India is home to a wide variety of foods and cuisines based on region and culture. Northern regions often consume aromatic, savory gravies, stir-fries, and flatbreads, Southern regions incorporate rice, lentils, tomato and tamarind into their dishes, and those living on the coast eat seafood, rice, and coconut-based foods (very generally speaking). Many people in India are vegetarians while others regularly eat mutton and chicken. One theme seen throughout this country is the incorporation of spices while cooking. Not only do the spices provide powerful flavoring, but they provide some great medicinal uses as well. Indian cuisine is known for its vibrant and spicy flavors.
Also known as carom, these seeds may be used medicinally for stomach and digestion issues, the common cold, and may even help ease arthritis pain. Related to herbs like dill, caraway and cumin, this is an important flavor in vegetarian food in the state of Gujarat, on the west coast. Find it in Gujarati Undhiyu, a vegetarian casserole-style dish made of root vegetables that’s traditionally cooked in a fire pit in the ground.
Native to the mountains of India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, this pod-containing plant is used for a variety of conditions. The strongest evidence on the benefits of cardamom is in calming the digestive tract, specifically nausea and vomiting post-surgery. It also may help research on how to treat high blood pressure and exhibits antimicrobial, antibacterial and antioxidant properties. You can commonly find whole cardamom pods added to basmati rice as well as to curries to add a warm, sweet flavor.
Used in many cultures as a common tooth-pain reliever due to its analgesic effects, clove may even help to block cavity-causing bacteria. This spice is used in both North and South Indian cuisine. In the North, it’s included as an ingredient in the classic spice blend garam masala. It is also commonly found in sweet recipes like chai and spiced tea in many regions, especially in Gujarat.
This herb is known as the ‘fruit’ of the coriander plant, and may be used in natural medicine to aid gastric issues such as indigestion, diarrhea, gas, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and constipation. Coriander is used in many ways in Indian cuisine because of its earthy, citrus flavor. The seeds are used whole and ground, especially in curry, and are commonly combined with herbs like turmeric and cumin. The leaves (cilantro) are used as a garnish in many dishes including rice and meat recipes, and in creamy yogurt sauces.
Cumin is used medicinally to treat high cholesterol, diabetes, to support healthy menstruation, and may even help with gastric issues like gas and diarrhea. Known as Jeera, cumin is used both as a whole spice but also ground. When used whole, you can find it along with mustard seeds to flavor vegetarian recipes. When ground, it’s used in the garam masala spice blend and in marinades.
An herb from the curry leaf plant, curry leaf is used in natural medicine to help with anemia due to its high concentration of iron and folic acid, and may even help with nausea. It is commonly used in Southern India, sauteed in oil, as a flavorful addition to dal, chutney, rice, soups and stews. Curry leaves are part of the citrus family and so they have a citrus flavor with hints of anise.
This aromatic herb may be used medicinally to treat a variety of conditions such as diabetes, reflux disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), male infertility, and may be applied topically to treat inflammation, wounds, ulcers, and eczema. A true staple of Indian cuisine throughout many regions, when cooked, they are aromatic and pair with other spices to give dishes a sweet, maple-type flavor. Find fenugreek in dishes like Aloo Methi, Methi rice, and Sabzi (vegetable) recipes.
Galangal is used medicinally to help treat a variety of stomach complaints such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and ulcers. Similar in some ways to ginger, it has a more peppery flavor and is denser, too. Galangal can be made into a tea, added to soups, and is commonly used as a spice in curry dishes.
This herb has been used medicinally in India for thousands of years and helps to treat the common cold and flu, lower blood pressure, and may even help with diabetes. It is well known for its potential to support the cardiovascular system. It is a base-spice for many dishes in India, used all the time, in all regions. Find it in paste form, minced, or used as a marinade. It is commonly added to naan bread, in vegetable dishes, or sliced into dips for a potent, aromatic flavor.
Ginger is a potent root that is most known for its anti-inflammatory properties. It helps to soothe the stomach by helping to treat nausea and vomiting, and can be made into an oil and be applied topically to relieve muscle and joint pain. It’s vibrant, spicy flavor is added to many savory recipes such as Ginger Chicken, curry recipes, chutneys (flavorful condiments), or tikka – a classic dish where pieces of meat or vegetables are marinated in a spice blend.
Nutmeg is used in natural medicine to help treat diarrhea, gas, nausea, and may even help with anxiety, arthritis, insomnia, and can be applied topically to help with oral pain relief. Find it in both sweet and savory recipes in India, often for custards, pies, cookies and other desserts. It is sometimes added to the spice blend garam masala and is especially used in traditional Mughlai dishes of Northern India.
The seeds from the sweet basil plant, sabja has been used medicinally in natural medicine for its ability to help treat constipation, bloating, the common cold, coughs, and may even help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Similar in some ways to chia seeds, sabja are also mucilaginous and are commonly incorporated into drinks desserts. Also called falooda, you can find sabja in drinks like milkshakes and smoothies including jigarthanda and shikanjvi.
Tamarind is a tree whose pod is used often medicinally. It can be helpful to treat constipation, fevers, nausea, gastric pains, and may even help treat the common cold. Known for its tangy flavor, find tamarind in curries and spicy dishes. Tamarind is often paired with other spices like ginger, turmeric, coriander and garam masala.
A common spice that has been used for its potent anti-inflammatory benefits, turmeric may be helpful when treating hay fever, depression, high cholesterol, and even pain. A staple ingredient in Indian cuisine, it gives rice and curry dishes their distinct, vibrant yellow color. The flavor of turmeric is subtle; adding a warm, earthy yet peppery flavor.
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