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Thursday, June 30, 2011
There are forty species of horehound around the globe, but white horehound is indigenous to Europe, North Africa and Central Asia. It has become naturalized in both North and South America and is now considered a pest in Australia, having been introduced there in the 19th century. Black horehound is now no longer in the same Marrubium genus. Horehound is a member of the Lamiaceae family of plants formerly called Labiateae, which include mint, sage and oregano.
Horehound is not a corruption of the word ‘whore’ but hore here means hoary or hairy, as the plant is covered in silky white hairs. It is also called Hoarhound. Marrubium either comes from an ancient Italian city, Maris urbs or from the Hebrew marrob meaning “bitter juice” so as the herb is edible it could have been one of the bitter herbs used in the Jewish Passover. Horseradish and Kos lettuce are typically served on the Seder plate as two of the bitter herbs of the Passover. Bitter herbs include rue and wormwood, but horehound is not as bitter as these.
Some believe that the “hore” is linked with the Egyptian god Horus, god of the Sky and Light, and it is said that horehound was called the “seeds of Horus”. It is also believed that it was known by the names Bull’s blood and Eye of the Star in ancient Egypt. The Egyptians used it for fevers and snake bites and other poison.
However it is mainly used for chest infections and coughs and colds, with the tisane being very good for these. Gerard and Culpeper the Renaissance herbalists both agreed to its efficacy against these minor ailments. Gerard also recommended it for “those that have drunk poyson or have been bitten by serpents” or indeed by “”mad dogges.”
Culpeper had this remedy for chest problems and colds-½ oz of each of the following herbs plus horehound: hyssop, rue, liquorice root and marsh mallow, boiled in 2 pints of water which should be reduced to 1½ pints, then strained and drunk three times a day by the wineglassful Interestingly the German Commission E has approved the use of horehound for bronchial problems and laryngitis.
Dioscorides believed that a decoction of white horehound was effective in cases of tuberculosis, asthma, coughs and believed it was a good immune system booster which could prevent the occurrences of colds and flu. As we now know that it contains vitamins A, C and E as well as some B-complex ones, it can probably help in the case of the common cold. It also contains flavonoids and essential fatty acids, as well as the minerals, iron, and potassium among others. It contains the diterpene marrubin which is known to be an expectorant, so it is good for getting rid of phlegm and mucous. It is useful for sore throats and a good tisane is one that contains equal amounts of white horehound, mullein flowers, thyme and lavender; the other ingredients mask the bitterness of horehound.
It seems that modern scientists believe that along with the South American Trumpet tree (Cecropia obtusfolia) may help those with Type 2 diabetes. Trials have also been conducted with horehound and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) which suggest that both have antioxidant properties and may protect the liver.
Horehounds leaves and flowers have antiseptic and antispasmodic properties and aid digestions, act as a diuretic, and promote sweating during bouts of fever. The plant has been used to promote menstruation, and can be used for its stimulating effects. Interestingly if you grow horehound in the garden with tomato plants, it is said that you will have a better yield, of fruit, but no one quit knows why this might be.
It was believed that horehound when carried with you could protect against sorcery and also it is rumoured that if you put the leaves of this plant in a bowl of water with leaves from the ash tree and place it in a sick room, the person who is ill will soon recover. The fresh green leaves when bruised can be placed on a fresh wound to stop the blood and promote healing, and once they were mixed with fat to make an ointment for wounds.
This tisane below can be made in a decoction too by boiling the herb in the liquid so that it reduced by ¼ pint and used on skin problems such as irritated skin, acne and eczema. The tisane is for chest problems, colds, flu and fevers.
1 oz fresh horehound leaves and flowering tops, or ½ oz dried
1 pint boiling water
honey (not sugar) to taste, or stevia leaves steeped with the horehound ones.
Put the leaves in a pot and pour the boiling water over them.
Leave to steep for 45 mins.
Strain and drink lukewarm.
The dose is a wineglassful 3 or 4 times a day.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The marsh mallow is native to Europe but was probably introduced to Britain by the Romans. It is related to the truly native common mallow and has much the same properties. Althaea comes from the Greek meaning “to heal” and of course, officinalis means official so this plant is an “official healer.” Its relatives also include the musk mallow, Malva meschata, hibiscus, hollyhocks, okra and cotton. There are around 1,000 mallow species and they all contain a gummy, substance called mucilage (think of okra).
