An Ayurvedic guide to herbs you should immediately stalk up on
Health benefits, handy recipes and reasons to befriend elaichi
Congratulations, you’ve reached the last lap of this drag race called 2020. But take a step back to January. Now, imagine somebody told you that you’d walk miles to buy essentials, do jhaadu, pocha, bartan, have no access to doctors for basic complaints, and swear by a guide to Ayurvedic herbs and chyawanprash?
A dystopian joke or a terribly tiny retelling of our ancestors’ lives? The joke is on us as our ‘smart’ lifestyle collided with the isolated lives of our forefathers.
In a bid to protect ourselves against the coronavirus, we have reopened the dependable desi dispensary of gharelu Ayurvedic concoctions — replacing pitchers of Corona with jugs of ashwagandha kadha, haldi–doodh and karela juice.
Dr Ipsita Chatterjee, Ayurvedic expert and head of innovation, development & brand strategy at Lotus Herbals Pvt Ltd, explains, “This year we went back to our roots. Home-remedies and healthy concoctions have taken centre stage, and people are realising the tried-and-tested benefits of Ayurveda and herbs.”
Chatterjee’s revelation rings true. In the last few months, my miniature kitchen garden finally bore fruit, berries and leaves. Sprigs and pinches of exotic herbs are dominating my five-minute recipes. But to move past their ornamental properties and dig deeper into their medicinal contributions, I turned to Chatterjee and nutritionist Lovneet Batra, a consultant at Fortis and IHM Pusa, for the ultimate guide to herbs for noobs who have swiped right on that jar of triphala juice.
From boosting memory and relieving IBS symptoms to calming toothaches and period cramps, our guide to herbs reveals the green warriors we need to stalk up on.
The ultimate guide to herbs, plus recipes to make the most of the sprigs
Ayurvedic experts call it the ‘sunshine spice’ thanks to its hue reminiscent of the dawn. The name of the winter herb is derived from the Arabic word ‘zafaran’ meaning yellow. Now you know who rules Zafrani pulao.
Health benefits: The anti-ageing herb is also a champion memory-booster. It increases concentration and agility. It’s also an excellent remedy for menstrual disorders related to primary dysmenorrhoea and PMS. Rich in antioxidants, its anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties improve eyesight and boost immunity.
Dosha management: It balances all three doshas.
Contraindication: Since it is loaded with heating agents, avoid daily consumption during summer.
- 2 cups water
- 6 mint leaves
- 1 tsp honey
- 12 strands saffron
- Bring water to a rolling boil. Switch off the flame.
- Infuse. Add mint leaves and honey. Stir until honey is completely dissolved in water. Strain the liquid.
- Pour into serving cups, add a lemon wedge and four-five strands of saffron to each cup. Serve.
Since ancient times, grated nutmeg in a jute or muslin pouch has been used as mothball. Substitute chemical ones with this herb to adopt a more non-toxic lifestyle.
Health benefits: Ayurveda suggests rubbing grated nutmeg paste on your temple to alleviate a headache. It’s a classic painkiller known to manage anxiety and diarrhoea as well.
Dosha management: It pacifies kapha and vata, and increases pitta.
Contraindication: Moderation is key. Prolonged usage of nutmeg over 120mg can result in an irregular heartbeat. Stick to a pinch of it in all the recipes. Nutmeg, in large quantities, can also affect male fertility so avoid an additional medicinal dose — consume in food.
- 500 gm yoghurt
- 3-4 tbsp fine sugar
- 2 pinches of saffron
- 3-4 tsp dry fruits (mixed)
- 1 tsp chironji/charoli seeds
- 1/4 tsp cardamom powder
- A pinch of nutmeg
- Tie the yoghurt in a muslin cloth. Let the water drain for 30 minutes.
- Take it out in a bowl, add sugar and mix well.
- Add saffron, chironji, chopped dry fruits, cardamom powder, nutmeg powder and mix well.
- Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.
Of course, the desi overachiever haldi made it to the hall of top performing herbs. We grow 78% of the global supply of turmeric and we can’t root enough for this golden herb. According to Ayurveda, it’s also known as Yoshitpriya, which means ‘loved by women’ because of its benefits for gynaecological disorders. Experts and dadis recommend you turn up the turmeric intake in winters as it wraps your system like a dohar.
