Try Vi­darbha's earthy tea

Tea made with Anan­ta­mool herb can b be more than a re­fresher


IN THE EARLY years of my car­rer, when be­gan work­ing with the farm­ers of Vi­darbha, I would al­ways try to avoid a vi­tal as­pect of their hos­pi­tal­ity—the in­evitable black tea. The tea, in fact, has a muddy colour and a strong muddy flavour that would set my nerves on edge. But re­fus­ing the too-strong-too-sweet tea is tan­ta­mount to in­sult­ing the host in this arid re­gion of Ma­ha­rash­tra. An el­derly farmer once made this re­sound­ingly clear. “We poor peo­ple can only of­fer tea by way of hon­our­ing our guests. By re­fus­ing it, you refuse our hon­our,” he told me as I was try­ing to wrig­gle out of gulp­ing down the brew. Another time, in a Dalit house­hold, I had to drink a huge lota of wa­ter to prove that I did not refuse the tea out of “touch­a­bil­ity” con­cerns.

Th­ese few in­ci­dents put the fear of the lord into me, and I have never since re­fused tea in ru­ral ar­eas. So for more than two decades, I sur­vived the brew by de­vel­op­ing naughty strate­gies in­stead—take one big gulp and leave the rest; hide the cup be­hind the leg of a cot or a chair; or worse, pour the tea on the mud floor when no one is look­ing. But it turns out that all this while I was too ig­no­rant to ap­pre­ci­ate the flavour.

One day, at my farm, my farm help Ramesh Dhurve walked off with a pick­axe at the men­tion of tea. In­trigued, I fol­lowed him and found him dig­ging out what looked like long gnarled ropes. On a closer in­spec­tion, I could see that they were the roots of a thin, barely no­tice­able creeper run­ning be­tween rocks and show­ing pointed, dark green leaves at in­ter­vals. “It is kho­barvel,” Dhurve in­formed me, “we add it to tea for fra­grance.”

The scales fell from my eyes with the first sip of the tea Dhurve made us­ing the root. This was the flavour that had tor­mented me for years—only this time around it was milder, partly be­cause Ramesh is a Gond tribal from Be­tul dis­trict in Mad­hya Pradesh. Tea is tra­di­tion­ally milder in this part of the state than in Vi­darbha where food and bev­er­ages have strong taste and flavour. A few more sips later, I re­alised that the brew had a re­fresh­ing earthy flavour—not muddy.

En­quiries re­vealed that kho­barvel, as the vine is known in Mad­hya Pradesh and Ma­ha­rash­tra, is the herb, Hemidesmus indi­cus whose pow­er­ful health ben­e­fits are recog­nised in ayurveda. Called sariva or anan­ta­mool in San­skrit, the herb is known for its cool­ing, di­uretic and anti-in­flam­ma­tory prop­er­ties, and is used to cure a host of ail­ments, in­clud­ing skin prob­lems like pso­ri­a­sis and eczema, arthri­tis, acute and chronic gout, in­flam­ma­tion of mu­cus mem­branes, heavy men­strual bleed­ing, slug­gish di­ges­tion and uri­nary in­fec­tions of all kinds, in­clud­ing se­ri­ous kid­ney ail­ments. The herb is also known to cure in­fer­til­ity. It is one of the 10 herbs used in pre­par­ing the for­mi­da­ble dashamool con­coc­tion, which is said to cure vir­tu­ally ev­ery ail­ment.

Sev­eral mod­ern re­searches un­der­score the wound heal­ing, im­munomod­u­la­tory and anti-mi­cro­bial prop­er­ties of the herb.

In 2012, K Vi­jaya Ku­mari of Dr NTR Univer­sity of Health Sciences, Vi­jayawada, es­tab­lished that pow­dered Hemidesmus when ap­plied on wounds speeds up the heal­ing process and re­duces scar­ring. Her re­search was pub­lished in the In­ter­na­tional Re­search Jour­nal of Pharmacy in 2012.

A year ear­lier, Smitha Ja­yaram and Shailaja S Dharmesh from the Cen­tral Food Tech­no­log­i­cal Re­search In­sti­tute, Mysore, had found phe­no­lic com­pounds in the herb. Anti-ox­i­dant prop­er­ties of th­ese com­pounds make the herb so ef­fec­tive against mul­ti­ple health ail­ments, they noted in Phar­ma­cog­nosy Re­search pub­lished in 2011.

Another group of re­searchers have also found phe­nols in Hemidesmus indi­cus. The study, led by Rajan S of Depart­ment of Mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy, Shri­mad An­da­van Arts and Sci­ence Col­lege in Tiruchi­ra­palli, have found sig­nif­i­cant amounts of other heal­ing com­pounds like tan­nins and flavonoids in it. Their find­ing was pub­lished in Asian Jour­nal of Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Re­search in 2011.

Small won­der that in re­cent years Hemidesmus indi­cus has be­come a health fad of sorts world­wide, mostly be­cause of its coolant prop­erty. A popular for­mu­la­tion of the herb is Ira­musu tea, based on the Sri Lankan name for the herb.

The tribal peo­ple of Mad­hya Pradesh and Ma­ha­rash­tra con­sume the herb as a mat­ter of course. Ringo Bai, Dhurve’s wife, told me that peo­ple in her vil­lage boil the root with tea and con­sume it reg­u­larly in sum­mers.“It is said to be good for health.” When I told her about the health ben­e­fits of the herb,she said, “If there are health ben­e­fits,we will get them any­way, whether we know them or not.” As for why it is con­sumed only in sum­mers,she sim­ply said,“It is eas­ier to find.”

I won­der if a sig­nif­i­cant part of the tribal wis­dom is in sim­ply let­ting na­ture de­cide which food to put on the plat­ter and when. A piece of ad­vice I have heard again and again in tribal ar­eas is that wild vegetables and herbs be­come avail­able when it is good for us to eat them.

So now I know I must learn to gulp down the “muddy”tea with­out com­plaint if I want to keep my job as a food writer.

Anan­ta­mool vine. Its pow­er­ful health ben­e­fits are recog­nised in ayurveda

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