Skip to main content

The power of Herbs


Last time we talked about spices and their historical importance. We saw how spices were one of the main finds of the Age of Discovery. We also saw how two great men of that time were joined by destiny through an unseen thread woven along continents they sailed across looking for spices.
Today, let us talk about herbs, which are a close cousin of spices. The array of herbs is as varied as that of spices, and both of them are added to enhance the flavour of the dish and induce medicinal properties.
A basic difference between herbs and spices is that spices, as you know, are derived from the roots, bark, stem, seed or fruit of a plant; whereas herbs are the leaves of a plant which are used fresh or dried.
Another contrast between herbs and spices lies in their flavour. Herbs are subtle whereas spices have a pronounced flavour. Fresh herbs are great for garnishing your dish whereas spices are hardly used in their fresh form. They are usually roasted and then used in cooking. Also herbs are not as expensive as the spices which often have to be imported and require to be kept in certain temperature conditions for their growth.

Many herbs are also known for their usage in many religions around the world. For example tulsi is a revered herb here in India. It is worshipped in Hinduism alongside many gods and goddesses. Tulsi is known to have a calming effect and according to Gandharva Tantra a lawn overgrown with tulsi is a pre-requisite for meditation and worship. The herb also finds use in ayurveda. The roots, seeds and leaves of the plant are used to treat various ailments. It has been found to be an effective antidote in cases of scorpion and snake bites. Diabetic patients are often advised to regularly chew on tulsi leaves as the phytonutrients in them help lower blood sugar. Tulsi has been known for its anti-spasmodic properties and since time immemorial has been given to young children who suffer from colic pain. It forms an important ingredient of  many ayurvedic cough syrups and expectorants. In days gone by tulsi was used to treat tuberclosis or TB. According to Indian mythology, goddess Tulsi is dear to Krishna and Vishnu. Married Indian women pray to Tulsi for longevity and happiness. Tulsi vivah — when the tulsi plant is married to Vishnu annually — this sets off the marriage season in India.
Polish folklore is full of uses of various herbs. Some have been praised for warding off the evil eye whereas others have been hailed for their medicinal value.
There are herbs like mint or pudina that are universally renowned. This healing herb is, and was, commonly used as an aid for digestion. The leaf, either used fresh or in its dried form, is widely used in beverages, jellies, candies and ice creams among other things. Menthol and the essential oils derived from mint are used in mouth freshners, rinses and tooth pastes. It has a cool, tingling taste which is known to be extremely refreshing. In a popular tea consumed in African and Arab countries, mint is an essential ingredient. It is also used to treat insect bites and at times as a decongestant.

Herbs have also been used in the Chinese medicinal system. A mythical figure, Shennong is the first recognised herbalist who it is said tasted innumerable herbs and imparted his knowledge of different medicinal and poisonous plants to farmers.
So you see, nature around us is bountiful. All that we may need is right here amongst us. We just need to recognise it and respect it.

(This post first appeared as a column in The New Indian Express on January 18, 2013.)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A case for non-fiction or better understanding of kidlit

If you are a parent there are more chances than one that YOU have handed your child a book to read. Or you have chosen to bring home the books that you think that she might like to read. If any of these hold true then we are almost alike and no this is not an article that tells you how wrong you have been all along in bringing your child the books that you choose. This is just a few of my thoughts on this very subject
that I gathered today morning as I wrote an Instagram post.

Let me begin at the beginning.
Today my soon to be 4, son sat down with a book and was at it for good 10-15 minutes. No, it wsn't a tome. It wa a small picture book on trucks. My friend gifted him this book on trucks on his first birthday. The chap was fascinated with it from the moment he got it. You could flip pages and see bright pictures of different types of trucks and then you could open little sliding screens to find out men in uniform who drove a certain kind of truck.

Unsurprisingly his first words …

Reusable cotton pads: My first experience

I had been trying to bring changes for a sustainable living for a while now and using reusable cotton pads for Aunt Flo's monthly visits was an idea that appealed massively to my senses. After searching here and there I found a Kolkata based manufacturer- Shomota- who were also involving women from underprivileged background in manufacturing these pads as well as sharing the profit from sales to make these pads available to girls and women in interiors of West Bengal. BONUS point- I have also come to realise that sustainability is more efficient and worthwhile if you choose local. Also the fact that we are dumping non biodegradable waste on the planet and that is equal to some sort of violence in my head and I have been brought up on the beliefs laid by the Arya Samaj movement, I needed a better option than the mass marketed sanitary pads. I looked and examined a few option that I realised were available to me before making up my mind on the reusable cloth pad.

Why I chose cloth p…

Of new resolutions and newer authors

The year has started on the right note. I have already read two authors whom I had not read before falling hard for the one being hailed as Japanese Steig Larrson- Keigo Hagashino.
That is what got me thinking about new year resolutions  (I know we are done with the first quarter) which I haven't made in years. So here is a list of authors that I would like to sample this year.
-
1. Manu Joseph
2. Pico Iyer
3. Anthony Horowitz
4. Margret Atwood
5. Toni Morrison
6. Chimamanda Adichie
7. Jo Nesbo
8. Neil Gaiman
9. Terry Pratchett 10. Alice Munro/  Walker
But I also realise the futility of making a list like this as there are just so many authors, poets, writers and just so many works coming to fore everyday. A book group might help, you would think but let me tell you that it complicates things further. New recommendations, fantastic and not so fantastic reviews, pictures, blog posts and what not really makes matter well,complicated.
All said and done, it is but human to try and so…