HERBS AND WONDERS OF THE WORLD
Dr. Anushka Marri, Editor-in-chief, Lexicon, Rural Medical Officer, SST
Dr. Prakrut Paidisetty, Intern, Dr. Ulhas Patil Medical College
Mehar Kaur Bhatia, 3rd year MBBS, GMC, Patiala
“The secret of happiness is variety, but the secret of variety, like the secret of all spices, is knowing when to use it.”
NORTH AMERICAN SPICE
The all-in-one spice : AllSpice
Contrary to what the name might imply, allspice isn’t a mixture of spices; rather, it’s a special derivative of the Pimenta dioica tree, native to North America and Southern Mexico. The erroneous scientific epithet dates back to 500 years, when the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, on his second expedition to the United States, dubbed the name “pimiento” to a plant that he thought was pepper. This versatile spice gives a variety of meals, from the smoky Swedish meatballs to the hot Jamaican jerk chicken, a distinct warm flavor. Whole berries are used in stews and soups. When ground, it imparts a smooth, velvety texture to the sweet pumpkin pies of Central America and a tangy piquancy to the ubiquitous tomato ketchup. The leaves and fruits of the plant are flavored with clove, nutmeg, and pepper. Its pleasantly pungent aroma plays a significant role in Polish and Caribbean cuisines. Allspice’s Eugenol, which is used as an antiseptic, has strong antimicrobial properties. Historically, in order to prevent the boots from rotting, Napoleon’s soldiers would crush the allspice berries into their boots and let it kill the microbes. Its therapeutic effectiveness has been demonstrated in diabetes medications, menopausal treatments,and the cure of several malignancies.
NORTH AMERICAN HERB
Peppermint, spearmint and watermint,
Mentha is an AMAZE-MINT!
“A summer mojito tastes incomplete without a zing of freshly muddled menthol in it”
From the plains of ancient Egypt to the Pacific Northwest of today, mint has a long history that goes beyond the pursuit for fresh breath. The chilly climates of North America and Eurasia have always supported the growth of herbs from the Lamiaceae family. These plants make great companions for herbalists. While Greek doctors like Galen and Dioscorides felt that mint’s distinctive aroma might prevent vomiting, ancient Romans employed it to scent the dead body before burial. Today, mint is utilized as a palliative therapy to lessen post-operative nausea. Hysterically, it was conjectured that it might stop women from getting pregnant!
SOUTH AMERICAN SPICE
Ring o Fire, blazing and short-tempered; oh it’s the Cayenne Pepper!
A close relative of the Jalapeno and bell pepper, Cayenne is a staple in the Southwestern American and Cajun cuisines. It is treasured for its spiciness and countless health benefits. Cayenne is classified as a fairly hot chili on the Scoville scale based on its capsaicinoid content, making it a good choice for sauces and fiery foods. The name’s etymology is a subject of considerable debate. While a majority of people agree that the name is connected to the capital of French Guiana, there is contention about whether the city or the pepper arrived earlier. Nonetheless, this pepper has been around for thousands of years and has made people cry happy tears! Capsaicin’s anti-inflammatory and pain killing effects have been shown to ease congestion, lower blood sugar levels, improve digestion, guard against oxidative stress and are associated with a decreased risk of all-cause mortality, according to researchers.
Fun fact: Chilies have more Vitamin C than Oranges!
SOUTH AMERICAN HERB
The Great American CULANTRO Controversy!
Culantro, also known as Eryngium foetidum, closely resembles its botanical cousin, coriander, or cilantro, the latter of which has a much more pungent aroma. This long-leafed lettuce incorporates a fusion of flavors, is used for seasoning, marinating, and garnishing, and packs into a potent vitamin punch. As the name reflects, it has been historically used to treat epilepsy and benefits the neuronal cells when made a regular part of diet. This perennial herb, in addition to its ethnomedicinal benefits and uses for arthritis and asthma, has a gentle deodorizing effect.. It originated in South and Central America and has since then spread to China and Southeast Asia, where it is used as a substitute for coriander. Why some people despise cilantro because of its soap like taste and fail to detect the pleasant aroma, has been linked to a genetic trait, apart from a personal opinion. This difference in perception of fragrance and flavor accounts to a genetic mutation in the olfactory genes that makes cilantro-phobes think of it as a disgusting insult to their taste buds!
In such bland lives, Thank God for Chives!
