Ba Ma Se serves juices and soups made from native plants

Healing can come from unexpected places. And sometimes the most effective solutions are the simplest. Food, for instance. Hippocrates famously said ‘Let food be your medicine.” Hot, bothered and lost in Anna Nagar, we spot ‘Ba Ma Se' and decide to do just that. If food doesn't fix us, we figure the air conditioning will. Win-win. Besides, who can resist eating at a place advertising ‘bettergourd juice'?

As it turns out, Ba Ma Se is the proverbial ‘hole in the wall' restaurant. We squint at its menu from the pavement, while a nice lady behind the counter explains the various powers of their healing soups. Fortunately she quickly invites us to sit in a small room that they share with an adjoining gym. It's very basic. Chairs and an optimistic, but fairly ineffective, fan. So much for those dreams of icy air conditioning. The menu however is fascinating.

Here's your inevitable history lesson. All civilisations have indigenous medicines. India's particularly lucky, since it has a tradition of sages, seers and native healers who identified hundreds of plants and herbs, growing in the forests, hills and mountains. These plants are still available, and information on them is not hard to find. Yet, when it comes to health foods, we repeatedly fall for smart marketing, ordering acai berries and the rest of the Amazon online, while an entire medicine cabinet of plants wilts in our backyard.

This is why Ba Ma Se is relevant. As a juice bar, it's small and admittedly unimpressive. And as far as health benefits go, unless you live next door and are able to have a glass of their juice everyday, it's unlikely to make much of a difference to you. But it's a gutsy little experiment, offering urbanites a chance to learn about local plants. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping it'll expand, and encourage more people to stock their shelves with these plants and herbs.

So what's on offer? There's manathakkali juice, made with a green leafy vegetable popular in Tamil Nadu for its medicinal properties. Ba Ma Se's brochure (which bears the Asana Andiappan College of Yoga seal) says it cures mouth ulcers. They offer juice made from athi fruit, a fig that grows wild in India, good for people with anaemia. Then there's vallarai, an edible green which plays a vital role in Ayurvedic medicine. It is believed to improve memory power, delay aging and help with insomnia. Also arugampul, Bermuda grass, used in Siddha home remedies. It's popular with diabetics, reportedly flushes out toxins and according to a slew of excited websites can even be ground with turmeric and used as a face pack.

I try their aloe vera juice, claiming to battle 13 kinds of diseases. The kitchen is small but clean and organised. The juice is cold and refreshing, sweetened with honey. It's too hot right now for soup, but perhaps later this year I'll be back for the garlic, drumstick or thuthuvalai soup. And while I'm there, I intend to try that ‘better gourd'.

Ba Ma Se Natural Food Centre is at 9, 7th Cross Street, Pulla Avenue, Anna Nagar East. Call 9786986256 / 9790981103 for details.