Healing Spices of Indian Cuisine
This week’s Three Leaves Foods share calls upon the perfect balance of dynamic flavors used in Indian cuisine. One of the oldest systems of medicine in the world, Ayurveda views a human being as intimately connected with the environment and all other life forms. It prescribes various methods of centering ourselves both physically and emotionally with the world around us while placing great emphasis on diet and the specific attributes of different foods. By using food combinations and proper nutrition, it is believed that illness can be cured, or at least kept in check, allowing wellness to flourish.
Indian cooking uses a variety of different spices, each family having their own style and secret combination that often includes a blend of turmeric, ginger, bay leaf, cumin, clove, coriander, black mustard seeds and graham masala. Apart from the nutritional benefits that include vitamins and minerals found in Indian spices, there are many spices that have powerful healing properties without the side effects that can accompany allopathic options.
A variety of spices are used as home remedies in common illnesses such as cold, cough, fever, influenza, upset stomach, aches and pains, bruises, burns and wounds. These spices are harvested from different parts of plants and trees such as flower, fruit, seed, root, leaf, and also the bark is used in medicinal preparations. These kitchen medicinals are readily available and many may already be in your cabinets.
I recommend purchasing whole organic spices whenever possible. Most whole spices benefit from a light dry toasting before grinding into the powdered form. The goal is to brown them without burning them. A cast iron skillet is ideal for this technique. Warm the pan to medium heat, add the spices and stir with a wooden spoon. You will be graced with their intoxicating aroma as the essential oils are released. Continue to toast until a golden brown color and remove from the heat. After they have cooled, use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to achieve their powdered form.
Bay Leaf is a leaf of a tree that grows in most parts of India. A compress of bay leaf is often used to reduce pain in strained or sprained ankles or other joints. It can also help with congestion of the chest and coughs. Bay leaf, when ingested, helps with digestion, improves appetite and also cures colic in infants.
Black pepper has great medicinal value and has been used to prevent or cure many common ailments. In fact, in many parts of East India, a concoction made of black pepper and honey is taken each morning as preventive medicine against many common diseases. Black pepper has been extensively used in Ayurveda in the treatment of asthma, skin infections, cough, diarrhea, fever, gas, indigestion, rheumatic arthritis, sinus congestion and intestinal parasites.
Cardamom is grown in South India and is used for the aromatic essential oils that are present in the pods of cardamom. Apart from imparting a great fragrance to the food, cardamom is also known for its warming reactions in the body. It is the one of the ingredients of “graham masala,” a mixture that is commonly used in everyday diet. Tea made with cardamom and other spices such as ginger, cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon, to which a little honey is added, gives quick relief to colds, coughs and mild fever and also cures indigestion and gas.
Cinnamon is the bark of a tree that is widely grown in India and Sri Lanka. Cinnamon has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. It is useful in relieving arthritic pain and regulating blood sugar. Cinnamon may be helpful in the reduction of tooth decay and gum disease. It has long been used for relieving the congestion of colds and allergies.
Clove is one of the most common Indian spices. Due to the high essential oil content, it has great pain-reducing properties. Cloves have been used externally for toothaches. The oil extracted from cloves is applied to the gums and the area of the mouth where the toothache is originating and there is almost instant relief. Cloves are also known to relieve pain due to arthritis and insect bites. Cloves have anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties. Cloves are also known to prevent nausea and improve digestion.
Ginger is a root that is used in daily cooking in India. It is a known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is used in the treatment of common ailments such as nausea, colds, bronchitis, and influenza, and greatly helps in relieving the symptoms of allergies and menstrual cramps.
Turmeric is a vibrant orange root of the plant, which is usually dried and powdered before use. It is a powerful antiseptic and anti-bacterial and can be used as an external application to prevent infections in wounds and to speed up the healing process. Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and when used daily can be helpful for joint pain.
May the knowledge of these healing spices of India grace your table, excite your meals and warm your heart.
"Spices, the friend of physicians and the pride of cooks".