Cow’s Urine

Cow’s Urine

Who knew it was possible to buy this in the supermarket? I have seen (and bought) cow dung cakes in India, but never saw this particular product on the supermarket shelves until a recent visit to Malaysia. It must be said that I was there for the Thaipusam festival, and it is possible this product was available only for the duration, but still.

Research reveals that there are all sorts of fascinating uses for cow’s urine, particularly in medicine, where it is renamed ‘gomutra’ – check the ingredients labels on your Ayurvedic medicine bottles now(!) – and said to be useful in the treatment of leprosy, colic, bloating, epilepsy, diabetes and even cancer.

Mind you, when I offered to send my bottle to a friend in the UK, she said she would rather live with her diabetes than try this…

The most widespread use of cow’s urine is for religious purposes, as a spiritual cleanser when sprinkled in holy places. Scientists in India have also apparently determined that it is a bio enhancer, which means it can boost the activity of antibiotic and antifungal agents. It is even possible, in certain places, to buy it as a health drink, where it is mixed with herbs and flavoured with citrus fruits, or else incorporated into soaps and shampoos. This last use is actually perfectly feasible, as urine was always the main cleansing ingredient employed in ancient Roman laundries.

The most likely use for my bottle, however, seems to be as a fertiliser and bio pesticide for the pot plants clinging to survival on my balcony. If it kills them stone dead, I will let you know!


DIY Herbal Hair Oil

It’s always fun to try some homemade beauty treatment, from yoghurt and honey face packs to beer and egg yolk hair conditioners, so I had to snap up this DIY herbal hair oil remedy on a recent trip to India.

In the southern state of Kerala, fabulous herbs and spices are a constant temptation in the local stores. You can buy fresh peppercorns and nutmegs by the sackful, countless types of fragrant green tea, plus fascinating health and beauty products.

Kerala claims to be the home of Ayurvedic treatments, and many of the spas suggest an appointment with the doctor before a course of massage and or medication is prescribed. We didn’t have time for that, but after experiencing the type of all-purpose massage which left us dripping in aromatic oil from head to foot, abandoning everything for a swift return to the hotel for a shower, the idea of an at-home treatment at a later date was quite appealing. No looking (and smelling) completely bizarre as you try to hail a taxi to go clean yourself up. No rescheduling or cancelling of plans because you can’t possibly carry on with your day right then.

This charmingly basic DIY hair treatment looked like a lot of fun – simply a plastic bottle filled with a twiggy collection of herbs. The idea is to cover the contents with coconut oil, preferably the local variety, leave it all for 3 days until the colour of the oil changes as it absorbs the goodness from the herbs, then apply to your hair. As with most of the hair oils available from the big brand names, you can either apply this as a pre-shampoo treatment, or as a leave-in conditioner afterwards.

I was quite surprised to see that the coconut hair oil I’d bought in India came out of the bottle looking dark turquoise in colour. It also needed a little help with hot water to melt the bottle contents sufficiently to pour them out onto the herbs.

Over the course of the 3 days, the oil then turned a startling dark red colour, which I was half afraid might actually dye my hair. It managed to smell strongly both of herbs and medication, and in retrospect I should probably have considered filtering the oil from the twiggy bits before trying to use it.

The verdict? This was quite entertaining, and worked reasonably well, leaving my hair soft and shiny without turning it red or smelly. But to be honest, it is far easier and a great deal less messy to use normal hair oil, which is what I shall continue to do.

 


Chocolate Idlis

Anyone who loves Indian food will know all about idli – the spongey steamed ‘cake’ made from fermented rice and lentils. In southern India it is usually served at breakfast time, along with a tangy yellow dahl and coconut chutney, and I personally have always found it a splendid start to the day.

But the idli itself, whilst ostensibly a savoury item, is plain enough to go with almost anything, which is why I was tempted by this packet of chocolate idli mix. Yes, I know that packet mixes are a total cheat, but making idli at home requires hours of laborious preparation and life really is too short.

Anyway, I did buy this from an Indian store, despite the fact that it is made under licence from giant US food company Pilsbury. At least it meant the instructions were in English, which always helps.

Compared to the labour that would have been involved in making this from scratch, opening the packet and whisking in milk was easy. There’s even a helpful line drawn on the packet of powder, to measure the amount of milk you need. Unfortunately, the instructions tell you to add a lot of vegetable oil as well at this point, which did not appeal very much. So I cut back on that a bit, which in retrospect may not have been the best idea (daughters #1 and #2 would tell you I am incapable of following a recipe to the letter…)

Not having the specialist equipment needed to steam idlis the Indian way, I resorted to silicone cupcake moulds inside my rice cooker and a brief spin in the microwave. This worked a treat, even taking a mere 5 minutes as opposed to the 30 recommended on the packet.

The idlis turned out to be pretty dense, which was probably because I failed to add the necessary amount of oil, but never mind because otherwise they were very definitely the genuine article – surprising for a packet mix.

The only downside was that, like regular idlis, they did not have a great deal of taste and could have done with a sweet alternative to spicy sambar as a sauce. But all was not lost, apparently there is nothing that homemade super-thick chocolate orange vodka cannot improve…

 


Himalayan Toner

This is from Biotique, which uses 5,000 year old Ayurvedic recipes combined with Swiss biotechnology to produce a range of organic skincare products to ‘support healthy well-being and spiritual bliss in your life’. Which, when I saw it in a Mumbai pharmacy, sounded irresistible!

