Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. – Hippocrates.
Hailing from the hill state of Uttarakhand, I had the opportunity to witness the immense flora of the region. The Himalayas are home to countless wonder herbs. But what I didn’t realise was that most of the flora is still left underutilised in spite of having a huge demand in the global market, especially since veganism is becoming more popular. Underutilised flora comprises of certain food items that were traditionally part of the routine diet, but are slowly vanishing from our food plates.
If you are a fitness enthusiast, you’ll see that markets today are flooded with superfoods like chia seeds, edamame, quinoa, ginseng, kale, goji berries, to name a few. Superfoods are nutrient-rich foods that are considered beneficial for the health and well-being of a person.
People residing in metro cities today are spending lots of money in buying these imported food items. The fun fact is that there are so many alternatives to these superfoods in our country since centuries. The problem lies in the awareness on the part of the buyers as well as the growers.
So, here are few super healthy food items from the hills.
Cereals, pseudo cereals and millets:
Cereals are a source of staple food, and the hills are no exception.
- Finger millet or mandua or ragi is high in protein, vitamin and mineral content than other cereal counterparts and also has a significant amount of calcium, potassium and iron. Its flour is useful for people with diabetes, high cholesterol, anaemia and obesity.
- Barnyard millet or jhangora or sawan ke chaawal is a rich source of nutrients like proteins, minerals, calcium and iron and a good option for people with gluten allergy.
- Red rice: The Himalayan red rice is loaded with antioxidants, fibre, protein, calcium, zinc, manganese, iron and selenium.
- Amaranth or chaulai: Amaranth has a mention in Ayurveda being a rich source of Vitamin B17, iron and zinc and having the highest calcium content amongst all cereals. It is also a very economical alternative to quinoa.
- Buckwheat or kuttu: Rich in potassium, it is helpful for those suffering from heart disease by lowering cholesterol, fighting obesity and diabetes, controlling blood pressure and gastrointestinal disorders.
Vegetables and Leafy greens:
We have been hearing about the benefits of greens since we were toddlers and any dish cooked in an iron wok gives an extra dose of nutrition.
- Himalayan stinging nettle or bichchoo: This wonder plant has a lot of good things in its account such as being diuretic and helping with urinary problems, treating conditions like anaemia and arthritis, and restoring stomach and respiratory problems. Anti-inflammatory and a blood purifier, it helps cure hair loss, treats internal bleeding and certain types of cancer.
- Fiddlehead fern or linguda or dhekia xaak: A dry curry of this fern is delicious. It is rich in antioxidants, Vitamins A & C, potassium, iron, manganese, copper and omega-3 fatty acids and hence helps in boosting the immune system, protecting against infections and heart problems.
- Spinach or pahari palak: Well, anyone who has watched the popular cartoon show Popeye as a kid would definitely be aware of the perks. Spinach is a rich source of antioxidants, Vitamin A, B2, C & K and also provides magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, potassium and folate.
- Arugula or water spinach or kalmi saag
Quite a favourite lunch dish in Nepal, this green leafy vegetable is a rich source of antioxidants and Vitamins A, C and K.
Of course, you need your share of proteins in your diet. And if you are a vegetarian, legumes are a good way to go, either in the form of curry, as a boiled accompaniment or a sprouted salad.
- Black soybean or bhatt: It contains various polyphenols and dietary fibre that provide benefits such as cancer prevention, efficient lipid metabolism, lowered cholesterol level, hormonal balance etc. Unlike the regular soybean, black soybean (koramame in Japan) has higher nutritional content and is soothing to the taste buds. It is a rich source of protein and helps fight high cholesterol and diabetes.
Pressure cooked gahat or kulath is an effective remedy in curing kidney stones, menstrual disturbances, diabetes, common cold and indigestion. It is a rich source of calcium, phosphorous, iron and protein.
When I first came across this bean, I had no idea what it was, but it was trending heavily in the health department. I found that edamame is nothing but immature soybean pods that are typically a part of Japanese cuisine. But in the hills of Uttarakhand, immature pods of boiled and salted soybean are fondly eaten during winters. It is rich in protein, dietary fibre and omega-3 fatty acids.
Trees and shrubs:
- Seabuckthorn: Known as ‘miracle berry’, this wonder fruit is a full-fledged nutrient pack. It is rich in antioxidants and omega-3, 6, 7 and 9 fatty acids as well as Vitamins A, B1, B2, C, K and E. The plant is known for treating skin problems, boosting immunity, lowering cholesterol, treating asthma, curing gastrointestinal disorders and infections.
- Barberry or Kilmora: Berries of the plant are used as a laxative while the roots are used to cure diabetes and jaundice and the stems cure rheumatism.
- Rhododendron or Buransh: Buransh has been long used as a sweet drink made from the red flowers of the tree. The juice is known to cure diarrhoea, dysentery and other stomach disorders. It is also anti-diabetic, anti-cancerous and treats heart diseases.
Seeds and nuts:
- Perilla seeds or bhangjeera: Popular as ‘shisho’ in Japanese and Korean cuisines, the seeds are eaten as chutney in the hills. It is a rich source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
- Chestnut: Locally known as pangar, chestnuts are a rich source of dietary fibre, Vitamin C, folates and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and phosphorous. Another plus point is that it is a gluten-free source of starch.
While I have listed some superfoods here, there are a whole lot more, and an entire book can be written on this topic.
(Written by Archana Bhatt and Edited by Shruti Singhal)
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