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Indigenous Knowledge concerning the medicinal uses of common Indian spices

by Dr Deepak Acharya and Dr Anshu Shrivastava

In the previous issue we discussed medicinal uses and indigenous knowledge regarding 5 Indian spices i.e. Onion, Garlic, Coriander, Cumin and Mango Ginger. This is the second in a 4 part article which in all will cover 20 common Indian spices. In this issue, we share information about Turmeric, Cardamom, Fennel, Kokum and Curry Leaf Tree

Curcuma - Curcuma longa L.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa L.)

The powdered rhizomes are widely used as a spice and condiment in many Indian foods. Traditionally Turmeric is used as an antiseptic in India. Women commonly use it in skin care preparations, particularly to discourage facial hair and acne. In the Indian systems of medicine it is considered alterative, stomachic and also given as a blood purifier. The rhizome is orally used as a digestive stimulant (Padhmanathan et al., 2005), and it is said to be effective in bronchitis and cough (Ghazanfar and Al-sabahi, 1993). They are also applied externally as an antivenin (Selvanayahgam et al., 1994). A decoction of the rhizome is given for rheumatic pain in joints bones and limbs (Kong, 1977) and to promote menses (Couvee, 1952). A decoction of the entire plant is administered orally for renal or urinary calculi (Mukerjee et al., 1984). The juice of the rhizome is taken orally for hepatitis and as a poultice for bruises (Duke, 1994). Leaves are used externally along with Moringa oleifera leaves and buttermilk to treat wounds (Reddy et al., 1989). The juice of the fresh plant is said to be anthelmintic (Suwal, 1970).

Indigenous Formulations:

Acne, Face Marks, Blackheads
Turmeric rhizome powder (10g) along with Sandal (Santalum album) heartwood powder (4g) is mixed in 20ml of clean water and applied to pimples and facial marks. It heals Acne and removes foul marks of the face.
Another method of removing facial marks or black spots is to mix Turmeric powder (3g), Sandal heartwood powder (5g) powder, Buch-Ham (Crataeva nurvala) bark powder (5g) with buttermilk (10ml). this mixture is applied twice a day on affected areas of the face.
To remove blackheads, Turmeric rhizome powder (1g) should be mixed with Coriander (Coriendrum sativum) leaf juice (5ml) and applied thrice a day for 10 consecutive days. It acts as a cleansing agent, removing dust particles, dead cells etc.
Turmeric rhizome powder (4g), Mint (Mentha piperita) leaves (5g) and Lemon (Citrus limon) fruit juice (5 drops) is mixed thoroughly and applied as face mask to cure pimples, this should be applied twice a month.
Fairness of facial skin
Prepare a blend of raw cow's milk (10ml), Cucumber (Cucumis sativa) fruit juice (4ml), Olive (Olea europaea) oil (5ml) and Turmeric rhizome powder (3g). This should be applied three times a day to improve facial skin complexion.
For skin fairness, Turmeric rhizome powder (5g), Indian Gooseberry (Emblica officinalis) fruit powder (5g), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root powder (3g), Sandal (Santalum album) heartwood powder (2g) and Sesame seed (Sesamum indicum) powder (5g) are mixed and added to a bucket full of water for a bath. Follow this procedure for a month regularly.
Eczema and itching of the skin
Turmeric rhizome powder (3g), Indian Beech (Pongamia pinnata) seed powder (2g), Chebulic Myrobalan (Terminalia chebula) fruit powder (5g), Rae (Brassica juncea) seed powder (2g) are mixed and a paste is prepared and applied to affected body parts.
Wound Healing
A pinch of Turmeric rhizome powder, one teaspoon of dairy cream, mixed with half a teaspoon of Lemon (Citrus limon) fruit juice, makes an excellent poultice. It helps in ripening the blood boils and heals them without allowing them to become septic.
Rhizome of Turmeric (10g) is boiled with crushed raw Pigeon Pea (Cajanus cajan) seeds (20g). After 30 minutes, add butter (5g) and mix thoroughly. This mixture should be applied topically twice a day.
Breast Pain
Tribals in Patalkot crush raw Turmeric rhizome along with roots of Indian Aloe (Aloe barbadensis) in equal proportion and apply the paste over the breasts to relieve the pain.
Body Ache
Turmeric rhizome powder (3g) and Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) seed powder (4g) should be added in 10ml Coconut oil and applied on painful body parts/ joints.
Turmeric rhizome powder (2g), Garlic clove (1 piece), Neem (Azadirachta indica) leaf powder are boiled in Sesame (Sesamum indicum) oil (20ml) and filtered. Apply 3 drops in ears daily in the cases of ear-ache and pus in ear.
Swellings of the joint
A paste prepared from Turmeric rhizome powder (4g), Garden cress (Lapidium sativum) seeds (2g) and Coiling leaf (Polygonatum cirrhifolium) root powder (3g) is prepared and applied to affected parts.
Cough and Cold
Five gram Turmeric rhizome powder is added to a glassful of boiled milk and taken internally in cases of severe cough and cold.
Add Caraway (Trachyspermum ammi) 2, milk and Turmeric rhizome powder in an earthen pot and boil for 15 minutes. Take this as a hot drink.
Raw Turmeric rhizome (4g) is crushed and mixed with Rose water (Rosa indica) (5ml), Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora) (2g) and honey (3ml) and filtered. 3 drops of filtrate is applied to both eyes in cases of conjunctivitis.
Equal amount of Turmeric rhizome powder and Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) powder is given orally.
For diabetes, Turmeric rhizome powder (1g) and Indian Gooseberry (Emblica officinalis) fruit juice (10ml) should be mixed and taken orally everyday on an empty stomach early in the morning.
Turmeric rhizome powder (5g), Bitter Gourd (Momordica charantia) dry fruits (10g), seeds of Java plum (Syzygium cumini) are mixed and powdered. Patient should take 3-5g of the powder with honey, twice a day.
To treat obesity, Turmeric rhizome powder (3g), Drumstick (Moringa oleifera) pods (10g), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) seeds (10 Nos.) and Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) seeds (5g) are boiled, filtered and given orally for a month.
Cardamom - (Elettaria cardamomum, Maton)

