• By Swami Sivananda
  • March 2002

Food Medicines        

This chapter gives the benefits of eating various types of foods.


Hindi: Jau                                                                                                                     Tamil:Valkothumai

Barley is particularly rich in mineral matters. In this respect it is richer than wheat but its protein content I lower than that of wheat.

It is a nutritive food. It is highly beneficial for the anemic and the nervous on account of its richness in iron and  phosphorus. It is a Sattvic food. Spiritual aspirants take bread made out of barley. Barley has about the same nutritive value as whole wheat but it contains less gluten and so it not so easily made into bread.

Barley water is useful in dysentery, typhoid, fevers, diarrhea, urinary diseases and diseases of kidneys. It has very little nutritive value. It is soothing and cooling. The value of barley water lies in its demulcent properties. It removes burning sensation in the urine and helps the free flow of urine.

Pearl Barley is the whole barley. One toga of barley boiled in sixteen ounces of water makes a palatable and soothing drink. It can be mixed with lemon juice and sugar or salt to taste. You can add milk also. Boil for 10 or 15 minutes only.

A tablespoonful of the powder (Robinson’s Barley) also can be used for preparing barley water.

Bitter Gourd
(Momordica Charantia)

Sanskrit:    Karavally                                                                                                           Tamil:   Pakal
Telugu:    Kakara                                                                                                                 Malayalam:  Paval
Kannada:    Hagala                                                                                                              Hindi:   Karela

This is a creeper. It is cultivated in all parts of India. The leaf is an anthelmintic (kills worms in the bowels) and lactagogue (increases the milk in the nursing mothers).

The juice of the leaf in which black pepper is ground is applied round the orbit of the eye to cure night-blindness or nyctolopia.

The fruit is a tonic, stomachic (tonic of the stomach), stimulant, antibilious, laxative and alterative. The unripe fruit is taken us a curry in the treatment of Diabetes Mellitus (sugar in the urine). The fruit is useful in fever, cough, piles, leprosy, worms in the bowels, gonorrhea, dyspnoea, gout, rheumatism, diseases of the spleen and liver, and jaundice. It purifies the blood.

A teaspoonful of the expressed juice of the fruit is useful in apthae and dysmenorrhoea or difficult menstruation. The juice of the fruit is mixed with sugar and applied as a paste in ulcers.

The whole plant powdered is used as a dusting powder in leprous and other obstinate ulcers. The root is used externally as paste in hemorrhoids or piles. The seed is an anthelmintic.


Hindi:     Matta                                                                                                               Sanskrit:   Thakram
Tamil:     Moru                                                                                                               Gujarati:   Chas

Curd is mixed with plenty of water and churned. This diluted and churned curd is called buttermilk.

The buttermilk retains 10% of the vitamin A and the other two vitamins, proteins and sugar. It is, therefore an important article of diet. It is nearly as valuable as milk. Buttermilk has excellent medicinal qualities. It is a very good drink in dysentery. It is more a medicine. In dysentery and all forms of uric acid diseases buttermilk diet for a certain period will be highly beneficial. Buttermilk is more easily digestible than whole milk. It is astringent, light, cooling, appetizing, nutritive and tonic.

It is useful in dyspepsia, digestive troubles, etc. Boiled rice and buttermilk is useful in diarrhea, dysentery, piles, dropsy, excessive thirst and burning in urine. This will increase the digestive fire. Cold rice and buttermilk removes burning in the body and biliousness. This will give good sleep.

(Mentha Sativa, Mentha Arventis)

Tamil:     Puthina                                                                                                             Telugu   Pudina
Malayalam:    Putiyina                                                                                                     Kannada:  Chetnimaragu
Hindi:     Pudinah                                                                                                            Arab:   Naanaaulhind
Sanskrit:    Pudina

This is a small plant. Spearmint, peppermint and mentha viridis are the varieties. It is an astringent, refrigerant, stomachic, diuretic, stimulant, carminative and antispasmodic. It is usually used in the form of ‘chutnie’ in loss of appetite, nausea or tendency to vomit. It is useful in anorexia or loss of appetite and diarrhea. It improves appetite. The whole plant can be dried and powdered and made use of as a tooth powder.

Bind mint across your forehead. This will relieve headache.

