medicinal uses of spices by Tribal People in India

Dr Deepak Acharya and Dr Anshu Shrivastava

Spices are an integral part of holistic cookingWhen 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 (Allium cepa L.)

Onions (Allium cepa) - medicinal usesOnion 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).

Indigenous Formulations:

Circulatory Stimulant:
According to an herbal healer in Patalkot, mix Onion extract with honey and consume it daily in winter. This gives warmth to cold body as it improves circulation.
Weight Gain
Onion and Jaggery (unrefined sugar) in equal proportion helps in gaining weight. In case of non-availability of Jaggery, it can be replaced with sugar.
About 30g Onion and 7 Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) fruits can be finely pounded and given to the cholera patients. According to the healers, this formulation checks the microbial growth thus resulting relief in Cholera. In Sukhabhand village of Patalkot, herbal healers prescribe another formulation for the same. Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora) around 4 mg is mixed in Onion juice (5 ml) and given to the patient for 4 times a day.
Prepare an extract of Onion bulb, Peppermint (Mentha piperita) leaves in equal amount and add 2 teaspoon Lemon (Citrus limon) fruit juice. This mixture should be consumed three times a day to stop excessive dysentery.
Wound Cleansing
According to Rajelal of Chimtipur in Patalkot, chop one raw Onion and cover with salt and leave it overnight. Apply the juice 3-4 times a day on warts or wounds.
Cough Syrup
A syrup of 1 teaspoonful raw Onion juice with 1 teaspoonful of honey kept over 3 to 4 hours serves as an excellent cough syrup.
About 50g of Onion should be soaked in water along with 10g sugar and it should be taken internally twice a day to heal piles.
Kidney Stones
In kidney or urinary stone, Onion juice and sugar is given to the patient. The juice relieves the pain and also helps in dissolving the stone deposition.

Garlic (Allium sativum L.)

Garlic (Allium sativum) - medicinal usesGarlic 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.

Indigenous Formulations:

Macerate Garlic in honey for 40 days. A spoonful of this mixture every day clears hoarseness and loss of voice in cases of laryngitis and throat infections.
Prepare a garlic extract by crushing a clove of Garlic clove in a pestle and mortar. Mix with water and filter. Garlic extract (2 ml) if given everyday for one month acts as a galactogogue. It increases milk productivity and regular flow of milk in lactating mothers.
Crush Garlic and mix it with Coconut (Cocos nucifera) oil and boil it. Allow to cool down and store. Pouring 2 to 3 drops in ears alleviates ear ache.
For severe ear-ache 3 drops of garlic clove oil (pressed from raw garlic) can be applied.
Scorpion bites
In cases of Scorpion (black) bites Garlic cloves are crushed in a mortar with a pinch of salt and applied topically
Prepare a garlic juice by crushing the cloves in a pestle and mortar and mix with 100ml of water. A teaspoon of this juice taken twice a day for 3 months is said to be very effective in Asthma.
Diabetes/ metabolic syndrome
The crushed bulb, mixed with luke warm water and taken early in the morning, helps in controlling blood sugar levels. According to the healers, Garlic has antidiabetic effects. If it is consumed regularly for a couple of months, it certainly helps in lowering the fasting sugar.
Approx. 20 drops of Garlic juice can be mixed in cold milk and given to expel worms.
Skin afflictions
Garlic cloves, crushed and fried in Mustard (Brassica campestris) oil can be applied to boils, itches and other skin problems. It cures ring worm.
Daily application of Garlic juice (5ml) and water (20ml) is used as a nosedrop (2-4 drops) to treat migraines.
Joint pain
Garlic cloves (8-10 nos.) are fried in ghee (clarified butter) and taken before meals to alleviate joint pain.

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.)

Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) - medicinal usesAll 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).

