The mystical corner Indian market: keeper of bizarre and mysterious treasures. Exotic scents of curry and spices and incense, sounds of Bollywood. Most important, possessor of healing spices and foods.
As someone who’s well-versed in the Indian science of Ayurveda, I view the Indian market as a massive apothecary. For the unacquainted, its foreign foods are probably daunting, but a little spice and rice education can change all that.
Whole Foods and the like are slowly catching on to India’s treasures. Himalayan salt is everywhere, and even Trader Joe’s now carries ghee. They’re slowly embracing the ancient food wisdom of Ayurveda. In the meantime, potent powers like ajwain, fenugreek, hing, mace, and jaggery– and sometimes even the more common Indian spices like tumeric and fennel– still require a shopping trip to the Indian market.
If you’ve been blessed with an Indian market in your town, take advantage. Here’s what to look for:
Fennel: Fennel is a wonderful spice to aid in digestion and improve the agni (digestive fire). Chew on a teaspoon and a half of fennel seeds after lunch and dinner to reduce bloating and relieve abdominal pain.
Cumin: Cumin helps to digest aama (toxic buildup) and improve digestive action. It promotes a healthy menstrual cycle in women. Fry the seeds in ghee or coconut oil and add to soups, beans, and vegetable dishes. For canker sores, chew on one teaspoon of the seeds and hold the juice in your mouth for a minute or so.
Ajwain: Also known as wild celery seeds or bishop’s weed, ajwain is both delicious and a regulator of metabolic activity. It eliminates parasites and keeps things moving in their proper downward direction. Fry the seeds in ghee or coconut oil and pour over cooked basmati rice. Add a squeeze of lemon and some fresh cilantro leaves, and stir to mix.
Tumeric: Western medicine acknowledges the healing properties of tumeric and many studies have been done verifying its potency– you could say that it’s good for everything. Either fry it in a little oil or ghee and add it to your cooking, or mix 1/8 tsp with 1 teaspoon almond flour and 1 tbsp plain organic yogurt, and leave this on your face for 10 minutes as a brightening mask. If you take a blood thinning medication consult your doctor before using tumeric.
Black mustard seeds: Mustard is good for keeping the bowels moving, alleviating constipation, and breaking down hard stools. Fry the seeds in hot oil or ghee until they pop, then add to soups, cooked vegetables, or rice dishes. Because of mustard’s hot quality, it’s not recommended for those who have any kind of excess heat in the body (such as acidity or burning sensations).
Methi: Also known as fenugreek, methi eliminates toxins by working on the kidneys. It reduces cholesterol and can prevent diabetes. Use whole, roasted or powdered in curries and bean dishes.
Cardamom: Cardamom calms imbalanced Pitta, the fire element, in our bodies. It promotes absorption of nutrients and balances all the doshas (the various energies within our bodies). Add cardamom seeds to coffee grinds and brew– this helps to balance the acidity of coffee. Or chew on a few pods as a mouth refresher. Chewing the seeds also calms irritation and agitation.
Mace: Mace and nutmeg are different parts of the same plant. Both are good for inducing sleep, but mace acts on the mind much quicker. Warm mace with milk and drink to promote sleep. You can also chew it to stave off food or cigarette cravings.
Asafoetida: Also know as hing, asafoetida has an undeniably strong smell, but don’t let this deter you. When used in cooking it helps prevent gas and bloating and works on the GI system. It eliminates parasites and is pain pacifying. Add a pinch of hing when cooking beans and vegetable dishes. Pregnant women should use caution with this spice.
Guda/jaggery: Jaggery is a form of sugar that’s alkaline in nature. It supports the digestive fire and the flow of prana in the body. When consumed in moderation it’s nourishing and strengthening, but like any sugar should not be consumed in excess.
Basmati rice: Basmati rice is fragrant and delicious. It’s an easy to digest and appropriate for all body types, during all seasons. Read more about rice here.
Moong dal or mung beans, whole and split: This is the only bean that Ayurveda says can be eaten by anyone, everyday, year-round. Mung means are easy to digest and full of protein. Whole mung beans have more fiber, but hulled and split mung beans cook faster.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but is a great starting point for incorporating beneficial herbs, spices and foods into your diet. Happy shopping!