102 – reading cosmetic labels

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

This is the second part of our article on the science of reading product labels, in which we will decode cosmetic product labels. In the earlier part we dived into the different elements that make up a food label in the Indian context. Krya does not make food products. We work only in household and skin care products. However we are also aware that good nutrition and health are fundamental to great skin and hair, which is why the earlier article examined food labels.

 The amazing human skin

The skin is the primary recipient of personal care products and to a lesser extent the scalp and hair. It is also our first line of defense and very integral to good health. Therefore I am constantly appalled by how poorly we treat our skin by applying products on it without due diligence.

Consider these skin facts :

  • The skin is the largest organ in the body.
  • The skin renews itself every 28 days ( it is a living growing organ !)
  • The adult human skin can weigh around 3 -4 kg and covers approximately 20 square feet in area.
  • The skin can absorb up to 60% of any product applied on it. (It is not a inert physical barrier like a raincoat)
  • A baby’s skin can be three times thinner than an adult’s skin (& therefore is more vulnerable)

The cosmetic products industry is beset with two main problems today which makes label reading a vital survival skill.

  1. Lenient regulatory standards

A good friend who is the marketing director for a global brand of powder fruit juice concentrate revealed that in India, their formulation contains 96% white sugar, 2.5% preservatives and just 1.5% fruit juice extracts. Even at just 1.5 % levels, they can legally show lush pictures of fruit orchards and claim all the benefits of eating the fresh fruit from the tree. So if you went to the store with just the image carried over from TV advertising and purchased the product without reading the label, you will be sugar high and nutrient low.

8. Oranges_and_orange_juice

What is actually in your “straight from the orchard” orange juice? Mostly sugar?

 2. Creative re-interpretation

Creative re-interpretation is the other side of the same coin that also has lenient regulatory standards. Benefit claims made by brands today are stretched to the point be being farcial or even false. A common example is the use of the word “goodness” in many food and cosmetic products. It is legally possible to add 1% olive oil to 99% liquid paraffin’ to create a massage oil and then claim the benefits of pure olive oil. Here the trick is to use the word “goodness” of olive oil in the claim.

In this backdrop we would like to provide you with 4 filters to scan any cosmetic label to help you make a technical decision, and hopefully a better decision.

The 4 things to think through when reading a cosmetic or household product label

  1. Does it add up to 100 %?

This is the first point to check on a cosmetic label and ask yourself whether it all adds up.

The norm is to provide a full list of ingredients. This is not followed by many products. Then there are cases where complete declaration rule is relaxed, which we will talk about shortly. If the ingredient list says “key ingredients” mentioned with their percentages, you should quickly add the numbers. They will not add up to 100% and often the list of ingredients will account for only 30%-40% leaving you in the dark about the remaining 60% -70%. This is cause for concern.

Example 1: The label of a leading herbal hair wash powder calls itself completely natural and goes on to claim it is a proprietary Siddha formulation. The label declared many wonderful natural ingredients like Soapberry (which we use across our Krya cleaning and hair care formulations), Shikakkai and Amla (which goes into our body wash products). However, the ingredients declared were only key ingredients adding up to just 27% of the product.

6. Acacia concinna

Acacia concinna: a wonderful natural herb used throughout India for hair care. A common ingredient misrepresented in “herbal” products

But what about the remaining 73% of the product,  which is really the major part of what is being applied on your hair. I found the composition of the remaining 73% on the label of the export variant of the same product. The balance 73% contained the following

  • sulphates (a cheap foaming agent)
  • hydroxy propyl tiammonium chloride
  • Hydrated aluminium silicate
  • Preciptated silica
  • Dimethicone
  • Glycerol

None of the above ingredients are good for hair. Let us leave aside the debate of whether they are toxic to hair and environment. At the very least I can aver that the composition of the 73% not declared on the pack is nothing to be proud of and the claim of “herbal hair-wash” is certainly misleading.

  1. Excipients , QS

Many formulations contain active, potent ingredients which need a carrier medium or a buffer or a diluting agent known as excipient, which can safely deliver the active ingredient. These excipients can be natural or synthetic and are usually cost effective, inert, bulking agents. The excipient concept has its origins in medicines. For example bitter medicines for children were given with honey as an excipient to mask the taste. The excipient concept and the format for declaring it has now been borrowed by processed food and cosmetics industries as well.

It is common on labels now for brands to declare their ingredients by weight per 5 gm of the product with the excipient listed at the very end with the suffix “q.s”. Now q.s. from the latin ”quantum satis” is an instruction to add “quantity sufficient “of the excipient to make the formulation. It is also assumed that formulator has an understanding of the safe limits in which the excipient can be used. This is a tricky situation for someone interested in decoding the label. The manufacturer need not disclose what the name of the excipient used neither is there any clear guideline on what chemicals or ingredients that can be called excipients.

Example 2: For example I used an Ayurvedic toothpowder and found it to be rather sweet. The label had listed several herbs well known for oral care which added up to nearly 40% by weight of the product and the balance 60% under excipients. Now I assumed that the excipient would be salt which is rather common. However after tasting the toothpowder and finding it to be really sweet, I discovered that the excipient was mostly sugar, which is not a good idea at all in a toothpowder.

2. toothpaste on brush

Sugar: a common excipient used to make the taste of toothpaste more appealing

Then there are cases where the excipient appears to outright misleading. After our earlier post on sunscreens, a mother messaged us requesting an audit of the Ayurvedic sun screen lotion that she used on her kids. Now the product’s ingredient list read as follows:

  • Key ingredients like aloe , zinc oxide , oil etc at 11%
  • Bees wax at 7.5 %
  • Purified water Q.S.