Indigenous Formulations:

A water extract of the whole plant is applied externally as a liniment for rheumatic pain.
To control acidity, Coriander seed powder, Carum (Trachyspermum ammi) seed powder, and sugar is mixed in equal parts and taken along with water or ghee after meals. The same formulation is given in case of night blindness, too.
In dysentery, mix powder of Coriander seeds, rhizome of Spiral Ginger (Costus speciosus) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome in equal proportion. Approx. 4g powder should be taken 3x a day.
A pinch of Turmeric (Curcuma longa) powder mixed with a teaspoon of Coriander juice (prepared by crushing leaves in mortar and pestle) should be applied externally as an effective home remedy for pimples and blackheads.
Add two spoons of Coriander seed powder to a little freshly grated or dried powdered Ginger (Zingiber officinale), and boil in two cups of water till it reduces to 1 cup. To this, add little Jaggery. This mixture is given in cases of heart burn during pregnancy.
To control fever, prepare a decoction of Neem leaves (Azadirachta indica), Chiretta (Swertia chirata) and Coriander in equal proportion. About 4 ml decoction should be given orally three times a day to the patient.
Malarial Fever
Two gram Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) seed powder and 2 gram Ginger (Zingiber officinale) powder are added to Neem (Azadirachta indica) leaf decoction (10 ml) and given to the patient in order to control malarial fever. This formulation should be repeatedly given 3 times a day for 2 days.

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.)

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)medicinal usesCumin 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).

Indigenous Formulations:

200 mg of Cumin seed powder is given along with jaggery (twice a day).
Fortifying Tonic
Cumin seeds (200 mg) are soaked in Cow's milk overnight; dried and powdered. One teaspoon of the powder is given along with sugar as a general fortifying tonic (helps in attaining physical strength).
Cumin seed powder (1g) is mixed with equal amount of Bitter Gourd (Momordica charantia) fruit juice and used as an anti-malarial.
Ulcers of the mouth
Cumin seeds ground in water can be applied to mouth ulcers.
About 10g seeds are roasted in an earthen pot and ground. This powder is mixed with 1 teaspoon Onion (Allium cepa) juice and given in the morning (empty stomach) to children suffering from intestinal worms.
Water extract of seeds is said to be very effective topical application in the treatment of piles.
Poisonous stings and bites
Seed oil is mixed with common salt and applied externally in scorpion sting and poisonous insect bites.
Traditional healers of Central India prescribe roasted seeds in daily meals for lactating women to increase milk flow after delivery.
Roasted seeds are given with curd or buttermilk to treat digestive ailments.
Urinary infections:
A local preparation is made by adding Lemon (Citrus limon) juice, roasted and powdered Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) seed, powder and roasted Cumin seeds and a pinch of black salt (a pungent smelling purplish or pinkish-gray rock salt mined in India) in 100ml water. This can be given to patients suffering from urinary infections, Administer daily, in the morning.
Cumin (5g) should be chewed after lunch and dinner to combat excessive stomach acidity and indigestion. Honey can be added to treat stomach ache.

Mango Ginger (Curcuma amada Roxb.)

Mango Ginger (Curcuma amada) - medicinal usesRhizomes 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).

Indigenous Formulation

Mixture of around 50g of Mango Ginger rhizome with small amount of Lime (calcium oxide, CaO) is mixed with 25ml of water to make an effective remedy for treating severe cough and intestinal worms in children.
Tribals in Dangs cut slice of fresh raw rhizomes and give to the children with meals to treat intestinal worms.
Cholesterol Reduction
Rhizomes are roasted and given with black salt for lowering blood cholesterol.
Cough and cold remedy
Tribals in Patalkot use fresh rhizomes to treat cough and cold. They chew it three to four times a day.
Appetite stimulant
Rhizomes are consumed before meals as appetizer.
Testicle Swelling
A paste of fresh rhizomes with seeds of Mango (Mangifera indica) and roots of Indian Spider Plant (Chlorophytum borivillianum) can be applied externally on swollen testicles.

(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.


Author's Profile

book_cover (17K)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 (21K)

Dr Deepak Acharya (MSc PhD) is Director, Abhumka Herbal Pvt Limited. He can be reached at deepak at or deepak at For more information about him, please visit and

Dr Anshu Shrivastava (MSc PhD) is Botanist at Abhumka Herbal Pvt Limited, contact him at anshu at or ansh24 at

Dr_Anshu_Shrivasta (14K)