The root of the Marsh Mallow used to be used to produce the confectionary of the same name, but now it doesn’t have a trace of marsh mallow in it. This sweet was first made by the Egyptians who boiled the root of the marsh mallow with honey, using it as a medicine for respiratory problems. The remedy was refined by a French pharmacist who added beaten egg whites to the powdered root and sugar. He called his concoction Pâté de Guimauve (which is the French for marsh mallow).
bioflavonoids, kaempferol and quercetin, coumarins and phenolic acids including caffeic and vanillic acid. The roots contain polysaccharides, pectins tannin and asparagines.
Commercial preparations of marsh mallow typically include other ingredients, one famous remedy for drawing splinters out of the skin is a paste made from slippery elm and marsh mallows, which can even as if by magic draw out bee stings. Pliny knew about this and only used the juice of the marsh mallow to do this. In fact Pliny regarded the marsh mallow highly as he said of it “Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him.”
|cheeses or seed pods|
In the Middle Ages Paracelsus used it for wounds to clean and heal them, while Lonericus and Matthiolas used it as an expectorant and diuretic as well as for internal injuries (following Dioscorides), ulcers and burns etc.
You can make an infusion or decoction of the peeled root for skin problems (apply it to the affected areas) and take it orally as a gargle for mouth ulcers and a sore throat.
If you take all the above ground parts of the marsh mallow, and pour boiling water over it, leave this to steep for 3 hours and drink ½ a pint a day for gravel and kidney stones. However this should be discontinued after 3 or 4 days and you can start again after this period. An old Victorian remedy suggests that you can put a teaspoonful of gin into this drink if there is no inflammation! (Those prudish Victorians were very fond of gin.)
A remedy for diarrhoea was to boil the powdered root in milk, and in wine for respiratory problems to relieve coughs, bronchitis etc.
For a tisane of the flowers you should pick them as they are about to bloom and take a handful to a pint of boiling water and leave them to steep in it for 15 minutes.
The Romans considered the flowers a delicacy, and in former times the tender young tops and leaves were eaten in salads, although if you eat them you may want to steam them first as tastes have changed. They are good for the kidneys apparently.
If you peel the root and pour boiling water over it, you can use the water for coughs internally and externally it can relieve sunburn. You can make a gel for dry hands by boiling peeled marsh mallow roots until you get a gel although if you stop the process before the gel forms, you can use it as a hair rinse on dry hair.
In Europe marsh mallows are found along with other ingredients in many ointments and syrups and used to clean wounds, heal ulcers, and generally in products which are for the treatments the traditional healers used to employ marsh mallows for.
The marsh mallow is a very versatile herb that has been used throughout the ages for a variety of ills.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Tea has its origins in South-East Asia, and has been drunk for around 3,000 years or so. Drinking tea is alleged to have started with a Chinese Emperor who first accidentally made a brew. (Personally, I like the coffee story involving Ethiopian goats best.) Whatever the case, tea is the world’s most widely ingested beverage, second only to water. There are many varieties of Camellia sinensis and tea grown in different places has distinctive flavours. Basically there are four types of tea, black, green, white and oolong.
China and India are the top world producers of tea along with the island of Sri Lanka, where Ceylon tea comes from, although it is also grown in Japan where there is an elaborate tea ceremony, and in Taiwan. However the tea we drink tends to come from either India or China (hence the saying “…not for all the tea in China”). Darjeeling tea is considered one of the finest black teas, and this is grown at altitudes of 7,000 feet in the Himalayas.
The young leaves of tea are picked for processing by hand, and the first harvest or “flush” produces the finest tea. Oil can be extracted from the seed, which is clear and golden yellow and isn’t affected when exposed to oxygen. It can be substituted for olive oil or rapeseed oil but not for sesame oil or corn oil. This is not the essential oil sold in outlets such as “The Body Shop” as Tea Tree oil, as this comes from an Australian tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia.
The tea trees of Camellia sinensis are pruned so that the leaves can be easily harvested, but in its natural state a tree could grow to 30 feet. In plantations they are the size of bushes. They have small white flowers with yellow stamens which look a little like camellias, to which the tea plant is related.
In China tea has been used to cure almost everything including cancer and heart diseases, and it does have some therapeutic properties. It contains the alkaloids caffeine, theophylline and theobromine (also found in the cacao bean). Theobromine can help lower blood pressure as it can dilate blood vessels, and also relaxes the bronchii in the lungs, so is often found in cough medicines. Catechins are also found in tea and these polyphenols have potent antioxidant properties, so they can protect cells from damage which can be caused by free radicals. This means that they can help prevent cancer and heart disease.