It appears that water is the excipient forming 91.5% of the lotion. Here is the problem which the lay person would not be aware of.

It is just not possible to form a stable water based lotion with just beeswax as the emulsifier. In the lotion industry a number of other chemicals like cetyl alchohol, stearic acid, polysorbate, carbomer are used as emulsifiers to product a stable lotion in all conditions.

Further with 91.5% water and a long shelf life, some preservatives are required. The industry depends on chemicals like parabens and benzoates for preservative action, which are also not listed in the ingredient list.

This raises many questions: how did this brand of Ayurvedic sun screen lotion achieve a stable product with just beeswax? Is any ingredient deliberately left out to protect the intellectual property? Is it just plain omission?

The only option here is to directly write to your brand and ask them for a complete disclosure of all ingredients including excipients.

  1. Claims & Mis-directions  

Product claims are stretched to the absolute limit today. What started off as creative interpretation of the law can now be stretched to the point where it is no longer true.

Example 3: An example that immediately comes to mind is the line used by an Ayurvedic preparation which claims that their product helps you “stay slim and smart”. I have always wondered about the use of the word “stay” for this therapeutic product. If I am already slim and smart, why do I need this product? The visual communication gives us the impression that it is a problem solver, so if you do not notice the fine print you could easily conclude that this product will “make” you slim and smart. Sadly I know that many consumers have purchased this product in the hope of losing weight. I am not sure whether it worked for them or not.

The other disturbing trend in Indian cosmetic industry is use of the “Ayurvedic” tag to claim the halo of this sacred branch of our tradition. It is possible with some legal jugglery to add a few ingredients that have mention in Ayurvedic texts to an otherwise basic chemical formulation and pronounce the product as “Ayurvedic medicine”. Apart from the obvious benefit of piggy backing on Ayurveda, there are some licensing and tax benefits which motivate brands to borrow the Ayurvedic cloak.

In his book, India Unbound, Gurcharan Das recounts the story of how Vicks Vaporub became “Ayurvedic” when faced with the twin problems of very poor profits and a boycott by the Pharmacies in India. He recounts in the book that in this dire situation someone came up with the idea of re-classifying Vicks as an Ayurvedic formulation. Coincidentally some of the key ingredients are also mentioned in Ayurveda as remedies for common cold and the government approved their reclassification. They then were allowed to distribute the product widely in all stores and not just pharmacies. They also claimed tax benefits allowed to Ayurvedic medicines and scripted a spectacular financial rescue.

Is this really Ayurveda? Is this really presenting a true picture to the consumer who reads the label and trusts that Vicks is a genuine Ayurvedic formulation originally created by a qualified Ayurvedic doctor?

Ayurveda is a very exact and exacting science that has great reverence for the patients well being as well as for the plants, animals and minerals that provide the raw materials to create Ayurvedic medicines. For herb collection Ayurveda specifies place of origin, method of cultivation, time , season of methods of collection and storage.  I very much doubt if Gurcharan Das and the rest of the team at Procter & Gamble regularly invoked the blessings of Lord Dhanvantari at the factory manufacturing Vicks Vaporub as prescribed by Ayurvedic tradition.

This was most likely the first incident in India of a brand exploiting the Ayurvedic classification loop-hole. Since them this is a route abused by so many brands that is has also corrupted many hoary Indian Ayurvedic companies. Many Ayurvedic brands in India have now incorporated “bad habits” from cosmetic companies. For example, I know of an Ayurvedic company that manufactured only tooth powder for over 80 years. The current generations of owners have suddenly started manufacturing a tooth paste with the known cosmetic villains like SLS, sugar, artificial colours and flavors and still continue to call it an “Ayurvedic formulation”.

Charaka, one of the father’s of Ayurveda has said that medicine is that which restores health and brings longevity. He also avers that a pure medicine is one which when eliminating disease should not give rise to even the slightest cause for another disease.

4. Is this product free from known Chemical Villains?

In this blog, we have written several articles putting forth our point of view on several industrial chemicals in cosmetic products that are toxic to some or all humans. These chemicals are skin irritants, endocrine disruptors and even carcinogenic. This is not the place to present a case for or against these chemicals. So we will go straight into our recommendation. Given the bewildering array of what could go wrong with chemicals in cosmetic products it is far easier to look for what is NOT present in a product that read the ingredient list. In our opinion the following claims on a product label should help you make a better choice. So look for

  • Sulphate ( or SLS ) free
  • Paraben free
  • Petrolatum free
  • Fragrance free
  • Aluminum free
  • Lead free
  • Cruelty free
  • Phthalate free
  • DEA / TEA free

We hope that this article and its companion on reading food labels will give you the basic skills to survive shopping in a supermarket aisle filled with thousands of potentially harmful ingredients. Hopefully, you will walk out carrying products that genuinely fulfill the promise they made to you in their communication of being safe and natural for you and your family.

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.

 

 

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Try this instead – the new series on toxic free living

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

One of my most memorable trips was a visit to Officina Profumo Farmaceutica of the  Santa Maria Novella Church in Florence. Listed as one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, this apothecary & pharmacy was founded in 1221 A.D. by the Dominican Friars who started making herbal remedies and potions for use in the monastery. With a growing reputation that crossed borders, the Santa Maria Novella Pharmacy finally opened its doors to the general public in 1612, sponsored by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

When I visited the Pharmacy in 2009, I was in awe of the nearly 400 year old heritage of creating creams, lotions, soaps and scents. This acute sense of history was heightened as we had just visited the church next door where we took in works by Botticelli, Vasari & Brunelleschi among others. The products continued to be plant based, many of their best sellers were recipes crafted hundreds of years ago by the Dominican Friars, and they continued to be made in small batches, by hand using locally available plant based ingredients.