A cupful of mint0tea, morning and evening, improves digestion. It is useful in fever, jaundice, hiccup, stomachache, and pain in the bowels, headache, vomiting, nausea, anorexia or loss of appetite, dysmenorrhoea or difficult menstruation and pain in the abdomen caused by dysmenorrhoea. It gives good sleep and increases the flow of urine.

The powder gives the same results in the above ailments. Take one or two pinches daily in the food or in water. Mint can be added to hot milk or tea. This removes abdominal pain.

Pudina Tel or oil is the oil distilled from the fresh flowering spearmint, mentha viridis or mentha crispa. Its main active principles are carvone and menthone. It resembles the oil of peppermint. This is useful in headache as an external application. It is taken internally in dyspepsia, flatulence or wind in the bowels and abdominal pain. The dose is 1 to 3 minims or drops.

Peppermint water is made out of oil of spearmint 1, water 1500 and distilled to 1000. Dose is 1 to 2 fluid ounces. This is also useful in loss of appetite, colic or pain in the belly, vomiting, wind in the bowels, etc.

(Carica Papaya)

Tamil:   Pappai                    Telugu:  Boppayi
Malayalam:  Pappalam        Kannada:  Pappaye
Arab:   Amba-hindi             Persian:  Amba-hindi
Bengali:  Papaya, Penpay    Hindi:   Popaiyah, Papita
Punjabi:  Aranda Kharbuja  Sindhi:   Paputu
French:  Papayer Commum German:  Melonenbum

This small tree is cultivated in all parts of India. It is a useful, small, soft wooded tree, originally native of Papua new Guinea. Its green fruit is an edible vegetable and largely used in making Indian curries. Ripe fruit is sweet and delicious. Both are used in liver diseases and disorders of digestion. The fruit contains a soft, yellow resin, fat, pectin, sugar, albuminoids, citric, malic and tartaric acids, dextrin, etc.

Papaya oil is found in its seeds. The leaves contain an alkaloid called carperine. The unripe fruit, milk and seeds possess emmenagogue and anthelmintic properties. The fruit is a laxative, tonic and diuretic.

The papaya milk the milky fluid that comes out of scratching the surface of the raw papaya fruit contains an enzyme, which can digest starch, mucous membranes and animal proteins. Papaya milk is dried at a low temperature. Paperin, a digestive powder, is obtained. Dose 2 to 10 grains. It is very useful in dyspepsia and liver complaints. It may be rubbed in ringworm patches. It is highly beneficial in all cases when digestion is weak or when the liver is not functioning properly.

The fruit should be well crushed and the seeds should be removed. Then the cold milk may be added. Sweeten this with honey or syrup dates or syrup of jaggery. This is a delicious, digestive drink. Cut the fruit into small bits and then boil in a small quantity of water. Filter the essence through a clean muslin or porus cloth. Add milk and syrup of jaggery. This is also a palatable, digestive drink.

The ripe fruit is alterative. It is useful in habitual constipation, dyspepsia or indigestion, bleeding piles and chronic diarrhea.

The green fruit is laxative and diuretic. It can be cooked as a curry. In women, this stimulates secretion of milk.

Slices of unripe fruit can be rubbed on ringworm patches. The juice is useful in ulcers of the tongue and throat.

The fresh milky juice removes round worms in children. Take one teaspoonful of fresh juice and one teaspoonful of honey. Add 2 ounces of boiling water to this. This must be followed by a dose of castor oil one ounce. Dose of the juice for adults one teaspoonful, for children half teaspoonful, and for children under three years 10 to 15 drops.
The juice of the unripe fruit is useful in dysmenorrhoea. It helps the free flow of the menses. If this is applied locally in the shape of pessary to the osuteri, it causes abortion. In large doses it acts as an embolic, exciting, uterine contraction. The fresh milk juice is useful in scorpion stings as a local application.

Take one teaspoonful of the milky juice of unripe fruit and add a teaspoonful of sugar. This is useful in reducing enlarged spleen.

The dried ripe fruit or salted ripe fruit is useful in enlargement of spleen and liver.

The leaves dipped in hot water or warmed over a fire are applied to the painful parts for nervous pains or neuralgias. Bruised leaves warmed over a fire can be applied as a poultice in boils, swellings, elephantoid growths, etc.