The pore tightening toner is based on cucumber and pure Himalayan water, blended with coriander, berberry and nut extracts. It also contains peppermint oil, which gives it a bit of a sting, and is apparently formulated to bring perfect ph balance to the skin, keeping it in its ‘purest state’.

I liked the idea and also the fresh smell, but confess I found it was a bit harsh and drying. However, it is probably very good indeed for oilier, teenage, skin, or very sweaty moments, so I will be hanging on to it for now.


Facial Massage Cream

Facial massage is something most Western women only experience as a small part of a regular facial, tucked in between the cleansing, the treatment and the moisturising at the end. In India, however, it is a mainstay of the typical beauty regime, and usually involves natural plant-based products rather than high-tech chemical formulas.

I found this facial massage cream in Mumbai, ready prepared in a handy tube, and thought it well worth taking home to try. From Jovees Herbal Care, it contains lemon, orange, papaya enzymes, wheatgerm, sugar cane, avocado, pineapple extract and vitamin E, each ‘carefully chosen to help skin regenerate its natural defence’.

According to the packaging, the fruit enzymes help soften and heal the skin, the vitamins restore smooth radiance and collagen elasticity, and the whole product encourages lifting of dead skin cells to leave the complexion glowing.

Keen to give it all a go, I was stopped short by the instruction to use the cream with raw milk and massage for 20 minutes. Apparently plain water is an acceptable alternative, but still – 20 minutes is rather a long time… I did manage a few minutes though, and found the suggested circular movements very therapeutic and relaxing.

I was expecting this product to be rich and hydrating, but adding water actually turned it from cream into milk, and rather than being absorbed into the skin it needed wiping away with wet cotton pads. Washing your face at the end is recommended, which means you then have to apply yet more cream to moisturise your skin.

Never mind, I liked this quite a lot and will be using it again.


Indian Chocolate

Category : Food

silky 1 silky 3

Who knew they grew cocoa in India? It was a surprise to me, but I suppose the southern states are pretty much on a level with that part of South America where most of the world’s cocoa beans come from, so it does make some sort of sense.

I found home grown chocolate bars in Mumbai airport, whilst hunting down ways to spend my last remaining rupees, and was delighted at the chance to give them a try. The cute packaging was a nice bonus, too.

This was billed as ‘silky chocolate’ and there was nothing wrong with it, although it has a long way to go before coming anywhere close to the Swiss and Belgian versions which currently rule the chocolate world.

But this relatively new industry is well worth supporting, as it gives business opportunities to Tamil Nadu farmers, has introduced the concept of organic agriculture to a whole new area, and can only get better as time goes on. I wish them lots of luck and look forward to trying this again next time.


Absolut India

Category : Food

india vodka

Absolut has to be one of the world’s most popular and well recognised vodkas, with a wonderful range of different flavours from raspberry and mango to hibiscus, cilantro and wild tea. What I have only just realised, however, is that they also have a limited edition of country, state and city themed vodkas.

Some investigation reveals that special recipe vodkas with colourful and artistic labels are available for Chicago (olive and rosemary), Brooklyn (apple and ginger), Korea (coffee, almond, chili) and others, including Texas, Mexico and Buenos Aires.

I found the India version at Duty Free in Mumbai’s Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport, and could not wait to try it out. Mango and black pepper flavour, fruity and spicy at the same time, which is a fair summation of India. The label is a riot of everything Indian, from elephants and tigers to auto rickshaws, dhol drums and landmark monuments.

It was designed by Mumbai artist Shaheen Baig, who won a crowd-sourced competition to produce a design representing India in a fresh and creative way. She says: “My design is synonymous with all things Indian; rich heritage, diversity, liveliness, warmth and colour.”

The only problem I foresee is… I might have to track down the rest of the collection!


Cow Dung Cakes

Category : Other

cow dung cakes 1 cow dung cakes 2

Cows are sacred in India. Especially in rural areas, where their milk, and the ghee made from it, is an essential food source, and their dung is used as fuel, fertiliser and – when burned to ash – a form of antiseptic, cows play a vital role in society. Even in the biggest cities they are a common sight, ambling down the road, scavenging for food from both the gutter and market stalls, and it is a rare Indian who will do more than just shoo them away. In fact, Hinduism forbids the eating of beef, and at many religious festivals cows are painted, garlanded with flowers and at the very centre of worship.

It is said there are around 300 million cows in India, which makes for a lot of dung, and no-one travels far in the sub-continent without noticing the hand-kneaded cakes of it plastered to walls and drying in the sun, or stacked in large piles under cover. For many modern Indians, quite apart from the traditional, religious aspects of their use, the smell of dung cakes burning brings back nostalgic memories of the old days in the village, and it has become fashionable for city dwellers to secure a quantity for burning in ritual fires during festivals like Diwali.

So after that first “you have to be kidding” moment when I spotted these on sale in a Mumbai supermarket, it all makes perfect sense. This bag of cow dung cakes, a snip at 70 rupees, was neatly arranged with incense, candles and other religious paraphernalia on a special shelf in the store. Inside, the half dozen or so cakes were surprisingly hard, light and virtually odour free.

You can also apparently order cow dung cakes online from the likes of amazon and ebay, which – should you want to try it – will at least spare you the sort of funny looks I got from the girl at the supermarket checkout…


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