Ayurveda or ayurvedic medicine is an ancient system of health care, native to India. It concerns the mind, body and soul, and has a holistic view of life and health care practices. Ayurveda is an integral part of Indian culture, and Indian cooking is based on Ayurvedic principles. Ayurveda has been singing the praises of spices as “wonder-foods” for health and wellbeing for thousands of years.
Here are a number of the most commonly used spices at Rasam, and given a brief description of what they are, and how they are traditionally believed to benefit health and wellbeing.
Asafoetida is a resin-like gum that comes from the dried sap extracted from the stem and roots of the Ferula plant, and is generally available in powdered form to be used as a spice.
What are the health benefits of Asafoetida?
Asafoetida has certain medicinal uses and most commonly is used as a digestive aid. It is reputed to lessen flatulence and is often added to lentil or aubergine dishes in small quantities. It is also said to be helpful in cases of asthma and bronchitis.
Cardamom is a spice that is used in both savoury and sweet dishes. The seeds are found within a pod, and are used whole or ground as a spice. Cardamom tastes like an airy, gentle ginger, with a hint of pine. It is a very versatile spice, with many uses in Indian cuisine, including tea flavouring. It is also used in desserts, especially pastries, and as a fragrance in soaps and perfumes.
What are the health benefits of Cardamom?
Cardamom has been used as a medicine in India and China since records have been kept, making it one of the world’s oldest spices. The ancient Egyptians chewed cardamom seeds as a tooth cleaner. It has been used as a digestive aid since ancient times. It is also used as a flavouring agent for herbal medicinal preparations for indigestion and flatulence, and as a breath freshener.
Cinnamon comes from the bark of an evergreen tree, and its flavour is due to an aromatic oil contained within the bark. It is widely used as a spice in Indian cooking in both savoury and sweet dishes.
What are the health benefits of Cinnamon?
Cinnamon has traditionally been used to treat toothache and as a breath freshener. It has recently been found to help to control blood sugars and cholesterol in people with Type 2 diabetes.
Coriander is both a herb and a spice – the leaves are herbs and seeds are spices. It is the most widely used herb in both these forms, and is undoubtedly the most important spice in Indian cuisine. The taste is sweet, mellow and warm with an orange peel flavour. Dry roasting the seeds before crushing them enhances their flavour. Coriander is used just as much in sweet dishes as in savoury ones.
What are the health benefits of coriander seed?
Coriander is rich in beneficial phytonutrients, which are undoubtedly responsible for many of its healing properties. Coriander is believed to have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
Cumin has played an important role as a food and medicine in India for centuries. It is said to be the second most important spice in Indian cooking (after coriander). Cumin is an important ingredient in most curries, pilau rice and certain breads.
What are the health benefits of Cumin?
Cumin seeds have traditionally been noted to be of benefit to the digestive system, and scientific research is beginning to confirm this. It is also believed that cumin seeds may have anti-cancer properties. This cancer-protective effect may be due to cumin’s potent free-radical scavenging abilities, as well as the ability it has shown to enhance the liver’s detoxification enzymes.
Ginger is used liberally in Indian cooking. It has long been valued for its aromatic, culinary and medicinal properties.
What are the health benefits of Ginger?
Ginger has a long tradition of being effective in relieving symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. In herbal medicine, ginger is regarded as an excellent reliever of intestinal wind. Ginger is also believed to have antioxidant effects and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger is also used in the prevention of motion sickness, especially sea-sickness, and has been used in the treatment of nausea associated with pregnancy.
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that has been a pillar of the diet in India for thousands of years, and is one of the essential spices in Indian cuisine. Turmeric gives the golden colour associated with many Indian dishes.
What are the health benefits of Turmeric?
Turmeric is believed to help to prevent rheumatoid arthritis and can relieve indigestion. It is also believed to help prevent cancer by protecting DNA and stimulating cancer-protective enzyme in the body.