Turmeric leaves- Flavoring Indian Food and Culture!

The month of Shraavan (mid-July through mid-August) is one of the most holy, spiritually dense and culturally bountiful month in the Indian Hindu Calendar.

Turmeric Leaves

Fasting, Cooking Sattvic foods (foods that promote clear thinking, positive thoughts and attitude), worshiping snake God Naga, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Goddess Laxmi and Surya (Sun God) are some of the most prominent rituals celebrated during this month by Hindus. Shraavan month marks the beginning of Sharad ritu– a time for natural surge in Pitta dosha in our body. The religious practices in India being woven around the teachings of Ayurveda. Naturally, they are seen to integrate many Pitta balancing and health promoting dietetic principles. One of them is cooking with turmeric leaves during the various religious festivals that come during the month of Shraavana.

Turmeric leaves are typically found from June to November in India. Indians consider turmeric leaves auspicious as they are believed to bring prosperity to the household. They are used in the preparation of ‘patoleo’ (Konkani Language of Goa)- a sweet dish made from rice, coconut and jaggery in Goa and North Karnataka during the festival of Naga Panchami (worship of Snake God) and Ganesh Chaturthi (festival of Lord Ganesha). Fine and thick paste made from soaked rice is applied to the turmeric leaves (which are washed and trimmed prior to the preparation). A filling of grated coconut cooked with jaggery, sesame seeds and cardamom is stuffed on top of the layer of rice paste. The leaf is then folded along its length or horizontally. These folded and stuffed leaves are then layered in a tradition copper steamer lined with rice straw and steamed till they are cooked firm and aromatic. Similar recipe is used for making ‘Endure Pitha’ – a delicacy of the state of Orissa (Oodissa) on the east coast of India. Endure Pitha are made during the festival of Prathaamashtami (festival for the long life and prosperity of the first born child) during the Hindu month of Maargashirsha (around November).

Turmeric leaves are also added to flavor sweets like ‘Paayasam’ (pudding made with rice or wheat, jaggery, milk or coconut milk), steamed sweet cakes made from jackfruit pulp, coconut and rice (dhonasa/mandaas/muddoKonkani language) and cucumber (TavasaliKonkani langauge) in the coastal states of Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  Turmeric leaves are used extensively in the rituals of the four day long harvest festival in South Indian states‘Pongal’  of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka celebrated during the Tamil Month of ‘Thai/Tai’ (mid-January to mid-February) marking the winter solstice (Makara Sankranti). They are also boiled with butter while making Ghee (clarified butter) which gives a rich aroma to ghee. Adding turmeric leaves also prevents growth of fungus in the ghee and increases its shelf life.

Turmeric leaves are also used in traditional fish curries made with coconut gravy and firm fish like Mackerels especially in the coastal states of Goa, Karnataka and Kerala. Shallow fried fish (mackerels) wrapped in turmeric leaves, dry gravy of fish (Sukke- Konkani language) made with coconut and turmeric leaves are very popular fish delicacies of the coast. Apart from India, Turmeric leaves are extensively used in Thai and Malaysian cooking as well.

Besides its soulful, refreshing and appetizing aroma, cooking with turmeric leaves has hordes of health benefits. Turmeric leaves improve digestion, prevent bloating and abdominal discomfort. They are cooling in nature and hence pacify Pitta dosha. They help in natural detoxification and have anti-septic properties. Turmeric leaves are also popular as a mild laxative. Paste of turmeric leaves or whole leaves is applied externally to soothe swellings and sprains. Their decoction is traditionally used to treat intestinal worm infestation in children, jaundice and as an eye-wash for sore eyes and ulcers. Some Ayurvedic physicians believe that the essence of turmeric leaves in these recipes helps in strengthening the immune system at the wake of winter season. In Philippines, their decoction is taken to prevent Malaria. Essential oil extracted form turmeric leaf has powerful anti-fungal properties which are even stronger than the turmeric rhizome oil.1 Yet another interesting study has concluded that turmeric leaf oil is a safe and renewable biofuel alternative to Petrol.2

Although turmeric leaves grow well during rainy season, they can be easily cultivated in a pot by planting fresh turmeric rhizomes.

  1. Plant-Derived Antimycotics: Current Trends and Future Prospects, Mahendra Rai, Donatella Mares, Routledge, P346
  2. Nilesh Janardhan Mundle, Shamrao Mengre, Preliminary Phytochemical Evaluation of the Oil Extracted from Leaves of Curcuma longa L. and its Application as Biofuel, Int.J.Pharm.Phytopharmacol.Res. 2011, 1(2): 73-77

Author:

Having practiced Ayurveda in entirely diverse cultures like India and United States, Dr Chetali Samant has experienced the myriad facets and the true meaning of Ayurvedic Health Care. She has received her master’s degree in Ayurveda (M.D Ayurveda) from Gujarat Ayurveda University- one of the most prestigious universities of Ayurveda in India and the only Ayurveda University in the world. She has been honored with a gold medal for her academic achievements during her postgraduate studies. After specializing in the field of mother and child care, she realized that the health of one family member indeed depends on the health status of every member of the family. Ever since, she has encouraged and educated many families in promoting and maintaining health.

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