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Bringing back ancient wisdom: How common natural food products help us keep healthy

Dr. Madhumitha Krishnan

Dr. Madhumitha
27 March 2020

A Consultant Ayurveda Paediatrician practicing in Bengaluru, she specialises in treating special children, and believes that a proper diet is the greatest medicine.

Eat Breakfast

When you hear ‘raisins’, what do you think of? Perhaps kheer with raisins in it, or a bar of rum-n-raisins-flavoured chocolate?

When I hear ‘raisins’, a voice in my head goes - ‘great cleanser’.

No, I am not trying to be funny here. I am simply trying to point out that many herbs, spices and other food products we commonly use in our kitchen have plenty of medicinal qualities locked into them, but we know them more for their flavour. Many of these natural food products found their way into our diet because of their health quotient, and we must try and bring back that ancient wisdom into practice.

It isn’t that we have completely lost the wisdom in traditional Indian diet and food products. As a child, I would be given some of these home remedies to treat smaller health issues like stomach pain. In turn, I ended up prescribing them in my practice. But unless we understand them fully, we might not be able to pass it on to future generations.

According to Ayurveda, there are three types of bio-elements or Doshas present in our body – Vata, Pitta, Kapha. Vata refers to movement, and is dry, cold, light and minute in nature. Pitta is characterised by heat, moistness, liquidity, and sharpness and sourness, and is a marker of metabolism. Kapha is responsible for anabolism, and is characterised by heaviness, coldness, tenderness, softness, slowness and lubrication. To understand how food helps with our health, we must understand the impact of these foods on the balance of these bio-elements in the body.

Here is a short and quick list of such foods:

Dhanyaka (Coriandrum sativum) or Coriander, is commonly used along with sour substances and salt, this combination helps in reducing vomiting sensation. It is astringent, bitter, light, heavy and hot in thermal property. Coriander seeds or leaves, in the powdered form are used as a spice to sprinkle on curries and other foods.

Haridra (Curcuma longa) is the all-famous turmeric. Long before Golden Latte came to the menus of fancy cafes in the Western world and wellness websites started using it in different products, turmeric was used as an antiseptic and antioxidant in India. It is the first thing to be applied on open wounds after thoroughly washing. This is one of the best ways to prevent infection. As for consuming it - it is bitter, pungent and dry, light and hot in thermal property.

Yavani (Carum copticum), which is Ajwain or omam as we commonly know it, can be very effective in treating abdominal pain. This herb is pungent in taste, light and sharp, and hot in thermal property. It helps in reducing Vata dosha in our body, which is a major cause of pain. In some homes in South India, Yavani is toasted on fire and eaten wrapped in a betel leaf. For kids, a little bit of sugar is also wrapped along with the ajwain so they can eat it easily.

The use of Krishna Jiraka (Carum carvi) or Karunjirakam is very common to treat a cold. This herb is pungent and dry, and hot in thermal property. It helps in reducing Kapha, the major cause of common cold. By making a potali and smelling this herb, cold can be treated.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Draksha (Vitis vinifera) or raisins can be used to treat constipation. This herb is sweet but also unctuous and heavy, and cold in thermal property. It helps in reducing Vata, one of the major causes of constipation. Raisins are generally soaked in water and consumed. My grandmother, who is 85 years old, uses this remedy even today and is finding immense relief in it.

Nimba Pushpa (Azadirachta indica) or neem flowers can be used to treat diarrhoea. This herb is bitter and astringent, light and cold in thermal property that helps in reducing Pitta, the major cause of diarrhoea. Neem flowers can be roasted in a little bit of ghee and eaten with rice.

Jatiphala (Myristica fragrans) or Jatikkai can be used to prevent cold. This herb is bitter and pungent, and hot in thermal property. It helps in reducing Kapha and Vata. It is usually rubbed on a stone and applied on the forehead and temples for prevention of cold.

However, all the above information is valuable only if the cooking is done at home. With the instant, order-in culture taking over our lives, a lot of these products may be missing from our diets. So, start cooking at home, and make sure you have these super foods stocked up always. These are common food products which are available in any market, but as far as possible try to get organic products with no preservatives or other chemicals.



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