Spices Used in Unani Medicine

Contributed by Dr M.U.Z.N. Farzana, Institute of Indigenous Medicine, University of Colombo

  • In this modern era indigenous medicine refers “the health practices, with the knowledge of incorporating plants, animal and mineral-based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses or maintain well-being”.
  • The indigenous system of Unani medicine includes some spices that are frequently used in food preparation. They are:
  • Filfil-e-seyah (Black Pepper)
  • Darchini (Cinnamon Bark)
  • Elaichi (Cardomumum)
  • Saunf (Fennel)
  • Zanjabil/Sonth(Ginger)
  • Lahsun(Garlic)
  • Peyaz (Onion)
  • Dhania(Coriander)
  • Kali Mirch(Pepper)
  • Haldi (Turmeric)
  • Zeera (Cumin)
  • Rayee(Mustard)
  • Jaiphal (Nutmeg)
  • Meithi (Fennel )
  • Imly (Tamarind)
  • Heeng (Asafoetida)
  • Karanfal (Clove)
  • Tejpat (Bay leaf)
  • Curry Patha(Curry Leaf)
  • Podina (Mint)

The main medicinal properties and the use in medicine is as follows;

 

Kali Mirch (Black Pepper)

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Botanical Name: Piper nigrum L
World’s common spice and known as the “King of Spices”

Chemical Compositition

capsaicin, dihydrocapsaicin and nonivamide.

Action

antipyretic and anti-inflammatory are supported by modern science.

Uses

  • Powdered black pepper thoroughly mixed with malted jagerry may be taken in the treatment of digestive disorders.
  • Ground pepper mixed with honey taken twice day is effective in amnesia or dullness of intellect.
  • Pepper is an effective remedy for cough caused due to throat irritation.
  • Pepper is useful in pyorrhoea or pus in the gums.
  • Powdered pepper and salt mixture when massaged over the gums relieves inflammation.
  • The 5th century Syriac Book of Medicine prescribes pepper for such illness as constipation, heart diseases, insomnia, joint pain and lung diseases.
  • In Korea, one study conducted to evaluate the effects of antipyretic effect of acceptable RP doses. Twenty-five men and women participated in a randomized crossover trial, and found the confidence level P>0.01 shows it effects.

 

Lahzan (Garlic)

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Botanical Name: Allium sativum L
It is one of the oldest dietary vegetables.

Chemical Compositition

Allicin, antifungal compound (phytoncide) .
Sulfur-containing compounds alliin, ajoene, diallyl polysulfides, allylcysteine, and enzymes, B vitamins, proteins, minerals, saponins, flavonoids.

Action

antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal

Uses

  • It has been used as early as 3000BC for the treatment of intestinal disorders and is now known for its fibrinolytic activity and its possible role in lowering blood cholesterol.
  • 50g of garlic is lightly fried with mustard oil and is applied as a poulties on the affected joint.
  • Crush garlic bulbs, apply the crushed garlic to the site of pain then put a bandage over it.
  • In Unani medicine an extract prepared from the dried bulb is taken to regulate menstruation.
  • Unani physicians also use garlic to treat paralysis, tremor, colic pains, intestinal ulcers and fevers.

 

Adrak (Ginger)
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  • Botanical Name: Zingiber officinale L

Chemical Composition

  • zingerone, shogaols and gingerols, volatile oils

Action

Anticancer, Antioxidant, Antiinflammatory, Anthelmintic, carminative, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, expectorant, peripheral circulatory stimulant and astringent.

Uses

The rhizome in pregnancy has long been used in Unani and other traditional system of medicine to treat a wide range of ailments including gastrointestinal disorders, mainly nausea, vomiting associated with motion sickness.The rhizome is boiled the extract is mixed with lemon juice and common salt is given against asthma.Ginger has been used to treat ailments including sore throat, diarrhoea, gingivitis, arthritis, bronchitis, muscle pains, sprains, constipation, dermatitis, hypertension, helminthiasis and asthmatic respiratory disorders.

Recent Research

Rhode et al, (2007) reported- that anticarcinogenic activity of ginger root supplement has been identified.Another study shows reduce colon inflammation markers in colon cancer.In a 2010 study, daily consumption of ginger was shown to help ease muscle pain associated with exercise by 25%.

 

Haldi (Turmeric)

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Botanical Name: Curcuma longa L

Chemical composition

Essential oils, curcumin, a polyphenol. Curcumin is the active substance of turmeric.

Action

Stimulator, carminative, purifying, anti-inflammatory and anthelmintic.