4. SMN apothecary jars

In the medieval time Western homes, beauty and household care products were the realm of the Women of the home. A “still room” was an essential part of a home’s building plans, and it would be carefully constructed in a cold, dry part of the home, often in the basement, to store the medicines, potions, remedies and special food that were concocted in the home.

The cleaning products for the home like the concoction used to clean the silver, the special shaving soap used by the gentlemen of the home, the healing tisanes and teas, and the many many remedies for taking care of both large and small aches, pains and diseases were created in the “Still Room”. The recipes were carefully handed down the generations and were often a closely guarded, secret.

2. Still room at Harewood House

The Indian tradition was somewhat different from the western tradition especially in the plains. Because of the large bounty of plants across seasons with specific properties tailored for the seasons, our basket of remedies was very wide and varied. Given the hot and humid climate in our plains, our method of preparing our remedies and mixtures was also different from the western herbalism – we preferred tinctures or decoctions to tisanes. Apart from standardised products and medicines for hair and skin care and to cure ailments that were used from the Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani texts, we also had an Indian system of herbalism that was used for treating small ailments and personal care routines. This system of herbalism differed by geography and depended upon the local flora peculiar to the region.

So someone living in the South of India may have made hibiscus flower hair oil to prevent hair fall and other problems. Whereas, someone living in Chattisgarh, might have used the locally available dried Safflower in coconut oil to prevent hair fall and related problems.

As I continue to research India’s intricate connection with plants and nature and how we depended on the banquet offered by nature to clean, care for and maintain our homes and ourselves, I also realise that this connection is now becoming very tenuous.

Surveys done among several tribal groups across India reveal that the younger generation prefer to buy OTC or prescription capsules or pills to treat their ailments. And far from taking the trouble to pick a safflower and boil it in oil, they prefer to resort to an advertised cure for hair fall or a hair treatment product.

The columns in popular magazines and newspapers on beauty reveal our fascination with natural remedies – despite the onslaught of advertising and claims of superiority, we continue to faintly remember our tradition of the power of plants to take care of our hair, skin and bodies. But when it comes to taking care of our homes or treating our ailments, we have nearly forgotten the wealth of plants that we have around us.

As we like to say at Krya, Man (and Woman) has thrived for thousands of years before the arrival synthetic, industrially manufactured products. The chemical consumer product industry is about 150 years old and really started coming into its own during the First World War with shortages in basic commodities forcing inventions.

The first archaeological proof of the existence of soap in the Western world was in ancient Babylon, 4800 years ago. A ancient soap vat was found with inscriptions detailing how animal fat was to be boiled with ash to produce soap. The Ebers Medical Papyrus dated from 1500 BCE in ancient Egypt describes creating soap like material by mixing animal and vegetable oils with alkaline salts like, Natron, a naturally occurring mixture of different sodium salts.

Natron was a panacea in Ancient Egypt. It was harvested from dried lake beds, typically in Wadi El Natrun, a valley in the Beheira govern ate in Egypt, and was used for thousands of years in ancient Egypt to clean both the home and the body. Blended with oil, it formed an early form of soap which softens water and helps remove oil and grease. Undiluted it helped clean teeth and was made into a simple mouthwash. It was used variously in the home from an antiseptic for minor cuts and wounds, to helping preserve and dry fish and meat. Natron was also used in Egyptian mummification procedures to absorb water and ensure dry conditions.

5. Natural natron

Since India was blessed with an abundance of plant life, different parts of India developed combinations of plants, with some minerals and ashes as cosmetic aids and to maintain clean homes.

The Soapberry tree has long been revered in Indian tradition and in Ayurveda as being an excellent cleanser for skin and hair. Sapindus trifoliatus, the south Indian soapberry, which we use extensively in our formulations at Krya, has been noted as a healing cleansing ingredient and has been recommended in Ayurveda to cure specific skin conditions like psoriasis.

Different species of Acacia form the soap pod or the Shikakai bush. It continues to be grown as a hedge plant in remote villages where its extensive set of thorns protects homes from the entry of wild animals like wild pigs. The soap pod is again extensively documented in both Ayurveda and Siddha. With its mild cleansing action and a varied set of saponins, Shikakai is used in hair and skin cleaning formulations, as a wound healer and bactericidal agent in infusions for oral care.

3. Acacia concinna flowers

Our research at Krya aims to create new and interesting formulations to help you care safely and sustainably, have thrown up many more natural soap substitutes. These include different kinds of wild tubers, other fruits, and sometimes even ashes of particular plants that have long been used inventively by the communities that have access to them. And all of these plant soaps are used to variously wash woollens, as a safe shampoo, to clean dishes, and to bathe the delicate skin of babies.

We are facing a crisis of great proportion today. And this crisis has to do with the choices we have made collectively as a race. By voting to put our faith and money behind products that have been manufactured inside a chemical facility without a long-term understanding of their safety, we have given away control of our life, our health and our planet. This lack of control has led to several alarming consequences for us and the planet.

Researchers from the U.S studied a small sample of 6 cleaning products used in a typical home and found that this group emitted 133 Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each of the 6 cleaning products tested emitted between 1 to 8 chemicals that are classified as toxic or hazardous under US Federal Laws.

Ammonia

Ammonia is a common substance found in homes, emitted from synthetics like toilet cleaners, drain cleaners, window cleaners and specialised oven & stainless steel cleaners. These vapours may irritate the skin, throat, eyes, and lungs and can irritate people with asthma.

