Wednesday, July 17, 2024


The Greens - Nutritional and Medical Information

Agathi- அகத்தி - Sesbania Grandiflora



  Agathi tree                                          Agathi Leaves           

This is small tree providing leaves which are extensively used in cooking in Sri Lanka and South India. Its flowers are used in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam for food. Only young leaves should be used for cooking and must be removed from the tree in the morning. The leaves are bitter to taste and eaten in the form of varai or cooked in coconut milk to make sodhi which is a common item in ordinary household menu.

It is claimed that the leaves have helped smokers to get rid of the body heat and excess bile. In short Agathi reduces our body heat. It is cooling and helps to bring down fever. It is bitter in taste and an antidote for poisons. It is known to be a laxative and helps digestion. In Cambodians consider the flowers emollient and laxative

Agathi Varai recipe - Click here

Agathi Sodhi - Click here


 Betel Leaves –  வெத்திலை - Piper Betle


Betel Leaves

The Betel plant is an evergreen perennial creeper with glossy heart shaped leaves. The leaves are valued both as a stimulant and for its medicinal properties. It is consumed with areca nut and slaked lime sometimes with or without tobacco in the normal course of the day. It is generally a simple habit among local population. Other substances like some spices such as cinnamon, saffron, cloves and sweeteners are added according to individual taste and used occasionally and served in ceremonies after a meal. Some people are ‘addicted’ to it in the sense they chew it all the time and even keep a lump of chew in the mouth when they sleep for its addictive psycho-stimulating and euphoric properties which cause adverse health effects. Betel chewing is one of the commonest causes of oral cancer in Yarlpanam. Here the combined effect of areca nut, slaked lime and tobacco ingredients are the causative agents.

In Yarlpanam, betel leaves and areca nut play an important role in the local culture among Hindus. Most of the traditional ceremonies, betel and areca nut are a must and usually a visitor to homes is offered betel and areca nut at their arrival as a welcome gesture. Also traditionally when money is paid to elder person, priest or in a ceremony money is placed in betel leaves and given. Betel chew is also used after a meal to remove after taste of food and smell.

Health effects:

Betel is predominantly used as a chew and plays an important role in the cause of oral cancer as described earlier. There seems to be no evidence that betel leaves alone is a causative agent for oral cancer. In India they use betel leaves to cure worms and it is a remedy for bad breath.

When cows get stomach upset with runny stools, locals feed this animal with betel leaves and soon they get better.



 Cabbage - கோவா


Cabbage is very common long standing vegetable consumed throughout the world. This is an inexpensive sturdy vegetable available in abundance throughout the year. It is widely cultivated and keeps well and hence available throughout the year. Cabbage is round in shape with layers of superimposed leaves with inner leaves being lighter in colour due to non exposure to sunlight.

There are three different types of Cabbage- green, red and Savoy. The red and green cabbages are crinkly in texture and crunchier than the Savoy variety. Whatever the variety is the inside is cleaner and of lighter colour. Even though the inside of the cabbage is clean you should cut the cabbage and wash under running water. Sometimes worms or insects can appear in cabbages grown organically and inspection and cleaning is a must.

To cut cabbage into smaller pieces, first quarter it and remove the core and then cut into slices of varying thickness, grated by hand or shredded in a food processor.

Culinary Uses: In soups and stews, in sandwiches in place of lettuce and in coleslaw, as a side dish sautéing in olive oil and cut mushrooms, in salads and many more. In Jaffna it is mostly curried or as varai and eaten with meals.

Nutritional Information:

Contains Vitamin C and is an antioxidant.

 Consumption of cabbage is known to reduce the risk of a number of cancers, especially lung, colon, breast, ovarian, colon and bladder cancer. Also it provides significant cardiovascular benefits as well. It provides protection against Alzheimer's disease. Red cabbage juice is well documented as effective in treating peptic ulcers.

In addition cabbage contains full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fibre, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.


Cabbage contains a naturally occurring substance - goitrogens that can interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Individuals with already existing and untreated thyroid problems should avoid cabbage for this reason.

