Indian spices have the power of healing and are recommended for maintaining good health. They provide curative values for human beings. In Ayurvedic cooking, saffron, peppercorns, cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, cloves, coriander and cumin seeds are considered warm spices as they have properties which warm up the body quickly and also give a boost to the immune system.
The healing power of spices is well documented by proponents of Ayurvedic medicine who use products from Nature’s garden for imparting many health benefits, regulating vital functions, neutralising and eliminating toxins, countering medical problems such as respiratory ailments, arteriosclerosis and preventing cancer.
Besides possessing medicinal properties, the Spice Garden of Nature is full of aromas, colours and flavours. Be it the flower, fruit, leaves, bark, or seed, it imparts flavour when added to the cooking pot. The origins of the use of spices date back to centuries and the exhaustive research into their medicinal properties explains the usage of spices even today by people of all ages.
On cold winter nights nowadays, nourishing soups, sauces, gravies, warm beverages and steaming desserts like apple compote and glue wine, all with the addition of appropriate spices, warm up the body and the mood. The various benefits that can be derived from the spices are as follows.
A spice used to add exotic flavour to food. The pods of clove are used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat respiratory problems. Chewing two or three cloves or adding a few to hot soup, tea and curries can soothe a cough. Helping in the purification of blood, the pods and the oil extract can be used both internally and externally. As a home remedy clove oil is applied on gums and in dental cavities to help relieve toothaches. The oil is applied externally in rheumatic pains, sciatica, headache and lumbago.
Cinnamon (Dal Chini)
The dried inner bark of the cinnamon plant adds a typical Oriental flavour to food. Cinnamon stimulates blood circulation thereby creating warmth. A pinch of ground cinnamon mixed with a teaspoon of honey in a glassful of warm water consumed every wintry morning will keep the cold at bay. Tackle a chronic cough by sipping a hot cup of tea infused with one-fourth of a spoon of cinnamon powder and half a spoon of ginger paste. The ginger has anti-inflammatory capacities and it helps fight throat and chest infections.
From ancient times the bark has been used to cure anorexia and reduce mucus. Its oil can be used to relieve headaches, tooth aches, and the powder helps remove bad odour and kills bacteria. It also helps preserve the gums and whitens the teeth.
Peppercorn (Kali Mirch)
Peppercorn occupies a prominent place in the kitchen. Used in the form of berries or powder, it adds spice to the food. An aid in the digestion of food, among home remedies it is particularly useful in cases of dyspepsia, kidney problems, colic and chest diseases.
A decoction of peppercorn, dry ginger, clove, cardamom, cinnamon and tea acts as a deterrent against coughs and colds.
Black Cardamom (Badi Ilaichi)
Both black pepper corns or the powdered form helps provide warmth and energy besides giving relief from cough when mixed with soups and curries. Black cardamom also helps in the treatment of dyspepsia, soothes the mucus membranes, heartburn and increases the appetite. It kills H. pylori bacteria which is associated with ulcers. Cardamom also has a calming effect on the digestive tract and is used as a remedy for gastritis and dyspepsia. Cardamom tea is a rejuvenator and helps relieve depression. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it is used for the treatment of colon cancers.
The powder of the turmeric plant’s tubers and rhizomes are used to give a mild aroma and a deep yellow-orange colour to foods. Turmeric is considered a natural antibiotic. Put a little turmeric powder into milk, boil and drink it to keep cough at bay. It acts as a carminative, tonic, appetiser, astringent, decreases aches and pains and is useful in removing blood impurities. It is also used in the treatment of anaemia, swelling, relief from hiccups and ulcers. Turmeric powder paste is used in massages to clean the skin.
Green Cardamom (Chhoti Ilaichi)
Cardamom is a very aromatic spice and in combination with other spices is used in adding aroma and taste to Indian cuisine. Tea infused with cloves and cardamom is helpful in preventing coughs and cold during the cold weather. A common remedy is to boil two to three grounded cardamoms in a cup of water and add a teaspoon of honey and drink it just before going to bed. It also clears stuffed noses and chest congestion. Green cardamom also acts as a stimulant, diuretic agent, counters digestive disorders and gives relief in cases of nausea, vomiting and headache. As a home remedy cardamom is used externally as well as internally. The oil of the seed is applied to relieve joint pains.
A herb which imparts a special taste, fragrance and colour to food and to sweetmeats. Consumed in limited portions, that is, two or three strands, depending on the temperature, saffron gives rapid warmth to the body. It is also a tonic, a stimulant, rejuvenator and appetiser, digestive and antispasmodic in nature. It is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Potassium is a vital component of cell and body fluids and helps control heart rate and blood pressure. It is rich in vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C. In ancient times saffron was mixed with sandalwood and other aromatic ingredients and applied on the chest or forehead for a cooling, soothing effect, and to invigorate the mind.
A tasty spice, it is used in desserts and in baking. It can help lower blood pressure, calm a stomach ache and help detoxify the body. Nutmeg oil is effective for relieving stress and stimulating mental activity. The oil works well when massaged on the affected area.
An excellent liver tonic as it can help remove toxins from the liver, the oil also helps dissolve kidney stones as well relieve infections of the kidney. The nutmeg can help increase blood circulation and stimulate the cardio-vascular system.
Mace is strongly aromatic, resinous and warm in taste. Mace is actually a part of the nutmeg, the bright red, lacy outer covering or shell of the nutmeg. When the shell is removed and dried the resulting “blades” of mace have a slightly more delicate but pungent flavour. However, it generally has a finer aroma. Mace helps ease gastric problems.
In India, eating a pinch of fennel seeds after a meal is common as it aids digestion. Fennel is used to treat low blood pressure, respiratory congestion and cough. It helps relax the digestive tract muscle lining and is a remedy for acidity, gout, cramps, colic and spasms.
Fennel is also a source of vitamin C and contains the minerals phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper. potassium, manganese, folate and niacin.
Red Chilli Powder (Lal Mirch Powder)
Chilli peppers, the source of red chilli powder, are members of the capsicum family, coming in all shapes, sizes, and colours. The chilli powder varies in taste, from mild to fiery hot, depending on the variety, and enhances the bland flavour of staple foods. Red chilli peppers contain beta-carotene, are a very good source of vitamins A and C, and dietary fibre. They are also a source of iron and potassium, aid in weight loss, fight inflammation and boost the body’s immunity to fight diseases.