“In those days, we didn’t have to queue up in clinics / hospitals for common cold and fever. We used to make a kashayam (tea or kada) of adathodai or thootuvalai and everything became normal after two or three days.” – My mother used to recall the village life with these words in the early 1990s everytime someone in our home caught a cold or fever. After Vardah devastated my garden in Dec 2016, it took me a few months to rigorously swap some of my seeds/plants to recover my garden post disaster and raise it as a mix of herbs, fruits, trees, flowers and herbs. Apart from adding flavours to your plate, the showy cluster of flowers are a magnet for pollinators. Usually city living doesn’t leave a lot of room for gardening, however herbs could be easily squeezed into a small chunk of outdoor space or balcony or grown indoors. And the best part of growing fresh herbs is that you don’t have to buy a big bunch from the market for a single recipe requiring a small pinch of herb (and let the rest of the bunch rot in fridge); instead you could simply snip off what’s needed from your garden. There is a saying in tamil – ‘உணவே மருந்து மருந்தே உணவு’ which means ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food‘, and this blog post details how I use some herbs from my garden in my routine diet and external use.
Malabar Nut/ Adathodai (ஆடாதோடை/ अडूसा)
Usage – For excess bleeding during menstruation, leaves of adathodai are pound them to get fresh juice and consumed on morning and evening. For cold, cough, phlegm, some honey and ginger are added to the juice extract and consumed twice everyday for 3-4 days. Leaves could also be powdered and included in recipes. Consumption of adathodai should be strictly avoided by pregnant ladies and young babies. Its leaves possess wonderful pest repellent characteristics and can be used for making 5G solution (pest repellent for plants).
Mint Thulasi (Mentha arvensis)
Usage – Consume 2-3 leaves everyday (raw) or make a tea from the leaves for instant relief for throat problems and cold/cough.
Ajwain /Karpooravalli/ Omavalli (अजवाइन/ கற்பூரவல்லீ)
Usage – Best to chew 1-2 leaves everyday or can pound the leaves to juice and mix with honey and consume for cold/cough. Some tasty and finger licking recipes prepared from this herb are – Doddapathre thambli, Karpoorvalli bhajji, Karpoorvalli rasam. Thambli which I learnt from a Kannanda friend is my most favourite recipe with ajwain.
Solanum Trilobatum / Pea egglant/ Thootuvalai (தூதுவளை)
Usage – A number of recipes can be made with leaves of thootuvalai keerai to add it to our routine diet. Some include thootuvalai thuvaiyal, Thootivalai dosai, Keerai kootu or leaves could be boiled to a soup or decoction as well.
Tridax daisy/ Vettu kaya poondu (வெட்டு காய புண்களை)
Usage – Squeeze leaves of Tridax to get a juice extract which could be applied directly on cuts and wounds to stop bleeding and healing wounds.
Veldt Grape/ Pirandai (பிரண்டை/ हड़जोड़)
Usage – Always pick only tender pirandai stems for cooking and while removing the skin, its better to apply oil to avoid itchiness. Inclusion of pirandai in diet helps in strengthening bones and joints. Most popular recipes with pirandai are thuvaiyal and pirandai podi. Traditional rice applams were considered healthy and delicious due to addition of a bit of pirandai juice, however this practice has waned out with time.
Baloon vine creeper / Mudakathaan (முடக்கத்தான் கீரை/कनफटा )
Usage – A number of tasty recipes could be prepared to include mudakathaan keerai in your daily diet. Few suggestions are Mudakathaan dosai, Mudakathaan kerrai thuvaiyal/chutney and keerai soup. This herb is also combined with other herbs like thoothuvalai, brahmi, etc and made as thuvaiyal (paste).
Madras pea pumpkin/ Musu musu keerai (முசுமுசுக்கை கீரை)
Musu Musu keerai is a powerful remedy for cold and cough.
Usage – Musu musu keerai thuvaiyal is one recipe that gets into our diet atleast once every month. Thuvaiyal (paste) could also be be made with a combination of other greens like thootuvalai, brahmi, mudakathaan etc. It could also be powdered and mixed with rice.
Usage – For muscular pain, leaves are boiled and the water is used for bath/massage. For sinusitis and headache, the leaves are boiled in water and the steam is inhaled for instant relief. Nochi is an amazing pest repellent and farmers use it as a bio-fence and for preparing 5G pest repellent solution. Cow dung and nochi leaves are used for making mosquito repellent pellets (Recipe will be shared later in a separate blog).
