Food as nourishment sustains us, and what we choose to put in our bodies can achieve increased energy and improved outlook, building systems and structures that not only enliven us in the now but also increase our chances for a better tomorrow. Our nourishment can be consumed in spices and smoothies, three-course meals and bite-sized snacks, the individual ingredients amounting to more together than apart. The same can be said for the ingredients consumed in our daily lives that do not come from food. The ingredients we consume in our communities, the relationships we build and the bonds that we nurture, energizing us in other ways and affording us the passion to make changes locally. This is the ethos that Daillies Organic employ, aware that their spices can have a profound effect that surpasses the dinner table and contributes to the betterment of their community. Throughout the years the spices Daillies Organic cultivate have been interpreted in different ways, as holistic medicine, a means for comfort and also as a source of wealth, influencing communities in a variety of ways, dating back centuries.
Turmeric in Ayurvedic Medicine
Turmeric has been a staple of Indian culture for centuries, the golden spice lending itself to cooking, clothing and medicine as far back as 2500 BCE, and remaining a prevalent part of the culture until today through its inclusion in curries, wedding ceremonies, application to Buddhist robes, and also within the Keralan harvest festival known as Onam that sees children color their clothes with the vibrant spice in dedication to Lord Krishna, one the major Hindu deities. The dishes one could name inclusive of turmeric could easily fill volumes and whilst showing appreciation for such delectable dishes would be a fitting expenditure of time, it seems more advantageous to explore the lesser-known uses of turmeric and its applications within Indian culture and what these applications mean. Such as the inclusion of turmeric or haldi in Indian wedding celebrations that requires the spice to be transformed into a paste and applied with mango leaves to the face and neck all to rid the couple of the ‘evil eye’ - otherwise known as Buri Nazar. Turmeric is even represented in the robes of Buddhist monks, because in the early days of Buddhism, the robes of the recently departed were boiled in turmeric to achieve purity and then handed down to the recently initiated, the process of purification and the color of turmeric becoming synonymous with one another and the tradition of wearing orange robes persisting until present day. The enduring importance of turmeric, as a means for ceremony, spirituality or nourishment, can probably best be represented in its inclusion within the world of Ayurveda medicine, a holistic healing system that began during the Vedic era in Northeastern India. The Sanskrit word ‘ayurveda’ is composed of two parts, the first, ayur, translating into the English ‘life’ and the latter, Veda, translating to ‘science and knowledge,’ meaning that ayurveda is quite literally the science of life. The basic principles of ayurvedic medicine call for the treatment of illness through prevention and the assurance that the patient is maintaining a healthy balance in their mind, body and environment through daily movement, healthful nutrition and herbal remedies. The prevention of potential imbalances is achieved through a practitioner’s ability to recognize imbalances that can occur when any one of the five elements or three doshas - the three doshas being a marriage of certain elements within specific groupings - are not existing in harmony with the next. These five elements include – Space: The formlessness out of which all other things arise. Space is the absence of things, but it is not nothing, instead it is the invisible energy filled with potential. Air: Subtle and unseen, air facilitates the movement of potential through space. Fire: Transforms and gives freedom to energy, governing the digestion of ideas whilst also empowering the body to act. Water: The nourishment that allows fluid movement and keeps the fire from taking over. Earth: Solid and stable. This element keeps us grounded in our ideas, principles and well-being. If any one of these five elements finds themselves out of sorts, the six stages of disease will invariably kick in and the patient will experience – Accumulation: One of the five elements accumulates within the body. Aggravation: The imbalanced element moves outside its normal boundaries and imposes itself upon the next. Dissemination: The wandering element looks for a weak point within the body. Localization: The wandering element finds the weak part of the body. Manifestation: The symptoms of disease become recognizable. Disruption: The disease arises. Within India there has been some success regarding the marriage of Eastern and Western medicinal principles, with the undertaking of recent research corroborating spice’s effectiveness in treating common ailments, further strengthening Ayurveda’s claim as an effective treatment option. Proof of this is turmeric’s reputation as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, the gold spice’s antimicrobial properties are known to improve our immune system as its curcumin content eases joint pain and aids in digestion. Turmeric in ayurvedic medicine is believed to balance the three doshas that include, vata, ether and air, pitta, fire and water and kapha, water and earth - although to consume too much turmeric would almost certainly aggravate the pitta and vata, in much the same way that consuming too much-dried chilli would unbalance one’s pitta, on account of its hot contents, but fear not, as coriander’s cooling properties are known to reduce pitta in much the same way that ginger is known to balance three doshas when taken in moderation.
Capsicum and Coriander as Ancient Medicine
The use of nutrition as an effective remedy for regular ailments seems today like common sense, the folkloric knowledge of cuisine’s aptitude in treating everyday afflictions engrained in us through familial words of comfort, hot ginger and smooth honey soothing sore throats while lemons and limes invigorate our skin, turning a sunny predisposition into a bright smile and luminescent glow that’s as noticeable on the outside as it’s felt on the inside, but to arrive at this point, some foods and spices needed first to be trialled before becoming pantry favorites, and perhaps some of the most noticeable and noteworthy among them are chilli flakes and coriander seeds.
