There’s a whole world of greens out there, packed with nutrients and available in a range of versatile flavours. Here’s a look at five leaves a desi Popeye would have liked. These are greens that were part of traditional Indian diets and are now being rediscovered. The best part, you can even grow them in large pots in your home.
Grows across the country, and is available in green, gold, purple and red. It is sold as chaulai in Hindi-speaking regions; cheera in Kerala; and eaten as keerai masiyal in Tamil Nadu, where it is steamed, mashed and sautéed with spices.
“Amaranth leaves are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, minerals and vitamins and are a good source of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber,” says nutritionist Sheela Joseph.
It boosts the metabolism and is therefore recommended for those with high LDL or bad cholesterol and those trying to lose weight. It is rich in Vitamin K, which boosts bone health.
“Amaranth leaves have three times more calcium and niacin than spinach. They help counter anaemia as they are a very rich source of iron. And the leaves are high in protein content”, says fitness expert Nawaz Modi Singhania.
Also known as sea purslane, Moras grows in the nutrient-rich waters near mangroves. These leaves can be used in salads, theplas, falafel etc. Because it grows on salty land, it has a salty minerally aftertaste, which is why it is used during salt-free fasting days by communities like the Gujaratis. These leaves are easy to use – just chop them up and put them in a soup, salad, curry or bhajjya. They even add an earthy flavour to the dish.
“This plant is very rich in vitamin C and has been used to treat scurvy in the past. It also has mild antibacterial and antifungal properties,” says Joseph.
These leaves contain curcumin, which is a powerful antioxidant and is known to trigger bile secretion, which aids in digestion. The leaves, when consumed, have remarkable anti-inflammatory properties and can help alleviate joint pain even in those suffering from arthritis.
“The active ingredient curcumin promotes healing, which is why a paste from the leaves can be applied even externally, to treat minor burns, cuts and injuries,” says Joseph.
Turmeric leaves are used in curries in Goa. In Kerala, they are added to ghee-based sweets or pickled for later use.
Also known as drumstick, moringa can help keep lifestyle conditions like diabetes and heart disease at bay. It contains quercetin and chlorogenic acid, which helps keep blood pressure and blood sugar levels stable. The leaves can be dried and powdered, to be consumed mixed with water.
“Moringa boosts the immunity to protect against infection, purifies the blood, is great for the respiratory system and very good for pregnant women,” says Singhania.
The powder, or the dry leaves, can also be added to dals, sambars, stir-fries, smoothies and soups.
“Mustard greens helps in promoting bone strength and growth, neural activity in Alzheimer’s patients, is a powerful antioxidant, keeps the skin healthy, prevents inflammation, and keeps iron deficiency at bay. It also prevents stones in the urinary bladder, reduces acne, protects against heart disease. Quite a feat!” says Joseph.
The most popular use for this leaf is the north Indian dish sarson da saag. Gorkhas in Sikkim and Darjeeling eat mustard greens with steamed rice or chapatti, or cooked in a mildly spiced stew with pork.