(Spinacea Oleracea)

Tamil:    Pasala Keerai  Hindi:    Palak

Green leaves are the very basis of life. They help in the attainment of longevity. Nature compounds all the essentials of life in the green, leafy vegetables. In the green, leafy vegetable nature carries on her most elaborate vital alchemy. Spinach is put in the first place by the food experts. It should be used in abundance by every family. It is cheap, too.

Spinach is a leafy vegetable. It contains iron abundance, and so it is beneficial for anemic patients whose blood is in an impoverished condition. Spinach has nutritive and medicinal value. It contains a large quantity of vitamins, calcium, vegetable hemoglobin and protein building amino acids. It is a protective food. There is a large quantity of alkaline minerals in spinach. Therefore, it maintains an effective resistance against infection.

Spinach contains a small amount of oxalic acid, a small amount of albuminous matter in the form of mucin and a large quantity of vitamins A, B and C, and salts of potassium. The iron in spinach is easily assimilated.

Spinach is very easily digested and forms an excellent, cooling, nutritious and demulcent dish. It should be cooked in a little water. No water should be thrown away after cooking as it contains much nutritious properties.

Young, tender sprouts of spinach can be used in raw salads. They can be combined with tender lettuce leaves. It serves as a good appetizer. A liberal addition of green, leafy vegetables to pulses is very beneficial.

Spinach is a good laxative and demulcent. It minimizes tissue waste. It has considerable anti-xerotic, anti-beriberi and anti-scorbutic properties. Raw tendrils are highly beneficial. Spinach is useful in diabetes, anemia and gout.

The juice of the leaves can be given to children mixed with honey or sugar. The juice is useful in urinary calculi or stones. It dissolves the stone. It has lithontriptic properties. Spinach is useful in kidney troubles. The juice of the leaves is used as a gargle in sore throat.

A decoction or an infusion of the leaves (1 in 10) is useful in fevers, biliary troubles, inflammation of the lungs and bowels, dyspnoea and hurried breathing. It acts as a demulcent, astringent and diuretic in these diseases. The dose is 1 or 2 ounces. Young, growing girls should eat plenty of spinach, as it provides iron in abundance in an easily assimilable form.

(Lycopersicum Esculentum)

Tamil:    Seemai-thakkali Hindi:   Timatar

Tamato is more a fruit than a vegetable. It is rich in alkali minerals and vitamins A, B and C. It is the richest of all foods in vitamins. Tomato contains potassium, sodium, calcium, iron, citric and malic acids 0.5 per cent, and oxalic acid. Tomato is very rich in food minerals, which keeps the blood alkaline and thus keeps up a high power of resistance to diseases. It is rich in all the three vitamins A, B and C, which most fruits and vegetables are deficient in one or more.

Tomato stimulates the sluggish liver. It is beneficial in atonic dyspepsia. It is a good diuretic, and a good nerve and brain food. Tomato juice can be given to children and infants after each feed. It acts as an anti-scorbutic against infantile scurvy.

Scurvy is a disease due t deficiency of vitamin C in the diet. The symptoms are loss of energy, pallor, bleeding gums, shortness of breath, etc. The use of tomatoes in sufficient quantity will prevent and cure scurvy. Tomato has high anti-scorbutic properties. Give one spoonful of juice to begin with for a child and gradually increase the quantity to 4 or 5 teaspoonfuls daily. This supplies vitamin.

Tomato is cooling. It is a tonic, too. It is rich in iron. It purifies and enriches the blood in an effective manner. It cools the body. Tomato is a potent deobstruent. It removes the diseased particles and opens freely the natural channels of the body. The fruit is eaten in a raw state. Do not leave the skin. Take the entire fruit. The unripe tomato is made into a currie and eaten. The ripe fruit is used in making pepper water (Rasam) and ‘pachchadie’ with curd.

A tomato poultice is useful in foul ulcers. It cleanses them beautifully and promotes healing. It should be changed very often and applied hot.

Food Medicines for all

Here are a few common diseases and their treatment by fruits and vegetables.

