Dr Deepak Acharya and Dr Anshu Shrivastava
When it comes to necessity of culinary herbs in human life, spices play a major role as they are versatile in feature (Rathore and Shekhawat, 2008). Indian traditions have long been utilizing various spices and there is a scientific basis to their use. Spices have tried, tested and trusted medicinal values and a profound effect on general health. They have a wide variety of biological functions and their cumulative or synergistic effects are likely to shield the body against a variety of ailments. Spices also improve digestive processes by intensifying salivary flow, by cleaning the oral cavity and checking infections. Traditionally, spices used as part of the diet, have holistic effects on human health.
The history of spice is almost as old as human civilization. India may be recognized as the 'The home of spices' as its share in the world spice market has gone up to 47 per cent in quantity and 40 per cent in value (Anonymous, 2008). The world trade in spices is estimated to be around 800,000 tons, valued at US $2 billion. Indian spice exports amount to 39,200 tons of spice products and have reached a major milestone by crossing the one billion US dollar mark in 2007-08 (Anonymous, 2008). Spices are widely employed by the food-, pharmaceutical-, perfume- and cosmetic industries. Here, in India, you will find a wide range of spices in every home. They form an inseparable part of every kitchen. Each spice has its own aroma, flavor and medicinal value. Their healing properties rejuvenate the body.
There are more than 80 spices grown in different parts of the world and around 50 of them are grown in India (Rathore and Shekhawat, 2008). Spices are derived from all different parts of plants i.e. from bark (Cinnamon), root (Ginger, Garlic etc.), leaf (Curry Leaf), buds (Cloves, etc.), Seeds (Poppy, Sesame etc.), berry (Black Pepper), and fruit (Paprika).
In this article, the authors aim to bring together detailed information about 20 common Indian spices and their medicinal applications by the indigenous tribesmen in various pockets of India. The authors have extensively documented the traditional knowledge of the indigenous people of Patalkot, Dangs and Aravalli regions in India. The article will be presented in a 4 part series, each part of which will discuss 5 important spices in detail. In this article, we will discuss the medicinal uses and indigenous formulations of Onion, Garlic, Coriander, Cumin and Mango Ginger.
Onion is among the earliest cultivated vegetables and is mostly used as base for curries in India. Medicinally, it is very important plant as it has powerful antioxidant properties. Research indicates that Onion nourishes, heals, renews and softens the skin and aids in tissue regeneration. It acts as a cleansing agent to remove dirt, dust and makeup from the skin. Allicin (Onion extract) works wonders on scars, calluses, stretchmarks and other skin hardening, and scar tissue (Sezik et al., 1997). The bulb is said to be effective in diabetes (Gray and Flatt, 1997), hypertension (Al-khalil, 1995), as an aphrodisiac (Alami et al., 1976), for amenorrhea (Gimlette, 1939), cough and fever (Giron et al., 1991), abscess (Fujita et al., 1995, Sezik et al., 1997). According to the findings made by Leporatti and Pavesi (1990), the onion bulb is helpful for alleviating menstrual and uterine pains. In Morocco, the bulb is used as an anti-asthmatic agent and for dental hygiene, while externally it is used for skin disease (Bellakhdar et al., 1991). The fresh bulb is good in bronchial asthma (Dorsch and Wagner, 1991). Juice of the fresh bulb is used to improve eye sight, the tangy scent is said to have good effects in improving eye sights (Singh, 1986) and as an anti-inflammatory substance in insect bites (de Feo and Senatore, 1993).