Coriander’s introduction into ancient society started on the wrong foot. The first impression of the small, pale seed was one of intrigue, doused with a healthy dose of suspicion as the strong-smelling spice was likened to the common bed bug on account of its unusual odor, earning it the name koris, which translates from Greek as ‘stink bug’. This scent, that would later become renowned within the ancient world, was interpreted endlessly in conjunction with its eventual use in medicine, as the small seed was used to flavor breads and enhance wines, garnish seafood and embolden meats, the sweet, suave and spirited scent overwhelmingly present in the fifth century Roman cookbook, ‘Apiciuis’, attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius. The endless applications of coriander extended into perfumes and ancient love potions, with the spice being used as the base ingredient for many aphrodisiacs while becoming associated with spirituality and immortality, the pale seeds present in the Book of Exodus and likened to manna, whilst also being found in Chinese tombs as the ancient Chinese believed coriander bestowed everlasting to those buried within its presence. Coriander seeds were even found in the tomb of Egyptian King, Tut-ankh-Amon, the Pharoah entombed with the spice that was said to grow most plentifully along the Nile, according to Roman botanist, Pliny, who also claimed that the seeds were an effective antidote against the venom of a ‘two-headed serpent.’ The Romanic application of coriander as medicine included the spice’s treatment against sores and cholera, which is not surprising as coriander is well-known for its antimicrobial attributes, acting as an antioxidant that also promotes digestion and gut health, which is another reason for spice’s prevalence in ancient Rome as the pale seeds were a point of contact for intestinal discomfort. The fondness for coriander was mutual in Grecian medicine, with Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, recommending the pale seeds for innumerable ailments, that today we understand as high blood sugar and irritable bowels with coriander’s ability to promote and protect brain health one of the crown jewel’s associated with natural medicine as the seed’s anti-inflammatory properties can combat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s to achieve mental longevity and long-term healthfulness.
The same turbulent introduction to ancient society can be attributed to capsicum, the genus of tropical pepper plants that are responsible for chilli powder and consequently chilli flakes. The use of chilli powder and the attributes imposed upon the spice can be seen branching back almost nine thousand years, with archeologists having discovered the remains of chillies on dig sites spanning South America, and uncovering the Aztec, Mayan and Incan teachings that vouched for the spice as a means to treat illness and disease, improving digestion and also warding off evil. Archeologists also discovered chilli peppers to have been an integral part of pre-Columbian Central American shaman teachings concerning their journeys to the upper and lower worlds on behalf of all mankind. The spice was even rubbed on babies' feet to ensure good health and burned at funerals to ward off dark entities, and while these discoveries do cast a light on capsicum’s importance within ancient society, they don’t fully illuminate the use of chilli, along with its many iterations, in ancient and modern medicine.
One of the first practitioners to comment upon capsicum’s effects on the corpus was David Livingstone, the Scottish physician and traveller who ventured to West Africa and uncovered that the hot genus was used in warm baths to elicit beaming complexions in the women who sought it’s magic, the addition of paprika to their regular bathing routines causing blood to flush the skin and give the desired appearance of luminosity that was emulated in Mayan culture, albeit to a more laborious degree, with the women washing their skin in urine and applying chilli powder to the dried skin, repeating the procedure until the desired effect was achieved. The application of chilli varieties and more specifically capsaicin, an active component in chilli peppers and plants belonging to the capsicum genus that produces the hallmark heat of each variety, can also be found in further corners of the world as their use in Philippine medicine is documented as the occasional recommendation for a poultice of pepper leaves to be applied to the temples in the event of a headache as a means to relieve the symptoms, although the main cause for relief has been believed to be a distraction rather than an accountable cure. Similar instances of capsaicin’s capacity to induce distraction as a means of pain relief include biting into a serrano chilli in Mexico, as the Philippine method of poultice temple tempering is also shared with Bolivia and Peru. It’s also not just for the incessant headache that capsaicin is used to treat ailments as there are reports of the compound being applied for toothaches and sore throats, the Dublin Medical Press in 1850 suggesting that patients use a cotton swab soaked in capsicum tincture to alleviate the foul effects of nasty toothaches as the Mayan cure of swallowing honey, crushed chilli and tobacco leaves were sworn to for soothing throats.
The continued application of actively unpleasant ingredients to treat irrefutably unpleasant conditions might seem something of an oddity, or at best paradox, whereupon one displeasure informs the next until you can no longer discern the good from the bad and ultimately find comfort in lasting discomfort, but recent research has shown that the use of capsaicin and spices cultivated from the capsicum genus can actually have verifiable effects on modern illnesses that otherwise have found little to no success. This began with modern science’s groundbreaking discovery and cultivation of a compound called salicylic acid found in willow trees and once used to treat fevers and rheumatoid arthritis through the distillation of a tea that contained the willow tree bark. The subsequent research and modification of the willow tree bark and salicylic acid eventually culminated in aspirin, leading scientists to ponder what other medicinal breakthroughs could be procured through traditional and holistic medicines, which in turn brought them to the doorstep of capsaicin, and the compound’s effectiveness in treating skin based aggravations, most predominantly, those found in patients suffering from PHN (post-herpetic neuralgia), a painful skin condition that is triggered in areas where patients have recovered from shingles. The capsaicin works by impeding pain signals that originate from nerves around the affected tissue. These nerves can produce a chemical messenger called Substance P which transmits pain signals from around the injured tissue and towards the brain. What the capsaicin does is deplete the stores of Substance P around the damaged tissue, and alleviate the painful symptoms for a great many sufferers. The compounds effectiveness in this regard has been documented and proven through the use of topical creams on the affected areas, demonstrating that there are still avenues unexplored for the use of traditional medicines against modern ailments and that perhaps the old ways, which may seem strange to us now, are rooted in conventional thought, awaiting the science to back it up.