A lot of research has been done on green tea, but this has not convinced the USFDA (they refused to allow green tea manufacturers to claim on packaging that green tea can prevent heart diseases and cancer) or other Institutions that drinking green tea can help prevent mortalities. It might but the evidence is not conclusive.
Drinking green tea is probably better than drinking black tea in terms of a weight loss diet as it doesn’t require milk, use lemon instead, and try not to use sweeteners, unless you add a few stevia leaves. Tea contains tannins, and although tea has been used as a digestive aid and to cure stomach problems, I know to my cost that it can cause vomiting and other side effects.
Tea also contains caffeine which is a known stimulant and for years it was drunk for this reason. However, coffee has the same effect and for me at least, it doesn’t have the same side effects.
You can use used tea bags in the same way as slices of cucumber, to get rid of puffiness around the eyes and to help tired eyes. They can also help if applied to sunburn, as can cucumber or natural yoghurt.
Green tea and black tea can act as antiseptic agents in the mouth, getting rid of herpes or mouth ulcers. Green tea can help protect teeth from a build-up of plaque. A compress of green tea can staunch bleeding from a wound and a poultice can relieve headaches, as can one made from black tea. Green tea has anti inflammatory properties and is antiseptic. It is possible that a skin wash made from green tea can help the elasticity of the skin as it may protect collagen.
Tea contains amino acids, and it is said vitamin C, although ascorbic acid in fresh leaves is destroyed in the process of producing black tea.
With all the hype surrounding green tea, it doesn’t seem to make much difference if you drink it or not, although studies have been designed which prove that it does make a difference. It probably won’t harm you but stick to 2 or 3 cups a day of any tea.
This is in contrast to the studies into coffee which seem to show that the more you drink, the better it is for your health.
SPICY GREEN TEA
1 tbsp green tea leaves for 2 cups
1 green cardamom pod
1 inch piece of cinnamon stick
2 cups water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Put all the ingredients except the lemon in the pot and bring to the boil.
Lift liquid up from the pot and allow it to drizzle back in to it, from a height so that the air passes through the liquid. Do this a few times.
Turn off the heat and cover and leave to steep for 3 minutes.
Strain and pour into cups.
Add lemon juice and sugar as required.
This tea is good if you have a cold or flu and is a winter warmer. It is also an aid to digestion.
This has Taste and is a Treat.
Monday, June 27, 2011
NASTURTIUMS - EDIBLE FLOWERS: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF NASTURTIUMS: HOW TO MAKE NASTURTIUM SALAD
Nasturtiums originally came from Peru and perhaps are also native to Chile. The original nasturtiums were brought to Europe (to Spain) by the conquistadores in the 16th century, who were also responsible for introducing Europeans to the cacao bean from which we get chocolate. These first nasturtiums were Tropaeolum minus, having a semi-trailing vine and orange-yellow flowers, with leaves in the shape of a shield. The taller variety Tropaeolum majus which had darker orange flowers and rounder leaves was introduced by a Dutch botanist much later. Today there are nasturtiums of various colours from off-white through to a dark burgundy colour.
The official name of watercress is Nasturtium officinale, and nasturtiums were named so because they have a peppery taste like the watercress. The name nasturtium means “nose twisted” (from the Latin nasum, nose and torquere to twist), probably referring to the pungent smell of the flowers or the mustard – like oil that is released from the leaves when they are chewed. The whole above ground parts of the plant are edible, and can be used for medicinal purposes.
The Incas knew about the medicinal value of these flowers and used them in salads, as can be done today. Like kachnar, marigold, violet and viola flowers, nasturtium blooms are edible and are a good addition to salads.
The nasturtium is called by many names including ‘nasties’, Indian Cress, Monk’s cress and Capuchin cress, which is a reference to the shape of the flowers which resemble a Capuchin monk’s hooded cloak. I had the misguided idea that there name was “nasty urchins” and I took a long time to put this right. I used to plant seeds in my part of the garden when I was young along with sweet peas. They grow easily and reseed if left to do so, and are very decorative plants and useful too if you plant them between vegetables as they attract blackfly so sparing vegetables from this pest. They also repel aphids, ants and flies.
The seeds contain fatty oil which is used as varnish like linseeds oil, and this is composed of unsaturated fatty acids (good ones). The mustard-like oil permeated the whole plant and contains Benzyl isothiocyanate which is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. The plant is used for respiratory infections and clears phlegm from the chest in bronchial infections. It is also good for the liver, kidneys and bladder, and has diuretic properties. It is also used for skin problems, with an infusion or decoction made from the whole plant (not roots).