Diseases   Remedies
Acidosis   Cabbage.
Asthma   Orange or lemon juice with honey.
Blood-pressure  Orange and other fruits.
Constipation   Raisins, figs, dates.
Cold    Dates, lemons.
Cough    Lemon juice, or onion juice with honey.
Diabetes   Spinach, lettuce, cabbage, grapes,
Coconut, leafy vegetables.
Diarrhoea   Lemon juice with water.
Dysentery   Plantain with milk. Ginger with sugar.
Dandruff   Apply lemon or onion juice.
Eye trouble   Lemon juice diluted with water (1 to 8).
Put one or two drops.
For hair diseases  Carrots, Onion juice, Lemon juice or curds.
Heart troubles   Tomato.
Headache   Apply lemon juice.
Indigestion    Ginger, cucumber, papaya and pineapple.
Influenza   Lemons.
Itches    Lemon juice with honey.
Liver troubles   Tomato, apples, and figs.
Leprosy   Brahmi leaves.
Mental disorders   Grapes.
Nervous debility  Apple.
Piles    Radish, lemons.
Rheumatism   Potato, orange, lemons.
Sleeplessness   Juice of one onion with honey at bedtime.
Skin diseases   Lemon juice.
Tonsils    Orange or lemon juice. Apply honey
Mixed with slaked lime.
Vigour    Dates soaked in milk.
Worms    Lemon, orange or Amla juice with honey.

Holy Basil (TULASI)
(Ocimum Sanctum)

Every Hindu keeps these plants in his house. A special altar is consecrated for the purpose. Daily worship is offered. It is adored as a goddess. The leaf is offered to Lord Hari, Lord Rama, and Lord Krishna during worship. Food that is prepared in the house is first offered to Tulasi (holy basil).

Binda, wife of Sankhachuda, was favored by Lord Krishna and transformed into this herb. Tulasi Jayanti is celebrated on Sukla Dvadasi in the month of Kartika (October-November). Every Sukla Dvadasi is very famous for Tulasi worship.

Holy Basil is a well-known small herb in India about 1 to 3 feet high. It is found in most of the gardens. It is cultivated for its medicinal value and worship in Hindu temples, especially by the Vaishnavites.
There are two important varieties. One is black and the other white. The black variety is most efficacious medicinally. There are the red and blue varieties also. The other varieties are mul-tulasi, kal-tulasi, nai-tulasi, ‘tiruneetu pacchalai’, etc. The white variety is called Siva-tulasi also The black one is called Krishnatulasi. Tiruneetu Pacchalai is also called Vibhuti-pacchalai or Rama-tulasi. In Hindi it is called Sabja.

The leaves possess stimulant, expectorant, aromatic, carminative, anti-febric, anti-periodic and diaphoretic properties. The seed is a demulcent.

The whole Tulsi plant is used for medicinal purpose but the leaves are generally used. The leaf checks the formation of sputum in the respiratory passages. It is beneficial in bronchitis, pneumonia, whooping cough, influenza, consumption and asthma. It is beneficial in every disease where there is excess of sputum.

The power of dry leaves is used as snuff in ozaena for destroying maggots. Like eucalyptus, Tulasi drives away all mosquitoes. It is advisable to keep Tulsi plant in front of the houses and backyards. If the body is covered with leaves, mosquitoes will not bite.

Tulasi is useful in all kinds of insect bites. In snakebite it is very efficacious. Rub the bitten part well with the juice of Tulasi. It may be repeated. Internally give two teaspoonfuls of the juice. Apply the leaves as poultice to the part.

Tulasi tea is very useful in fever and cold. You can add milk also to this tea. This tea can be given to children and babies when they suffer from fever and cough. Or the juice of fresh leaves can be given. The juice can be mixed with a little honey or breast milk. If it is given with an equal quantity of fresh ginger juice, the effect is more marked. The powder of a little pepper and long pepper may also be added.

The leaves are rubbed with the limb juice over ringworm.

The medicated oil (Tulasi leaves boiled with gingelly oil) is used in earache and discharge of pus from the ear. It is put into the nose in ozaena.

The seeds are mucilaginous. They are used as diuretic in scanty urine and cough. Tulasi is useful in scorpion bite, constipation, and remittent and intermittent fevers.

In Malaya people keep the leaves over the graves of their dead for the peace and welfare of the departed soul.


