Written by Manasa Lakshmi Penta
Lifestyle conditions — including hypertension, diabetes, liver and heart problems — have a direct relation with what is consumed by the human body. The concept of nutri-gardens, or poshan bagichas, was popularised as part of the government’s push on the National Nutrition Mission. Giving a family easy access to herbs, fruits and vegetables, nutri-gardens can make quality nutrition as easy as harvesting fresh, unadulterated produce from your kitchen or terrace garden — without the expensive store tags. Moreover, nutri-gardens give communities access to locally available herbs and produce.
While there are several Indian herbs that are known to help with various ailments, not all herbs have strong research evidence to confirm their efficacy. If you are looking to grow a nutrition garden for health, here are some of the herbs that you must choose.
Must-have herbs for heart health
Indian ginseng, popularly known as Ashwagandha, is rich in nitrates and potassium. Research studies have shown good evidence for Ashwagandha in lowering total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL levels and managing cardiovascular diseases. These benefits may be possibly mediated by nitric oxide. Ginseng grows best in dry regions but can also be grown in your backyard. Seeds can be sown directly outdoors and will germinate in 20 days.
Garlic, a common household herb used in cooking, is also well known for its health benefits from curing a common cold to preventing heart disease. It contains an antioxidant called allicin, which works as a free radical scavenger and thereby reduces vascular oxidative stress and prevents cardiovascular disease. There is strong research evidence for its anti-hypertensive properties, which are mediated by vasodilation via increased nitric oxide production. It is important to note that garlic is commonly used in a powder form in research studies, so the efficacy for 2-3 fresh garlic pieces may be different.
Furthermore, garlic adds flavour to low salt diets which are generally prescribed for those with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Plant individual garlic cloves after preparing the soil; one clove will grow into one plant so pot accordingly. Garlic needs a lot of sun to grow, so it is great for most parts of India.
Turmeric is a medicinal herb widely used as a spice in Indian cooking and is also well known for its health benefits. Curcumin is the anti-inflammatory compound found in turmeric, which gives its bright yellow colour. Curcumin is shown to decrease blood cholesterol levels by reducing intestinal cholesterol absorption and hepatic cholesterol synthesis. Turmeric grows from rhizomes, which can be found in some nurseries or ordered online. Sow it deep in a large and spacious pot, so tubers have space to grow beneath the soil.
Must-have herbs for diabetes
Fenugreek seeds, or methi, are a rich source of soluble fibre which reduces blood glucose levels by slowing down carbohydrate digestion and absorption. Adding a minimum of a teaspoon of ground fenugreek powder to your oral drinks or mixing it through the flour dough can improve blood glucose levels. A sun-loving plant, fenugreek is easy to grow in the summer months using easily available seeds.
Bitter gourd, known as karela in Hindi, has three different anti-diabetic compounds, namely vicine, lectin and insulin-like compound polypeptide-p. Together they help to decrease blood glucose levels. From seeds, it grows in the form of a vine in the nutri-garden and it’s preferable to let it grow vertically. Bitter gourd requires a lot of sunlight.
Must-have herbs for liver disease
Milk Thistle is a medical plant. Its leaves are used in Ayurvedic healing practice and seeds are used in medicines. It can be used to treat various health conditions. Various studies were conducted testing its effect on liver disease and some of them report a decrease in liver disease-related mortality rates. It is known to lower hepatitis-C-related inflammation and protect against liver damage. This plant can grow in most locations, even if the soil is poor. The seed requires slightly cooler temperatures to grow.
Moreover, studies on the effect of curcumin (found in turmeric), show subdued replication of Hepatitis B and thereby help in the treatment of liver disease.
In addition to growing locally sourced herbs and plants, one must take medical advice for managing an existing health condition. Discuss it with your doctor or physician as some of them may have side effects and drug interactions.