Coal tar dyes, are commonly found in almost all cleaning products giving them the bright, shiny, metallic colours that we seem to like. Your bright green dishwash or shampoo derives its colour from petrochemicals which can be contaminated with traces of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and cadmium. There is a concern that these synthetic dyes may be carcinogenic and the heavy metal contamination in them can harm the nervous system. These dyes can be absorbed through your skin or even worse, ingested as residue when your dishes or plates are not rinsed thoroughly. Worse still, from the point of view of the effectiveness, these dyes are completely unnecessary and have no relevance to how well a product cleans.

1. allura red in cosmetics

2-Butoxyethanol (or 2-BE, also known as Butyl Cellosolve)

This is a skin and eye irritant that is associated with blood disorders and has caused reproductive problems in lab animal experiments. This chemical is listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection act as it is harmful to human health. The main way it enters our system is by inhaling the air inside our homes (which are contaminated by the use of the products that contain this chemical) and by direct skin contact with the leaning products we use. In Canada, 2-BE concentration is limited to 6%, but certain products like laundry stain digesters and stain removers can carry this chemical upto 22%.

Consumer product industry in India – still poorly regulated

The consumer product Industry in India continues to be under regulated. While the manufacturing of certain household products like detergents are classified by the ministry of Environments and Forests as a polluting industry with the symbol “Red” (highly polluting), there is still a lot of work to be done before we can reach the safety and human health standards set by countries like Canada.

Cleaning and consumer products do not require any ingredient listing. Safety standards have not taken into account the continuing research and environmental implications of using the multitude of chemicals that go into the products we use today. Companies are penalised only when they fail to follow basic hygiene standards, such as a bacterial count that exceeds permissible limits or the presence of a foreign object inside the product to be used.

Environmental activists continue to wage a war to get companies to follow decent standards of formulation that are followed as a matter of course all over the world. For example, phosphates which have been banned in many developed countries as their excessive use in cleaning products leads to water pollution and eutrophication are used in excess in India. Regulations in U.S and Canada limit the use of phosphates in foaming cleaning products like detergents and dishwash products to fewer than 2.5%. In India the phosphate levels in these products routinely exceeds 40% – Phosphate is used as a cheap builder and water softener to productive large amounts of lather in a cleaning product. Of course, as with the example of coal tar dyes, this lather is unnecessary and does not signify better cleaning.

The Krya “Try this instead” series has 3 aims: Information, Hope & Inspiration

1. To inform you about the dicey and nasty chemicals used many of the products that enter our homes today. We believe that this information will empower you to make better choices. So we aim to arm you with information, facts and research to help you navigate your way through the Chemical wasteland of products when you next navigate your supermarket.

2. To give hope (and safe alternatives) – Sometimes when confronted with information like the above, we tend to fall into an abyss of despair. Are we to no more have fun and use shiny fragrant products we ask ourselves? Will I never have a sweet, gel-based toothpaste again? How are we supposed to now clean ourselves and our homes?  This series hopes to give you good workable alternatives: in the form of ingredients, hacks or products that you can use in multiple ways across your home. For example, we use the Krya detergent like a swiss army knife in various combinations to clean our clothes, dishes, floor, bathrooms, hair and teeth by adding simple herbs for each of these functions. We will be writing about simple ideas and recipes such as the above.

3. Most importantly, to inspire you. The true Wealth of India, its plants, herbs and trees, have been variously catalogued by the British in their time and several ethno botanists and anthropologists today as its rich biodiversity of plants and the rich native knowledge of how these herbs can be used to lead a healthy, happy and clean life. In our quest to create Krya and lead a more natural and clean life, we have been amazed and inspired by this true Wealth of India – we celebrate this wealth every day, and hope to inspire you with this series to do the same.

We hope you will enjoy and appreciate this new series as you have with our past writings. Please do write to us and let us know if there are any particular areas you would like us to cover within the scope of the subject and we will be happy to do so. A happy, organic, natural, safe and clean day to you too.

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Green Bazaar update and conversations on sustainable fabric & menstruation

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

If it is too good to be true, then it probably is. Krya was conducting a workshop and showcasing skin care products at the Alternative’s Green Bazaar yesterday. We commissioned a commercial artist to hand paint a cloth banner for us for our stall. We wanted to avoid the regular plastic flex banners with digital prints. We e-mailed our artwork to the artist, who assured us a perfect reproduction of the design by his own hand, using cloth and paint.

We were getting the banner printed in a rush , just the day before the bazaar. The night before the event we hopped into the artist’s studio to check out the progress on our banner. We arrived in time to discover that he digitally printed our design on a piece of flex and was using that as a stencil to create a “hand-painted” sign.

So after all the fuss, we printed a plastic banner in order to create a sustainable, hand-painted cloth banner. Had we known this, we could stopped our artist right at the plastic stage.

So we took our resource heavy cloth banner to the Green Bazaar on Sunday morning, along with the Krya detergent and Dishwash and the preview packs of the soon to be launched Krya hair wash and Krya face wash.

6.Krya at the green bazaar

Conversations on Sustainable Menstruation

We were thrilled to meet the team from Eco Femme, which is doing great work in sustainable menstruation. Kathy of Eco-Femme introduced me to Vijay and his work in menstrual activism. Vijay’s work is in a very specific field in menstruation: the right to sun-dry your undergarments and menstrual cloth. Before you think that this is a little too specific, Vijay shared a study by the Adyar cancer Institute which found that one of the causes of cervical cancer was the lack of sun drying of undergarments and menstrual cloth. The subsequent dampness, moisture and folding away of these garments were somehow able to create favourable conditions for the entry and spread of the Human Papilloma virus, which is associated with several medical conditions including cervical cancer.

I was struck how some people don’t have the basic to right to dry their clothes in the sun and some-how ended up with terrible consequences. This was an eye-opener.

