Enjoying a herbal life [Archives:2005/818/Health]

February 21 2005

M.A; M.Phil.
Research Scholar, Department of English
Utkal University, Orissa, India.
For the Yemen Times

The prevalent use of plants for medicinal purposes dates as far back as the Stone Age and the cave men. It is an established fact that in pre-historic times a variety of medicinal plants were used to cure various diseases; from anatomical and physiological disorders to obstetrics and gynecological problems. It will not be incorrect to say that herbs have not lost their magical properties and are still widely used the world over. Naturopathy is in but in the form of 'Holistic Medicine'. The term involves a broad spectrum of alternative therapies that are organic and holistic. Alternative therapists are of the opinion that the human body is capable of repairing itself. It is integrated with a self-help kit that can affect a cure positively. It only requires a little catalyst to accelerate the process of healing. These catalysts range from acupressure, acupuncture and aerobics to reiki, meditation and massages. This unique healing method also makes use of the age-old grandma's secret therapies like domestic spices (turmeric, garlic, mustard, etc) and herbs from the kitchen garden. All those insignificant flowers, roots and leaves have now transformed into 'cool' stuff. Basil, Aloe Vera, Curry Leaves, the Periwinkle, Mint, Ginger and Tea Tree are a few of its august members. The idea is to conceive foodstuffs as medicine. And the term applied to this healing procedure is 'Nutraceutical'- an amalgamation of nature and natural drugs. A delicate chain of factors maintains the rhythm of the body. Therapists believe that a disruption in physical- emotional- dietary- genetic- environmental- way of life sequence results in a person falling sick. It is essential to bring about a change in the unhealthy lifestyle by replacing it with naturalistic living. Besides yoga, drinking lots of warm water and sleep here are 5 vital and homely herbs that will enable one to maintain the body Homoeostasis and stay healthy, wealthy and wise.

One of the oldest multipurpose folk remedies, the Aloe Vera is also a very popular houseplant. A member of the Lily family, it displays characteristics akin to the Cactus. About 240 varieties of Aloe are found in the dry regions of Africa, Asia, Europe and America. The plant has two basic parts- the gel and the latex. The gel is actually the leaf pulp- a thin clear jelly like substance. We can get the gel by making a lengthwise slit in the middle of the leaf. The latex is commonly referred to as the 'aloe juice'. Out of these 240, only 4 are commercially valuable, the most popular being the Aloe barbadensis miller. An Aloe leaf is a storehouse of 75 nutrients, 200 active compounds, 20 minerals, 18 amino acids and 12 vitamins. The ultimate skin revitalizer, Aloe Vera gel is extremely good for treating acne and pimples, facial scars and wounds. It is the key that unlocks the secret behind that stunning and radiant look. It also finds effective use as a moisturizer for face and body. In combination with Jojoba oil, Aloe can make an excellent shampoo. This mixture cleans, nourishes and moisturizes the hair imparting a healthy shine and a luxuriant feel. In some cases an Aloe heat lotion is used as a cure for sore skin, muscle aches and joint pains.

Curry Leaves (Murraya Koenigii) is one of the most widely used herbs in the kitchens. As tangy chutney or as the spice to pep up the sambhar- a South Indian dish, the Kurry patta (leaf) or Meetha (sweet) neem is a must in many traditional South-East Asian cuisine. But how many of us are actually aware of its worthy status as a medicinal cure for ailments as dysentery, gum problems, indigestion, vomiting and skin disorders? Every part of this supposed ornamental plant is of fruitful use. It is often advised to eat raw green leaves of this plant in order to get relief from stomachache and dysentery. A concoction of the washed leaves prevents vomiting. Physicians also suggest the external use of the bark and the roots as a remedy for animal bites and skin eruptions. The seeds and the leaves contain oil that is strong in curative properties due to its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial nature. Children and adults alike delightfully relish the shiny black fruits, rich in nutritive powers and Vitamin C. And last but not the least the secret of that dazzling and healthy smile lies in the Curry Leaves too. Its branches are popularly used for cleaning and strengthening the teeth and gums. It is believed that the edible portion of the fruit contains a good distribution of minerals like phosphorous, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and proteins too. According to Cardiologists, the curry leaves also contain an alkaloid, murrayacinine, which is a gastro-intestinal motility regulator, which prevents Eructaion and bloating of the abdomen. Besides the plant also has an added attractive value. An ornamental shrub it can be used as an enclosure in a garden.

