Spice Note: Ajwain or Bishops Weed
Every time this spice is introduced, it is met with curious gazes and sometimes shock that I am talking about something that has the word weed in it. Rest assured it is a perfectly safe spice.
Ajwain or Bishops weed is a 'must-have' spice in Indian kitchens. Mothers and grandmothers have long used it to cure everything from colic in newborns, stubborn colds and sinus infections and digestive discomforts in both children and adults. My daughters’ daily diet, through age 2 years, included 4 oz or more per day, of a weak tea made with a pinch of ajwain (recipe included). She escaped the dreaded colic. We even traveled cross country with the supplies to make this tea in our hotel room!
Ajwain is a really tiny fruit, related to coriander, carrots, fennel and caraway. It resembles celery seeds, but is darker in color, and has a markedly pungent and sharp aroma. When lightly crushed, it releases a distinctively spicy aroma.
Ajawin seeds are best purchased in small quantities because a little bit goes a long way. Most recipes that include ajwain suggest adding a pinch or two into the dish. Store in a cool dry place.
How and when to use ajwain in cooking:
Since Ajwain is such a tiny fruit, it is most often used whole. It may be dry roasted when added as a finishing touch to a stew (so that the flavors remain prominent). A pinch of Ajwain is added into dishes that are either going to cook for a long time or will be hit with high heat for a brief moment or two. For example, it is a common ingredient in fried pooris, thepla (griddle fried breads) and such.
Ajwain in Ayurveda:
Ajwain is a tried and trusted component of Ayurvedic treatments of digestive imbalances. It has a pungent flavor and is warming to the body. It reduces Vata (air) by expelling it through the system, reduces Kapha (mucous) by breaking it up, and increases Pitta (bile); properties that explain why it is so effective in breaking up sinus congestion and helping digestion.
Use it with care and in moderation as this is a warm spice and may adversely affect delicate constitutions very easily. Meaning, if your stomach is easily bothered with black pepper, do not consume this spice whole, but instead include it as a very weak tea.
Ajwain Digestive Tea Recipe:
Ajwain Tea is a quick and simple preparation if you have a well stocked kitchen. I have frequently given away jars of this tea to friends during the holiday season, because it is so easy to put together and so effective to use! Make a small batch of the tea mix and set aside for those times when you need instant relief. This recipe makes a decoction for two cups.
Makes: 2 cups Prep Time: 5 min. Cook Time: 5 min. plus time to cool.
Tea Mix Ingredients
1 teaspoon fennel 1 teaspoon whole coriander pods 1/8 teaspoon ajwain
1 cup water
Sugar or Honey to taste
Set 1 cup of water to boil in a small saucepan. When it comes to a boil, remove from heat. Add the tea-mix ingredients to this pot. Cover and let the tea steep for 20 minutes or until it comes to room temperature. Strain and set aside.
Pour out ¼ - ½ cup of this decoction in a cup and dilute it with warm or hot water. Sweeten to taste, if desired.
For adults and children: Consume in small quantities if you have a weak or delicate constitution.
Colic-remedy tea for infants: eliminate the whole coriander pods and double the water to make a similar tea. Strain, dilute with drinking water, and give them no more than a few teaspoons at a time 3-4 times a day.