5. eco femme

Later in the day, I was happy to share my experiences with Menstruation and how I made the switch to Eco Femme’s earth friendly cloth pads at Eco Femme’s Sustainable menstruation workshop. Kathy Walking then showed us a very powerful video that they had made at Auroville to demonstrate both current menstrual practices and the environmental effect of continuing to use disposable products. This video showed that women across India tried to dry their undergarments and menstrual cloth in cupboards, under beds, in the bathrooms, under sinks and similarly damp, possibly unhygienic places which had no air or light. This arose from a superstition that menstrual cloth was unlucky and should not be seen by Men. The point that Vijay was making resonated strongly with me as I saw this.

The second piece of research estimated the size of landfill if every single woman in India used disposable menstrual napkins every year–58 billion pads thrown away each year would occupy the land equivalent to 173 football fields every single year!

So yes, it is important to be open about Menstruation, and claim both our right to sun dry and our right to make better choices for our planet.

The Sustainable Fabric workshop

Krya and Chakra design studio jointly hosted a workshop on handlooms and naturally dyed fabric. A conversation with Ananthoo of Tula, reveals an interesting economic fact – a kilo of chemical dye costs as low as Rs 20, and a kilo of vegetable dye could cost anywhere between Rs 400 – Rs 1000 !

7. the Krya Chakra workshop on fabric

So obviously on the face of it, it makes no economic sense to even attempt to use natural dye on your fabric. Plus the colour palette of natural dyes is extremely limited. You will not obtain the “exciting” computer colours that are not abundantly present in nature like lime green or fuchsia or a bright purple.

2. natural dye colour palette

 

The Krya Chakra workshop was an introduction to handlooms and natural dyes, and listening to Bindu, I was struck by other limitations of the craft. The natural dyeing process is temperamental – you are never sure of the exact shade of colour you will get at the end of the process, because the same tree across different harvest years will yield slightly different shades.

The natural dyeing process needs to be done very carefully and meticulously. For example, to ensure the cloth holds the dye, dyers use different pre-treatment methods like soaking the plain fabric in buffalo milk and Terminalia chebulia or Myrobalan before applying the mordant. And this varies from region to region and the natural resources that are available to each dyeing community.

Natural dyeing is also a very water intensive process, compared to chemical dyeing. Chemical dyes come in easy to use forms which can then be straight away applied to the cloth, and have been designed to be colour fast.

But applying natural colours follows a linear process: each colour has to be applied, fixed, the excess washed off and sun dried before the next colour can make its way into the fabric. The process is therefore very time-consuming compared to using chemical dyes.

With so many apparent disadvantages in using natural dyes, why then are we supporting this craft?

While the water consumed by natural dyeing is large, it is important to remember that all of this water can be happily used for agriculture or other purposes. Bindu shares that in her dyeing village, the craftsmen swim in the irrigation canal, and stand of either side of it allowing the flowing water to wash away any excess dye. The farmers who use this water are happy to share it as they believe this water is good for the crops and does not harm in any way.

We must remember that before our centralised factory based models came into being, our lives were more intertwined and symbiotic. Treatises on the fabric traditions of India reveal a system of barter used to exist: cotton farmers would exchange their cotton with spinners for finished yarn which they could then hand weave themselves. Spinners would also barter yarn with weavers for finished fabric.

Chemical dyeing today has its roots in natural plant based dyeing, and the craftsmen are drawn from the communities of vegetable dyers. And they carry along with them practices of vegetable dyeing. So while chemical dyeing does not require the extensive rinsing and drying and liner processing that vegetable dyeing entails, it still requires water as a last rinse. And both small chemical dyers and large dyeing factories dip their textiles into running water and rivers to rinse off the excess dye.

The aftermath of chemical dyeing

We already shared the story of the Noyyal River in Tiruppur. Historically, the Noyyal River was called the “Kanchinadi” and considered a sacred river. The river itself is said to contain minerals which are health giving and considered “antibiotic” in nature.

The Chalukya Chola Kings built an interconnected tank and canal system to this river which helped drain away the excess water from the river into an intricate system of tanks preventing flooding along the banks. And the tanks themselves helped replenish groundwater by percolating the sub soil (in this we must understand that these tanks were not the impermeable cement graves that we dig today in the name of water storage, but tanks where the bottom was mud allowing water to percolate the sub soil).

Today, the Noyyal River has been kindly described as a sewer. The Tamilnadu Pollution control board estimates conservatively that 883,000 tonnes of toxic waste is dumped into the Noyyal River every year by the textile mills around Tiruppur.

2.noyyal runs black

Farmers have abandoned cultivation as digging below 6 feet releases a black, toxic sludge. Any produce grown absorbs chemical content and changes colour – coconuts for instance were found to have red insides as against their regular white insides.

8. Bindu and I at the workshop final

Chemical dyeing related illnesses

A video from Craft mark which documents the process of hand dyeing using chemical dyes, reveals a horrific basket of chemicals which the dyers dip their hands into every month – to set the dyes, the dyers have to dip their hands and the fabric into caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, sodium nitrate and soda ash, and acetic acid. The dye stains their skin almost indelibly and they find eating difficult as the dye colours and odorises the food they eat. They explain that they need to take a 2 day holiday to recover for every 10 day chemical dyeing work they do.

As we shared this with the audience at the Sustainable fabric workshop, we saw several people look at their shirts and garments with undisguised horror – imagine the effect these very same chemicals will have as they sit malignantly close to your skin and continue to be slowly absorbed by your skin every day.

Krya Talk

Of course, apart from the conversations with different people and the workshops at the Bazaar, it is a very edifying experience to stand in your own stall and greet visitors with information about what you do. I found a lot of interest around the Krya hair wash, and our small batch at the Bazaar was sold out. Apparently even my threats of greenish residue left behind in the hair was not enough to deter people who wanted to try out a safer product on themselves. The question I was asked most about was whether the Hair wash would reverse hair fall.