Cabbage recipe - Click here.


Curry Leaves –  கறிவேப்பிலை - Please see Section on Spices


Drumstick leaves - முருங்கை இலை - Moringa oleifera



         Murungai tree                  Murungai leaves

Drumstick tree grows quickly and provides tasty and nutritious food and is resilient and common in tropical areas.  It is abundant in Yarlpanam and is grown in most homes for its fruit and leaves. It is all natural, inexpensive and accessible multivitamin. The tree leaves are very rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, protein, Calcium and Potassium. Apart from the leaves the flowers are also eaten as well as the fruits in the form of curries - a very frequent dish accompanied with rice. The fruits are bright green in colour and have a tubular wavy appearance. In Yarlpanam, the drumstick Paththia curry is a sought after dish for the invalids and nursing mothers. It also helps in the digestion.

It was known that Murungai has the ability to purify water for centuries. Recently this has been tested commercially. Powdered Murungai seeds when added to dirty water act as a coagulant binding bacteria and slit which fall to the bottom. The clean water can then be poured out of the vessel. But this is not being used commercially yet.

These are used extensively in food in most homes and loved by all. Leaves are eaten in the form of varai and used in Koozh recipes as well as Crab curries and Sambar. Also Murungai leaves are used in making Keerai Masala Vadai, fruits are cooked as curries.

Drumstick recipe - Click here

Koozh recipe - Click here

Crab Curry – Click here


Fenugreek Leaves - வெந்தய இலை

Bunch of Feugreek leaves

We have described Fenugreek seeds in Spices section in detail. Fenugreek is an annual plant with small rounded leaves and cultivated worldwide the leaves are used in cooking and are enriched with minerals like Potassium, Calcium and Iron. The leaves have good dietary fibre content and enriched with Vitamin C and K and Calcium, Phosphorous and Iron in small quantities The Vitamin K content are comparable to that in Spinach leaves.

Fenugreek has three culinary uses - leaves dried or fresh used as an herb, fresh leaves and sprouts used as vegetables and seeds used as spice. For description of seeds please refer spices.

Culinary Uses:

Fresh Fenugreek leaves are ingredients encountered in some cuisines. The sprouted seeds are used in salads

Medicinal uses:

The leaves apart from their mineral and vitamin and fibre content, help in digestion, has a cooling effect on the body. It is claimed that when soaked in water and this water used as a mouth wash heals Mouth ulcers. This has an effect on diabetes just like the fenugreek seeds.


 Karpooravalli –  கற்பூர வள்ளி - Country Borage or Coleus Aromaticus or Oregano

Karpooravalli leaves

Karpooravalli plant must be grown in houses where there are children. It is very easy to grow in pots indoors. This plant carries the flavour of camphor - Karpooram and hence the name. The plant has been used by locals for a long time and mainly used to treat coughs and cold mostly in children.

Although Indian variety is called Oregano, it is different from Mediterranean Oregano which is largely used to flavour food preparation.


Mainly used as a domestic cure for coughs and colds and preventing gas formation. It helps digestion and eliminates toxins and help circulation. Its medicinal properties are stimulant and expectorant. Juice of fresh leaves is used to treat urticaria and similar allergic skin conditions


Mint Leaves –  புதினா - Mentha Viridis or Pudhina

Mint Leaves

Mint is an aromatic perennial herb, growing to 10–120 cm tall, with wide-spreading underground rhizomes and erect, branched stems. The leaves with a serrated margin are arranged in opposite pairs.

Mint has long been used in many different cultures due to its rich aroma, soothing flavour and curative properties. Mint has a sweet flavour with cooling after taste. These are used in preparing curries, soups, chutneys and juices. It also contains Vitamins and minerals.

