Forage your backyard for these three herbs that give store-bought superfoods a run for their money
If you thought 2018 was the year of the superfoods – with probiotic drinks, Buddha bowls, nut milks and what not, 2019 has a new hot favourites: stress busters, anti-inflammatories, and good old detox. Experts say they are all interrelated and finding solutions to lifestyle-related woes in your backyard is what you ought to be doing this year.
But how do we find these solutions in the plants that grow around us as weeds and how do we use them? At a workshop I attended recently, people said they liked being in nature, but felt far away from it. And this made me wonder why. The tiny, weedy wonders around my home could be found pretty much everywhere — near the road, next to gutters, in the gardens. I eventually discovered that they had familiar, respectable names of natural remedies and supplements and if used right, helped reduce stress that all of us experience due to work, pollution and more.
Here are three plants and how you can incorporate them in your daily diet.
Disclaimer: When using a plant as medicine, one needs to know how to prepare it, dosage, way of intake or application, so seek the help of a naturopath. If sourcing from garden or in the wild make sure it is not subjected to chemical fertilizers and pesticides or polluted water.
Season: Nov/December until May. Depending on where you are it may stretch a bit further.
Best for: Treating hypertension and bronchial problems
A common plant (that originated in Central America) growing in our gardens and sometimes in the wild, has wonderful local names: Rakthamallika (Sanskrit), Gul-e-makhmal (Hindi/Urdu), Vadamalli (Tamil), Rudraakshi (Telugu), Mahaasahe (Kannada), and Wadapu (Malayalam). The button shaped flowers can easily be picked and preserved to use as a tea to treat bronchial issues and the edible leaves can treat hypertension. Globe Amaranth is rich in anti-oxidant, anti-microbial properties and also has cytotoxins that fight cancer. Its cousin, the Prostrate Globe-Amaranth (Gomphrena serrata), has properties to fight against microbes, bacteria and also Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that can cause cerebral malaria in humans. The flower has a rich red-purple shade, making it an excellent alternative natural dye for food such as ice-creams.
Scientific name: Boerhavia diffusa
Best for: Treating pain, inflammation, protecting the kidney and liver
Punarnava, as it is commonly known in Sanskrit/Hindi (Mukkarattai kirei – in Tamil, Ambati madu in Telugu, Adaka puttana gida in Kannada and Talutama in Malayalam), is a well-known ingredient in Ayurveda, Siddha, and Unani medicine. Although it has tiny pink flowers, it is often confused with Horse Purslane (Trianthema portulacastrum): an annual herb which looks more succulent and has white flowers). The good news is both are edible, either raw or cooked. Hogweed is antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, treats indigestion, and obesity. It is known to be effective against acetaminophen (a common pain killer) -induced liver damage. In addition to these properties, the plant relieves pain and prevents cancer.
Scientific name: Hedyotis corymbosa syn Oldenlandia corymbosa
Season: After the rains
Best for: Protecting the liver, detoxing and purifying
How can I ignore the tiny white flowers with four-petals that look like little stars growing among pointy green leaves? These are both edible and medicinal. Found throughout the tropics they have many Indian names: Parpatah/Piringo in Sanskrit, Daman pappar in Hindi, Parppatakam in Tamil/Malyalam, Vernnela-vemu in Telugu, and Parpata hullu in Kannada. Tender leaves or the entire plant (when young) can be cooked and eaten with other greens. When the plant is burnt and the ash is mixed with water, the liquid can be used as a tenderizer while cooking other tough veggies. Apart from being digestive, the plant relieves gastric irritation, treats fever, rheumatism, nervous depression and is a good source of vitamin C. A green fabric dye can be extracted from its roots after chemical treatment.
—The author is an ecologist and author of the adult colouring book Edible Weeds and Naturally Growing Plants in Auroville.
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