The medicinal properties of plants have been well understood, and used to varying degrees of success by cultures across the globe. The most famous of these ancient remedies is Ayurveda, which originated in Vedic India, and persists even to this day. Plants owe their medicinal properties to their natural ability to synthesise numerous chemical compounds, which protect them from herbivores, insects, and fungi. Contrary to popular belief, even the most sophisticated modern medicines rely on plants to an astounding degree.
This isn’t quite the same as eating a root or tuber, but rather deriving chemical extracts synthesised in plants. In fact, 40% of all medicines commercially available today are of biogenic origin, out of which 25% are derived from plants. It is safe to say that most plants, with their untold potential to enhance the quality of human life are god send and spices, which are a staple of Indian cuisine are no exception. Here are some of the medicinal properties of popular Indian spices:
Also known as haldi, turmeric is a member of the ginger family, and has a bright yellow hue. It is used topically for skin aliments like inflammation, infected wounds, and ringworm. It is highly effective in the treatment of arthritis, heartburn, and stomach infections like diarrhoea, intestinal gas, stomach bloating, and loss of appetite. It also helps in minimising liver damage caused by consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and the overuse of pain-killers. The most effective way to relieve the symptoms of cough and cold is a warm glass of turmeric mixed with milk. Turmeric is also believed to have anti-carcinogenic properties, making it effective in preventing cancer.
Black pepper, also known as peppercorn is made from the dried fruit of a flowering vine, native to South India. For centuries, it has been used to facilitate digestion and soothe upset stomachs. A quarter teaspoon of black pepper powder mixed in thin buttermilk should be consumed in cases of indigestion or heaviness in the stomach to alleviate discomfort.
Cardamom is a spice with a strong taste, resinous fragrance, and intense aroma. It can be used to halt a number of digestive issues including bloating, gas, heartburn, and loss of appetite, being most potent when the outer shell is removed to expose the internal tiny pods. Cardamom has a rich variety of vitamins,making it ideal for cardiovascular health, treating depression, controlling cholesterol levels, and all eviating urinary tract infections. Owing to its powerful flavour, it is often used as a breath freshener after meals.
Clove is a spice derived from the dried flower-buds of the clove tree. Clove oil acts as a painkiller when applied topically, and can help with stomach issues like gas, diarrhoea, nausea and upset stomach. It also contains compounds that help with blood circulation, and can stimulate the skin when applied directly to it, making it indispensable to acne patients.
Ginger is a plant whose roots are used as an additive in many cuisines for its pungent flavour. It is believed to help in relieving common cold as well as the effects of heartburn, nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhoea, as well as motion and morning sickness.It is a natural remedy for headaches, minor body aches and even certain cases of arthritis. Ginger is also believed to have anti-carcinogenic properties, making it effective in preventing cancer.
Cumin is a spice derived from the seeds of the cumin plant. It is known to relieve digestive problems, reduce instances of anaemia and common cold, and helps fight the flu by boosting the immune system. Cumin is also used to reduce stomach pains and prevent indigestion, diarrhoea, nausea, and morning sickness.
Cinnamon is an aromatic spice obtained from the bark of certain kinds of trees. It helps in relieving nausea, fever, and diarrhoea, and alleviates the discomfort caused by menstrual problems.Cinnamon also decreases blood sugar and cholesterol levels, which makes this spice excellent for keeping the heart healthy.
Saffron is obtained from the flower of the saffron crocus, and is the world’s most expensive spice by weight. It is used in the treatment of kidney, bladder, and liver disorders, and improves blood circulation to the organs during digestion. It is documented to lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides among heart patients, and has several cosmetic applications due to its ability to lighten one’s skin tone.
The traditional Indian diet is extremely nutritious, and this is due to the diversity and multitude of spices. If one is to lead a healthy and balanced life by avoiding the ailments and lifestyle diseases, a nutritious diet rich in spices is exactly what is required. And the fact that it also tastes delicious is a big plus.
Garlic with its antiviral and antibacterial properties helps in boosting immunity and keeps one looking fresh and healthy. Garlic's ability to fight infections and bacteria makes it an effective cure for warts and skin problems. Garlic's antibacterial and anesthetising properties can help cure toothaches.
Inputs from Dr. Surya Bhagwati, Ayuveda Consultant, Saifee Hospital