Who needs doctors when you’ve got a well-stocked kitchen?
Or that’s what most Sri Lankan mothers seem to think, anyway. For as far back as we can remember, they have always harboured rather strange ideas about remedies ‒ namely that the answer to every single ailment lies in the kitchen (or the home garden).
It doesn’t really matter what you’ve got; it could be an upset stomach, a horrible cold, a killer headache, or a bad case of dandruff, but you can be sure that your mother (or grandmother) will always have some icky recipe up her sleeve that would serve as a cure. Ailment-free? Well, don’t get all cocky; even being perfectly healthy can’t guarantee you safety from horrible concoctions. There will always be some recipe or the other that is “good for your eyes” or “good for your skin” or… well, just plain good for you (remember that glass of kola kenda you were forced to drink every morning? Or that serving of mallung you had to eat up at lunch?).
These weren’t remedies so much as awful concoctions that you were made to eat or drink simply because they were “good”, and just like the remedies, most of them were likely to have been accompanied by a lot of kicking and screaming (if you were smaller) or a conversation that usually ran along the lines of:
“But why should I eat/drink this?”
“Because I say so.”
Since saying no was never an option (just try it and someone will be scraping your remains off the floor in five seconds flat), we generally suffered through numerous remedies and recipes which, back then, seemed akin to torture, but which we now know actually did us good (and when you come to think of it, they didn’t really taste that bad either. It’s just that most kids and pre-teens have a phobia for anything that’s green, remedial, or healthy). So here are a few of those less enjoyable concoctions you probably hated as a kid and how they actually did you good.
1. Kola Kenda
Five-star hotels now flaunt it on their menus, school canteens are encouraged to sell it to children, and being an indigenous recipe, there is a very good chance that our ancient ancestors had it for breakfast too!
Kola kenda is a herbal porridge made of rice, coconut milk, and an assortment of green leaves from gotukola (centella asiatica)and karapincha (murraya koenigii) to the less delectable ones like wel penela (cardiospermum halicacabum) and hathawariya (asparagus racemosus). Healthy, wholesome, and simply bursting with goodness, this concoction has been eaten by Sri Lankans for time out of mind. With all those herbs inside it, it has considerable value in ayurveda medicine, but for the most part, it is simply regarded as a popular and healthy breakfast option.
Regrettably, in spite of the piece of jaggery that often accompanies the dish, its rather unfortunate appearance (green and sludgy) and slightly bitter taste (all those greens which have gone into it), make it one of those things which children are automatically wired to hate. Your mother probably had to threaten you with bodily harm before you drank it down.
How is it good for you?
The health benefits of kola kenda could probably fill a telephone directory, but we’ll just put it in a nutshell for you.
The most important ingredient in this dish is, of course, its arsenal of fresh green leaves. The more leaves that go into the pot, the better it is, because those herbs provide the dish with plenty of antioxidants. Antioxidants are the molecules that inhibit the formation of free radicals in our bodies, which otherwise cause damage to DNA and cells. They are said to increase longevity, slow down the aging process, and even prevent cancer in adulthood when taken regularly during childhood, while some common antioxidants found in plants like flavonoids are anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic and anti-microbial. Green leaves also generally contain beta-carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, folic acid, iron, and proteins, though the exact list of nutrients depends on the kind of leaves in the porridge.
The phytonutrients in the greens and the overall low glycaemic index of the dish also make it a good dietary recommendation for diabetics.
Then there is the rice, which provides you with the carbohydrates to give you that little energy kick you need to start the day; and if it is red rice, you also get a good dose of vitamin B. Plus, since the leaves are crushed with coconut milk, all those water soluble and fat soluble vitamins are converted into a form easily absorbed by the body, making it the ideal power breakfast. In fact, your glass of kola kenda was probably the reason you never fell asleep during your morning math class.
2. Those Horrible Cumin Seed (sooduru) Infused Stomachache Remedies
While there are dozens of traditional mixtures which serve as stomachache remedies, the most common ingredient used to get rid of tummy related problems is cumin seeds.
The most popular brew over here seems to be the one where lightly roasted cumin seeds added to boiling water and left like that for an hour or so before being drunk, while another involves mixing powdered cumin with a little honey. One of the more disgusting mixtures is the one where cumin seeds, black pepper, mint leaves, asafetida, garlic, and rock salt are all ground together into one revolting paste, added to warm water, and drunk (shudder). If you happened to be one of those kids who hated the smell or taste of cumin, these were pretty nasty answers to an upset stomach, but like most of your mother’s weird remedies, it probably worked nine out of ten times. Still, the question is, can cumin actually make your tummy upset go away?
How is it good for you?
When your mother boils some roasted cumin seeds and insists that the concoction can cure your stomachache, you probably drink it because she will kill you if you don’t. However, it turns out that cumin seeds actually contain numerous components that have been proven to ease gastrointestinal disorders. Not only is it an effective carminative (a substance that relieves flatulence), but it also contains a compound called thymol, which activates gastric secretion and improves digestion, as well as cumaldehyde, a compound which gives the cumin its characteristic smell and facilitates the proper digestion of food.
