Ajwain (scientific name Trachyspermum ammi) is an annual herb belonging to the family Apiaceae. This herb has its origin in the eastern region of the Mediterranean, perhaps in Egypt. Later, it spread from the Near East to as far as India. The leaves as well as the fruit pods, which are often erroneously referred to as seeds, of ajwain plant are edible.
Ajwain plant is also known as bishop's weed. However, bishop's weed is a common name and many other plants share this name. The fruit pods of ajwain are often mistaken for lovage seed.
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The fruit pods of ajwain, also known as carum, are small, oval shaped and have a light brown color. These fruit pods bear close resemblance to cumin and caraway. Ajwain has a bitter and pungent flavour, something akin to that of oregano and anise.
The scent of ajwain fruit pods is just like thyme, because these fruit pods also contain the natural compound called thymol. However, they are more scented and have a less subtle flavour. In addition, they are somewhat bitter and pungent. Adding even a small amount of ajwain fruit pods to any dish will make it take over its flavour.
Ajwain plants are very distinguishable owing to their small, ivory hued or off-while floweret clusters that are prominent mainly owing to their carnation or light pink stamens. The entire ajwain plant is thin, but relatively resilient and distinguished for its annual characteristics.
The seeds, which are actually the fruit pods, are the only useful part of the ajwain plant. The fruit pods appear after the flowers have matured. The fruit pods contain tiny grey colored egg-shaped seeds, which are basically the fruits of the ajwain plant. The fruits are typified by yellow streaks that appear in a patterned space making it appear akin to the abdomen of some bee or wasp species.
However, unlike in the case of the abdomen of bees and wasp species, the streaks of ajwain fruits run vertically rather than horizontally. Ajwain fruits, often wrongly referred to as seed, are available commercially in whole form. Usually, they are sold dried. However, fresh fruits of the herb are also used for culinary purposes. Generally, dried ajwain fruits are grounded and used in various dishes. Grounded ajwain can be used separately or together with other spices.
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The culinary uses of ajwain are also closely associated to its therapeutic uses, because consuming foods that contain ajwain have modest remedial as well as therapeutic benefits. Ajwain is believed to offer instant relief from stomach problems as well as other gastric complains. This is the main reason why ajwain is generally mixed with heavy foods to promote digestion.
However, when ajwain is just used in the form of a medicine, usually a mild decoction is prepared from its fruits and it is drunk prior to as well as after meals to promote digestion, improve appetite, facilitate absorption of nutrients, and also prevent bloating, indigestion and stomach aches.
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If you consume ajwain decoction in moderate amounts every day, it will help to enhance the body's general circulation, while toning up the liver, spleen and the heart. Hence, ajwain decoction is considered to be a wonderful and versatile tonic.
Since ajwain is effective in improving circulation, this herb has also been used in Ayurveda as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in the form of an aphrodisiac. In India, people usually decoct ajwain fruits (seeds) with fresh goat's or cow's milk and the ensuing beverage is administered to infants as well as children in the form of a nutritious drink.
In addition, ajwain has traditionally been used in the form of a remedy for mild fevers, stomach aches and colic. Even pregnant women and nursing mothers will find drinking mild brews of ajwain and milk beneficial, as it will facilitate the proper assimilation of nutrients from the ingested food.
However, it is important to keep in mind that only a small amount of ajwain should be used every time. This spice is very potent and consuming it in excess may give rise to uterine contractions and other complications.
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More potent decoctions prepared from ajwain may be used to cure cold, coughs, flu and even moderate fevers. You can prepare a wonderful warming beverage by blending ajwain with other spices like cinnamon bark and ginger root. This beverage can be taken to treat chills and also prevent the onset of bronchitis or pneumonia.
A beverage prepared by blending ajwain, cinnamon bark, fresh organic eggs, lemon grass, cloves, ginseng roots and fresh goat's or cow's milk and heating the mixture in a stainless steel or clay pot and sweeten by adding molasses or honey, if preferred, is not only very nutritive, but also ideal for those recuperating from wasting diseases like tuberculosis.
You can also prepare syrup to treat cold and cough by alternately grinding ajwain fruits into a powdered form and blend it with honey or even jaggery.
If you want to get a more potent kick, you can combine dried and pulverized ginger root and dried and pounded cinnamon bark with ajwain seeds. You can also prepare this syrup in the form of handy candies for treating strep or sore throats just by pouring the blend into ice-trays and setting these substances aside in the freezer to form a solid mass.
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Later, these solid pieces can be wrapped in plastic or waxed paper and consumed whenever you require them for alleviating sore throat, congestion in the chest and also nasal congestions caused by allergies. In addition, ajwain is a very familiar antimicrobial and antiseptic spice - these properties of the spice are attributed to the presence of the natural chemical thymol.
The presence of thymol in ajwain makes it possible to prepare extremely potent decoctions with this spice that can be used to sterilize mild to moderate dermal wounds. Alternatively, the decoction can also be used in the form of an antibacterial agent, for instance in the form of a mouthwash.
You may also use it for sterilization and as a medicated rinse for bandages and so on. Instead of using synthetic astringents and antiseptics, you can use ajwain to treat various dermal disorders, generally those caused by bacterial or fungal infections.
Applying ajwain decoction in the form of a hair rinse can be beneficial for treating conditions like dandruff, eczema and even psoriasis. If you are using a stronger decoction, it will also help to eliminate lice as well as fleas. In Ayurveda, ajwain has been used for treating toothaches and ear aches since long. Ajwain is generally decocted till a highly potent and sharp liquid is formed.
