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Kitchen Garden: A Clinic in Your Backyard

by Dr Deepak Acharya and Dr Garima Sancheti(more info)

listed in herbal medicine, originally published in issue 140 - October 2007

Since time immemorial, herbs have proved to be powerful allies in the fight against various health disorders. Although herbal drugs/cures are in demand now, their uses/remedies have been mentioned in several ancient Indian literature going back thousands of years – from the Rig Veda (about 6,000 years) to Atharveda (around 3,000 to 2,000 BC). It wasn’t until the 19th century that scientists started working on the active principles found in herbs, and research on molecular levels began. Rural and tribal people in India believe in ‘Shot Gun’ methods of herbal healing, and the knowledge passed on to them from their parents or grandparents, and are not into modern science They use decoction or direct application of herbs for treating health disorders, and culinary herbs for the treatment of various common ailments.

Herbs like Basil (Ocimum sanctum), Onion (Allium cepa), Garlic (Allium sativum), Spinach (Spinacea oleracea), Cumin seeds (Trachyspermum ammi), etc., are among a few of their huge range of culinary herbs. The medicinal values of each of these herbs are known since primeval times, but it is only in recent years that more people are spinning towards health foods, i.e. food with medicinal properties. Culinary herbs play a foremost role in the preparation of such health food, and herbs flavour our most basic foods. They not only play an important role in the kitchen but also a major role in healing health disorders. In this article we aim to provide information on some of the important Indian culinary herbs and their uses by the tribal and rural people of India within their traditional system of medicine.

The Ten Most Important Culinary Herbs in India

1.    Basil (Ocimum sanctum; Family – Labiatae): Basil is worshipped in many Indian homes as a holy plant. It is one of the most common culinary herbs.
Traditional Practices:
•    Basil leaves are mixed with powdered Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) to make a decoction, and taken to reduce coughs. It is also effective for toothaches. Dry leaf powder can be used as tooth powder, as it removes pain;
•    When making tea, four to five leaves of Basil are added to flavour the tea. Basil is also used as a breath freshener;
•    Topical application of Basil extract over the skin helps cure infections. Equal amounts of Basil extract, Lemon (Citrus limon) juice and Onion (Allium cepa) extract help cure all types of skin diseases;
•    A spoonful of a mixture of Basil juice, Ginger (Zingiber officinale) juice and Honey is good for people who suffer from asthma. One spoon of Basil juice and Bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) juice, taken every night for one month helps control both asthma and bronchitis;
•    For pimples, Basil is crushed with Mint (Mentha arvensis) and Lemon (Citrus limon) juice and applied over the affected area.

2.    Coriander (Coriandrum sativum; Family – Apiaceae):
This is an important spice in curries, added for its exotic fragrance and flavour. The entire young plant is used to prepare chutneys and sauces. The fruits are also extensively employed as a condiment in the preparation of pickles, sausages and seasonings.
Traditional Practices:
•    Crush or grind two teaspoons of Coriander seeds in 100ml water. Drink up to three times a day, or add one teaspoon of Coriander liquid extract to water and drink three times a day to avoid flatulence, stomach upset and loss of appetite;
•    Seeds crushed with leaves of Crab’s eye (Abrus precatorius) help with ulcers, including mouth ulcers, when applied on the affected area;
•    The seed extract helps with colic pain. Two teaspoons of the extract is given to patients suffering from colic pain and disorder;
•    Leaves of Coriander crushed with leaves of Ivy Gourd (Coccinia indica) can be applied to relieve rheumatic pain;
•    In cases of frequency of stool with blood, leaves of this plant are given to remove blood in the stool.

3.    Onion (Allium cepa; Family – Liliaceae):
Onions are found in a variety of colours viz, white, brown, yellow, and red or purple. It is another important culinary herb found in the Indian kitchen.
Traditional Practices:
•    Onion extract with Honey warms a cold body. One teaspoon of raw Onion juice with one teaspoon of Honey, kept over three to four hours, serves as an excellent cough syrup;
•    Consuming Onion and Jaggery every day helps with weight gain;
•    Onion is ideal for treating anaemia and effective against heart attacks. About 30 gm of Onion and seven Black Peppers (Piper nigrum) can be finely pounded and given to cholera patients as well;
•    Chop one raw Onion, cover with salt and leave overnight. Apply the juice three to four times a day on warts or wounds;
•    About 50 gm of Onion soaked in water and 10 gm of sugar should be eaten twice daily. This helps cure bleeding piles. One teaspoon of raw Onion juice is also good for bronchitis.