And those are just the benefits relating to your stomach. These nondescript little seeds are simply brimming with other health benefits, too, and are rich in a wide range of nutrients like iron, manganese, vitamin C, and vitamin B1.
Your head is pounding, your nose is all runny, and you just feel like crawling under the covers and dying. You want to book a visit to the doctor, but your mother scoffs at that. Who needs a doctor with some fancy pills when she has got the best answer to a cold right there in the kitchen? In fact, she’s already throwing ginger and peppercorns into a boiling pot of coriander, and ten minutes later, you are holding your nose and trying not to shudder as you sip the horrible brew.
One of the most popular, fail-safe home remedies in Sri Lanka, koththamalli is an herbal tea that was probably curing colds during our great-grandmothers’ time. Back then, you most likely thought that it was just another one of your mother’s weird medicinal concoctions, but this magical remedy has been so successful that even local doctors often advise patients to take it whenever they catch a cold.
How is it good for you?
Basically, koththamalli is an infusion of boiled coriander seeds (they should be slightly roasted) along with a few additional ingredients like ginger, peppercorns, or even some herbs. That hardly sounds like much of a magical cure, but each of these ingredients seems to contain properties that are instrumental in chasing away that horrid cold of yours. In fact, we once ran an article on all those things that go into your cup of koththamalli and how exactly they benefit us. And as a plus point, koththamalli does a lot more than just cure your cold; the nutrient-rich coriander, ginger, and pepper are simply chock full of goodness, making our humble brew of koththamalli one heck of an herbal tea.
4. Bitter gourd (Sinhala: karawila; Tamil: pavakkai)
Bitter gourd is pretty much one of those super plants that are valued for their frequent use in ayurvedic medicine, but mothers mostly just cook it at home as an extra healthy dish.
In fact, your mother probably had a whole arsenal of bitter gourd recipes up her sleeve, but kids aren’t easily fooled. No matter how fancily she dresses it up, no matter what yummy looking curry or salad she concocts, bitter gourd will always be… well, bitter.
Unfortunately, it’s the way of the world that the healthier the food is, the worse it tastes, and bitter gourd just so happens to be a nutrient powerhouse.
How is it good for you?
Bitter gourd or bitter melon, as it turns out, has some serious health benefits, thanks to its complex array of beneficial compounds that give it great medicinal value. Not only is it high in vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B9) and minerals (calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc), but it also contains the phytonutrient polypeptide-P, a plant insulin known to lower blood sugar levels (which makes it ideal for the treatment of type-2 diabetes). In addition, it is also extremely low in calories (containing just 17 kilocalories per every 100g), rich in antioxidants, and has a lot of fibre, packing a great surge of nutrients in a single dish.
That is one impressive health CV, and we’ve only just brushed the surface of it here. Each one of these nutrients we’ve listed comes with its own baggage of many functions and benefits, so you can imagine the punch this simple vegetable packed every time you ate it!
Aren’t you now glad your mother made you eat up all that bitter gourd on your plate?
5. Coconut oil
No, your mother has never made you drink it, but since we are speaking of icky remedies, we felt like we just had to mention this.
Now, coconut oil smells pretty good while it’s cooking, but it does not feel good on your hair. It makes your whole head and neck greasy, and smells like something being tempered in the kitchen, and if that isn’t bad enough, you were almost always made to apply it before leaving for school.
Unfortunately, whether you’ve got split ends, dandruff, hair fall, or dull locks, most Sri Lankan mothers and grandmothers turn to coconut oil for an answer. In fact, you don’t even have to have anything wrong with your hair to qualify for the treatment; they are quite firmly convinced that you’ll be bald or grey before twenty unless you massage copious amounts of it onto your head.
So how was it good for you?
In a number of different ways! In fact, the last few years have seen celebrities all over the world drooling and dribbling over the benefits of coconut oil. Heck, even Kim Kardashian uses coconut oil for her hair (not that she’s a role model or anything, but she does seem to have her beauty tips down to pat).
Coconut oil has been scientifically proven to condition and nourish hair, reduce protein loss, prevent hair damage, reduce damage, help re-grow damaged hair, and promote healthy hair growth. Massaging it into your scalp also prevents dandruff and keeps your scalp and hair louse free. Go through that list carefully; if you stop to think about it, you will see that it just about covers every single hair-care aspect you can think of!
These are just a fraction of all those icky concoctions Sri Lankan mothers are so fond of inflicting upon us; there are probably dozens more, and we are willing to bet that a little digging would uncover all sorts of marvelous properties in each of them. So the next time you’re about to scoff at one of your mum’s weird remedies, or gripe about her healthy not-so-palatable dishes, do check yourself. When it comes to these kinds of things, mothers have that uncanny knack of being right nearly all the time. Guess that old saying about mother knowing best really does hold true.
Featured image courtesy remediesofnature.com