Nasturtiums contain flavonoids such as kaempferol and iso-quercitrin, carotenoids, vitamin C, the minerals iron, sulphur, manganese and amino acids. They have antiseptic properties and act as a diuretic and mild laxative, (not as strong as senna pods or jamalgota).In the past they were used to promote menstruation, and purify the blood. An infusion of the leaves can be made into sap flakes and can be used as insecticide. An infusion or decoction of the leaves and flowers can help combat skin problems including acne. They were useful for their vitamin C content to prevent scurvy in the past when people tended to suffer from a vitamin C deficiency in winter.
Nasturtiums have featured in many paintings including “La Ronde” by Henri Matisse, and just by looking at the pictures here you will no doubt see why they have been a feature in so many paintings. Monet had them in his garden at Giverney of course.
The flower buds may be used as a substitute for capers, although you shouldn’t eat too many of them as they contain oxalic acid which is toxic. The flowers are delicious stuffed with cream cheese and the petals can be added to salads. You can make pickles with the seed pods in autumn too, and nasturtium and lemon butter to make a change from garlic butter, as it is good with fish and chicken.
2 nasturtium flowers per person, washed and dried
cream cheese (depending on how many flower heads)
black pepper, freshly ground
2-3 cloves garlic
1 small Kos lettuce
½ red radicchio lettuce
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
4 spring onions cut thinly into slivers
1 tbsp capers
fresh parsley sprigs to decorate
white wine vinegar
Mix the cream cheese with the garlic and freshly ground black pepper, then stuff the flowers with it.
Use whole leaves of the lettuces and decorate with other salad ingredients.
Mix 2 parts olive oil to 1 part white wine vinegar, add herbs or a little red chilli powder, or cayenne or paprika according to your preference, shake well and use as a salad dressing. Top with the stuffed flowers.
This has Taste and is a Treat.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
COFFEE ( COFFEA ARABICA) - HISTORY AND MEDICIAL RESEARCH: COFFEE IS GOOD FOR YOU: HOW TO MAKE GREEK OR TURKISH COFFEE
COFFEE, COFFEA ARABICA
Coffee grows on bushes or small trees, and the beans ripen in pods called cherries. You probably know the story of how an Ethiopian goat herder noticed his goats were friskier than usual after eating the red berries on a bush. He ate some too and realized the stimulant qualities of what we now call coffee. This is a similar tale to the way Cordyceps sinensis otherwise known as the caterpillar fungus, was found by yak herders in Tibet.
By AD 1000 coffee had found its way into the Arabian Peninsula and was a well-kept secret among Muslims, who at first used it for its stimulating qualities, allowing them to stay awake all night during special prayer times. Later coffee shops opened and it was drunk for pleasure as it is now.
No fertile bean grew outside of the Muslim world, and it took Baba Budan to smuggle some out of Mecca, or so the story goes. The Turks had coffee and this was introduced to Europe in 1615. The Europeans adored it and the race was on to establish a coffee trade. The Dutch were the first to have a plantation owned by Europeans, on Java, Indonesia. The beans were given away by the Dutch to European royalty and from the plant given to Louis XIV around 1714, other plantations sprung up, notably in the West Indies. Arguably one of the best (and most expensive) coffees in the world is Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
A Brazilian Colonel was sent to French Guiana ostensibly to settle a dispute, but in fact to steal fertile coffee beans which he did, although he didn’t exactly steal them, they were a gift for his ‘services’ from the governor’s wife, hidden in a bouquet when he left and so his mission was successful, as Brazil is now one of the biggest coffee exporters in the world.
The coffee bean has a rather lurid history to be sure, and has been reviled because it was once said by scientists to be cancer forming. This was actually retracted by the researchers a day after publication in the world’s press, but the general public only remember the ‘fact’ that coffee caused cancer and not the retraction.
One coffee plant can produce one pound of coffee beans, and unfortunately the plant is subject to blight which can decimate crops and cause prices to rocket. Banking on coffee futures is often not a good investment. The coffee plant is a member of the Rubiaceae family along with Kadamb.
2011 was a good year for coffee, as researchers at the University of Bristol, UK conducted a study which showed that women performed memory tests better after drinking coffee, and reacted more quickly than usual to stressful situations. On the other hand men were slower and not as responsive as the women in the study.