Tamil:   Vendya Keerai Sanskrit:   Methi
Telugu:  Menthikura  Hindia:    Methi
Arab:   Hulba   Persian:   Shamlita
Malaylam:  Venthayam; Uluva Kanarese:   Menthe gida

This is a kind of Keerai (leafy Vegetable in Tamil). The leaf and seed are used. The leaf is a refrigerant and laxative.

The seed is a diuretic, demulcent, emmenagogue, astringent, emollient, aphrodisiac, carminative and tonic. The leaf is useful in flatulence or wind in the bowels, dullness of gastric or digestive fire, bronchitis, anorexia or disgust for food.

Make a paste of the leaf, warm this and apply to swellings, burns and scalds. The swelling will we reduced and the burns will heal up quickly. Boil the leaves and churn them with honey. Eat them. You will have evacuation of the bowels. The bowels will be well cleansed. Pain in the chest, cough piles, ulcers in the bowels will be cured.

Mix British figs with the leaves, grind them well and apply to boils and swellings. They will burst quickly. Boil the leaves, add butter and fry and eat. Giddiness due to biliousness will be cured.

Add almonds, papaveris (Khas Khas), Sujee, ghee, milk and sugar to the leaves and makes a confection. This will give strength and beauty to the body. It is a good tonic. Pain in the waist will be cured.

The seed is useful in dysentery, gonorrhea, and heat of the body, excessive thirst, cough and consumption. Fry the seeds and make a powder. Make a decoction of the powder. This is useful in pain in abdominal colic, flatulence or wind in the bowels, gonorrhea, dysentery and internal heat of the body. Boil rice with a little of seed and salt and ghee. Eat. This will increase the blood. This is a blood tonic. Fry the seed with a little ghee and powder it. Fry some wheat and powder it. Mix the two in equal parts. You can make this a substitute for coffee. Internal heat will be cured. Add the seed to the conjee. This will increase the milk in nursing mothers.

Make a paste of the seed and apply it to the head. Keep it for some time and then take bath. Hairs will grow. It will prevent falling of hair. Soak some seeds in the curd for some time and then take the curd and the seed. This is beneficial in dysentery. Fry in ghee equal parts of a little methi seed, mustard, asafetida and turmeric. Powder them, mix them with boiled rice and eat. This is beneficial in stomach pain, abdominal colic, dysmenorrhoea, and swelling of liver and spleen.

Fry a little dried chilli, mustard, methi seeds, Tuvar-ki-dhai, sweet Nim leaves and asafetida in a vessel and pour tamarind soup over this, add salt, cover the vessel. Let the soup be reduced to half quantity. Take this with rice. Indigestion, flatulence, anorexia or disgust for food will be cured. This is a good appetizer. Vendava Kolambu or soup is a great change when one is tired of too much Sambar or dhal soup. It is a good appetizer, stomachic and carminative.

Ponnangkani (Tamil)

Latin:  Alternanthera Sessiles  Telugu:  Ponnagantikua
Malayalam: Minankanni   Kannada:  Vanagonc sappu
Sanskrit: Meenakshi; Mathsyakshi Dukhni:  Ponnangkan

This is a creeper that is commonly cultivated in India. It can be obtained everywhere. This is a kalpa-moolikai. There is gold in this herb. He who eats daily this herb has a golden complexion. Hence the name Ponnangkani. “Pon” in Tamil means gold. Pon, Aum, Kan, Nee, i.e., if you eat this, you will see your body as lustrous as gold. This is an alterative and cooling. This is useful in eye diseases, of cornea, heat of the body and piles.

Boil this without salt and eat with butter for 40 days. All diseases of the eye will be cured. The juice is useful as an Anupana. It is used in making copper oxide.

Take oil bath with oil prepared out of this herb. Diseases of the eye will be cured.

It is very beneficial for cough, asthma, fever, piles, gonorrhea, syphilis and intestinal worms.

Take one seer juice and 1/4th seer of gingili oil. Boil the juice along with oil. When the juice is absorbed in the oil and the mixture reduced to 1/4th seer, then strain. This can be daily rubbed to the head. It will give good eyesight, memory and cool the brain. Take Ponnangkani juice 2 tolas and mix equal part of carrot juice, add a little salt (Saindhava), and drink. It is useful in piles.

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