Garlic has a characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows considerably with cooking. Garlic cloves are rich in medicinal properties. It is used in abdominal pain, high blood pressure (Gurib-fakim et al., 1996), amenorrhea (Ohio Ibragimov and Ibragimova, 1964), colic problems (Kloos, 1977), diarrhea (Lawrendiadis, 1961), whooping cough (Al-khalil, 1995), diabetes (Mahabir and Gulliford, 1997), eye infections, catarrh (Martinez, 1984), menstruation problem (Alami et al., 1976), asthma, dandruff, abortion (Steggerda and Korsch, 1943), tuberculosis (Ghazanfar and Al-sabahi, 1993), earache, vomiting (Barrett, 1994), fever and intestinal parasites (Giron et al., 1991). It is an aphrodisiac (Watt and Breyer-brandwijk, 1962), anthelmintic, diuretic (Dragendorff, 1898), anti-rheumatic (Bellakhdar et al., 1991), revulsive, corn-killer, vermifuge (de Feo et al., 1992). Decoction of garlic cloves with honey is given to aid expulsion of the placenta (Shattuck, 1933). For medicinal purposes Garlic is mostly used raw since cooking diminishes its potency.
All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are commonly used in cooking. Coriander is a very important culinary herb, which is also of great value as a medicinal herb. The whole plant is used in the treatment of ulcers, cough, insomnia (Duke and Ayensu, 1985), vomiting, dysentery and biliousness (Singh et al., 1980). The leaves are used as a tonic, for urinary infection (Giron et al., 1991, Giordano and Levine, 1989), as a carminative, stimulant, pectoral (Al-khalil, 1995), for leucoderma (Reddy et al., 1989), and skin disease (Singh, 1986). The fruit (seed) is used in menstrual disorders (Singh et al., 1980), as an aphrodisiac (Bellakhdar et al., 1991), in skin eruptions (Bajpai et al., 1995), for stomach ache (Fujita et al., 1995), gastric ulcers, vomiting, conjunctivitis, head ache (Kloos, 1977, Mossa, 1985, Alkofahi and Atta, 1999) and as an anti-pyretic (Mokkhasmit et al., 1971a). Seeds are used in diabetes (Gray and Flatt, 1997), jaundice and fever (Khanom et al., 2000).
Cumin is the second most popular spice in the world after Black Pepper. The seeds have astringent, cooling, stomachic, antispasmodic, sedative, stimulant, carminative, diuretic, digestive and antiseptic properties (Kirtikar and Basu, 1935; CSIR, 1948-1976; Chopra et al., 1956). They are commonly used in dyspepsia and diarrhea. Dried fruits are commonly used in general ailments of digestive system like indigestion, abdominal pains, gas problems, diarrhea, dysentery etc. Cumin seeds have shown good antifertility activity and they have abortifacient activity too (WOA, 1997). The volatile oil extracted from the seeds has immunostimulatory effect which helps in combating infections. The essential oil also shows strong antioxidant activity. Cumin is a constituent of some Siddha (an ancient medicine system) preparations. The seeds have been credited with aphrodisiac properties. They are also being used in the treatment of urinary infections (WOA, 1997).
Rhizomes of Mango Ginger have an aroma of green Mango. The fresh and dried rhizomes are used for flavouring curries. Medicinally, the rhizomes are used as a carminative and stomachic. The pulped rhizomes are also applied on contusions and sprains (CSIR, 1948-1976; WOA, 1997). It was found useful in lowering blood cholesterol in a scientific study (Pachauri and Mukherjee, 1970). The rhizomes also possess significant anti-inflammatory activity (Joshi et al., 1989; Mujumdar et al., 2000). The rhizomes are expectorant, astringent and used in the treatment of diarrhoea and gonorrhea in traditional medicine system. Its significant antibacterial, insecticidal, antifungal and antioxidant properties have also been investigated in modern researches (Shakeel Ahmad et al., 2007).
(To be continued )
Coming up next: Curcuma longa, Elettaria cardamomum, Foeniculum vulgare, Garcinia indica, Murraya koenigii
Acknowledgement: We acknowledge tribesmen of Patalkot, Dangs and Aravallis for sharing their much valued information with us.References
Acharya, D. and Shrivastava, A. 2008. Indigenous Herbal Medicines: Tribal Formulations and Traditional Herbal Practices. Aavishkar Publishers Distributors, Jaipur. ISBN 978-81-7910-252-7.
Dr Deepak Acharya (MSc PhD) is Director, Abhumka Herbal Pvt Limited. He can be reached at deepak at abhumka.com or deepak at patalkot.com. For more information about him, please visit www.abhumka.com and www.patalkot.com