Culinary Uses;

Mint can be used in pasta dishes, meat dishes, tea, salads, with basil for a pesto and seafood dishes.
English mint is an ideal accompaniment for Lamb dishes.
Fresh mint leaves may be added to new potatoes, fruit salads, and non-alcoholic punches.
Freshly brewed tea usually drunk after heavy dinner easing digestion and after taste.
Mint combines well with fish, meat and vegetables. Cook a few sprigs when boiling peas or new potatoes to impart a fresh flavour. Add mint to water when steaming vegetables. Chop spearmint and add to olive oil as a marinade for fish steaks before grilling. Mint is a natural accompaniment to lamb, best served as mint sauce or mint jelly.

Medicinal uses:

Its health benefits include soothing the digestive tract and easing wind, healing irritated bowl symptoms, and are a diuretic.  Entire Mint plant is anti bacterial. It is used to stop vomiting, hiccups, fever and coughs. It is also used extensively in aroma therapy.


Mullai leaves – முல்லை இலை - Prenma Corymbosa


 Mullai is a tree or shrub – Prenma Corymbosa the leaves of which has a unique flavour and is edible.

The name Mullai Theevu (Mullaitivu) came from this plant Mullai – an island of Mullai trees; this is not an island any more.

Culinary uses:

Mullai Leaves are boiled in coconut milk to make a dish of soup called Mullai sodhi

The leaves are also used in rituals for ancestors along with other similar leaves.

Previously we described by mistake a very fragrant white flowering creeper Mullai Kodi – Jasminum Auriculatum. The leaves of this plant are not edible and the plant is famous for its flowers.


Mushuttai - முசுட்டை - Rivea Hypocrateriformis



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 Mullai Kodi or Common Night Glory as it is known has tender shoots and rounded leaves which are used as vegetable. These help digestion and improve circulation in children.

This is again a plant where the leaves are used to make varai.


Muzhai Keerai- முழை கீரை - Amaranath leaves

Muzhai Keerai

This is a small nutritious leafy plant with leaves and flowers and is very popular in Yarlpanam cuisine. It is a good source of Vitamin A and C, Thiamine and some dietary minerals. Usually grows in wet areas and can be cultivated from seeds. These grow very easily. In the West some households even grow them from seed in flower pots in large quantities. They are sold in the market and most often people use these leaves in the form of curry or masial. This is available in Yarlpanam in plenty and can be bought in the West in Sri Lankan shops.

See recipes- Click here.


 Ponnangkani - பொன்னாங்காணி - Illecebrum Sessile

Ponnangkani Leaves

This is a creeper throwing roots as it grows along at its nodes. It is an easy to grow plant. Stems have small leaves, flowers and seeds. It grows wild and can be grown at homes and also can be cultivated. Propagation is by planting stems with roots and is easy to grow. There are two varieties; super green which is local or native and the other is bushy pink a foreign variety and found in borders and parks.

Culinary Uses:

The leaves can be cooked with good taste and usually in Yarlpanam they are cooked in the form varai and are loved by all irrespective of their ages.

Medicinal Uses:

This is green with innumerable medicinal effects. It got its name Ponnangkani from its use. It is claimed that eating this regularly your body becomes golden colour! - Fair skin. Also it is claimed to help vision, encourage appetite and a good digestive agent and more.

Lean people can gain weight and improves the liver function if eaten regularly

Ponnangkani Varai recipe - Click here


Spinach- பசளி


          Spinach leaves

Spinach is another common leaves that is cooked in Yarlpanam. This also grows fairly well in homes and is very easy to grow. 

There are different varieties of spinach.

Commonest form in Yarlpanam is a creeper with thick stems and broad leaves. Some varieties have green leaves and some others have pink or red striped leaves. We call these as Pasazhi.

There is another variety which is s a small plant that grows in wet areas and has a lump of leaves at its base. The outer leaves are broad and the inner leaves are thin and narrow. This variety is available in the West in all Indian shops.

Still another commonest variety is a small plant which flowers and has broad dark green, curly and crinkly leaves. The leaves are cut and bundled and sold in the supermarkets as fresh as well as frozen and in cans. This is also available in the West in Indian shops.

