They’re excellent digestive aids and often the best expectorants. APARNA KARTHIKEYAN takes us back to our childhood days when our grandmothers insisted we drank those home-brewed kashayams at least once a week
It was one of those ‘trip down memory lane’ discussions; a bunch of 30/40-year-olds, we were busy debating how different Sunday mornings were when we were growing up. “We watched the ‘Ramayana’, the whole family in front of a single, small television,” laughed a friend. Another reminisced that his childhood Sundays were all about warm gingelly oil, shikakai powder, and sumptuous lunches with potato roast and small onion sambar. But the slaphappy spell was quickly broken when one lady said she hated Sundays as her grandmother made her drink the vilest home-brewed potions.
“My brother and I dreaded weekends; we knew what was in store. On Saturday evenings, grandma would walk around with a koradu and pull down tender neem leaves; the next morning, she would ask the maid to wash the granite ammi well, and as soon as we were scrubbed down — grandma had palms like sandpaper — we would have to drink up that awful green stuff she made with neem and other herbs. How can I possibly have happy memories, tell me,” she asked.
Well, it turns out she’s not the only one whose Sundays were marked out as ‘cleansing’ days. Many families believed in a weekly herbal concoction as the panacea for the weeklong binge, and, of course, to build resistance. “It was horrible stuff, the inji kashayam (decoction) we were made to drink as children,” says Nandini Sriram, attorney and part-time mum. “Except,” she laughs, “all these years later, I make the same thing for my two children. Frankly, they hate it, but drink it only because they trust me enough not to poison them.”
It is the same story with Sharada Balakrishnan, environmental toxicologist. “My mum made a kashayam with cinnamon, tulsi and pepper, whenever I had a cough or cold. Then, I thought it was nasty, but now, I make it for my twin sons.” And to make it more palatable, Sharada says she’s liberal with sweeteners. “We’re heavy on honey and lemon, and (living in the U.S.) I substitute tulsi with basil. I really want them to drink it, I believe in its healing properties, and I too like it, it’s a familiar taste from my childhood.”
Simple home remedies
Lalitha Krishnamurthy, homemaker, says she was initiated into home-brewed kashayams by her grandmother. ‘I avoid going to the doctor for minor aches and pains. The brews that I make work well for everything from an ordinary stomach ache to fever and sore throat. When my daughters or granddaughters complain of stomach pain, I brew a jeera-methi seed kashayam. In a dry pan, I splutter a big spoonful each of jeera and methi seeds. When it turns brown, I add a glass of water and let it simmer till it’s reduced to a couple of ounces. This must be drunk lukewarm with a drop of ghee, and works wonders for any abdominal pain, besides relieving menstrual cramps.” Lalitha says she teaches her recipes to everybody. “My neighbours ask for it; and my daughters too ring me up and ask me to make kashayams for my grandchildren when they’re unwell.”
In Prema Santhanakrishnan’s household, Sundays have long been synonymous with oil baths and kashayams. ‘I brew a kashayam with tender neem leaves, omam, garlic, and betel leaves. First, all the ingredients need to be crushed, preferably in an ammi (rough granite slab) or blitzed together in a mixie. Then, I add warm water to the mixture, strain it and dose the kids. This helps in ridding the stomach of worms, gives them a healthy appetite and the neem leaves certainly help with immunity. Of course, children are not very keen to drink it, considering how bitter and strong it can taste; so I give them some sugar or a small piece of chocolate afterwards. I’ve prepared this for my grandchildren since they were five years old, all the way till they were 12; and this recipe has travelled the world.” And someday, her grandchildren who would’ve baulked at the Sunday ceremony will surely coax their children to have “just one more sip.” Life, after all, comes full circle…
Lalitha’s weekly ginger-jeera-mint kashayam recipe:
I brew a kashayam with a big 2-3” piece of ginger (washed and peeled) and a spoonful of jeera soaked in hot water. Both must then be ground together with a handful of mint leaves. This is then strained, more water is added, and it is best drunk with lemon juice and sugar. If this is taken before food, it helps digestion, cleanses the system and promotes a good appetite. But before dosing small children, please taste it and check if it is spicy; add more water and sugar if necessary.
Prema shares her mother’s remedy for sore-throats.
I remember she used a kal chatti, in which she tossed in chitharathai, chukku, milagu, thulasi and virali manjal after crushing them gently. She brewed this into a decoction and kept drinking it. Every two or three days, she cleaned out the chatti, and brewed it afresh. It works wonders for a bad throat.