Health benefits: In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is used to treat respiratory conditions, liver disorders, anorexia, rheumatism, diabetic wounds, cough and sinusitis. Turmeric is also an excellent remedy for high cholesterol, depression, gingivitis, premenstrual syndrome and hangovers.
Dosha management: It pacifies all three doshas. Because of its bitter taste, it pacifies pitta and its warming properties work on vata and kapha.
Contraindication: Daily consumption should be avoided in the summer season because haldi contains heating agents.
Kacchi haldi ki sabzi
- 200 gm turmeric (grated)
- 4 tbsp ghee
- 2 green cardamom (crushed)
- 3-4 cloves (crushed)
- 1 inch cinnamon (crushed)
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- ¼ tsp asafoetida
- 2-3 green chillies (slit into halves)
- 1 tsp garlic (chopped)
- ½ inch ginger (grated)
- ¾ cup sour yoghurt
- 1 tsp red chilli powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- ½ tsp garam masala powder
- Salt to taste
- ½ cup green peas
- 2 tbsp coriander leaves (chopped)
- Heat ghee in a pan. Once the ghee is hot, add cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.
- Add cumin seeds, asafoetida, green chilli, garlic and ginger; fry for a few seconds.
- Add the grated haldi and fry for 10-15 minutes on low heat until turmeric softens.
- Keep stirring continuously to avoid the sticking from bottom.
- Whisk yogurt with red chilli powder, coriander powder and garam masala powder and add it in the pan.
- Keep stirring continuously for three-four minutes until the sabzi starts to thicken.
- Add salt and green peas. Cover and cook for another three-four minutes.
- Garnish with fresh coriander. Serve with rice or roti.
Thyme makes you a brave heart, or that’s what the Romans believed for centuries. Vouched for by several Roman emperors, the exotic herb used to cure poison, was given to the soldiers on their way to battle, to boost courage.
Health benefits: It kills poisons in Rome, and everywhere else. Loaded with anti-helminthic, anti-bacterial, antibiotic properties, it battles cough, cold and bronchitis. Thyme also relieves toothache, dyspepsia and menstrual disorders. Rich in vitamins A and C, thyme is an efficient agent of anti-aging and makes your skin glow.
Dosha management: Pacifies kapha dosha.
Carrot and thyme lentil soup
- 2 1/2 cup lentils (pre-soaked)
- 6 cups broth
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1/2 cup grated carrots or a whole carrot, diced
- 1tsp thyme
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Heat oil in a large pot. Sauté onions until they turn golden.
- Add carrots, broth, lentils and seasonings. Cover and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Serve.
Also known as ‘Vana-Tulsi’ or ‘Babui Tulsi’, sweet basil is a herb extraordinaire with over 160 varieties that are extensively used in making sauces, dips, soups, salads, cocktails and so on.
Chef’s disclaimer: basil leaves burn when exposed to extreme heat; add them as garnish at the end to make the most of the refreshing flavour.
Health benefits: The sweet basil is a flu fighter. Its juices control dandruff and scalp ringworm infestation. The anti-toxic and anti-inflammatory properties make it a favourite among diabetics.
Dosha management: Leaves pacify kapha and vata dosha. Seeds pacify vata and pitta dosha
Quinoa pasta cooked in basil pesto
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup unsalted vegetable broth
- 200gm roasted red peppers, drained
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1/4tsp garlic powder
- 1/4tsp salt
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- 2tbsp nutritional yeast
- 2tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup water
- Add rinsed quinoa to water and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and cook until all liquid is absorbed. Set aside.
- To make the pesto sauce, add roasted red peppers, basil leaves, garlic powder, salt, pine nuts, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice to a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add a little warm water to achieve desired consistency.
- Mix the pesto sauce with quinoa and garnish with pine nuts and lemon juice. Serve.
Disclaimer: Dhaniya, by any other name (Chinese parsley, coriander, cilantro) will be up for polarising debates. Yet any guide to herbs is incomplete without the divisive cilantro. Believed to be one of the plants in the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon, cilantro finds mention in ancient Sanskrit and Ayurvedic texts too for being a star performer: the entire plant is edible.
Health benefits: The mass favourite acts as a carminative (relieving flatulence), antihistaminic and aids in digestion, detoxifies and burns ‘ama’ (the undigested bits from food that gets absorbed by the system and over time affect the immune system). Cold infusion of cilantro is said to be ‘Pipapsa Nashak’ or the thing that quenches thirst. Nutritionists swear by cilantro’s genius in reducing IBS-related symptoms such as bloating and abdominal pain.