Harvard research later in the same year found that if a man drank coffee (more than 6 cups a day was optimal) then they lowered the risk of getting prostate cancer, and if they contracted it, it was less likely to be terminal.
Yet another Harvard study showed that coffee drinking did not increase the risk of having a second stroke nor did it adversely affect people with cardio-vascular problems. If you have a heart problem the researchers say, you don’t have to give up drinking coffee.
If you start drinking coffee at thirty then you will have health benefits, such as staving off Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. These were the results of two separate studies. Four to five cups a day are deemed to be moderate. The coffee should be caffeinated but decaff will do scientists think.
As yet they have not identified the substance or compound in coffee that has such beneficial effects on our health, so studies into coffee are ongoing.
In Italy and Greece people don’t just eat lots of tomatoes, with olive oil, but they also consume a lot of coffee. It has potent antioxidant properties along with chocolate, red wine and green tea. Greeks will take hours over a small cup of coffee and a glass of water in their cafeneions (traditional coffee houses). In both Greece and Turkey fortunes are told by reading the coffee grounds; you upturn the cup when you have finished and the sludgy coffee will plop onto the saucer, after a few minutes. The cup is then turned up the right way and the outlines on the sides of the cup are interpreted for you, in much the same way as people read tea leaves in Britain. In Greece frappé coffee is the norm in summer made form instant coffee. You take a spoonful of it and mix with sugar and a tiny amount of water. Whisk this to a froth then add water and ice and milk if you like.
Below is the recipe for Greek or Turkish coffee, traditionally made in a briki or long-handled pot. You can use a small saucepan if you don’t have one. Crushed green cardamom seeds may be added to the coffee if you wish or a whole pod for several cups of coffee. You can also add a small piece of cinnamon or cassia to the pot and boil it with the coffee. For a chocolate and coffee mousse see our chocolate post.
GREEK OR TURKISH COFFEE
1½ -2 tsps ground Arabica beans
1½-2 small coffee cups water
sugar to taste
Put all the above ingredients into the briki and stir well then slowly bring to the boil.
Quickly remove it from the heat and turn the heat down to low. Allow the coffee to boil again, it will be very frothy.
Pour into the cup and drink.
Makes 1 cup
This has Taste and is a Treat.
THE CATERPILLAR FUNGUS, CORDYCEPS SINENSIS
The story of the caterpillar fungus is a lot like the one of how the Ethiopian goat herder discovered coffee, and how salajeet was discovered by the English. In the case of coffee a goat herder noticed that after eating the fruit from a bush, his goats became livelier, while an Englishman traveling in the Himalayas saw monkeys eating a black sticky substance, and thought that this may have been why older monkeys had more hair than the ones in the plains. In the case of the caterpillar fungus Tibetan yak herders watched as their yaks became very lively and scoured the grass they had been grazing on and found this fungus.(I can’t imagine what a yak does when it becomes lively!) The fruiting head of this fungus looks a little grass-like and I guess it would be hard to spot, if you weren’t looking carefully for it.
The original find was soon a matter for the Chinese Emperors who discovered that the fungus had invigorating qualities, and so it was seen as an anti-ageing invigorating “herb” for centuries. Of course like cacao in Mayan culture and later in Spain, only the wealthy could afford this “magical mushroom” because it was so expensive due no doubt to its rarity. At one time it was worth four times its weight in silver.
The West discovered it when a French Jesuit priest, Jean Baptiste du Halda was introduced to it by the Chinese Emperor, whose guest he was. It first appeared in Tibetan medical writings in the 15th century and in later European Materia Medica in the 18th century.
As it is a parasite C. sinensis can grow on caterpillars, insects and other fungi among other things. The picture of it looking distinctly like a caterpillar is the fungus that grew on one of these creatures and devoured its flesh. One of the things with this fungus is that although there have been hundreds of studies done on it most are questionable for one reason or another. For example, we don’t know which host the fungus grew on in some studies, and the constituents of the fungus would depend on the nutrients taken from the host. Other studies have not been translated entirely from Chinese, so the quality of the research is in doubt. In still other studies the researchers have had a vested interest in promoting the fungus because they work for the health supplement companies.
Now cultivated C. sinensis are used in the US but no comparative studies have been done on the properties of these compared to their wild relatives.
What is certain is that it has been used in Chinese traditional medicine for centuries to rejuvenate the aging and to boost energy levels. It has also been used to promote the health of the lungs, heart and immune system. It is said to improve male sexual functions too.