9. How does this work final

I am particularly wary about marketing claims, coming as I do from a background in Consumer Product Marketing. Most research and statistics can be interpreted in any way to obtain favourable results for the product you are marketing.

I particularly dislike product claims – it is my belief that is almost impossible to isolate external, environmental and internal causes from the workings of a product. So if I told you the Krya hair wash would reduce hair fall, and when you bought the product, you also decided to detox your life and started eating organic food that was wholegrain and maybe vegan, with a lot of greens in your diet, it would stand to reason that your health indices would dramatically improve. This meant that your hair fall, if you had any would also slow down. Now should I attribute it to the Krya hairwash you were using at the time? Knowing what goes into the product and how it works, I could say yes. But I would be incorrect if I discounted the dramatic effect of eating clean healthy food on your system.

So to the questions on hair loss, I simply said that the hair wash would do what it was supposed to do really well – it would clean your scalp and hair without loading your system with toxins, and leave your scalp to function in a regular healthy manner without irritating it or stripping it of serum.

I was pleased to find that my underplayed response resonated with my audience. And we quickly sold out. To add to this, 2 of my consumers who had bought the hair wash two weeks back when we launched, came to the stall to tell me how well the product was working for them. And this feedback, as you know, makes my heart sing. If you too would like to try our limited range of skin and hair care goodies please click here.

The Green Bazaar also showcased some interesting food stalls, including a food stall by SHARAN which showcased vegan food and also showcased the vegan creations of a young Mum who is a wholegrain baker. I noticed several participants carrying SHARAN’s leaflets, and was thrilled at people’s interest and curiosity around this very pertinent subject.

3.team sharan

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. lavender at bazaar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you missed it, the Alternative’s Green Bazaar is a bi-monthly event – so do ensure you are there the next time around.
If you too would like to know about Menstruation and why it is not environmentally sustainable at the moment and explore your options, start here.

In the meantime, our series on sustainable fabric continues. Our series on sustainable fabric has the following posts: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
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The Sutra of Thread – Part 2

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

One of the reasons the Indian handloom and handicraft sector is so much in the doldrums is because as consumers, we lack knowledge. We do not know our sustainable fabric basics which is why we sometimes easily forego our traditional textile crafts.

The incident that happened to us a few days back, illustrates this lack of knowledge.

An advertisement in the newspaper about a State government run handloom and handicraft exhibition had me visit an event. When asked where their advertised vegetable dyed handloom sarees were, I was shown a pile of sarees of which apart form a few, the rest were clearly dyed using synthetic shades. After some questioning, the salesman took out 4 – 5 sarees from his large pile – these were dyed in shades of green, brown, red and black, and he confirmed that only these were “pure vegetable dyes’ and that the rest were vegetable dyes that were mixed with synthetic dyes.

I felt the texture of the sarees and their weight and asked him if they were indeed handloom sarees. The manager at the billing counter told me that they were all power loom sarees, and that handlooms would be coarser and bulkier in comparison. I had to contest this statement. He replied that they did not have any cotton handlooms in the expo as they were much more expensive compared to the power loom saree. But the event was advertised as a “handloom” exhibition. And the sarees were sold at the counter as “handloom “.

Ignorance, in this case is not bliss. Our ignorance is costing us our water, soil, air and is putting an entire generation of weavers at risk as we no longer appreciate or even know anything about what they create. Here is the second part of Richa’s informative post detailing how the textile crafts of India follow our seasons. Here are the textile crafts that suit monsoon and winter.

Following hard on the heels of the scorching summer, are the cooling rainclouds. The country revives with the cooling drops of life-giving rain – (barkha in urdu). And the rejoicing that marks the season finds its way into the patterns and designs of Indian fabric.

Lahariya – the very name suggests its wave-like fluidity is a tie & dye technique that can be seen all year round in Rajasthan – on pagdis (turbans) and odhnas (versatile wraps). However there is no season when it comes as alive as during the monsoons in the rainy months. This technique of resist wrapping and dyeing is typical of Rajasthan. The pattern of diagonal lines is said to be inspired by the direction of rain drops – of special significance in the desert state.

2. leheriya printed saree

 

A variation on the plain lahariya involves a second overlay of diagonal stripes, creating a grid. The pattern is named mothra because of the grid’s resemblance to the motth – a lentil grown in Rajasthan. These wrap resist tie-dyed patterns were traditionally done on fine mulmul as it enabled tight folds which meant a finer patterning.

In times gone by, the Leheriya style was worn exclusively by the Marwari community in Rajasthan. The Royal class wore Leheriya in blue.

However, today the lahariya technique has made its way across communities and onto other materials like georgette and chiffon which lend themselves to this technique. Interestingly, Lahariya is so much a part of the collective consciousness of Rajasthan, that it is one of the most popular mehendi designs applied by women on Teej , a north India festival that celebrates the monsoon.

1. teej celebrations

 

As the frenzied beats of the monsoon wind quieten, the evenings become cooler and it is time for the all-too-brief Indian Autumn. The Sharad Ritu has arrived, heralded by a host of festivals and celebrations. And how can the festive season be complete without new clothes?

The season of festivals naturally entails a series of rites which involve ritual purity. Most Indian rituals involve a deeper meaning than mere symbolism and this extends to textiles as well. It is for this reason that in the strictest adherence to ritual, silk is not worn at havans or pujas because of the inherent violence committed during the production of silk, where the silk worms are boiled alive to yield the filament that then becomes yarn.