4.    Garlic (Allium sativum; Family – Liliaceae):
Throughout history, Garlic has been revered as one of the most distinctive flavours to ever grace a kitchen. Not only does it taste wonderful, but because of its ‘natural cure-all’ properties, it is also regarded as a miracle food against dozens of health complaints.
Traditional Practices:
•    Keep Garlic in Honey for 40 days and have a spoonful every day for voice improvement and against throat infections. A spoon of Garlic juice with a glass of water taken twice a day, for three months, cures asthma;
•    Garlic consumed for one year helps cure leucoderma;
•    Garlic helps increase breast milk in lactating mothers;
•    Garlic crushed, mixed with Coconut (Cocos nucifera) oil, and heated relieves earache. Pour two to three drops into the affected ear;
•    Garlic crushed with salt and placed on a scorpion bite acts as an antidote;
•    Two to three cloves of Garlic can be taken every morning to cure backache. Garlic oil rubbed on the back gives better results with backaches;

5.    Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum; Family – Solanaceae):
The tomato, botanically a fruit, is used to flavour foods; can be eaten out of the hand as a dessert. It is also used a lot in salads and as flavouring in soups and cooked food.
Traditional Practices:
•    Tribal folk in Central India use this pulped fruit as skin-wash. It is also good for oily skin;
•    Slices of the fruit over closed eyes help with sunburn. It is also effective when taken orally;
•    Fruits of Tomato are good appetizers. Tribal folk in Central India recommend at least two fruits of the plant be eaten before meals. This gives plenty of energy.
•    Tomato fruit pulp applied on the head relieves headaches. This should be done thrice a day;
•    Tribal folk also wash their head with Tomato extract, as this is effective in removing dandruff.

6.    Ginger (Zingiber officinale; Family – Zingiberaceae):
Ginger was known as ‘the universal medicine’ in ancient India. Ginger rhizome is used extensively as a spice in many cuisines of the world.
Traditional Practices:
•    Mix Ginger extract with equal amounts of lemon extract, a little rock salt and crystal salt and place in a tight glass bottle under sunlight for a week. Consuming this filtrated mixture daily after meals aids digestion. One can also take equal amounts of Ginger extract and sugar and boil in half a cup of water;
•    Cut Ginger into small pieces, add Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) leaves and two cups of water and boil till it reduces by half. To this, add one cup sugar and simmer on low flame. As it cools down add Lemon (Citrus limon) juice to it. This can then be consumed once every three hours to reduce coughs. Crush dry Ginger and add equal amounts of ghee and jaggery. This mixture also reduces colds and coughs;
•    Boil Ginger, two spoons of powdered Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) seeds and jaggery in two cups of water till it reduces to one cup. This mixture is ideal for pregnant women as it relieves burning sensations in the chest and stomach. One spoon of Ginger powder with a little sugar also helps with stomach pain;
•    Take one teaspoon of fresh Ginger juice and mix it with a cup of Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) decoction and a little Honey. This mixture acts as an excellent expectorant in the treatment of asthma;
•    Dilute a paste of Ginger powder (half teaspoon) with water and apply to the forehead in the case of headaches. A burning sensation may persist, but this is not harmful. Apply warm Ginger paste with Turmeric to the affected area twice a day;
•    Chewing Ginger relieves toothache.

7.    Turmeric (Curcuma longa; Family – Zingiberaceae):
Turmeric is an ancient spice and is still used in religious Hindu rituals. Turmeric is also one of the cheapest culinary spices.
Traditional Practices:
•    Add Turmeric in hot milk and drink to reduce colds and coughs;
•    A paste of Turmeric and Sandalwood helps cure skin infection and pimples. A pinch of Turmeric powder mixed with a teaspoon of Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) juice is an effective home remedy for pimples and blackheads. Applying Turmeric paste, prepared in milk, on the face helps cure pimples. Mix Turmeric powder with crushed Mint (Mentha arvensis) leaves or Lemon (Citrus limon) leaves, and use as a face pack every day to treat pimples;
•    For fair complexion, apply a blend of raw milk, Cucumber (Cucumis sativa) juice and Olive (Olea europaea) oil, with a pinch of turmeric powder, on the skin;
•    A pinch of Turmeric powder, one teaspoon of milk cream, mixed with half-a-teaspoon of vinegar, makes an excellent poultice. It helps ripen blood boils and heal them without allowing them to become septic;
•    Use clean Turmeric to heal small cuts. Add a pinch of it to on-quarter-teaspoon of crushed Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) to relieve body pain.