It can increase oxygen capacity in the lungs, and boost energy levels, banishing fatigue and aching muscles in athletes. It is said to have helped athletes win many events, and sometimes set new world records. It has been proved to have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, and it may have potent antioxidant qualities. It enhances blood circulation and lowers cholesterol levels, it is believed from some studies. C. sinensis also supports the functions of the lungs, kidneys and liver, as well as boosting the immune system. It may have anti-cancer properties.
Some of the specimens of C. sinensis which have been analyzed contain all the essential amino acids and others, vitamins E, K, an assortment of minerals and the fatty acids, oleic, linoleic, palmitic and stearic.
Before you are tempted to buy a supplement containing this herb, try to make sure that it is genuine. Alternatively find other herbs that are native to your area to do the work you want this one to do.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Samosas are very popular street food in Pakistan and you can buy them almost anywhere, in special samosa shops where you can sit and eat them, covered with a delicious imli (tamarind) sauce, or with a different sauce (called ‘chutney’ here) such as a mint sauce.. They are one of the foods served to break the fast during Ramadan and are frequently served with pakoras.
What are samosas? They are stuffed savoury pastries and may be stuffed with potatoes, which is most common and the recipe given here, or they can be stuffed with minced (ground) beef and peas, or with chicken, or a mixture of vegetables.
2 cups fine flour (maida), sifted
2 tsps oil
warm water to mix
1 egg, beaten to seal pastry
3-4 potatoes depending on size
3 green chillies, finely chopped
1 onion chopped into small pieces
½ tsp ginger root, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, shredded finely
1 tbsp mint leaves, finely shredded
1 tbsp anar dana (dried pomegranate seeds), soaked for 15 mins before using
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp turmeric
oil for deep frying
Now roll them into rounds of 6 inches and cut in the middle.
Boil the potatoes peeled and whole then leave them to cool and mash them with all the other ingredients.
Beat the egg and use to seal two sides of each cone of pastry. Fill the cone with the filling and seal the end with the egg again.
Heat the oil for deep-frying and when hot enough to fry chips or French fries, lower the samosas into it a batch at a time so that they cook evenly.
Fry until the pastry is golden brown, remove from the oil and drain on absorbent paper.
Serve with chutney (sauce).
This has Taste and is a Treat.
The Ashoka tree is revered by Hindus and Buddhists alike, and is native to the Indian subcontinent. It has now spread farther afield and can be found in South-East Asia, including Thailand. It is a slow-growing evergreen tree with deep green leaves, although it is commonly mistaken for the Mast tree, which it doesn’t resemble, actually. It is also sometimes referred to as Jonesia asoka and Saraca asoka Roxb.but its proper botanical name is Saraca indica It is a member of the Fabaceae family or pea family, so is distantly related to the carob tree ( Ceratonia siliqua ), but it is in the sub family Caesalpaeniaceae as is senna. It has fragrant flowers with half white and half crimson stamens which give the flower clusters a hairy appearance, rather like the flowers on Grevillea robusta, although the Ashoka’s flowers are crimson and orange.
Like the peepal tree it is sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus, as Hindus believe it is sacred to Kama Devi, the god of love, who used the flower on the tip of one of his five arrows to incite passion and desire. (One of its names means the tree of love.) Buddhists believe that the Buddha was born under the Ashoka tree. This is why you can see the tree in many temple and monastery gardens. The tree is mentioned in the Ramayana the Sanskrit text of Hindu mythology.
Ashoka means without grief or sorrow in Sanskrit, (so a visit to a restaurant called this should be a pleasant experience) and its essential oil is used to help those who have suffered bereavement, or who feel isolated and alone. It is thought that drinking the water in which the flowers from the tree have been washed will protect against grief caused by trauma and suffering. The pulped flowers are also used as a remedy for dysentery.
The tree is mainly used in medicine for female problems, but it may have anti-depressant properties in its leaves according to one research study. It is said to keep women healthy and youthful and is mainly used for gynaecological problems, with the bark employed as well as the flowers and roots in medical preparations. It contains bioflavonoids and tannins as well as amino acids and a variety of other substance and compounds which have not all be isolated.
Research that has been done on the tree’s properties suggests that the stem bark has antifungal and anti-bacterial properties, as well as pain-killing ones. It may also have an impact on the central nervous system, but there has only been one study of this, so it is early days yet.
It is hoped that Ashoka can help with Type II diabetes, but again, it is too early to tell. Not as much research has been done on this tree as has been done on the Kadamb tree.