Uses

As a Unani medicine, turmeric has also been quite extensively used to treat disorders such as rheumatism, skin problems, intestinal worms, hepatic diseases, discharges, leukoderma, digestive disorders (flatulence, dyspepsia, ulcers and indigestion).Fresh rhizome is crushed and mixed in the porridge and taken during 1st menstrual cycle.
Root powder mixed with sugar pound with rice water is to be given along with milk in the first day menstruation (menarche).Turmeric has also been used in India as a method for hair removal and skin treatment. It is usually made into a paste with yogurt or milk, applied to the desired area and allowed to dry.This process is repeated many times and ultimately prevents future hair from growing in that area.

Recent Research

Phytochemicals found in turmeric have been investigated for their potential effects on diseases such as cancer,Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, diabetes and other clinical disorders.The Department of Surgery, Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, says that curcumin increased the effect of chemotherapy regime in suppressing proliferation and inducing apoptosis growth of prostate cancer cell.

 

Ilaichi (Cardamom)
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Botanical Name: Elettaria cardamomum L

Chemical composition.

In the oil were found α-terpineol,myrcene,limonene, menthone.

Action

anti-inflammatory and antibacterial.

Uses

In Unani medicine it is used as a carminative, diuretic, stomachic and digestive and for cough, cold and cardiac stimulant.An infusion of cardamom can be used as a gargle to relieve sore throats, and seeds are popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac.Powdered fruit is mixed with water or cow’s or goat’s milk and taken internally for cold.In India, green cardamom used to treat infections of the teeth gums, to prevent and treat throat trouble and asthma.

 

Darchini (Cinnamon)

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Botanical Name: Cinnamomum zeylanicum L

Chemical Composition

Essential oil include ethyl cinnamate,eugenol,caryophylle, linalool.

Action

antipyretic, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, fungicidal and stomachic.

Uses

The powder bark of this spice in water is applied to alleviate headache and neuralgia.Dried bark 2gram is boiled in 250 ml coriander water and one ounce filtrate is taken frequently for dysmenorrhoea. Cinamon is often combined with ginger to stimulate circulation and digestion.

Recent research

Two studies have shown cinnamon in the diet may help type 2 diabetics to control blood glucose levels.Research documents anti-melanoma activity of cinnamic aldehyde observed in cell culture and a mouse model of human melanoma.

 

Karanfal (Cloves)

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Botanical Name: Syzgium aromaticum L

Chemical composition

essential oil contain acetyl eugenol, beta-caryophyllene and vanillin, tannins such as bicornin, gallotannic acid, methyl salicylate (painkiller)

Action

analgesic, anesthetic, carminative, antidotal, antipespirant and rubefacient.

Uses

Cloves are used as a carminative to increase hydrochloric acid in the stomach and to improve peristalsis.Essential oil is used as an anodyne for dental emergencies.The essential oil is used in aromatherapy, especially for digestive problems.The ash of the tender petiole mixed with a little sodium bicarbonate salt is given against asthma.Clove oil is used in various skin disorders like acne and pimples.The essential oil extracted from cloves is used as an ointment to relieve pain and promotes healing in Unani medicine.

 

Dhaniya (Coriander)
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Botanical Name: Coriandum sativum L

Chemical composition

Volatile oil is d-linalol (coriandrol)

Action

Carminative, stimulant, sedative, antipyretic, stomachic, aphrodisiac, laxative and anthelmintic

Uses

In traditional medicine , coriander is used in the disorders of digestive, respiratory and urinary systems as it has diaphoretic, diuretic and carminative activities.The decoction obtained after boiling the bark along with the gall bladder of bear is taken in asthma .Coriander has been documented as at traditional treatment for diabetes, indigestion, flatulence, renal disorders and loss of appetite.

Recent Study

Coriander has also been used as part of a dietary intervention program to control vitamin A deficiency in children. Coriander herb and coriander oil are listed in the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list.

 

Meithi (Fenugreek)
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Botanical Name: Trogonella foenumgraecum L

Chemical composition

alkaloids mainly of trigonelline, choline, gentianine, and carpaine

Action

aphrodisiac, astringent, demulcent, carminative, emmenagogue and lactogogue .

Uses

Powdered seed is mixed with ghee and given to young girls after menarche.Normal attack of paralysis is treated by using the mixture prepared from tender leaves of fenugreek and cured given twice daily. Fenugreek seeds are thought to be a galactagogue that is often used to increase milk supply in lactating women.

Recent study.

A June 2011 study at the Australian Centre for Integrative Clinical and Molecular Medicine found that men aged 25 to 52 who took a fenugreek extract twice daily for six weeks scored 25% higher on tests gauging libido levels than those who took a placebo.

 

Mirch (Red Chilli)
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Botanical Name: Capsicum annum L

Chemical composition

capsaicin and several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids

Action

Carminative , stomachic, anodyne

Uses

Bark paste is mixed with mustard oil is used to cure paralysis.Moreover, capsicum plaster, which contains powdered capsicum and capsicum tincture, has beeen used in Korean hand acupuncture to reduce postoperative nausea , vomiting and sore throat.