So, adherents of the old school still prefer the thicker khadi, which through its slight coarseness, creates a sophisticated, slubby texture that bespeaks honesty. In its thinner avatar, khadi lends itself to upcycling through the kantha technique of Bengal, just as the year freshens up after the monsoons.

Sujani Kantha or simply kantha was initially a quilting technique applied to rags and tatters to recycle them as bags, covers and wraps which were exchanged as gifts between friends and family. It was based on the principle of giving new life to things that have outlived their usefulness. This cycle of life is also manifested in two popular deities Cinidiyadro, the Lord of Tatters and Chithariya Bhairavi “Our Lady of the Tatters” who are believed to give a new whole cloth if a rag is offered to them.

4. nakshi kantha

 

When the lights of Deepawali have dimmed, North India starts to get cold – very cold. By the time the month of Paush comes around, chill winds are howling through the valleys and plains. It is the season to stay warm at home, think of the past and tell stories.  One tale comes to mind – the story of the paisley.

Once upon a time, long long ago, a teardrop from Babylon made its way to India. There it caught the imagination of the weavers of Kashmir. They stylized it in the shape of the raw mango – the kairi or ambi and began weaving this into the exquisite pashmina shawls they made.

These shawls were highly prized and went by the trade name of Jaamevar or “that which is woven in the length of a garment or jama”. They took upto 3-4 years to weave and were prized by royalty, who were about the only people who could afford it. History also states that The Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, had a Kanni Shawl or a Jaamevar in her marriage trousseau. At the time, a Jaamevar shawl would take upto a year to weave!

empress josephine

Then, in the 18th century the officers of the English East India Company discovered the Jaamevar shawl which they took back to England as gifts. Their sweethearts and sisters were so taken with this that it soon became all the rage in fashionable circles. So coveted were these shawls that they formed a prized part of Josephine’s dowry during her marriage to Napoleon.

Over the years, the fashion burgeoned and the weavers were no longer able to keep pace with the demand even embroidering designs instead of weaving them. In the 19th century, the mechanized jacquard loom was introduced in Europe and used and inferior quality of wool to reproduce a semblance of the hand-woven shawl. Several of these looms were set up at a weaving town called Paisley in Scotland. For a while the looms of Paisley brought abundant prosperity to the town and gave their name to the shawls, as well as the stylised ambi motif typical of the Jaamevar. But fashions are fickle – the bustle came into fashion and the Paisley shawls became outmoded. The town became a ghost of itself but the name that it had given to the ambi stayed.

3. kanni shawl

While the finesse of the original Jaamevars is lost in the mists of Kashmir, there has been a revival in the village of Kannihama, a little way away from Gulmarg, and select wool still finds its way into Indian shawls today. And Pashmina wool remains popular option for Indian women today. (thankfully, toosh and shahtoosh varieties of wool have been outlawed for their brutality.

As the winter fog lifts to give way to spring, the cycle of seasons is complete, and the timeless saga of Indian textiles comes a full circle as well.

We would like to thank Richa Dubey, for taking the time to educate us through this wonderful, lyrical 2 part series on the textile traditions of India.

 

If you want to get a more local, and environmentally sustainable wardrobe, start reading here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

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The Sutra of thread – part 1

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Ignorance, in the case of Indian textile crafts is certainly not bliss. As I put together this series on textile crafts and the sustainable fabric tradition of India, I am continually amazed at how rich, varied and wonderful our textile traditions are.

I am also angry at the myopic school system that I studied in: none of this made its way into our curriculum, and was only offered at an advanced level in college or as a part of a Masters Programme. This compounded ignorance led me, in my early working days to mass produced clothing which I found in Malls. This clothing was not really cheap, but it was easily available, and seemed to be the norm around me.

Today, when I see power loom fabric being passed off as handloom, and synthetic dyes and screen printed fabric ruling the roost, I remember my time as a young working adult, making financial choices, and realise my choices have created the word I see today.

As I reached out to textile enthusiasts and people passionate about handlooms and crafts, I found a world of information, environmental sustainability and beauty just around the corner. And I’m happy to see the Krya blog hosting this information.

We are happy to share this guest post written by Richa Dubey on the textile traditions of India and how different types of weaves and fabrics exist for the different seasons in India.

Richa wears many many interesting hats. She conceptualised and runs a gender activism campaign ( see www.bitly.com/GurgaonGirlcott ); leads public affairs for a prospective national innovation university; built an advocacy strategy for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s India office; anchors a breakfast show on national television and manages an international world music festival.She also leads the marketing practice at niiti consulting a for-profit social enterprise consulting firm. She is a passionate believer in environmental, social, cultural and economic sustainability (which is why she works at niiti). Her life is currently ruled by her children (one each, canine and human) her work and her passions (and all of them intersect, so it’s fine)

We are especially proud that Richa is a passionate Krya consumer, and that is how we came to meet her and know of her work.

 Here is Richa Dubey’s lyrical, eloquent piece on how Indian textile crafts offer different fabrics for the different seasons of India.

How often have we heard of the diversity in India? Its climate, food, culture, philosophy (in the 6th century BC there were at least 200 different schools of philosophy that co-existed). One example of this rich diversity is textile. Marvellous in its variety, texture, fibre… not forgetting the textile techniques that embellish a fabric, there is possibly a traditional textile that exists for every single occasion in your life, though we shall limit ourselves to the seasons in this piece.

However, before embarking on this journey through the warp and weft of India, where a common thread of understanding runs through the land, it is important to touch upon, at least briefly, the reasons why it holds such an important place in our lives.

Right from the philosophical to the everyday, the understanding of fabric has been intrinsic to the understanding of India. The Rig Veda pictured the universe as a cloth woven by the Gods – the cosmos an infinite length of fabric with its warp and weft constructing a pattern upon which all life is painted.