Another commonly used medicinal plant is the Madagascar Periwinkle. Known as Catharanthus roseus, in Botanical terms the common periwinkle is a perennial evergreen herb. Cultivated widely for centuries in warmer regions of the world, the blooms of the natural wild plants are pale pink with a purple 'eye'. Horticulturists have developed new species of white and purple too. It was used in Europe as an age-old remedy for diabetes. Indians used its juice from the leaves to heal wasp stings. The Chinese used it as an astringent and as cough mixture. In Central and South America, the periwinkle served as a homemade prescription to get relief from lung congestion, inflammation and sore throats. The Caribbeans used the extracts from the flowers to prepare a solution for treating eye irritation and infections. But the fame of this wild flower rests on its being 'the' preventive for diabetes. The periwinkle is said to contain a generous amount of alkaloids like catharanthine, leurosine sulphate, lochnerine, and tetrahydroalstonine. It has vindoline and vindolinine that lower blood sugar levels (thus reducing diabetes up to more than 50%). It also contains, vincristine and vinblastine that have anticancer properties. Ancient Ayurvedic scripts suggest that 4 blossoms of the white periwinkle taken early in the morning in empty stomach is sure to control diabetic symptoms to a great extent. The periwinkle is said to possess alkaloids that control blood pressure levels and act as hemostatics to arrest bleeding too. A sizeable segment of the world's population suffers from diabetes and blood pressure. In such a case the incorporation of the periwinkle in one's daily diet is an imperative inorder to check coronary diseases too.

A word of caution- since these alkaloids can have serious side effects like nausea and hair loss, it is often advisable to consult a physician before taking them orally. Here's something to chew upon- did you know that the French referred to it as “violet of the sorcerers.” In ancient Europe the Periwinkle was considered a magical plant as it had the power to ward off evil spirits?

The ginger is not as plain as it looks. A spicy root with a dramatic taste it lends a distinct flavor and aroma to foods, from the revivifying ginger-lime cordial to the heavenly fragrant ginger-tea and the scrumptious ginger bread. But little do we realize how important it is as a curative. Originally a native of Asia, Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is now being cultivated in the West Indies, Jamaica and Africa. Though hot and strong to the tongue Ginger is said to be the best tonic for digestive problems. Its classification as an aromatic bitter proves its ability in facilitating digestion. Besides clinical tests have shown the ginger as actively stimulating the intestines and promoting production of saliva, digestive juices, and bile. It acts as an anti-oxidant. Ginger is extremely good for the heart. It stimulates the pumping action of the heart muscles. A regular intake of ginger in one's daily diet lessens the chances of suffering from ulcers. And it is the panacea in case of cold, cough and fever. A ginger gargle relieves the sore throat. The hot ginger tea is definitely the cup o' good cheer in feverish conditions. As a diaphoretic it facilitates perspiration and as a hot infusion it stops the runny nose. It also acts as an effective energizer in case of chilblains and cramps. A word of caution. Ginger has a very strong taste and smell, so it should always be stored in a dry place and away from exposure. The aromatic properties of this spice vanish if left in contact with air. It is best to avoid the essence of ginger, as it gets adulterated very often.

Mint is the dried leaf of a perennial herb. Sweet and strong in flavour it has a cool after taste. Its two varieties are the Spearmint (Mentha spicata L.) and the Peppermint (Mentha piperita L.). Both these species are native to Asia. The use of this herb can be traced to the biblical times. It is believed that ancient Egyptians used Peppermint. Spearmint is mentioned in the Bible. Be it the minty chewing gum, the tangy sauce or chutney, salads and marinades, mint tea, deserts and chocolates, all of us love to take Mint in some form or the other. Besides it also has great medicinal use too. The menthol in Peppermint soothes the digestive tract and stimulates the production of bile. An excellent breath freshener, Peppermint is one of the common components in toothpastes. Many shampoos make use of menthol because of its sedative quality. It calms the tired mind. During severe nasal and chest congestions, inhaling menthol vapours is extremely comforting. However Pennyroyal which belongs to the Mint family, should never be taken internally. It is highly toxic and injurious to health. But Pennyroyal has a lot of external utility. Rubbed on your pet's coat, it keeps fleas at bay. One can also place a few of the Pennyroyal leaves under the pet's bed. Planted under rose bushes, they add to the healthy life of the flowers by retaining moisture. Pennyroyals make beautiful potpourri. All varieties of Mint make good cut flowers and foliage for indoor arrangements. They add to the beauty and fragrance of flower boxes and hanging baskets.

The time has come for us to discipline our life by following natural methods of cure. And 'Back to Nature' seems to be the motto of the hour. Thus, an organic pizza, a low-cal omelet or a de-caff cappuccino is not at all a rare sight in today's cuisine trends. The concept of eating well has undergone a dramatic change. One finds more of 'feel good' recipes, which are more natural, organic and healthy. It has now become an avant-garde tendance with the glitterati to endorse organic brands. Gone are the days of synthetic drugs and surgical methods of healing. From glitzy beauty saloons to chic body shops and exclusive herbal spas, vegetable juice, aromatherapy and herbal diet is the buzz. It is imperative that one should relax, rejoice and refresh the exhausted senses and Nutraceutical seems to be the correct recipe for a harmonious correlation between the body, mind, and environment. So eat well, stay fit and enjoy a “herbal life”. Bon appetit!