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum Maton)

Cardamom is used to treat rheumatism (Hirschhorn, 1983). It acts as a depurative (Khan et al., 1982) and it is given for cough and cold (Singh, 1986). Fruits are effective for treating stomach cramps and a scratchy tickly cough (Hirschhorn, 1983). It is also prescribed as an aphrodisiac (Bellakhdar et al., 1991). It is effective for cough, cold, bronchitis and asthma (Al-zuhair et al., 1996). In India, decoction of the seed is used as a stimulant, carminative, stomachic, diuretic, coolant and cardiac stimulant (Shanmugasundaram and Radah Shanmugasundar, 1986).

Indigenous Formulations:

Sun Stroke
Cardamom seed powder (1g) mixed with Bael tree (Aegle marmelos) (100ml) is given to patients suffering from sun stroke.
Heat stroke can also be treated with Cardamom seed powder (2g) mixed in juice of Christ's Thorn (Carrisa congesta) fruits (10ml) and sugar (5g).
A pinch of Cardamom seed powder is wrapped in a Betel Leaf (Piper betel) and given thrice a day.
Cardamom seeds powder (2g), Lady's Finger (Abelmoschus esculentus) fruit powder (4g), Cinnamom (Cinnamomum verum) bark powder (3g) and Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) seed powder (3g) is mixed thoroughly and given every day on an empty stomach to treat diabetes.
Chebulic Myrobalan (Terminalia chebula) seed powder (1 tsp), Cardamom fruits (2 nos.) and Caraway (Trachyspermum ammi) seed powder (2g) is mixed thoroughly and given to alleviate constipation.
Cough and Cold
Cardamom seed powder (1g) mixed with a pinch of black salt, clarified butter (ghee) (2g) and honey (4ml) is said to be very effective for coughs and cold.
For malaria, a combination of powdered Cardamom seeds (2g), Indian Oleander (Nerium indicum) flowers (2g) and Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) leaves (1g) should be inhaled three times a day for 2 consecutive days.
For chronic or acute fever, Cardamom seed powder (3g), Bael tree (Aegle marmelos) fruit pulp (10g), Spreading Hogweed (Boerhavia diffusa) whole plant powder (5g) should be mixed in equal proportions, boiled in water and taken orally.
Cardamom seeds (4 nos.), dried Pomegranate seeds (Punica granatum) (100g), Ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome powder (5g), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) seed powder (3g), Long Pepper (Piper longum) fruit powder (4g) and Cinnamom (Cinnamomum verum) bark powder (2g) are mixed with 200g sugar. About 20g of this mixture along with honey is given 3 times a day for 15 days.
Vitality and Strength
For better health and strength, 1 teaspoon Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) seed powder, 2 teaspoons of Isabgol husks (Plantago ovata) and 3 teaspoons of sugar should be thoroughly mixed and added to 100ml milk and given daily.
For treating impotency in males, Cardamom seeds, Indian Oleander (Nerium indicum) roots, Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) flowers and Cotton Tree (Bombax ceiba) bark are taken in equal amounts and extracted in Coconut oil and apply externally around the genital organ.
In order to treat sperm discharge during urination (spermaturia), powder of Cardamom seeds (3g), Asafetida (Ferula foetida) (2g), Clarified Butter or Ghee (5ml) is added to Cow's milk (150ml) and given to the patient.
Low Sperm Count
To increase sperm count, Cardamom seeds (3 Nos.), Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) (2g), Tropical Almond (Terminalia catappa) seeds (4 Nos.) should be blended with butter (2g) and sugar (3g). It is recommended for 30 days.
Improve Memory
To improve memory, Cardamom fruit (1 no), Indian Pennywort (Centella asiatica) plant powder (3g), Dwarf Morning-Glory (Evolvulus alsinoides) whole plant powder (5g) and Almond (Prunus amygdalus) seeds (2 nos.) are crushed in water and mixed with milk. It is boiled and given to the patient by the bhumkas of Patalkot for 6 months.
In Patalkot, Cardamom fruit (3 nos.), Indian Pennywort (Centella asiatica) leaves (3g) and twigs (3g), Pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima) seeds (6g) and Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) (1g) are crushed and mixed thoroughly. Three gram powder is added in a glassful of milk and given to the patient suffering from hysteria.
Urinary Inflammation
A combination of Cardamom seeds, Black Musale (Curculigo orchioides) root powder (5g) and sugar (10g) are boiled in milk and given by the Bhumkas in Patalkot to cure urinary inflammation.
Cardamom seeds powder (3g) and Musli (Chlorophytum borivillianum) root powder (10g) is boiled in 100ml milk and given orally to reduce urinary inflammation.
Fennel - Foeniculum vulgare