Much later, Kabir, the 14th Sufi poet-saint (who was also a weaver) likened the Absolute to the divine weaver and our souls to a pristine scarf which is sullied by a life of ignorance and sin in “Jheeni jheeni beeni chadariya” (incidentally, this piece by the late Pandit Kumar Gandharv is my favourite rendition)

2. kabir

As with other facets of daily life in India, philosophy and common wisdom spills over into textiles as well. Just as Ayurveda advises the eating of fruits and vegetables in season, it makes sense to pick traditional textiles according to the season as well.

Beyond being weather-friendly, these natural weaves and techniques also reflect the changing moods of the year and incorporate festivals into their lexicon.

The essence of Spring

Beginning with the season of Spring which takes the first place in the time-honoured Indian cycle of seasons, we see it blooming in textiles as an expression of eternal rejuvenation. Vasant is the season of rejuvenation of cosmic energy. It stands for new beginnings represented by fresh blossoms. It is also the time when Kamadev releases his flower-tipped arrows of love.

The essence of Spring has been captured in the repertoire of Indian motifs known as butis, butas and bels. Different regions of India have interpreted these motifs according to their own aesthetic sensibilities. While the Bagru tradition from Bagru in Rajasthan  is famous for floral designs in dark vegetable colours, the Kalamkari tradition from Macchlipatnam interprets them differently. In North India where Mughal influence still lingers, they take on a stylized air in gracefully drooping flower-pots. From whichever region, whether painted, embroidered, hand-block printed, or more recently, screen printed, they form an integral part of the Indian design lexicon.

One of the most popular motifs which are symbolic of eternal Spring, is the Tree of Life. Although not native to India, it has been a symbol of life, fertility, livelihood, food and protection for centuries.

4. tree of life sweden

Thus, when Indian crafts persons or women at home sought to embellish textiles it was natural that the tree motif was often embroidered, woven, printed and painted on fabrics.

3. tree of life in kantha

 

Its symbolism has been shared in ancient cultures across the world and the tree motif has found expression, both in natural and stylized representations, in varied art forms. At another level the tree is a representation of the Great Mother Goddess. The physical and metaphysical source of life was considered to be manifested in the life-giving powers of the earth and the feminine body, which the Tree is said to symbolize. And there is perhaps no better a time to celebrate this form of fertility than the season of spring, when there is an abundance of blossoming life forms.

 

The summer begins

The fragrant breeze of Spring gives way to the scorching wind of the summer – the loo. People venture out only when absolutely necessary and then, clad themselves in the lightest fabrics possible. The thread of seasons weaves into fabrics like mulmul, jamdaani and kota…

The quality of the fine muslins of India was probably best described by the Sufi-poet Khusrao in the 14th century. “One would compare it with a drop of water if that drop fell against nature, from the fount of the sun. A hundred yards of it can pass through the eye of a needle, so fine is the texture…” So sheer was this fabric (woven in counts of 2000) that the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is said to have berated his daughter for her indecency in appearing unclothed before him. The daughter responded that she was wearing seven layers of cotton mul!

According to Laila Tyabji of Dastkar, What is unique about India is that it transformed cotton from being a kind of a village fabric in to something that kings and emperors and queens… not just in India but all over the world used.

The most prized muslins were woven in Dhaka and were so coveted since ancient times that Roman texts blamed the vanity of Roman women for emptying Roman coffers of gold for Indian cottons. Some of these were especially reserved for the use of royalty. In fact it was these same muslins that drew the British to Bengal . The picture below is a depiction of a Bengali girl clothed in layers of fine Dhaka Muslin.

1.Muslin girl by renaldi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bengal was also home to a special muslin weave – this was the jaamdani – the ethereal weave which uses an extra weft and gives the motifs the appearance of floating on the ground. Jaamdaani lives even today as the fabric of choice for the humid summers of Bengal. UNESCO has declared the art of Jaamdani weaving as an Intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

5. richa in jaamdani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But despite the historic and near cult status of the Jamdaani weave, the Jamdaani weaver has no financial motivation to continue creating this textile art. A senior taanti or “ostad” earns about Tk 2,500 to Tk 3,000 per month. Junior weavers get much less, around Tk 1,600. As a result many weavers do not want their children to come to this profession. For many, the Bangladeshi garments industry, despite its several dubious practices and poor working conditions, is a better alternative to this craft.

 

Summer in West India

Beyond the East, the western part of the country also devised its own textile strategies to cope with the heat. A charming, but probably apocryphal story tells of the development of Kota. Kota which is now known for its coaching centres devoted to getting students into IIT also has a special place in India’s fabric tradition.

 

The story goes that a hill princess married into the royal family of Kota. But much as she tried to bear up under the fierce heat of the Thar Desert, she wilted under the heavy, coarse fabrics that formed the traditional garb of the region. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, she commissioned the local weavers to create a light fabric for her. The weavers wove the lightest, airiest fabric that they could – the princess was still not satisfied. Then they pulled out the threads from the warp and the woof at regular intervals to create a lacy chequered fabric. This grid-like ethereal fabric took the eponymous name of Kota.

5.richa in kota

Initially these were woven only in the seven shades of white prescribed in the Vishnu Purana: – light white, tooth white, pure sandal white, autumn cloud white, autumn or sharad moon white, conch shell white and motia or pearl white.The texturing of the fabric was done by the simple expedient of varying the number of threads and the shades of white in the warp and weft of the grid giving it a subtle sophistication.

Today, however, Kotas are available in various colours (and regretfully, synthetic yarn too) and remain a popular summer option.

This post continues tomorrow with Richa describing the fabrics that were woven for Monsoon and winter.

If you want to get a more local, and environmentally sustainable wardrobe, start reading here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

Share