8.    Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum; Family – Fabaceae):
The maple aroma and flavour of Fenugreek has led to its use in many baked foods, chutneys and confections. For culinary purposes, seeds are ground and used in curries.
Traditional Practices:
•    Half-cooked curry is good for increasing memory power and mental strength;
•    Diabetic patients should consume 25g to 50g of Fenugreek seeds everyday. This helps reduce glucose in the blood and urine. Fenugreek powder and seeds of Java fruit (Eugenia jambolana) in equal amounts are also good for diabetes;
•    Tea prepared from Fenugreek seeds reduces fevers;
•    A paste of Fenugreek seeds applied over the scalp, and left on for an hour, cures dandruff. Application of the extract, made from the seeds, helps hair growth and prevents hair loss;
•    Fenugreek seed powder is used as a poultice on inflamed areas, as well as on the skin as a cosmetic;
•    A paste of Fenugreek leaves applied on the face overnight can help prevent pimples, blackheads and wrinkles.

9.    Radish (Raphanus sativus; Family – Brassicaceae):
Radish has long been grown as a food. Being low in calories and fats, they are popular as snacks.
Traditional Practices:
•    Mix 50ml Radish juice and 10ml Basil (Ocimum sanctum) juice together and add a little jaggery, or raw sugar, and drink this twice or three times a day for a month, for total relief of jaundice;
•    Radish stimulates the appetite and digestion, as well as the flow of bile;
•    The juice of its fresh leaves makes a good laxative. Tribal folk prescribe three teaspoons of the juice for this;
•    Crushed Radish can be made into a poultice for burns and rashes, as well as smelly feet;
•    Radish is given for stone problems and also other stomach-related problems.

10.    Sweet Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare; Family – Apiaceae):
In India, Sweet Fennel seeds are served to round off a meal. It is an important culinary herb found in many Indian kitchens. It is also used for flavouring pickles, soups and various curries.
Traditional Practices:
•    Fennel tea is good for digestion. To make Fennel tea, steep half-a-teaspoon of crushed Fennel seeds into a cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Take it thrice a day. This decoction is also given in diarrhea cases;
•    20ml of Fennel tea is given to infants with colic pain;
•    For urinary problems, tribal folk prescribe root extract (25ml) twice a day;
•    An extract of Fennel seeds is used as a gargle for sore throats, as well as a mild expectorant. An infusion of seeds is good for gum disorders, tooth-related problems and laryngitis;
•    An extract of the leaf is filtered and used for eyes disorders, i.e. conjunctivitis and sore eyes;
•    Fennel decoction or tea is also said to be effective for weight loss.

Need of the Hour

Medicinal plants are part of our social life. Home remedies are less expensive than other systems of medicines. Drugs in chemical doses or synthetic form have swapped herbal healing at a certain level. But, now people have started realizing various problems related with synthetic drugs, i.e. side-effects, chemical pollution, cost and availability of drugs. As a result, there is now a renaissance and more awareness of herbal medication. Herbal drugs are safer, cheap, and undoubtedly more eco-friendly. Anyone can afford these medicines. These herbs used in home remedies show no side-effects.

We have listed only a few home remedies for common disorders like coughs, colds, fevers, dandruff and pains, etc. All the herbs mentioned in this article are found in our kitchen gardens. Tribal and rural folk in India have immense knowledge of these herbs and their uses, and modern science can learn a lot from such folk medicine. Various esteemed universities, research organizations and NGOs are now exploring botanical medicine and folk remedies. Botanists, Physicians and Pharmacists are working together to tap the botanical riches and knowledge of folk healers worldwide. It is indeed the need of the hour to document such indigenous knowledge so that future generations can survive in a more pleasant environment and a better, healthy state.

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About Dr Deepak Acharya and Dr Garima Sancheti

Dr Deepak Acharya is a microbiologist turned ethnobotanist. He is the Director of Abhumka Herbal Pvt Ltd (www.abhumka.com) in Ahmedabad, India. He has been documenting ethnobotanical knowledge of tribals of Central and Western India for past many years. He has written more than 35 research papers in National and International journals of repute. He writes popular articles for web and magazines too. His company validates herbal practices of healers from two remote pockets in India. He has done extensive documentation of Bhumkas of Patalkot valley (www.patalkot.com ) and Bhagats of Dang district (www.thedangs.in) South Gujarat and prepared a digital traditional herbal knowledge library. His book entitled "Indigenous Herbal Medicines: Tribal Formulations and Traditional Herbal Practices" is being appreciated all over the world. He has been associated with many Universities and colleges as a Member, Board of Studies. His work and dedication for the tribal welfare has been well appreciated by several print media. He is a Feature Writer/ Member- Editorial Board and Reviewer for many scientific journals and magazines. He can be contacted via email at info@patalkot.com info@abhumka.com. For more information about him, log on to www.patalkot.com .

Dr Garima Sancheti
is a PhD in Radiation and Cancer Biology, from University of Rajasthan, Jaipur-India. Her subject of research involves new drug development based on herbal practices of remote tribal healers. She has to her credit more than 15 research papers in National and International journals. She is also working as a science counselor, content writer and freelance writer. She is a contributing author for many online and print magazines. She may be contacted via email at garima@patalkot.com.

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