Everyone recalls childhood days as always fun-filled and carefree. So do I. Days long ago were fun and games with not a care in the world. And, there was a significant difference: sicknesses were rare, mostly restricted to the odd common ones like colds, coughs, sore throats, or toothaches. Besides these, we had injuries galore because we were exposed to more physical activities. There were no modern amenities to make life easier. We had to brave the elements as we walked to school, to market, to everywhere or labour around the house and garden.
Dangers from nature were in plenty too – snakebites, insect bites, and other bugs’ bites. Unprotected exposure to nature, ignorance of basic hygiene… all these contributed to various health problems. Nevertheless, the environment then was much cleaner – pollution was negligible, and greenhouse gases were quite unheard of – which certainly must have made us much more robust in health and constitution than what we see now.
But should illness strike how did our folks treat the sick?
Indigenous folks had little or no access to modern medicine then. However, every tribe had with them a treasure trove of herbs and roots and the traditional knowledge to use them to cure almost every known ailment known. One such being Ing makhir, a potent ginger root variety of the state. Meghalaya, one of India’s seven North-eastern States, alone has over 800 recorded medicinal plants that include herbs, roots, barks and leaves. This knowledge has passed down to the present generation and is still being practised today.
Ginger root as spice and medicine
About its culinary versatility, the popular ginger has few equals. The whole world knows of ginger; the spice that peps up dishes to lip-smacking deliciousness. Ginger spices up bread, cakes, cookies and ice creams; adds spirit and punch to smoothies and mojitos; lend singular flavour to your meats and fish. Team it with honey, sprinkle a dash of pepper, any which way you rustle up a dish with ginger, it adds to the taste.
Apart from its culinary magic, the other side of ginger’s fame is its enormous usefulness is as one of nature’s most potent medicinal plant ever known. Besides being easily available, ginger’s therapeutic qualities are astonishingly wide-ranging.
Ginger root is: antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, anti-spasmodic, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, anti-fungal, anti-toxin, analgesic, antipyretic, anti-flatulent, anti-septic, mucolytic, hypotensive and many more.
Ginger also Improves digestion, Relieves congestion and cold, relieves pain, removes bad breath, cures acne, improves hair-growth, removes dandruff, controls high blood pressure, etc.
Many of these amazing medicinal properties are found in all species of ginger, notably Zingiber officinalis, the common ginger we use every day in our kitchens. But there are varieties of species, less prevalent, but nonetheless powerful and potent. One very popular, and premium, species in Meghalaya is the smaller bodied and more pungent variety, Sying Makhir, Zingiber Rubens.
Ing Makhir, the potent Indigenous Ginger root of Meghalaya
A highly potent species of ginger, an indigenous cultivar found in Meghalaya is the Zingiber rubens or Ing Makhir as it is known locally in the Khasi language, or Iching in Garo. Also known as Bengal Ginger, this strain has more potent medicinal properties and commands a high price in the market.
This brings us back to those early years when we had our share of toothaches, body aches, fevers and other kinds of health complications due to mishaps.
For toothache our Grandma would take a piece of sying makhir, crush it coarsely and place it on the offending tooth, to be clamped in place by the opposite one. A few minutes later the pain would subside.
Grandpa had joint problems, a result of the hard physical labour and accidents in his life. His bones creaked and his body ached but he got immense relief through his routine weekly ‘ing makhir bath’.
A few ways of how indigenous folks use sying makhir as prevention or cure of diseases
Prevention of colds in infants – the heated bath water for the baby is added with leaves of a citrus plant (Citrus medica) and crushed rhizome of sying makhir.
To prevent digestive problems in babies – from birth till the age of about 2 years babies are said to be susceptible to various digestive problems like gripes, colic, infantile diarrhoea, dysentery and neonatal jaundice etc. A popular medicine called ‘dawai Niangsohpet’ is formulated specifically by boiling together twenty types of plant parts for several hours. To the now deep red coloured mixture a few pieces of Ing makhir are added, as a very important ingredient. One or two spoonfuls of this solution are administered to the babies twice daily internally. It is also applied on the baby’s stomach around the navel region to give it warmth and alleviate pains from gripes. This protects the children from other health complications later on in life. Nursing mothers too take this medicine.
To instantly stop toothaches – a piece of crushed Ing makhir is placed on the offending tooth and held in place for a few minutes clamped by the opposite tooth. Ing makhir’s powerful analgesic properties ensured the toothache vanishes in a few minutes .
For relief from joint pains and body aches – to the hot bath water is added some crushed rhizome pieces of Ing makhir and left to stand for a few minutes. Hot fomentation with this reduces inflammation of the joints and relieves the body aches.
To detox in cooking – The Khasi speciality ‘Tungrymbai’, deeply ‘smelly’ chutney made from fermented soya bean is a favourite among the people. But it has undesirable flatulence causing compounds which can cause a lot of discomfort to the tummy. Ing makhir is always added to the dish and its anti-flatulence properties effectively neutralise the gases.
As a snake repellent – these reptiles cannot stand the scent of Ing makhir. Villagers, therefore, grow the plant around their houses to keep off snakes. When there is infestation, water infused with sying makhir juice is sprayed around the compound to drive away the snakes.
What makes Ing Makhir tic?
Like any plant Ing Makhir possesses its share of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fibre, minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, and manganese; Vitamins B6, C, Thiamine, Niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid.
But the absolute potency stems from essential oils, gingerols, which form the source of ginger’s powerful medicinal properties. Ing Makhir’s most abundant essential oils are (Z)-citral, camphene, beta-phellandrene, 1, 8-cineole and zingiberene.
Essential oils are compounds that give plants their unique character, protecting them from diseases and attacks by harmful micro-organisms and other animals. They also function as pheromones enable plants to communicate with animal species like bees for cross-pollination and subsequent propagation of their own species. These very qualities of essential oils of Ing Makhir contribute to its therapeutic value in ethnopharmacology. As a matter of fact, essential oils have wide-ranging uses in the pharmacological and fragrance industries.
Perhaps you would like to know more?
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