07c5c72ed0bd9ccd3ad1a784d99b5ca2-2Discovering the tang of ajwain (bishop’s weed) opens a new vista in aromatic cooking. The amateur quite often confuses ajwain with jeera (cumin), as I did in my salad days as a cook. I bought ajwain mistaking it to be an emaciated poor cousin of the jeera. On using it, I found the aromatic tang different—sharp, yet pleasing to the palate. Ajwain has never left my kitchen since then.

Bishop’s weed, as it is called in English, belongs to the Apiaceae family along with coriander (dhania), cumin (jeera), and fennel (saunf). No wonder the amateur gets confused, since a botanical similarity exists. It is called ajwain in Hindi.

* THE HISTORY AND THE GEOGRAPHY
Ajwain has been used as a medicinal herb from the times of Charaka and Sushruta, the fathers of ayurveda. Ancient Greek physicians like Dioscrides and Galene used it in various carminative medicines. In the beginning of the 20th century, ajwain used to be exported from India to U.S. and Europe, since steam distillation of the seeds yielded an oil containing thymol. This was of great value in surgery as an antiseptic.

Bishop’s weed is grown in Iran, Egypt, and Afghanistan. In India it is grown in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bengal, and Tamil Nadu.

* GROWING AT HOME
Ajwain can be grown at home in a large pot in loamy or loamy-clayey soil. The best time to sow in the U.S. is March. Within 3-4 months the short herbaceous plant with light green leafy stems will fill the garden with its aroma. The grayish-brown seeds will be ready within another 2-3 months. If you crush the leafy stem in your hand the aroma remains for a long time.

* GET-WELL REMEDIES
Ajwain is a home remedy for many gastro-intestinal conditions like diarrhea, dysentery, dyspepsia, and indigestion.

For relieving flatulence and dyspepsia, a pinch of ajwain can be eaten with betel leaves (pan). A glass of water with a tablespoon of ajwain seeds, boiled till the water becomes half, can be drunk to relieve flatulence and colic pain. For acute colic pains, ajwain, dry ginger, and rock salt in the proportion of 4:2:1 should be ground together and taken in doses of 1 teaspoon with warm water. Equal quantities of ajwain and dry ginger soaked in two-and-a-half times limejuice dried and powdered with a little rock salt is an excellent remedy for flatulence. Half-a-teaspoon of the same power should be taken with a little warm water thrice a day. Chewing a pinch of ajwain and rock salt together can relieve indigestion, particularly in children.

A mixture of ajwain seeds with buttermilk drunk twice a day relieves difficult expectoration caused by dried phlegm. For acute pharyngitis a pinch of ajwain can be chewed with rock salt and cloves. A hot fomentation of the seeds on the chest tied in a thin piece of cloth relieves asthmatic discomfort. A tablespoon of the seeds put into boiling water and steam-inhaled can cause clogged nose and bronchial passages to open. Similarly, the common cold can be relieved considerably by placing a pouch of the seeds on the pillow. Sore throats can be counteracted by gargling with water containing salt and a pinch of ajwain. Snuffing of the aromatic seeds relieves migraine.

Ajwain oil, applied on affected parts reduces rheumatic and neurological pains.

Ajwain is considered to be an excellent aphrodisiac! Equal quantities of ajwain and tamarind seeds fried in ghee (clarified butter) should be powdered and stored in an airtight container. A tablespoon of this powder mixed with a tablespoon of honey taken with milk before bedtime increases male virility!

Do keep in mind that these are household remedies that have come down the ages through the proverbial grandmothers. Efficacy may vary from person to person, time to time, and place to place. In the event of any discomfort or adverse reactions, stop taking the treatment and consult a physician immediately.

* IN THE KITCHEN
The aroma of ajwain is an integral part of the Indian kitchen. Being an excellent preservative and an antioxidant, ajwain is used in pickles.

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AJWAIN LEMON PICKLE

2 pounds fresh lemon deseeded and quartered
4 tablespoons of salt
1 tablespoon black salt
3 tablespoons cloves
3 tablespoons ajwain
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons pepper
(sugar and salt to be adjusted according to taste)

Mix the lemons and all the ingredients together. Store in airtight glass jar. Put the jar out in the sun for quicker maturing. The pickles will be ready after three weeks.

Makes an excellent accompaniment with and rice and dal or with Indian breads (roti, naan) and vegetables.

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AJWAIN PARANTHA

(6 paranthas, serves 3)
1½ cups wheat flour
1½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter for kneading the dough, and 1 tablespoon for cooking each parantha
2 teaspoons ajwain

Mix flour, salt, and ajwain in a large bowl. Rub butter or cooking oil into the flour. Knead the dough with water. Divide into six balls and roll each of them out to make 3″ diameter flat rounds (a chapati). Grease and fold to make a triangle, and roll it flat. Cook on preheated griddle (tava), rubbing butter or cooking oil on both sides. Remove when golden brown.

Serve with butter, chutney, or pickles.

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AJWAIN ALU (serves 4)

6 medium-sized potatoes boiled, peeled, and cubed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ajwain
1 teaspoon red pepper
½ teaspoon coriander power
1½ teaspoons pomegranate seeds, dried and powdered
2 tablespoons oil
salt to taste

Heat oil in a saucepan, and add cumin seeds and ajwain together. Reduce heat. Add the remaining spices along with the salt. Mix potato cubes well into the mixture. Cover and cook on low heat for five minutes. Uncover, mix pomegranate powder and cook for further 5 minutes, turning the potatoes gently with a wooden spatula. Adjust seasoning and garnish with chopped coriander. Serve with dal and chapati. The ajwain gives a special tang to the dish. This preparation, along with paranthas, is an excellent dish to carry on picnics and long journeys.

Meera Gopalkrishnan Khanna is a writer by profession and social activist by inclination.

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