Alternatively, ajwain is macerated in oil, generally by applying heat through a double-boiler for preparing a high potent extract more quickly. Subsequently, the substance can be poured gently into the ear using a funnel or applied into the problem area to provide almost instant relief from the discomfort associated with ear ache.
You can also use the substance in the form of an ointment or salve for treating arthritis and rheumatism, since ajwain possesses significant analgesic as well as anti-inflammatory properties.
You can use the same ajwain macerated oil in the form of a hair oil to eliminate dandruff, combat infections by parasites and even alleviate the symptoms related to psoriasis. This oil may also be applied externally in the form of antiseptic oil to facilitate healing of wounds and put off infection.
Alternatively, it can be employed as aftershave facial oil or aftershave oil to tone up the skin, disinfect the raw areas, close skin pores and even allow a fresher and smoother shave. You can also make a wonderful hair rinse, facial astringent, styptic or wound disinfectant by steeping crushed or pounded dry ajwain fruits in white vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
If you want to use this spice to provide relief from pain, you may pound fresh or dried ajwain fruits to prepare a paste, add some oil to it and apply the substance in the form of a poultice to the affected area to obtain instant relief. In fact, ajwain paste with oil is also effective in alleviating symptoms related to asthma and bronchitis.
Applying ajwain paste in the form of a paste to the temples or forehead helps in alleviating the symptoms associated with recurring headaches. You can also apply the ajwain paste to open wounds both minor and moderate, as this helps to accelerate disinfection and healing.
Alternatively, you may also apply this paste as a facial mask to provide relief from the harshness of acne, lessen production of too much sebum and also aid in toning up the skin. Applying a paste prepared with ajwain along with red ginger root and comfrey as a poultice helps to repair fractures by accelerating the healing process.
Ajwain fruits (seeds) are a wonderful natural resource for a variety of essential oils counting cymene, terpinene, thymol, pinene and limonene. This spice possesses anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anesthetic and germicide properties.
Ajwain is an excellent home remedy for indigestion or dyspepsia. Just a couple of drops of ajwain oil are sufficient to cure ear aches and a variety of ear infections. Ajwain oil is also effective for treating pain associated with arthritis.
It is also believed that ajwain can help to rein in the craving for alcoholic drinks. In addition, the fruits of ajwain plant are an excellent home remedy for a number of health problems including abdominal gas, anorexia, vomiting, and nausea as well as travel sickness.
Smoking ajwain may be helpful in alleviating asthma and shortness of breath. It can also be used for gargling. An infusion prepared from ajwain fruits is effective in providing relief from sore throat.
Ajwain is one of the main ingredients for a variety of food preparations in the Indian cuisine. The fruits of this herb are employed to prepare various different vegetable dishes in addition to flavoring pickles.
Ajwain is also an important spice that is employed for seasoning fish and chicken together with several other spices, including cumin and coriander. The fruits are also employed for making lentils, beans and root vegetables.
This spice is also used for preparing herbal tea, which is called Ajwain tea. In India, ajwain is extensively used to add essence to biscuits, snacks, soups and even sauces. Ajwain is also pickled together with various other spices such as mustard seeds, turmeric and fenugreek.
Usually, ajwain is used for fried or sautéed dishes. However, it may also be used as a secondary spice for preparing various types of stews and curries. In the western style of culinary, ajwain can be used in the form of a rub for meats. Ajwain has a relatively potent flavour that usually makes it more suitable for use in meat preparation rather than seafood.
However, fresh ajwain can be used as a complimentary spice for preparing dishes with seafood base. On the other hand, dried ajwain is excellent for use in gamey meats. In more traditional cooking systems, ajwain is used to give some added flavour to vegetable-based dishes.
When used for cooking, ajwain is generally employed cautiously. In such cases, ajwain is sautéed in oil together with various different spices before adding other important elements in a process, which is called "tadka".In addition, this spice can also be used in the form of a flavoring as well as preservative agent for jams, chutneys, and several other preserves.
Alternatively, ajwain can also be used in the form of a complimentary preservative to sweetmeats as well as some varieties of traditional desserts. The second practice is not only common in Indian and Arabian cuisines, but ajwain is also used frequently for this purpose.
Ajwain or bishop's weed is grown extensively in gardens for their fruit pods, which are often wrongly called seeds. These fruit pods are used for culinary as well as therapeutic purposes. Ajwain plants grow readily from their seeds, hence propagation is easy.
Ajwain plants require a properly drained loam soil having a pH ranging from 6.5 to 8.2. These plants thrive well in cold temperatures between 15°C and 25°C. Ajwain plants are able to tolerate direct as well as partial sunlight. The ideal relative humidity for the proper growth of ajwain plants should be between 65 percent and 70 percent.
Chemical analysis of ajwain has shown that its main constituents include thymol, which comprises anything between 35 percent and 60 percent of this essential oil. In addition, it also encloses limonene, p-cymene, a-pinene and terpinene.
Usually, consumption of ajwain in moderation does not result in any adverse side effects. However, excessive consumption of ajwain may lead to a number of undesirable side effects in some people. Ajwain seeds promote secretion of digestive juices, hormones and acids in the gut, which may aggravate stomach ulcers that may exist from before.
People suffering from the condition called diverticulitis conditions should stay away from this spice. In addition, people enduring liver problems and ulcerative colitis should also avoid it. Check with your physician right away in case of any adverse side effect following consumption of ajwain.
The umbels comprising ajwain seeds or "fruit pods" are collected after they have matured properly. Generally harvesting is undertaken either in late winter or in the beginning of spring.