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Nature & Healing 2.0

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

Bringing science and tradition onto the same page

How many people have you encountered recently, cribbing about how the climate in your city ‘isn’t what it used to be’? I walked past at least six people cursing the weather this morning. “Feels like February JUST ended!” As the years go by, the weather becomes more and more unpredictable, summers get longer and rains get scarcer. Not to mention the unseasonal chill and the long, dry winters! And our bodies, bear the brunt of it all.

The fact remains that all things put together, we have started to encounter more and more instances of seasonal sicknesses – ranging from the annoying flu to the more serious cases of asthma attacks. But as always, we need not look far from good old Mother Nature to give us the arsenal that we need to fight off these infections and alleviate their symptoms.

Science and its effervescent curiosity have caught up with what our clever ancestors have always advocated. The scientific basis of action of some indispensable natural products, their role in tempering our metabolism and aiding our inherent immunity are now being given a well deserved, closer look.

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  1. Ginger – Here’s a personal favourite! From being the ‘go to’ herb for chai lovers to being an essential in ‘kashayas’ that fix your runny nose, ginger holds pride of place in most Indian households. Ginger has also been known to aid in better digestion and reduce nausea. And I’m sure most of us have heard of ginger as an important ingredient in herbal concoctions for diabetes and arthritis? Clearly, there are a multitude of benefits to acquiring “adrak ka swaad” – are the monkeys listening?

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Ginger comes from Zingiber officinalis and its major active ingredients under study include terpenes such as gingerol, shogaol and paradol. Ginger is known to contain high levels of anti-oxidants and its effects on reducing oxidative stress in mouse and human cells has been well studied. Studies in rats show that doses of ginger extract can normalize the activity of oxidative stress-response enzymes. These are promising early results! And studies have also highlighted the anti-inflammatory effects of ginger or its components such as gingerol or shogaol. Ginger components suppress or control activity of pro-inflammatory molecules produced by cells.

These are of further interest when such observations are translated to arthritis studies in mice – in mouse models of arthritis, crude extracts of ginger and only gingerol containing fractions both reduced joint inflammation and destruction. In fact, a study in humans also claims better treatment response in osteoarthritis patients given ginger extract compared to placebo group! Of course there are studies that counter these claims and as I have mentioned earlier – this is in no way a comprehensive review of what literature is out there! Here’s a heartening study for women – a double blinded study even reported similar pain relief against period cramps with ginger capsules and ibuprofen!

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To think it has taken so many molecular, cellular, mice and clinical studies – just to realise the true potency of ginger!

2. Tulsi – Just the word brings to mind the smell of incense, the chimes of bells and all things pure. I digress! Almost every part of this aromatic shrub is used in more traditional ‘nuske’ or concoctions (both medicinal and religious) than one can count. Tulsi is considered effective against fevers, colds, body aches, ear aches, sore throats – a cure, it would seem, for every ailment! Giving good, old Neemintense competition in the ‘Sarva roga nivarini’department, are we, Tulsi?

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But what’s the science behind it?

Tulsi or Ocimum tenuiflorumis a perennial plant and almost all parts of the plant have traditionally been used in healing a whole host of diseases and disorders. There are a number of ‘active’ ingredients in Tulsi known to be responsible for most of its therapeutic potential including eugenol (yes! You’ve heard about this one in the previous post on cloves!), eucalyptol and camphor amongst others. A number of laboratory studies have documented the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal value of components from Tulsi.

I must mention that these are preliminary studies that need more validation. The studies on the anti-stress, anti-amnesic and anti-epileptic effects of tulsi extracts, though in their infancy, deserve a special mention here. An interesting tidbit I came across while exploring scientific literature on Tulsi and its components was that its ‘genome’ (the sum total of all its genes) has now been mapped. Why is this exciting? Well, think of the genome as a ‘blueprint’ – once you have it, it is so much easier to understand what makes something tick, what gives Tulsi its almost magical medicinal properties. This post barely scratches the surface of the plethora of studies on all the positive effects of Tulsi.


What is your ‘go-to’ herb in times of ill health? Are there other herbs or spices and the science behind them that you would like to know more about? Write to us.

Dr. Pavithra Rajagopalan is working on cancer research and is based in Philadelphia.

Further reading:

  1. Bode AM, Dong Z. The Amazing and Mighty Ginger. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition  

  2. Tulsi – Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons 

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