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill.)

Fennel is used to treat menstrual problems (Dragendorff, 1898), as an appetizer (Tsai, 1979), antispasmodic, carminative (Lechner-Knecht, 1982), galactogogue, diuretic, tonic and vermifuge (Perrot and Paris, 1971). Branches are used for treating stomach ache, diarrhea, cough, nervousness and backache (Dimayuga et al., 1998). Fruit is used to alleviate nausea (Duke and Ayensu, 1985) and as an abortifacient (Newman, 1979).

Indigenous Formulations

Indigestion and Acidity
Steep ½ teaspoon of crushed Fennel seeds (5g) in boiling water for 10 minutes and give it thrice a day to the patient suffering from indigestion.
Fennel seeds (10g), Katuka (Picrorhiza kurroa) seeds (15g) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome (5g) is ground and the mixture is boiled in 100ml water for 5 minutes. This water should be consumed at an interval of 3 hours.
Mix Fennel seeds, Rose leaf powder (Rosa indica) and Mulethi powder (Glycyrrhiza glabra) in equal quantity. Take it orally twice a day to relieve in acidity.
Fennel seeds (10g) are boiled in 100 ml water and a decoction is prepared. This is given for the treatment of diarrhea.
Urinary Infection
Fennel tea is said to be very effective for treating urinary problems. Boil about 20g Fennel seeds in water (100ml) for 5 minutes and filter.
Tribals in Patalkot prescribe a root extract of this plant (25 ml) twice a day to cure urinary problems.
Weight Loss
Fennel seed decoction/ tea (15ml) should be taken on an empty stomach early in the morning for 3 months. It is good in weight management.
Sun Stroke
To treat sun stroke, blend Fennel seed powder (5g), sugar (10g) and Lemon (Citrus limon) juice (3ml) in 150 ml water and mix thoroughly, take twice a day.
Mouth Freshener
Fennel seeds (10g) should be roasted in a pan for 2 min. Add a pinch of rock salt and chew 4 times a day to combat halitosis.
Whooping Cough
To control whooping cough, take Fennel seed powder (4g), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root powder (5g) and honey (10ml). Mix thoroughly and take internally three times a day.
Prepare a decoction from Fennel seeds (5g) and Ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome powder (3g) and administer to the patient to alleviate diarrhoea.
kokum (17K)

Kokum (Garcinia indica Choisy)

The fruit is used in dysentery (John, 1984) and acidity (Bhandary et al., 1995). The stem is also used in acidity (Bhandary et al., 1995).

Indigenous Formulations:

