Kashayam is an Ayurvedic tea brewed w/ whole spices to boost immunity, fight indigestion and promote general well-being.
The day after the tropical storm passed, I felt the beginnings of a flu stirring in me – a prevalent heaviness in the head, mild nasal congestion accompanied by random bouts of sneezing that made me feel like my head might just explode. And whenever that happens, I always get a bonus bad stomach as well, as though my body is just rejecting everything I put into it. I apologize for painting such a vulgar picture right there, but falling sick is never a pretty affair. I was in no mood for getting sick just then – I know, no one likes being sick nor plans for it, but I’m sure there are days you woke up and wished you could call in sick, stay in bed and just drink soup all day. But I had a bunch of different projects that needed my attention, and I had no space in my calendar for downtime, scheduled or unscheduled.
So I did what my mother always did – I went into the kitchen and brewed me some of this Kashayam – it’s my first response to any and all forms of sickness that befalls me and it usually seems enough to stop most problems, particularly an upset stomach in its tracks. I spent most of the day sipping on cup after cup of the warm, fragrant, pitch black brew and with every passing hour, I began to feel better.
The word Kashayam always instigates mixed reactions from everyone; even if you didn’t know what they were, once you do, the mixed reactions will occur, right on cue. But let me try and abate the aversion from you today, if you’re one of those people who hate it. Kashayam (pronounced ka-sha-yum) is an Ayurvedic home remedy that is made with whole spices and herbs, brewed as a tea and usually drunk hot. There are so many versions, each specializing in a specific form of wellness, and even some you can powder and mix with a glass of warm milk, instead of brewing as a tea.
The reason why most people hate this drink, is probably because it’s usually given to you when you are sick, or starting to become sick. Naturally, you always associate a glass of this brew with the feelings of being sick, so I can completely understand any disinclination you may bear towards it. I’ve always wondered why I never had any – I think it’s probably because I did not drink Kashayam only when sick – my mother would save me a cup whenever she made a batch for someone in the house, so I never associated it with sickness. It was just a drink, and an interesting one at that. And as a kid, it made me feel all grown-up to like something that all other kids vehemently hated.
But to be honest, it tastes not too different from regular black tea. If you want to ease into this drink, you could add a little milk or sweeten it with a little honey, or do both. But mom always said that drinking it full strength as is, is when you get it’s complete benefits. And I trust her on that.
Here’s what goes into it, and why it’s good for you:
Black Pepper – If you thought that black pepper here’s going to make the drink spicy, you’re wrong. Rather, it aids in digestion and helps flush toxins from your body. It also breaks up mucous and phlegm, and enables your body to absorb and retain more nutrition from the food you consume. And if you’re sick, chances are it’s affecting your appetite and you need to be able to get the most out of what little you eat.
Fennel is also an excellent digestive and helps in boosting immunity. There’s a reason they’re provided instead of after-meal-mints in most Indian restaurants. A spoonful of fennel after a meal freshens your breath as well as helps your body better process the food you’ve just eaten.
Cumin is another good digestive, but like fennel, it also helps boost immunity, treats respiratory disorders, alleviates insomnia and suppresses cough. So if you’re coughing a lot, add an extra spoon of this while brewing the kashayam.
Coriander eases digestive discomfort, lowers blood pressure, regulates proper menstrual functions and keeps neurodegenerative diseases at bay.
Rice is not an ingredient you would normally see in health drinks, but rice has resistant starch that reaches your gut undigested and feeds the good bacteria in there, that in turn helps in maintaining a healthy gut, even relieving irritable bowel syndrome. The carbohydrates in rice also provides energy, something you can never have enough of when sick.
Ginger is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, good for nausea, relieves muscle pain, aids digestion, lowers blood sugar, and has been known to relieve menstrual pain as effectively as Ibuprofen.
Home remedies are just food, used as medicines. So, feel free to increase the quantity of one or two ingredients in the recipe based on what ails you most – if you have a lot of body pain, add another inch of ginger, and if you’re coughing a lot, an extra spoon of cumin will help, and if you have an extremely sore throat or a clogged nose, amp up the pepper. You get the idea….
Over medium-high heat, toast all the ingredients (except ginger) until fragrant and the color turns dark. My mother would let them burn and smoke, which results in a more stronger, more bitter brew, but if you’re just starting out, golden brown is fine.
And once the spices are roasted, add the water, ginger and bring to a boil. Keep boiling until the liquid reduces by half – usually in this time, the rice cooks slightly and the spices soften and the brew darkens to a beautiful, deep golden brown. If you’re the sick person, stick your head over the vapors and inhale, it’ll clear up your nose for a bit. But also be careful not to scald yourself in the steam.
All that’s left to do now is filter out the spices and drink the brew. Drink it hot, it’s most fragrant then. I even go so far as to brew a weaker tea from the filtered out spices, kind of a second extract before I throw out the spices.
And the next time you find yourself down with a little cold, or if you’re having a bad stomach after some exceptionally bad takeout food, make yourself a cup of this Kashayam, and you’ll soon be feeling as right as rain.