The hot and cold of home remedies
By Sheela Rani Chunkath
17th February 2013 12:00 AM
My sister visited me the other day and asked for a cup of ginger tea with palm sugar. She was suffering from a cough, and Chennai being unusually cold for February, she wanted a warm drink. So as usual the discussion turned to whether one should have dried ginger or fresh ginger, and warming and cooling foods.
Her mother-in-law is famous for her home remedies and wonderful ‘mixed rice’ recipes. According to her, pepper, veppan poo (Neem flowers), mor milaga (buttermilk-soaked dried chillies) and garlic omam (ajowan in Hindi) rice are to be eaten only during the rainy or cold season, as they are heat generating foods, and good for treating colds and coughs. The ‘mixed rice’ varieties are great to eat on a rainy monsoon day. The garlic omam rice is simple to make. Garlic and omam are separately fried in ghee. The omam is powdered and the garlic pounded with a little salt. The garlic and powdered omam are then added to hot rice to which some ghee is added. You get a wonderful aroma and the combined effect of garlic and omam will help alleviate your cold symptoms. For those who want a bit of spice, the mor milaga fried in ghee till it is dark brown is powdered and added to the rice. So, ginger tea and garlic-omam rice must be eaten during cold winter days. Of course, most people in other parts of India laugh when we talk about Chennai winters, but it sure is cool in Chennai these days.
Dried ginger (sukku in Tamil and sonth in Hindi) is very cooling and is to be taken during summer days. Sukku rice is prepared and served only in the afternoons by the traditionalists. My sister’s mother-in-law would never dream of making sukku rice for dinner. A handful of rice is taken on the plate and a small well is made with the finger. A quarter teaspoon of sukku powder is put in with a little salt to which hot ghee is added. The rice is mixed well, and then eaten to cool the system and improve digestion. Similarly in Kerala, sukku, malli (coriander) coffee is served in summer to cool the system. Jeera water is usually served in winter, as it is heat inducing.
So if you have a cold, drink fresh ginger tea rather than dried ginger tea and avoid foods like cucumbers, melons and ice cream. I don’t even use sandalwood oil or sandal soaps when I have a cold as sandalwood is extremely cooling.
The classification of foods into ‘heating’ and ‘cooling’ types has been documented by our elders, and families would eat foods according to the season. So, it makes sense to eat watermelons in summer and rewari (made with gingelly and jaggery) sweets in winter. However, today we have watermelons available practically throughout the year, and this plays havoc with our eating habits and health. Fruits imported over long distances, often frozen and unfrozen, cannot really be considered good for our system. Yet, we reject our home-grown apples and go for the exotics from far-off shores. It is both unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly. Fresh organic fruits and vegetables eaten according to the season and sourced locally will promote health and well-being.
The Chinese too have an elaborate classification of foods into ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ foods. The Sinhalese, Malaysian, Korean and Mexican cultures also have similar classifications. All of us should be talking to the elders we know and asking them about what foods they consider cooling or heat-producing. Similarly, many of them can tell us what they consider is vayu-inducing or gas-producing or phlegm-producing foods. Whenever I talk to older women, who are fount of wisdom, they invariably tell me that their daughters-in-law insist on taking their grandchildren to allopathic doctors, and scorn their home remedies and advice on foods. Most youngsters are into double blind trials and scientific proof, forgetting that there is a place for empirical evidence gathered over time. Anyway, my sister and I enjoyed our hot cup of ginger tea with palm candy and she left promising to get me more home remedies from her mother-in-law..
The writer was earlier Health Secretary, Tamil Nadu, and is currently Additional Chief Secretary, and Chairman and MD, Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation. She can be reached at Sheelarani.firstname.lastname@example.org.Earlier articles can be accessed at www.arogyamantra.blogspot.com
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