Dosha management: Its cooling properties can cure pitta imbalances.
Contraindication: People allergic to cilantro can face hive-like reactions.
Cilantro lemon rice
- 2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups basmati long grain white rice
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 1/4 cup water
- 1tsp salt
- Zest of one lime
- 3tbsp lime juice
- 1 cup lightly packed chopped cilantro, leaves and tender stems
- Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium high heat. Add the raw rice and stir to coat with the olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice has started to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
- Add water, salt, and lime zest to the rice. Bring to a rolling boil, then cover and lower the heat to maintain a very low simmer. Cook for 15 minutes and let it sit for 10 minutes.
- Transfer the rice to a serving bowl. Pour lime juice over the rice and toss with chopped cilantro. Serve.
It may be the biggest turn off for biryani lovers to spot an awkward elaichi next to the chicken pieces, but Ayurveda calls it the ‘Maha Aushadh’, a nod to its excellent medicinal properties.
Health benefits: It’s the father of all mouth fresheners, treats indigestion, enhances appetite, and provides relief from acidity. Dear workaholics, let cardamom be your desk neighbour, as it provides relief from burnouts and exhaustion.
Dosha management: It balances all three doshas.
Contraindication: Pregnant women should avoid over-usage of cardamom over a long period as Ayurveda believes it may initiate a miscarriage.
- 1/2 cup, rice, uncooked
- 4 cup milk
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp cardamom powder
- 1/2 tsp rosewater
- 2 green cardamom
- On medium heat, add rice and milk to a pot. The milk and rice will take about 15 minutes to heat up. Keep stirring occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking.
- It will take another 15-20 minutes for the milk and rice mixture to come to a boil.
- Add sugar, cardamom powder, and rose water.
- Stir until there are no lumps, and all the cardamom powder dissolves in the milk. Once the milk boils, turn off the stove. Garnish with the akkha elaichi. Serve.
There’s nothing scary about this Rosemary or its baby leaves. The needle-like perennial fern finds its way to a truckload of recipes, not just because of its lemony flavour, but its multitasking abilities.
Health benefits: A rich source of iron, calcium and vitamin B-6, as well as loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, rosemary boosts immunity, relieves cough, cold and allergies.
Dosha management: Pacifies kapha dosha.
Contraindication: If you’re on anti-diabetic medication, avoid over usage as rosemary can initiate a sudden drop in blood sugar levels. The herb is also known to raise blood pressure, so patients with high BP complaints should avoid it.
Lentil and vegetable soup with rosemary
- 2 onions, diced
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1⁄4 cup olive oil
- 1 1⁄2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely minced
- 2 cup dry green lentils
- 4 bay leaves
- 7 cups water
- 4 carrots, diced
- 4 stalks celery, diced
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1⁄2 tsp thyme
- 3 cups shredded fresh spinach
- Salt to taste
- Heat oil over medium-high flame in a large pot. When the oil is heated, add onions and sauté until translucent.
- Add garlic and rosemary, and cook for two minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients, except for spinach.
- Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add spinach and cook for five more minutes.
- Add salt to taste. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.
Juniper berry is the crowd-pleaser of every herb garden. They have made it to everyone’s guide to herbs: the Greeks love its purifying properties, the OG Olympians credit the berries for stamina in their athletes. During WWII, French nurses burned the hapusha in infirmaries for fumigation. And in contemporary times, the berries are extensively used in gin flavouring.
Health benefits: As per Ayurveda, juniper herbs are loaded with fungicidal and anti-microbial properties. Buttermilk spiced with cumin, ajwain and berry powder relieves constipation. Juniper berry is a nutritionist’s favourite as it increases good cholesterol (HDL).
Dosha management: Pacifies kapha and vata dosha.
Baked cauliflower and juniper soup
- 4 dried juniper berries
- 1 tbsp flaked salt
- 600 gm cauliflower florets
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 600 ml chicken stock
- 50 gm butter
- A pinch of white pepper
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the juniper berries with the salt. Rub the juniper berry mixture and the oil over the cauliflower florets. Place on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 40 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and break the florets into smaller chunks. Blend the cauliflower, adding the stock gradually. It should have a fairly thick consistency.
- Add butter and a pinch of white pepper, and blend again. Serve with bread.