Golden milk has long been loved in Ayurveda for its nourishing, rejuvenating qualities. Recently made famous by social media, this yellow elixir seems to be on the radar of all health conscious yogis. So, what is golden milk and why do yogis love it so much?
Golden (Tea) Milk
Golden milk is a warm tea with two main ingredients: milk and turmeric. The turmeric grants this drink its radiant yellow hue. Any number of spices can be added from here: black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, or even dates and coconut oil. These add-ons both enhance the digestibility of golden milk and also boost its medicinal properties. It lends itself to being a healing elixir for all sorts of ailments depending on which spices go in.
The ingredients in golden milk aren’t chosen at random. Ayurveda looks at the energetics, cooling or heating action, and post-digestive effect of each and every food to understand who it will benefit. The same principles are applied to beverages. Golden milk can be made in many different ways so that it brings balance to its drinker.
Golden milk traditionally uses cow’s milk. Although it’s gained a bad reputation in recent times, cow’s milk is considered a sattvic food in yoga and Ayurveda. Sattva is a Sanskrit word meaning "peace, purity and harmony," and foods with these qualities promote the same within. (Learn more about sattvic foods and a sattvic diet in 3 Reasons Why Yogis Love Plant-Based Diets.)
Ayurvedic teacher, Maya Tiwari, refers to milk as “a potent nectar.” But, because commercial milk does not preserve the purity of this once-perfect food, she teaches that “all other milks -- from grains, beans, dried or cooked fruits, and nuts -- mimic the nature of this original nectar” . Substitutions are welcome.
To preserve the sattvic quality of golden milk, only pure, organic milk from ethically raised cows should be used. Organic nut milks, like coconut or almond, are good alternatives. Each of these three milks build the body tissues and promote muscular strength. They are what makes golden milk a nourishing elixir.
Turmeric is also considered sattvic. It helps the body to digest protein, which is why it pairs so well with milk, and also digests deeply-seated toxins. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory (its most touted benefit), making it very helpful in the treatment of arthritis and other ailments. Being anti-microbial and anti-carcinogenic, turmeric is truly a wonder spice. (More about Why Yogis Love Turmeric.)
Named “the universal medicine” in Ayurveda, ginger is a highly respected spice and the perfect addition to golden milk. It aids in its digestibility and burns toxins from the body tissues. Dried, powdered ginger is very heating; so, fresh ginger is a better choice for most body types.
Because milk has mucus-forming qualities, cardamom is often added to golden milk as an antidote. It kindles the digestive fire and gives this tea digestive qualities. (See also 5 Ayurvedic Recipes to Stoke Your Inner Fire.) Cardamom is another sattvic spice, giving clarity and joy, and loved by yogis for its ability to move prana.
Black pepper is a very powerful digestive stimulant. Only a little is needed here because, used in excess, it can agitate the mind (it’s rajasic in quality). Black pepper is an expectorant and also offsets the mucus-forming quality of milk. Additionally, it aids in the absorption of turmeric.
Well-loved for its flavor, true cinnamon (cinnamomum zeylanicum) benefits the respiratory, digestive, circulatory and urinary systems. It kindles the digestive fire, strengthens the heart, and is also helpful in relieving cold and flu symptoms. Cinnamon is another sattvic spice.
Dates are tissue-building and bulk-promoting. They can be added to golden milk for those who’d like to gain weight or who suffer from degenerative issues. According to Ayurveda, dates are useful in anemia as well as muscle and joint pain. They also give a lovely natural sweetness to golden milk.
Not traditionally a part of golden milk, a half of a teaspoon of coconut oil can be added for those with constipation or looking to nourish the body tissues. Coconut oil isn’t for everyone as it’s difficult to digest; but, when properly assimilated, it’s been shown to improve memory and brain function, balance hormones, build muscle and boost the immune system. (Learn about more uses and benefits of coconut oil in The Benefits of Ayurvedic Oil Pulling.)
Make it Yours
The spices in golden milk can be adjusted depending on the overall desired effect of this golden elixir. Go the purist route with a basic blend of milk, turmeric and black pepper. Add dates and coconut milk to make it a nutritive tonic. Or add cinnamon, cardamom and ginger to create a chai-like elixir that boosts the digestive fire, elevates the mind, and helps move the flow of prana. There’s a golden milk for everyone! (Read on about these spices in The Benefits of Chai Spices.)
 Maya Tiwari, Ayurveda: A Life of Balance (Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1995) 180.