Why you should care
They’re not going to taste good. But they’re gonna work.
The turmeric latte and golden milk trend abroad had many of us Indians thanking our mothers for foreseeing their popularity. I was given warm milk with haldi (what we called haldi doodh) to treat an impending cold or sore throat pain. Sometimes garlic was added as a disinfectant. As a child, I hated it. As an adult, I swear by it. There are many similar home remedies, passed down by our grandmothers and mothers, whose value I am discovering only as an adult. Some involved alcohol too — brandy rubbed on the chest brought relief from congestion, and a shot of feni with sugar cleared up blocked sinuses in a trice.
These simple remedies are a mix of herbs and spices, easily available in kitchens and gardens. The best part: no side effects.
Treating colic in kids
A light brew of fennel, a pinch of ajwain (carom seeds) and vavding (false black pepper), diluted with lukewarm water, is an old-fashioned remedy for colic. “I fed my daughter this brew every day for two years” and never had a cranky baby, says Nandita Godbole, a cookbook and fiction author from Mumbai now settled in Atlanta. When they traveled, they even carried a little kettle and a bottle of seeds.
Why it works: Useful for treating digestive problems, ajwain “reduces gas in the stomach,” says Raj Merchant, a naturopath in Mumbai.
Have ear pain caused by wax buildup? Try marigold leaves.
Ease ear pain
Have ear pain caused by wax buildup? Try genda (marigold) leaves — crush them, remove the juice and add the drops directly into the ear. Vidha Saumya, an Indian artist based in Helsinki, says it’s a “standard practice” in her household. “The juice makes the wax pop out,” she says, making cleanup easy. However, this remedy should not be used for other ear pain.
Why it works: “The leaves have natural antiseptic and antibacterial properties that help treat ear pain,” says Nivedita Nimbkar, an Ayurvedic doctor from Mumbai. “The juice has what we refer to as ‘roughness,’ and that helps clear the wax.”
Deal with diarrhea
Many Indians swear by nutmeg for treating digestive ailments. In the case of diarrhea (known as “loose motions”), try this: Make a mix of stone-ground or grated nutmeg and water, enough to fill two spoons. Add this to a small steel bowl with two pinches of jaggery (a form of cane sugar), half a teaspoon of ginger powder and half a teaspoon of homemade (pure) ghee. Heat lightly till it starts to bubble, then cool it. Ingest it slowly, explains Mumbai-based music teacher Nisha Abhyankar, who uses this remedy when anyone in the family has an upset stomach. “Put a little bit on your tongue and let it dissolve,” she advises. While it can be used for all ages, nutmeg can cause drowsiness in children if taken in large doses, she explains.
Why it works: The absorption power of ginger powder and jaggery help “ensure that nutrients remain in the body and only waste is removed. Ghee aids the digestion process and nutmeg helps regulate gastric juices,” says Nimbkar.
Turmeric is often used as an antiseptic. Melt jaggery and turmeric to make a paste and apply on the affected area. Use a thick atte ka roti (wheat-flour flatbread) as the bandage and tie it up with cloth. “The jaggery heats up and makes the infection ooze out, the turmeric disinfects it and the roti keeps the heat maintained,” says Saumya.
Why it works: “In Ayurveda, it is believed that these skin diseases are caused by an accumulation of toxins,” says Mumbai-based Ayurvedic doctor Samir Tambe. The heated mixture “helps improve microcirculation and resolves any blockages in the area, clearing the skin,” he adds.
Got nausea? Toast a piece of ginger on a hot tawa and suck it.
Mumbai housewife Brahmakshi Thevar says the following remedy for upset stomachs goes back a century in her family. Her recipe: Roast two teaspoons of ajwain on a tawa (flat pan). Once it releases aroma, put it in a clean piece of muslin cloth or a handkerchief. Twist the bundle tight and place it on the navel. But “make sure it’s not too hot,” she warns.
Why it works: Popular in Ayurveda as a pain reliever, “ajwain helps draw out the impurities from the stomach through the pores,” says Merchant, “and the heat helps blood circulate better.”
- Heat a putli (small bundle) of coarse sea salt in a muslin cloth and place below the ear for earaches (can also be used for toothaches).
- To treat colds, heat mustard oil with nigella seeds and garlic and, while still warm, lightly massage it on the back and chest.
- To keep bloating or acid indigestion at bay, consume this concoction regularly: Add a pinch of hing (asafoetida) and black rock salt to buttermilk.
- For a stomachache, toast a piece of ginger on a hot tawa and suck it. Or suck a lemon, sprinkled with some rock salt, hing or ajwain and heated.
- For chest congestion and blocked nose, crush a handful of ajwain plant in a glass of boiling water, add honey and drink it hot.
Sources: food blogger Alka Keswani, journalist Ananya Ghosh, housewife Brahmakshi Thevar and home chef Pia Promina DasGupta Barve