Healing Herbs

By: Mirza Ravhan

What best to take while breaking a fast?

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 9.47.15 AMThis writer posed the query to many on the first day of the blessed month of Ramadan that has just arrived.

It’s time for devotion and gratitude.  Fasting begins immediately after pre-dawn meal, Sehri, and ends after sun-set during the holy month. The faithful before heading to evening prayers enjoy dates, fresh fruit and juices!

“In Kashmir, Babri Tresh is a special drink for the auspicious occasion” revealed the respondents in one voice. You must know, it is very famous”, they said.

“I and the people accompanying me were given Babri Tresh on the way as my neighbors queued up with bucket full of the holy drink and poured it in glasses and presented to us with all reverence while we were leaving for the pilgrimage to Mecca for Hajj”, an elderly lady from Shehr-e-khas told this writer.

As we welcome the blessed month, observe fasting and join the prayers, we also bring home special seeds of an exceptional plant. Most of us don’t know much about its benefits and make it a part of our Ramadan diet for the sake of the social ritual and age old tradition. Had we been more aware about its benefits, we would probably be using it all the year round!

Basil Seeds (Babri Beol)

Locally known as Babri Beol, Basil seeds have numerous names including  tukh malanga, sabja seeds and  tulsi . Basil seeds are an important ingredient of the sherbet, also known as Kan-sherbat or Qand-sherbat, made for auspicious occasions in the valley of Kashmir.

Almost every household in Kashmir has basil seeds stocked up for the celebrated month. This is because basil seeds have a cooling effect and when added to the sherbet it enhances the cooling effect of the drink.

Being a key ingredient of popular drinks, Basil is widely used in the South East Asia. There are around 150 varieties of basil which are grown all around the globe but the one that is most popularly used in the kitchen is known as sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum).

The key chemical constituents of Basil leaves are vitamin c, terpenes, beta-carotene, caffeic acid, and essential oil while as Basil seeds contain vitamin k, protein and iron which makes them useful in treating different ailments . They have been part of the Unani, Ayurvedic and the Siddha medicine systems from a long time and also feature in the traditional Chinese system of medicine.

Cultural and Historical Significance

From the pyramids of ancient Egypt to the modern day kitchens Basil has found a role everywhere. Ancient Egyptians reportedly used Basil as a preserving herb in their tombs.

 India has deep connections with Basil as one of the species of Basil, commonly known as Tulsi ( Ocimum sanctum), also called the Holy Basil, is considered sacred as per the popular belief.

Holy Basil grows wild throughout India and is regarded as one of the most important herbs in the country with its medicinal properties recorded dating back to 3000 years. A hindu home is considered incomplete if it does not have a Tulsi plant in the courtyard where it is taken care of in the morning and evening.

Cultivation

Being native to India, Basil was introduced in Europe through India in the 16th century and later it found way to America. Currently, we find its extensive commercial cultivation in France, Egypt, Indonesia, and other temperate countries. Basil is an annual, easy to grow plant with leafy stems. It is sensitive to low temperatures so care should be taken so as to not expose it to very low temperatures. In cold climate especially in winter it is advised to grow indoors in the pots which are also desirable in view of the fragrance of the leaves of the plant.

Uses 

Basil seeds are in class of their own as far as their uses are concerned. They are used extensively in drinks. They have relaxing and cooling effect on the digestive system and help in relieving stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. Basil seeds help in getting rid of various toxins and ensure easy bowel movement. The extract of the leaves of the basil is used as a tonic.

Apart from the culinary use Basil has a huge role in the cosmetic industry as well . It is used in various shampoos, perfumes, soaps and lotions.They are also used as a treatment of hair loss.

Sweet Basil seeds are also used to treat conditions including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and metabolic imbalances besides sleeplessness and fatigue due to its property of being a mild sedative. It is believed to have antibacterial, antioxidant and anticancer properties due to the presence of various essential oils but the research done on these fronts so far is very limited. Certain herbal journals have reported Basil as an insect repellent as well.

The tiny black seeds  have the potential to help with blood sugar stabilisation, insulin levels and satiation-an ability to feel full.

Part of a Weight Loss Plan

Sweet basil seeds have   mucilaginous quality –swelling to create a gel-like substance when mixed with liquid. This expanding ability and their high-fibre content are seen as weight -loss assets that fill you up without filling you out. Basil seeds also have very few calories and a mild flavour.They give us a feeling of fullness which helps in curbing our appetite. However as per experts the evidence that  sweet basil seeds are a weight-loss miracle is scant. But one may include them safely as part of weight-loss plan that includes a healthy ,low calorie diet with more physical activity, but obviously one can not expect seeds to suddenly shrink your size !

As these seeds supress your appetite, so you dont overeat ! This keeps away some people from the cherished sweet Basil drink .

A female student at Kashmir University campus on the condition of anonymity revealed that she avoids taking Babri Tresh as one cannot eat much after taking a glass filled with it!

Method

 Mix Sweet Basil seeds in a small amount of water or milk and allow them to sit for 10-15 minutes so they swell up to 10  times of their volume before you consume it.

Kashmir Connection

Kashmiris have special love for basil seeds. Recently,a young Kashmiri professional working in Saudi Arabia wanted to arrange Babri Tresh for Iftar but due to language issues couldn’t convey his desire to anyone. He sought help back home and posed a question on face book ,’how to translate Babri Beol’?Query was answered and he was happy to get favourite tiny  black seeds in a nearby mall!

Basil seeds are available everywhere, now you can get them online as well. There are certain start-up companies in the state which have initiated marketing Basil seeds online,symbolising the limitless possibilities in the herbal wealth that the  valley is blessed with. Lets be benefitted by cutivating Basil in the kitchen gardens for our own good.

Wish our herbal assets increae !

(A regular contributor, Mirza Ravhan writes on issues related to science and society. Email: mirzaravhan@gmail.com )

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