By Namita Tewari
Almost everyone knows herbs are good for us, but we catch ourselves postponing kickstarting our herbal regime due to hectic schedules, inertia, or the propensity to wait for a certain “free” period in the future, when we will be free to concentrate fully on issues of health and wellness. But, oftentimes, the ‘free’ period never arrives, and we lose precious time to armour ourselves against maladies. Maladies that can easily be avoided if we were to consume herbs on a regular basis. But what of time?
To that I say, why wait for an occasion to start taking herbs? Why not just take them while on the go? While drinking juice or through the parantha we eat for breakfast? Just put them in the food you eat. Or simply glug them down with a glass of water first thing in the morning.
Following are some common herbs, the benefits they offer, and ways in which we can consume them to our advantage:
Also known as Ghrit Kumari, aloe vera is a medical chest in itself. Aloe is brimming with amino acids, vitamins, minerals and immune-boosting polysaccharides (carbohydrates such as starch and cellulose). This makes aloe nature’s most effective cleanser. It strengthens the digestive system and detoxifies the body. Its soothing, cooling and moistening properties provide relief during hot flushes in menopause; soothe inflammatory skin; and calm digestive disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
How to add it to your diet: Cut a thick blade from the base. Wash and let stand overnight in a cup to let the amber sap drain. Slit the blade from the centre and scoop out the transparent flesh. Blend 2 to 3 tablespoons with fruit juice in the morning and drink it with your breakfast daily. You can also have it sans the juice but most people find the texture of aloe vera too sluggish and sticky to consume as a standalone edible.
Carom or Ajwain contains protein, fat, minerals, fibre, carbohydrates, iron, calcium, phosphorus, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin. Ajwain is an appetiser, carminative (prevents formation of gas), digestive, expectorant (helps bring up mucus and other material from the lungs, bronchi, and trachea), laxative, diuretic, antihelmenthic (expels internal parasites) and an aphrodisiac.
How to add it to your diet: Use it in daals and vegetables that have a tendency to cause flatulence to offset the undesirable effect. It can also be used in heavy, oily foods such as pooris, paranthas, matharis and other snacks for the same reason.
As a remedy, a teaspoon of ajwain with hot water relieves flatulence. A teaspoon of ajwain with a pinch of rock salt renders relief in indigestion. A teaspoon of powdered ajwain added to buttermilk is an excellent expectorant to remove dry phlegm.
Coriander or Dhania contains iron, calcium, phosphorus, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, sodium, potassium and vitamin C. Coriander is an appetiser, a carminative and a digestive. It offers relief to those suffering from fever, cough, chest pains and dysentery.
Coriander seeds are called the ‘Healing Spice’ and are rich in iron, magnesium, flavonoids and phytonutrients. The seeds are diuretic, anti inflammatory, prevent urinary tract infection, lower sugar and bad cholesterol, relieve nausea, and alleviate intestinal gas.
How to add it to your diet: Add dhaniya to breads and paranthas. Grind fresh coriander, garlic, fresh lime juice, sugar and salt to make chutney, which you can consume with all savoury foods.
Add powdered coriander seeds to curries and pickles. A paste of coriander seeds is applied to treat mouth ulcers.
Curry leaves are rich in carbohydrates, energy, fibre, calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, copper and minerals. They aid digestion and whet the appetite.
How to add it to your diet: Prepare buttermilk with a paste of curry leaves, salt and roasted cumin seed powder to have after meals. A paste of curry leaves mixed with honey treats excessive vomiting in pregnant women and is also useful in curbing dysentery, diarrhea and nausea. A paste of 8 to 10 curry leaves taken in the morning on an empty stomach for three consecutive months may also control non insulin dependent diabetes.
Fennel or Saunf is rich in iron, potassium, calcium, sodium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin C. It is a carminative, a diuretic, an expectorant, a laxative, an anti spasmodic and a rich source of flavonoids (plant pigments). Fennel is useful in relieving respiratory disorders, anaemia and constipation. It also regulates blood pressure, boosts immunity, and regulates menstruation.
How to add it to your diet: Fennel is added to pickles, vegetables and bakes, and is also consumed as a mouth freshener and digestive after meals. Fennel tea, prepared by mixing 1 to 2 teaspoons of fennel powder in boiling water is useful in abating flatulence, indigestion and diarrhea. Sherbet made by mixing roasted and ground saunf, ground pepper and sugar, keeps the body cool and prevents heat stroke in the summer.
Garlic or Lehsoon contains enzymes and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, and C. It also contains calcium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, zinc, magnesium and selenium.
Garlic prevents clotting of platelets, decreases low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, regulates blood sugar levels, and neutralises high blood pressure. It also prevents bronchitis, cough, cold, asthma, urinary tract infection and boosts immunity.
How to add it to your diet: Garlic is added to most Indian gravies, pickles and soups. Blend 7 to 8 cloves of garlic, along with a bunch of fresh coriander, 2 to 3 green chilies, dry mango powder, salt and sugar to make chutney. The best way to absorb the benefits of garlic is to have 1 to 2 raw cloves of garlic on an empty stomach in the morning. Yes, your breath won’t smell that great, but that’s a small price to pay for a robust body. Besides, you can always brush your teeth afterwards!
Giloy, Tinospora Cordifolia, Guduchi or Amritam as it’s known in Sanskrit, is a treasure trove that holds the secret to youthfulness, vitality and longevity. Its stem contains a nutrient starch that is slightly bitter, with no distinct flavour. This starch is responsible for reducing blood glucose levels and is anti spasmodic, anti viral, anti bacterial, anti inflammatory, antipyretic (reduces fever) and diuretic. It also prevents premature ageing.
How to add it to your diet: Prepare decoction by boiling freshly cut stems in water. You can either have this water on an empty stomach for maximum absorption by the body or, if you don’t like the taste, make lemonade with the giloy water; the sugar and lemon will mask the taste.
Lemon Grass has anti bacterial and anti fungal properties. It is a carminative; relieves flatulence; stimulates digestion and blood circulation; relieves insomnia and nausea; detoxifies the liver and kidneys; eases menstrual cramps; and reduces stress.
How to add it to your diet: Make tea with lemon grass. Add lemon grass leaves to curries (especially Asian cuisine) to enhance flavour. You could also dry the blades and add to various dishes. Pair lemon grass with other spices to render exotic flavour to soups. Lemon grass is often coupled with coconut milk, chilies, coriander, and garlic, in recipes.
Tulsi or Holy Basil is called the ‘Queen of the Herbs’. It is an antibiotic, anti microbial, anti stress and anti ageing herb that increases stamina. It serves as a herbal tonic for maintaining youth, vigour and vitality, and protects the body from infections and harmful free radicals.
How to add it to your diet: A decoction of tulsi leaves, with honey and ginger helps fight cold, flu, fever and cough. Add tulsi to your green tea or masala chai to avail of its benefits on a regular basis. You can also garnish salads with tulsi leaves in the summer.
Also known as the ‘Pizza Herb’, Oregano has a high content of phenolic acids, flavonoids and thymol. It is an antioxidant and antimicrobial, and helps combat colds, sore throat, bronchitis and sinusitis.
How to add it to your diet: Add oregano to your tea to stimulate digestion. Otherwise, use it in the conventional sense, ie, in soups, bakes, pasta and pizza.
The author is an educationist, ornithologist, baker, spiritual vegetarian and a food blogger from the Himalayan foothills of Kumaon. She is also a scholar of Yoga, alternative therapies, medicinal plants and herbs.
Her blog, Ambrosia Soulful Cooking, showcases simple food that nourishes the body, mind and soul