Taste, The Sense That Founded Pharmacology.

Its fascinating thought that by observing one of our five senses (taste), the structure of the Ayurvedic Pharmacology developed. 

The Six Tastes And The Five Elements.

The element of water is the basis for the sensory experience of taste. The tongue must be wet to taste a substance. Try drying your tongue and then putting a small amount of sugar or pepper on it. You will not be able to taste it. A wet tongue is necessary for the perception of taste. There are six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. They are derived from the five elements. The sweet taste contains Earth and Water elements; sour taste contains Earth and Fire. While for the salty taste its Water and Fire. The pungent taste comprises Fire and Air, bitter has both Air and Ether and finally, the astringent taste contains Air and Earth.

Taste, The Sense That Founded Pharmacology.
The Six Senses of Taste

Different Tastes for Different Types

People with Vata constitutions should try to avoid bitter, pungent and astringent substances in large amounts. Namely, because they tend to cause gas and increase air in the body. But substances that produce sweet, sour and salty tastes are of benefit to individuals who have Vata constitutions.

People of Pitta constitution should avoid sour, salty and pungent substances which can aggravate Agni. Sweet, bitter and astringent tastes are beneficial for individuals of Pitta constitution. Kapha individuals should avoid foods containing sweet, sour and salty tastes as they create excess water in the body. They should choose food of pungent, bitter and astringent tastes.

The First Tastes Of Rasa.

The structure of Ayurvedic pharmacology developed around the concepts of Rasa, Virya and Vipak. These concepts deal with the subtle phenomena relating to taste and the hot and cold effects of foods. Organic and inorganic substances create different tastes and temperature sensations when they pass through the mouth, stomach, small and large intestine.

Taste, The Sense That Founded Pharmacology.
Rasa – First Contact

When a substance touches the tongue, rasa is the name for that first taste experience. Virya is the term used when a swallowed substance enters the stomach, the hot or cold experience felt immediately or later. The Virya sensation or action, then, has to do with the heating and cooling properties of substances.

Vipak is the term for the foods post-digestive effect. For instance, most starchy foods become sweet after chewing and digestion, so their post-digestive taste, or vipak, is sweet. The core knowledge of the rasa, virya and vipak of substances is central to Ayurvedic pharmacology. Daily observation identified many other substances which have a specific unexplained action in the body.  

Prabhav-The Tastes That Don’t Fit In

Taste, The Sense That Founded Pharmacology.
Statue of Charak – Considered The Indian Father of Medicine

To acknowledge this action, Charak (known as the “Indian father of medicine”), used the term Prabhav. When explained Prabhav means a specific action without regard to rasa, virya and vipak or, the exception to the rule.

Taste, The Sense That Founded Pharmacology.
Rasa, Virya and Vipak Herbs

The concept of rasa, virya and vipak is not only applicable to foods and herbs but also to various other substances including gems, stones, minerals, metals, colours and even the mind and emotions.

Below is a table which gives the general rules for determining rasa, virya and vipak. Also listed is an example of Prabhav, or an exception, for each taste.

Taste, The Sense That Founded Pharmacology.

Generally, sweet and salty tastes have sweet vipah; while sour tastes have sour vipah, and pungent, bitter and astringent tastes have pungent vipak.

Thus, Rasa and Vipak are completely related to the tastes of substances, while Virya relates to their hot and cold effects. These three create a direct influence on the tridosha and also influence the nutrition and transformation of the body’s tissues or dhatus.

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