Cuts and Crack of the heel
The fruits are roasted in butter and then ground. The powder (2g) should be added in Coconut oil (3ml) and applied to the cut or cracked heals. It has soothing and healing properties and can be applied topically to heal wounds and infected areas of the skin.
Weight Reduction
About 3g Kokum fruit powder should be taken with lukewarm water twice a day for 3 months. It helps in reducing bodyweight by suppressing appetite.
Dehydration and Sun Stroke
During the heat of the scorching summer months, Tribals take Kokum fruit juice (100ml) to shield guard against dehydration and sunstroke. Kokum fruits are steeped in sugar syrup to make a juice, which is taken to relieve sunstroke.
Juice of the fruits (50ml) along with little salt and sugar should be consumed after meals. It has been used by the tribesmen in India to cure digestive problems.
Kokum fruits (around 10) are washed and soaked in 100ml water for 20 minutes. Squeeze fruits in the same water and filter. The filtrate should be boiled in water for 5 minutes. To it, add a pinch of salt, Coriander seed powder, Cumin seeds, butter and Chili. This makes a tasty soup with appetizing properties.
Juice prepared from fresh Kokum fruits (50ml) is given daily to a patient suffering from hyper acidity.
Gastric Problems
Indigenous healers in Patalkot prepare a warm decoction of the Kokum fruit for cases of gastric troubles. About 50g of fruits are boiled in 250ml water for 10 min and a pinch of Asafetida (Ferula foetida) and black salt (1 pinch) is added.
Fever and Sickness
Kokum Seeds (5g) are roasted in Sesame (Sesamum indicum) oil (5ml) and added to cow's milk (50ml). It is said to be effective in controlling fever.
For dysentery, about 10g Kokum leaves are crushed in water (10ml) to prepare an extract. It has properties to cure other bowel complaints as well.
Rectal Bleeding
Kokum fruit powder (10g) is mixed with milk (100ml) and taken internally. In case of severe diarrhea, fruit powder (3g), honey (10g), Sessame seed oil (Sesamum indicum) (5ml) are mixed and taken internally.
For paralysis, Kokum bark is crushed and powdered. About 15g bark powder is added to 50 ml of water and boiled for 4 minutes. The cooled decoction is applied all over the affected body parts for two to three times a day. It should be applied daily.
Curry Leaf Tree - Murraya koenigii

Curry Leaf Tree (Murraya koenigii (L.) Spreng.)

The plant is considered a tonic, stomachic and carminative. The root bark is a stimulant, used externally to cure eruptions and venomous bites. The juice of the root is given to relieve renal pains, eaten raw as a cure for diarrhea and dysentery; bruised and applied externally to cure eruptions. It is given as a febrifuge; and for snake bite.

This plant is used as a tonic and stomachic (Joseph and Peter, 1985). It is given in diabetes (Kar et al., 1999). It is anthelmintic and given for piles, inflammation, itching, leucoderma and blood disorders (Philip, 1981). The bark is used as an antivenin (Selvanayahgam et al., 1994), to treat skin eruptions (Joseph and Peter, 1985), vomiting (Philip, 1981), as a stimulant, to alleviate insect- and poisonous bites (Philip, 1981; Joseph and Peter, 1985). Leaves are used to treat scabies, wounds (Bhandary et al., 1995), hypertension, diabetes (Rajurkar and Pardeshi, 1997), pimples, rashes, itching, constipation, liver disorders, to aid weight loss (Kong et al., 1986) and to retarded growth in children (Singh, 1986). The root is used as a stimulant and given as a treatment for poisonous bites and skin eruptions (Joseph and Peter, 1985). The fruit is used as an astringent (Philip, 1981). The seeds are used for treating asthma (Singh, 1986).

Indigenous Formulations

Indigestion and Acidity
Curry Leaf juice (2-4 teaspoon) should be given every day for better digestion and to control acidity.
Urinary Disorders
Curry Leaf juice (40 mg) with Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) seed powder (1g) is given orally to treat urinary disorders.
Insect Bite
A paste from the leaves is prepared and applied to affected parts to reduce pain and swelling due to a poisonous insect bite.
Stomach Ache
The tribals in Patalkot prepare a decoction of the Curry Leaf root (5ml) and Ginger powder (Zingiber officinale) (1 pinch) to relieve stomach ache, which is given orally.
To treat eczema, Curry Leaf seeds (Murraya koenigii) (5 nos.) and Golden Shower tree (Cassia fistula) fruit pulp (5g) are mixed and crushed, curd (10ml) is added and applied externally.
To reduce excessive sweating or perspiration, leaf powder (4g) should be taken along with a glass of buttermilk every day. It works as an anti-sudorific.
Breast Tumor
According to the Dangi healers, to treat breast tumors, the roots (10g) of the plant should be scrubbed in water and applied externally all over the breast.
Root powder (5g) should be dipped in Goat urine for 3-5 minute. The mixture is then dried and given to the patient twice a day along with one cup water. The patient is advised to take Brinjal (Solanum melongena), jaggery and chapatis with meals.
Tribesmen prepare a juice from the leaves, bark and roots which is said to be very effective as a tonic. Equal amounts of all the above plant parts are collected, washed and then dried in the shade. The plant materials are then ground and powder is prepared. One teaspoon of the powder is added to one cup of water and taken regularly once a day.
Gum Bleeding and Tooth Cleaner
The twigs of Murraya koenigii are very popularly used to clean the teeth as Datun and are said to strengthen the gums and the teeth.

(To be continued)
Coming up next: Myristia fragrans, Piper longum, Piper nigrum, Punica granatum, Swetria chirata


Author's Profile

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)

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.

For questions or comments email:

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