India is known as the home of spices from ancient times.
Spices are part of our cuisine just as much they are a component for treating common ailments.
Today, science concurs that our ancestors were right: “A pinch of spice does a lot more than flavour our food.”
A wide array of health benefits has been associated with herbs and spices: from their powerful anti-oxidant potential to anti-microbial effects. A great deal of research is also being done to map their full potential and therapeutic uses.
Sprinkling flavourful herbs and spices into foods for potential health gains is possible without increasing those pesky calories, grams of fat and refined carbs – a match made in heaven.
Interestingly, the wholesome power of Indian spices and their health benefits are yet to be fully tapped.
Let’s look at some of our best-known spices, and their many uses.
Asafoetida is known as an antidote for gas [flatulence]. It is prescribed for respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough. It is also used as an anti-microbial agent. It increases the levels of detoxification enzymes in the body. Its vile smell has led to unusual medical claims, mostly stemming from the belief that its odour acts as a deterrent to germs. Asafoetida is largely used in India in many dishes, including seasoning for rasam, sambhar, dals and lemon rice. Asafoetida is available in the market, mixed with starch, to reduce its strong flavour.
Mustard seeds are rich in sulphur-containing compounds, dithiolthiones – they help protect against the toxic effects of aflatoxin, a fungus. It is also used as anti-worm medicine. Mustard seeds are used in various vegetable preparations.
Fenugreek seeds are rich in vitamin E. They’re one of the earliest spices known to man. Fenugreek seeds aid in maintaining blood glucose levels. People with diabetes are said to benefit by taking one tsp of soaked fenugreek seeds early in the morning with one glass of lukewarm water. Fenugreek also contains natural substances ideal for treating sinusitis and lung congestion; it loosens and removes excess mucous. Fenugreek stimulates the production of mucosal fluids and helps remove allergens and toxins from the respiratory tract. An expectorant, fenugreek helps ease cough. It promotes perspiration and reduces fevers. In the East, beverages are made from the seed to ease stomach problems. Fenugreek is also an excellent source of selenium, a mineral, which helps the body to utilise oxygen. When fish is curried, particularly strong-tasting fish such as tuna and mackerel, fenugreek could be a good add-on in the spice mixture. Many chutneys and pickles incorporate fenugreek; the seed also gives a tangy aroma to vegetable preparations.
Nutmeg is usually associated with sweet and spicy dishes – pies, puddings, custard, cookies, and spice cakes. It complements egg dishes and vegetables like cabbage, spinach, broccoli, beans, onions, and eggplant. Nutmeg possesses, like other spices, aromatic, stimulant, and carminative [digestive] properties. But, in large doses it is a narcotic. It produces effects similar to those of camphor. Nutmeg has been used with advantage in mild cases of diarrhoea, gas, colic, and dyspepsia [indigestion].
This is a dried flower bud. Clove’s chief ingredient is eugenol, which has anti- inflammatory effects. Clove has been used for ages as a cure for toothache.
Warm ginger tea is good to break up congestion and fever. Ginger is one of the few herbs that easily passes the blood/brain membrane and is used in conjunction with other herbs that are meant to have an effect on the mind. Ginger speeds up metabolic rate, inhibits nausea and vomiting often caused by morning sickness or motion sickness.
Regular consumption of garlic can decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It also aids digestion and prevents gas. Recent research shows garlic to be beneficial in the treatment of diabetes.
A dried aromatic root, turmeric contains essential oils. Studies carried out at the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, suggest that turmeric is a potent anti-cancer agent. Turmerin, isolated from turmeric, showed potent anti-oxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties. The colouring agent in turmeric, curcumin, is known for its inhibitory action on bacteria; it also reduces the growth of fungi.
Turmeric is also reported to reduce blood cholesterol levels. It helps in relieving sore throat, cough, cold and flatulence. No wonder, our ancestors insisted on drinking Haldi wala doodh [milk with a tinge of turmeric powder].
In sore eyes or conjunctivitis, a lotion of turmeric and tamarind leaves boiled in water helps to relieve pain and swelling. Turmeric can be added in the preparation of various vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries, pickles, and rice. As a beauty aid, turmeric paste prevents and cures pigmentation. It maintains pH factor [acid-base balance] and it makes your skin glow. Besides, turmeric paste is part of our traditional bridal beauty ware and care.
Tangy Recipe: Patra
- Colocasia leaves: 2 in number
- Chana flour: 75 gm
- Jaggery: 25 gm
- Salt, turmeric, red chilli powder, asafoetida – to taste
- Mustard seeds, gingelly seeds – a little
- Olive oil: 2 tsp
- Mix chana flour, jaggery, chilli powder, salt, turmeric and water to make a thick paste
- Spread the batter evenly on colocasia leaf and roll it up. Repeat the same process with the second leaf
- Place the rolled leaves [patra] for steaming
- After cooling, cut the rolls. Make a vaghar [tempering, or tadka] of mustard and gingelly seeds, and saute the patra in vaghar.