Herb that heals

Herb that heals

As the taxi made  its  way  through  the  quiet  villages along the hills of Chattisgarh, we passed thick, scented  groves of bright green pudina  plants.
I was reminded of the ancient Greek  legend that tells the story of Persephone, the  jealous wife of Pluto, who tried  trampling  to  death  a  beautiful  nymph  called  Minthe. Pluto is said to have intervened and transformed Minthe into a  plant with  an  enticing fragrance. The  aromatic herb  was  so  revered by  the  ancient  Greeks  and  Romans  that  they  crowned  themselves  with  mint  leaves. The  herb  was  placed  in  houses and  temples  to  freshen  the  air. The  ancient Hebrews   scattered  mint leaves  on synagogue  floors  so  that  each  footstep  raised  a lovely fragrance.

The herb also symbolised hospitality. The  ancient  Romans  and  Greeks  reportedly rubbed  the  leaves  of  mint  on  their  dining  tables to welcome their guests.
The  famous  Roman  naturalist, Pliny  the  Elder, said: “The  very  smell  of  mint  recovers  and  refreshes  our  spirits”. Greeks  and  Romans  also used  the herb  as a relaxing  bath scent.

Fighting congestion
The Charaka  Samahita (an ayurvedic  compendium  of  various  medicinal  herbs) suggests that when vata —  the  subtle  energy  forces  controlling  the  brain  and  the  nervous  system — gets  congested  on  account  of  the  accumulation  of  high  levels  of  toxins, the  fragrance of  pudina  leaves  normalises  the  flow  of  prana  vaayu (primal  life-force) in the  body.  This  not  only  leads  to  increased  agility, but  the  mind  is  also  opened  and  the  ‘heaviness’  of  mental  and  emotional  tension is removed.

I  drank  a  glass  of  pudina  juice  at  a  low-roofed roadside  stall  in  Chattisgarh and I  was  convinced  that  the aromatic  herb fortifies  the  body  and  the spirit.
 Preparing  this  aromatic  and  soothing concoction would  require  1  glass  of  cold water, 1  teaspoon  of  lemon  juice, 3  teaspoons  of  sugar, 2 teaspoons  of  pudina  paste, ¼  teaspoon  of  jeera  powder, ¼ teaspoon  of pepper  powder, ¼ teaspoon  of  amchur  powder  and  salt  to taste.

Wash a  handful  of pudina   leaves  thoroughly  and crush with some  water  using  the  traditional  shilvat (pestle) to  form  a paste. Take 2 teaspoons  of  the  pudina  paste  and   put  it  through  a  strainer, taking  care  that  the  coarse  pudina  leaves  are  filtered  out. Add the strained mixture to the glass of cold water. Stir in the  lemon  juice, pepper  powder, jeera  powder, amchur  powder, sugar and salt. Mix thoroughly and serve.

The oil, derived  from  the herb,  contains  Vitamin  A  and  Vitamin C, flavonoids  and menthol. The herb contains fibre, iron, copper, calcium, folic  acid  and  omega-3  concentrates. Besides,  mint is  also  known  to  be  a  good  source  of  ascorbic  acid  and  minerals  like  potassium  and  manganese.

Digestive aid
A cup of mint tea can be very refreshing. The people of the Mediterranean used to steep a sprig of mint in a  cup  of  hot water and drink the decoction to settle  their stomachs after  a  lavish  feast.
Closer home, the  traditional  healers  of  Chattisgarh  believe that  the  aromatic  essential  oil  of  the  pudina  plant cools  the  heat  of  pachaka  pitta and corrects imbalances in  the  digestive  system. The menthol  in the herb soothes  the  lining  of  the  digestive  tract  and  stimulates  the  production  of  bile,  which aids digestion.

To make pudina  chai, you  would  require  2  cups  of   water, 10-12  washed pudina  leaves,  1 cup  of  milk, 1 cinnamon  stick, ¼ teaspoon  of ground  cloves, 1 teaspoon  of  grated  ginger, ¾ teaspoon  of  ground  cardamom, ½ teaspoon  of  black  peppercorns  and  a  tablespoon  of  honey.
Bring  the  water  to  a  boil  and  add  the  washed  pudina  leaves. Remove from  heat  and  keep  the  tea pot  covered. Let  the mint leaves steep  for  about  20 minutes. Add the  milk  and  the  spices. Stir  in  the  honey. Heat on a low flame for 15 minutes and  serve.

According  to  ayurvedic  physicians, a cup  of  hot  pudina  chai  helps  in  relieving the  symptoms  of  cough  as  well  as  problems  of  chest  congestion by blocking  the production  of   certain  chemicals  called  leukotrienes, thereby  preventing  the  occurrence  of   allergies  in  the  upper  respiratory  tract.

Spice route
In Chattisgarh, pudina  chutney  is served  with  every meal. To make the chutney, you would require  150 gm of fresh mint leaves with  stalks  discarded, 3 cloves  of  garlic, 2 green chillies,  1½  teaspoons of lime  juice  or  a  raw mango (chopped and peeled), 1½  teaspoons of  salt  and 1  teaspoon of sugar. Wash the mint leaves and  put them in the mixer with the rest of the ingredients and 1 tablespoon of water. Run  the  mixer  for  at least  20 seconds  and  then  again  for  another   3  minutes  till  the  desired  consistency  of  the  chutney  is  achieved.
To this day, traditional healers in Chattisgarh   recommend  the application of a poultice of ground pudina leaves on painful  joints. This is also applied on the forehead during a migraine attack. External application of pudina paste is known to heal skin infections as the herb has anti-bacterial properties. Yet another  unique  feature  of  the  herb is  its  power  to  treat tonsilitis. During bouts of tonsilitis, people are encouraged to gargle with hot water in which pudina  leaves have been boiled.

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