The joy of embracing traditional medicine.
In some cultures, natural systems of medicine are deeply intertwined with many aspects of daily life, impacting everything from foods eaten to the way parents choose to heal and nurture their children. India’s ancient Ayurveda system—with its beginnings traced back over 3,000 years —means “knowledge of life” in Sanskrit. For our community member Ruchi Vij, this life knowledge handed down to her is a powerful point of connection with her roots, and a joy she passes on to the next generation.
Reflections on childhood
Ruchi’s early relationship with her culture was felt strongly. She went to school in India during her childhood years, where she was immersed in the knowledge of its rich history, language, and people.
“Going to school in India was amazing . . . I went to an English school, but Hindi and Sanskrit were both subjects I was required to take . . . Having the opportunity to learn about Indian history and then being able to visit some of the places historical events took place was really special . . . At school I met students from all over India and abroad. For the first time I met students from Mizoram, Nepal, Tibet, rural Punjab, and of course the big cities. It was amazing how different we all were and yet we all shared so much in common. I got to know different languages, food (the first time I ever tried momos was in India), and traditions.”
Language learning was also reinforced outside of school. “My father was insistent that we only speak Hindi at home. He wanted to make sure that we didn't lose our Hindi. He always said, ‘you can English anywhere, but home is the only place where you will continue to learn and maintain your Hindi.’ Of course, my older brother and I hated this as kids but now are so appreciative of the fact that we can still speak and understand Hindi fluently.”
But Ruchi also experienced a more tenuous relationship with her culture at home.
“My biggest frustration as a child was how different the "rules" were for girls vs boys and what my role as a girl in an Indian household should be,” she reflects. “I come from a very traditional household . . . I should be seen, not heard. I should know how to run a house/cook/clean and be domesticated. I should not go out or wear only appropriate clothes. The list is endless. No such rules for my older brother . . . One of the many disappointments was prom. I was asked to go to prom, which for me was completely unexpected. I was super excited. Well, that excitement quickly changed to sadness. I was not allowed to go to prom and especially not with a boy. Again, no such rules for my brother. Him, his friends, and their dates met at our house while my mom excitedly buzzed around them.”
Food as a language of love
In spite of feeling suffocated by some of these expectations, Ruchi also recalls more joyous aspects of Indian culture that permeated her growing years at home. Some of these recollections are wrapped up in warm memories of her mother’s unwavering care, and the healing foods she made.
“Food plays a really big role in Indian culture, but not only as sustenance but medicine. My mom was and still does always know exactly how to cure pretty much anything. The whole thinking is not to only treat the symptom but treat the root/cause. Growing up, if I ever had a cold, my mom made me ginger tea to help soothe my throat and warm me up from the inside out. If I had a cough, she would give me warm water with lemon to drink and then a spoonful of honey to coat my throat. Had an upset stomach, she made khichdi (lentils and rice) to settle my stomach.”
Her mother’s caring continued to shine through food when Ruchi became a mother herself. “Even when I had babies, my mom made something called Katlu. It is made of flour, almonds, coconut, jaggery, a powder of 32 spices, and ghee. This barfi was given to women after having children to help heal their entire body from the inside out. It helps to gain back energy, balance hormones, minimize back and joint pain, shrink the womb, and even helps with sleep. I ate this pretty much every day along with a glass of warm milk mixed with ground almonds (to help with milk production) for 40 days.”
Nurturing the next generation
Now raising three children of her own, Ruchi still holds onto these traditions she was brought up with, using food to not only nourish, but to mend common ailments. “I want [my kids] to know about these things because I love how we can use natural remedies to take care of ourselves. It even goes beyond things we can consume. If you have an earache, warm up mustard oil and put a few drops in your ear. Frizzy/dry hair? Put coconut oil in your hair. Tie it up and sleep with the oil in your hair. Next day, wash it out. The oil helps to nourish your hair and soothe your scalp.”
Ruchi is forging a new path by embracing her roots while also nurturing her children’s curiosity and day-to-day relationship to Indian culture; it’s important to her that they both understand and feel a sense of belonging to it. Ruchi speaks Hindi with her parents, continues making her mother’s recipes, and watches Indian movies with her children. Her family also celebrates big cultural events where food, like mithaai at Diwali, is often a highlight.
A recent point of motherly pride for Ruchi was when her son chose to get an Om tattoo on his right forearm. “I asked why he decided to get it there and responded with, ‘well we do pooja (prayer) with our right hand, so it made sense to me to get the Om on my right forearm.’ Crazy how kids connect the dots even when you might think they don't have a clue!”
Ruchi reflects that even as some of the food and medicine she grew up with becomes more “mainstream,” her children continue to come to her for guidance when they feel unwell, asking “what Indian ‘medicine’ they should take.” Like her own mother, Ruchi continues a tradition of passing on healing knowledge—and with it, she passes on the joys of it as well.
What about you? Are there any traditional foods and/or medicinal practices that help you feel more connected with your culture? Share in the comments below!