The saying, “a herb is a friend of physicians and the praise of cooks”, rightly suggests the dual role of spices and herbs in flavoring and providing health benefits.
A kitchen shelf which boasts bottles containing black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, mustard, cumin etc. is a common site in our country. From ancient times, spices have been considered indispensable in our kitchen for enhancing the flavour of food. Typically, their role is limited in our kitchen to add color to food or enhance the taste and aroma of our cooking with the help of the essential oils and oleoresins present in them. Apart from these uses, spices also have numerous medicinal properties and used to treat several disorders that form an important part of the Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia (Indian System of Medicine). The healing potential of spices is used in traditional Indian medicine since thousands of years such as cinnamon to stimulate circulation and ginger as a universal medicine for relieving nausea and indigestion. Several spices have been used as medicinal plants in folk medicine for the treatment of various diseases because they contain many bioactive compounds and possess a lot of beneficial health effects.
The major spices that are grown in J&K include:-
SAFFRON (KESAR): Kashmir is synonymous with the production of best quality of saffron in India. Commonly known as Zafran (Urdu), Kong (Kashmiri); Kesar: the most expensive spice in the world is used as a natural coloring and flavouring material in culinary preparations, bakery and confectionary. It is expensive but its health benefits are priceless. Saffron has been used in folk medicine and Ayurvedic health system as a sedative, expectorant, anti-asthma, emmenagogue, and adaptogenic agent. Saffron was used in various opioid preparations for pain relief (16-19th centuries). It has ability to treat depression, prevents loss of vision and improves memory. The stigma of the flower can relieve you from digestive issues with the help of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Modern medicine has also discovered saffron as having anticarcinogenic, antimutagenic, immunomodulating and antioxidant like properties.
KALAZIRA: Commonly known as ‘Black cumin’ or ‘Shahi jeera’ or ‘Kashmiri jeera’ or ‘Himalayan cumin’, it is one of the most important seed spices that grows as wild especially in dry regions of hilly tracts in NW Himalayas. The fruits or seeds and essential oil have strong flavour and aromatic smell and very bitter taste and are used as spice for flavouring dishes. Its tubers are also eaten as vegetable in J&K . It has got varied uses in traditional medicine. It has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-spasmodic and carminative and lactation stimulant properties and clears toxins from uterus and given after delivery. The seeds are useful in hoarseness of voice, dyspepsia, and chronic diarrhoea. It is especially useful in diabetes, as it not only controls the elevated blood sugar level but also reduces bad cholesterol.
ANARDANA: A wild type of pomegranate commonly called ‘Daru’ grows in the vast tract of hill slopes of J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal. The dried seeds with pulp, commonly called ‘anardana’ have culinary importance as spice for dishes or curries and also acidulant in place of tamarind. The juice of fresh leaves and young fruit of this plant is given in dysentery. The flower buds and rind of fruits are given in chronic diarrhoea and dysentery. Punicine, an alkaloid in its bark, is highly toxic to tapeworms. The unripe fruits and flowers are useful in inducing vomiting. The ripe fruits act as a tonic, laxative and enrich the blood. They are also useful in sore throat, sore eyes, brain diseases and chest troubles.
TURMERIC: It is an important spice crop of subtropical plains and low hills of Jammu region of J&K. It is grown in open or under partial shade in some pockets in Jammu & Udhampur and to limited extent in kitchen gardens. It is one of the ancient spices used extensively in preparation of curried dishes. This bright yellow spice gives many Indian dishes their characteristic colour and flavour. It is reported to be stomachic, carminative, tonic, blood purifier, vermicide and antiseptic. This spice is packed with antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is good for your brain, relieves arthritis, prevents cancer and has healing properties. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory properties have been instrumental in treating osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The antioxidant also destroys the free radicals in the body that damage the cells. It helps deal with skin problems. Turmeric powder can be used for healing cuts and wounds. It also makes coping with diabetes easier.
FENUGREEK: It is one of the oldest plants and was understood to be a part of Indian diet even 3,000 years ago. It is called Methi in Hindi. Cultivated in North Africa, the Middle East, Egypt and India, this ingredient has many medicinal uses. In India, it is grown in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and other parts including Jammu & Kashmir. It has got a strong and pleasant odour. The dried seeds, leaves (fresh or dried) and tender shoots are all valued as food, flavouring agent and medicine. The little yellow seeds contain galactomannan which is helpful in slowing down the sugar absorption rate in our blood. It is also useful in lowering blood pressure. It improves digestion and helps those suffering from eating disorders and also reduces inflammation. It also promotes lactation in women. The seeds are also useful in anaemia, being rich in iron.
CORIANDER: It is one the important seed spices used by mankind. It is also known as Dhaniya (Hindi), Dhania (Bengali, Punjabi) etc. It is grown as annual herb for its aromatic seeds, leaves and stems. Its seeds and leaves are used for flavouring/garnishing foods, curries/soups and in preparation of chutneys and sauces. The seeds are also considered as appetizer, digestive, carminative, tonic, antipyretic and diuretic. An infusion of the seeds in combination with cardamom and caraway seeds is used against flatulence, indigestion, vomiting and intestinal disorders. The roasted seeds are useful in dyspepsia. The decoction with milk and sugar is beneficial during bleeding piles. This superfood claims to have anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, and is known to help lower blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels.
(Inputs by Risha Bharti and Sweeta Manhas)