Chives, which was also known as rush leeks has been cultivated in Europe since the Middle Ages. Before it was accepted as a world- famous garnish, it was originally grown for its medicinal properties. The Romans used it to cure sunburns and sore throats. It was also used to ward off evil spirits. With its wonderful mild-onion flavour, Chives is an essential part of the French Cuisine Garnish. It is a nutrient dense food, and is a rich source of Vit K and folate. However, every serving would only have up to 3g of chives, therefore a more than moderate amount needs to be consumed solely for its health benefits.
I’d be Pinocchio, if I said life is fun without oregano!
Oregano is an herb that was first grown in Greece and literally translated to the ‘Joy of the Mountains’. The Romans cultivated oregano throughout Europe mainly for it is medicinal uses like, alleviating symptoms of rheumatism, toothache, and indigestion. Oregano is the backbone of Italian cuisine with being used as seasoning in almost every dish like pizza sauces, pasta, and grilled meat. Due to its dynamic taste, Oregano is widely used in Mediterranean and Latin American cuisine as well.
Got grey lives and pricks? Worry not! Lexicon has turmeric!
Turmeric also known as ‘Haldi’ has been part of Asian culture for thousands of years and originally used as medicine in various alternate systems, in India, China, Madagascar and Oceania. Only later was its use as a dye also discovered. It has an earthy flavour and imparts a slightly bitter flavour to food that is essential to Indian cuisine, and its useful as a natural food colouring agent that gives Indian cuisine its classic yellow hue. Turmeric has significant religious importance in the Hindu culture, being involved in all auspicious occasions from poojas to marriages wherein an entire ritual called haldi ceremony is dedicated to the spice.
Asia is doomed without me! ~a fallen coriander leaf!
Coriander is also known as Chinese parsley or cilantro. It is an herb that is in use since pre-historic times, and traces its origins back to Israel and South Asia. The leaves due to their heat sensitive nature and wonderful aroma are typically used as raw garnish is most Asian cuisine. The seeds have a more intense flavour and are generally ground fresh to mix with other spices to form the basis of Garam masala in Indian cuisine. The roots on the other hand play an important role in Thai cuisine.
The Queen of The Lemon Herbs: Lemon Myrtle
Lemon Myrtle (Lemon scented Ironwood) aka Backhousia citriodora is a flowering plant endemic to the subtropical rainforests of Australia. Named after the English Botanist, James Backhouse, it is a versatile herb enriched with a fresh, lemon-lime flavour. It is considered to have a ‘cleaner and sweeter’ aroma compared to its peers and the dried and ground leaves are used both in cuisine and as a healing plant. It is used in a wide spectrum of dishes from pasta to baked fish, shortbread to cheesecake, and ice cream to tea. The dried leaf is said to have free-radical scavenging properties.
Wattle Seeds be like DIABETES WHATtle?
Wattle Seeds aka Acacia sps. have been used for thousands of years as a staple source of food by the Aboriginal Australians. There are around 700 species of Wattle in Australia but only a few are edible. The flavour profile falls into the chocolate, hazelnut, and coffee family. They can be consumed green (cooked) or dried (milled to flour). The Seed Flour has high nutritional content, hardiness, and low toxicity. It was grown to provide protein to drought-affected populations since the 1700s. With a low glycemic index, it can be added to the diabetic foods. This is added to ice cream, granola, chocolate, bread, etc.
Grains Of Paradise: Alligator Pepper
Alligator pepper aka hepper pepper or mbongo spice is a West African spice characterized by its hot, pungent, and spicy flavour which is reminiscent of a fruity cardamom pod. Culturally, the Yorubad of Nigeria uses this pepper during baby naming ceremonies and other traditional festivities. In the culinary line, it is used to flavour soups, vegetables, stews, flavour lamb, chicken, beef, grilled steak, etc. It is the most common ingredient in West African cuisine, where it imparts both pungency and a spicy aroma to soups and stews.
Sereni TEA: The absence of stress while drinking Rooibos tea
Rooibos aka Aspalathus linearis is used to make a traditional herbal tea of the Khoidescended people of the Cederberg, South Africa. It has an earthy flavour with a high content of Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), which is unfortunately lost when made into tea. It has low tannin levels compared to black or green tea. Due to the efforts in enhancing cultivation and developing varieties of Rooibos tea to match the growing demand, Pieter Lefras Nortier, a naturalist and district surgeon of Clanwilliam, is accepted as the father of the Rooibos tea industry.