Long pepper (கண்டதிப்பிலி/पिप्पली )
Usage – Roots and fruits of long pepper can be used in making rasam. We also add leaves of thippali in sambar. Pregant and lactating mother should avoid thiappali; also consumption of thippali in huge quantity may cause issues in fertility.
Nilavembu/ Kalmegh (சிறியாநங்கை/कालमेघ)
Usage – Experience is the best teacher and nothing can match grandma’s herbal wisdom. Here’s one such herbal home remedy for dengue fevers – Pound one single papaya leaf, 10-15 kalmegh leaves, pepper and bit of country sugar and boil the mixture till the quantity is reduced to half a cup and drink it for three days in empty stomach.
Stevia (சீனித்துளசி/मीठी पत्ती)
Usage – Stevia leaves or leaf extract could be added in tea/beverages, smoothies. Leaves could also be dried and powdered. Of late, this plant has been in news for side effects related to infertility in US, however consumption in less quantity does no harm and is proven to have no side effects when consumed within limits.
Phyllanthus Niruri (கீழாநெல்லி/ भूमि आंवला )
Usage – People suffering from jaundice are often on a hunt for this herb. Root of this plant is grinded and mixed with buttermilk and consumed (should be followed only after consultation with a doctor as quantity may vary on case by case basis).
Aloe Vera (கற்றாழை/ एलोवेरा)
Usage – It is very essential to remove the yellow sap after cutting the leaves to extract the gel as the yellow sap may cause irritation to some people. Follow this procedure to extract aloe vera gel. After taking out the gel, it can be directly applied on skin/hair or used for making aloe vera juice or aloe vera toothpaste. Shelf life of fresh aloe vera gel is just 3 to 4 days and it has to be mixed with Vitamin E capsules to enhance the shelf life.
Indian Penny Wort/ Saraswati leaf plant / Brahmi (வல்லாரை கீரை/ ब्राह्मी)
Usage – Vallarai is one green packed with health benefits. Some of the lip smacking recipes with this edible green are Vallarai kootu, Vallarai thuvaiyal, Vallarai salad, dosai and thambuli. It is also mixed with other green to be made into thuvaiyal or to add in to our regular sambar.
Amman Pacharisi/ Asthama plant (அம்மான் பச்சரிசி)
Amman Pacharisi is an effective remedy for treating warts. Few drops of the milky sap from the plant are directly over the warts until they fall off.
Tomatillo ( சொடக்கு தக்காளி)
Usage – Tomatillo can be taken raw (2 or 3 fruits per week) or can be added in sambar, kootu and salad.
Solanum nigrum / Manathakkali keerai (மணத்தக்காளி கீரை/ मकोई)
Usage – This is a wonder green and gets into our diet almost every week. We cut the greens and add it to our dosas and sambar or make a soup or cook it with lentils to make kootu. One of the traditional dishes cooked by my mother is vathal kozhambu. We also soak the fruits in curd to make tasty vathal.
Usage – Purslane is cooked with lentils and made as a masiyal or kootu.
One point of time, all of these above plants what we now call as herbs were a part of our traditional diet during the age of our grandparents. Some of these plants are also classified as invasive weeds and without knowing their value, most of the gardeners simpy pull them out. The recipe names mentioned here have been consumed by me a number of times. Whatever is covered in this blog is just a fraction of herbs in my own garden and no blog or article can do justice to explain the value of our traditional food. One of the secrets behind our grandparents maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle even in their 80s and 90s was their food habits. They used to make their own butter from their cow’s milk, harvest pest free greens and vegetables in their backyard, chew few leaves of plants to cure an ailment and practiced a peaceful and sustainable living. The famine crisis that struck India in 1970s has left us in the midst of vegetables and food items sprayed with toxic pesticides, plants grown from hybrid seeds, massive decline of numerous birds and pollinators. It’s high time each one of us wake up to the call of mother nature, and take up efforts to transform a portion of our own concrete jungles to rooftop/backyard gardens with a mix of fruits, veggies, flowers and herbs for guaranteeing healthy and sustainable food supply.
Few more herbs and their usage to be covered in upcoming blogs..