The spinach leaves are tasty to eat and easy to cook irrespective of the variety. They are also eaten in salad form in the West.

Nutritional values:

Spinach has a large nutritional value, especially when fresh, steamed, or quickly boiled. Spinach is known as a rich source of iron and calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, and several vital antioxidants. It is a source of folic acid, and this vitamin was first purified from spinach. To benefit from the folate in spinach, it is better to steam it than to boil it. Boiling spinach for four minutes can halve the level of folate. When cooked, the volume of spinach is decreased by three quarters. 

Spinach recipe - Click here


Thavasi Murungai - தவசி முருங்கை - Justicia Tranquebarensis

Thavasi Murungai Leaves

The leaves of this plant are used in herbal medicine and as food. These leaves have a nutty flavour and are bitter in taste and usually leaves from home grown plants are used for food. The leaves are used as varai and eaten with rice and other curries. The leaves are rich in protein.

Medicinal Uses:

The leaves are used to treat children ailments like stomach upsets.  When the leaves are squeezed and the juice is drunk, it treats runny nose and dry cough.

Thavasi Murungai recipe - Click here.


Thulasi - துளசி – Basil

Thulasi plant

The Holy Basil or Thulasi is an important symbol in Hindu tradition and is worshipped by Hindus. This plant has a lot of significance for mankind due to its medicinal benefits. The leaves are widely used by Ayurvedic physicians in making medicines. It is known for promoting longevity of life, curing colds, inflammation, stomach disorders, fever, coughs and sore throat and many more.

Also the plant itself is a repellent in fighting against flies, mosquitoes and insects.

We are not aware of any culinary uses but mentioned here for its herbal properties. 


 Thuthuvalai - தூதுவளை- Solanum trilobatu


This is a thorny creeper used in herbal medicine. This grows well in damp areas and grows very freely. The leaves are dark green in colour. The creeper and the leaves have small thorns. This plant bears flowers and fruits and the seeds are the form of propagation. Many homes have this grown in their gardens.

Culinary Uses:

 This can be eaten as sambal with rice and other curries and is a common dish in Yarlpanam.

 Medicinal uses;

This reduces cough and phlegm in addition to improving digestive functions. The leaves are very much used in herbal medicine for chest disease and digestive disorders.

Thuthuvalai recipe - Click here


Vallarai - வல்லாரை - Indian Pennywort – Centella asiatica


    Vallarai plant                      Vallarai leaves

This is slender perennial creeper found throughout tropical regions of the world. In shallow waters the plant puts floating roots and the leaves rest on the top. In dry locations it puts out numerous roots and the leaves are thin and small. This plant prefers marshy damp and wet places like paddy fields, grass areas and river banks. This is harvested from wild but can be grown and cultivated. Among other places, it grows well in Sri Lanka and mostly exported to the West from there. 

Because it grows along ditches and in low wet areas, this plant frequently suffers from high level of bacterial contamination. As it is aquatic it is especially sensitive to pollutants in the water and easily incorporated into the plant.

Culinary Uses:

It is chopped very finely and mixed with coconut an d other ingredients and eaten as a raw varai,

As Vallarai Sambol or thuvaiyal and is very delicious to eat with rice and other curries.

Benefits and uses:

Vallarai has been used for centuries for helping a variety of illness like blood pressure, rheumatism, fever and mental disorders. Patients with varicose veins have benefitted from increase in vascular tone. This has been used externally for burns, psoriasis and for prevention of scar formation from surgery and treatment of fistulas. This has been also used to help patients with insomnia due to it's a sedative effect. It is said that this leaves maintain good youthful vigour and strength, improves memory and physical stamina. It is also claimed to be good for diabetes.  It is also used in cosmetics as an ingredient in anti wrinkle creams.

Vallarai is rich in iron, calcium Vitamin A, C

 How to use:

In the morning eat fresh raw leaves about 4 to 6 daily to improve mental function and memory. It can be eaten as salad as well as sambal and is delicious to eat.

Vallarai Recipes Click here