 

Rayee (Mustard)
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Botanical Name; Brasica junsia L

Chemical composition

Glucosinolate, sinigrin and the enzyme myrosin,sinapic

Action

Irritant, stimulant, diuretic, emetic .

Uses.

10gr powder is mixed with bowl of curd and one glass of water. Gargling with this solution relieves tooth-ache.It relieves congestion of various organs by drawing the blood to the surface, as in head affections, and is of service in the alleviation of neuralgia and other pains and spasms in Unani medicine.

Recent study

B. juncea can hyperaccumulate cadmium and many other soil trace elements, it can be used as a selenium, chromium, iron and zinc food supplement.

 

Jaiphal (Nutmeg)

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Botanical Name:Myristica fragrans Hautt

Chemical composition

myristicin, monoamine oxidase.

Action

anti-fungal, anti-depressant, aphrodisiac, digestive, and carminative functions.

Uses

The oil is also used as a local massage to reduce muscular pain and rheumatic pain of joints in Unani medicine.
Paste prepared from nutmeg mixed with curd prepared from cow’s milk. The preparation is given orally once a day for one month to cure epilepsy and also as a nervine tonic.
Freshly prepared decoction with honey has been used to relief of nausea, gastritis, and indigestion ailments.

Recent Research

One study has shown that the compound macelignan isolated from Myristica fragrans may exert antimicrobial activity against Streptococcus mutans.
Another that a methanolic extract from the same plant inhibited cell activity in human leukemia.

 

Zeera (Cumin Seed)

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Botanical Name:Cuminum cyminum L

Chemical composition

Main aroma compounds are cuminaldehyde and cuminic alcohol.

Action

stimulating, carminative.

Uses

In Unani medicine Cumin uses to treat chronic fever, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, boils, chronic fever, scorpion stings and insomnia.
Cumin cooked along with ground coconut kernel, green chili, onion and sufficient quantity of salt and take along with rice for amenorrhoea.
Further in Unani medicine it is used to reduce nausea during pregnancy and increase the flow of milk in lactating mothers. It also reduces swollen breasts or testicles.
As a gargle it can soothe blisters of the mouth. Mixed with salt it can be rubbed into the gums to reduce soreness and swelling.

 

Badiyan (Anise Seed)

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Botanical Name:Pimpinella anisum L

Chemical composition

Fatty oil, Essential oil, Starch and anethole.

Action

Carminative, insecticide, Lactogogue.

Uses

In Unani medicine, anise is used to cure colic, gas, and indigestion. It is also useful for cough.

Recent Study

Anethole (the main active constituent of anise) is used in a combination in modern medicine used as a painkiller and stomachic.
Extract of anise seeds has significant anticancer effect on prostate cancer.

 

Pudina (Mint)

Botanical Name:Mentha arvensis L

Chemical composition

Mainly pulegone and menthone.

Action

carminative, stimulative, and antispasmodic.

Uses

Paste of fresh leaves mixed with mustard oil and applied to get relief from tooth-ache.
Tea prepared with pudina leaves to which a tsp. each of lime juice and honey are added is an excellent cure for common cold, sore throat and that bloated sensation in the stomach after a heavy meal.

Recent Study

In 2007, Italian investigators reported that 75% of the patients in their study who took mint extract for four weeks had a major reduction in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.

 

Curry Patha (Curry Leaf)
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Botanical Name: Murraya koenigii L

Chemical composition

alpha-pinene, sabinene, beta-pinene, betacaryophyllene, limonene.

Action

Anti diabetic, ani cholesterol, antimicrobial, carminative, antioxidant.

Uses

Fresh juice of curry leaves, with lime juice and sugar, is an effective medicine in the treatment of morning sickness, nausea and vomiting.
leaves paste mixed with turmeric powders on the face and take bath to clear the mark in chicken-pox.
The curry leaves, ground to a fine paste and mixed with buttermilk, can also be taken on an empty stomach with beneficial results in case of stomach upsets.
Cataract development can be prevented by using fresh juice of curry leaves.

Recent Research

  • A 2011 study, extract isolated from this plant, found that it inhibited the growth and induced apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma.
  • The antioxidative properties of the leaves extracts using different solvents were evaluated based on the oil stability index.

 

Tej Path (Bay Leaf)

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Botanical Name:Laurus nobilis L.

Chemical composition

The most abundant essential oil found in laurel is eucalyptol. The leaves contain essential oils (ol. lauri folii)

Action

anti-microbial,anti-fungal, hypoglycaemic, anti-ulcerogenic.

Uses

Bay has a reputation for soothing the stomach and relieving flatulence.
Bay is also well-known for its ability to relieve the aches and pains associated with rheumatism, and for sprains, bruises, and skin rashes.

Recent Research

Studies have shown that Bay has mild narcotic and sedative effects in mice, and therefore can be tried in a tea before bed for better sleep, or after a stressful day.