The Life-Giver Leaves of South Asia

Written by Silpi Patnaik

“Good-bye, proud world! I’m going home”, says the author of ‘A Hermit in The Himalayas’. The allusion to the Himalayas as home is nothing short of perfection because the giant range of mountains are an abode to zillions of herbal plants and trees that fill our lives with the abundance of divine goodness. Alien from the congestions of the modern sophisticated world one can breathe right, eat right, feel protected and stay in the pink of his health amidst the fresh green environs. Legends have spoken about the miraculous qualities of herbal plants and Science too has admitted it. This article sheds light on four such magical leaves found in South Asia that are relaxing, relieving and remedying. Being quintessentially antidotal they ensure that our health is taken care of, just like our “homes” do. 

Banana Leaf

Banana Leaf 

Banana Leaf, leaf of the very versatile Banana plant, is predominantly used in the cuisines of Southeast Asia. Famous for their flavours, these oblong-shaped waterproof leaves are used in cooking to impart a peculiar aroma to the dish which is very subtle and refreshing. Apart from infusing a unique fragrance, banana leaves are also known to keep the natural oils and juices of the food intact thereby retaining the nutritional value of the dish. It is owing to this enriching quality of banana leaves that they are mostly used as protective wrap while steaming, roasting or grilling the food. Widely used in South Asian cuisine, Banana leaf goes into the preparation of dishes that have an international repute. For example, The Bengali Fish Paturi in India, the Indonesian Lemper and Lontong, the Malaysian Nasi Lemak, the Philippine Binalot, Suman & Bibingkaetc use Banana Leaf as a culinary catalyst. Apart from being used as an aromatic wrap, Banana Leaf is a very popular serving plate and a “traditional disposable take-away food container.” (Wikipedia) 

Banana Leaves

Banana Leaf is known to provide immense medicinal benefits too and therefore has traditional and religious importance in some of the South Asian countries. Starting from offering foods to deities to decorating houses with these elongated fluorescent leaves during festivals and auspicious occasions, it is even used as an enduring surface for writing. Known as a rich source of antioxidants, an immune-booster, inflammation controller and promoter of skin health, Banana Leaf has robust medicinal properties and has been, therefore, deliberately intertwined with religion and culture in Southeast Asia. No doubt it has surely earned its due position. 

Curry Leaves/ Kadipatta

Curry Leaf 

Eminent for its inherent zing, vim and twang, Curry Leaf is the most beloved “green” of Indian subcontinent. Brimming with an invigorating, revitalizing and revivifying scent of its own, Curry Leaf goes into the preparation of myriad dishes in India, Sri Lanka and neighbouring places. It is used as an indispensable ingredient in the tempering of food items and is mostly fried in the initial stages of preparation of the dish. Acclaimed food items like Upma, Poha, Sambhar, Rasam, Curd Rice, Chutneys, Chicken 65, South Indian Chilli Chicken, etc consider Curry Leaves as an inevitable raw material owing to the conspicuous fragrance it lends to the dishes. 

Also addressed as “Sweet Neem Leaves”, these tiny bottle green coloured leaves provide a bunch of health benefits too and are as healing and medicative as the salutary Neem leaves, sans the bitterness. With humongous herbal properties, Curry Leaves are “considered anti-diabetic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and are hepatoprotective” ( They are, hence, used as an important component in the concoction of Ayurvedic and herbal medicines.  

The craze for Curry Leaves is ancient and the love for it remains the same even in contemporary times. People grow curry leaves in their kitchen gardens and windowsills to inhale its embalming aroma and to ensure that their pantry never runs out of this remedial element. Also available in dried and powdered versions, Curry Leaves are a constant in the South Asian market, regional or international. Although the effects of the fresh leaves stand unparalleled, many South Asians stalk their refrigerators with semi-dried versions due to the scarcity of the fresh ones.  

Curry Leaves are packed with oils which are known to redress nausea, remedy hair loss and help fight premature hair graying.  These are extracted to prepare compact essential oil bottles that are uber famous in the health market and sell like hot cakes. These essential oils are popular mood-lifters and play an integral role in aromatherapy.  

Tulsi Leaf/ Holy Basil 

Holy Basil/Tulsi

Tulsi Leaf, also known as Indian basil is found throughout Southeast Asia and is addressed as ‘The Queen of all Herbs’. It is medicinal to the extent of being ambrosial and is therefore deified and worshipped in India. Apart from being a source of vitamin A, C, Calcium, Zinc and Iron, Tulsi leaf is a house to high amounts of Chlorophyll which imbue fresh amounts of oxygen into the surrounding airs. Since it clarifies and detoxifies the environment, Tulsi plant is considered sacred in India and is customarily grown in every household. 

Holy Basil/Tulsi (worshipped))

Tulsi is known to treat “common cold, cough, headaches, stomach disorders, eye diseases, various forms of poisoning like insect bites, etc. (” Furthermore, inhaling the air produced by Tulsi leaves has a calming effect on the mind and work as antidotes for stress, anxiety and depression. It is anti-allergic because of which it is considered a hands-on treatment in Ayurveda and goes into the preparation of various pharmaceutical drugs. Owing to this therapeutic nature of Tulsi leaves they are chewed every morning as a ritual in Hindu households and is synonymized with divine elixir. 

Although ancient, Tulsi plant has stayed in the mainstream since ages due to its restorative and ameliorative qualities. Even the commercial market in the west is not ignorant about the curative nature of Tulsi leaves and have tried to pull this indigenous traditional herb into their commercial zone in the form of Tulsi Teas and Green Teas. Since it is caffeine-free and extremely soothing, there can’t be anything better than starting your day with a pinch of Tulsi- either fresh or in any sort of herbal tea. 

Tip to Remember– Mash a handful of Rama/Krishna Tulsi leaves along with some honey & black peppercorns in a mortar & pestle and eat it right away to treat sudden bouts of flu or influenza. This also works instantly on your taste buds and works wonders in helping regain a lost sense of taste. 

BeLeaf/ Bilwa Leaf 

Bel Leaves

The antibacterial and anti-fungal Bel leaf is known for its trifoliate shape which signifies the three “gunas” meaning the good, the active and the dark and “the center point of the leaf is concentrated with the perfect balance of the three (” Belonging to Southeast Asia and found predominantly in Indian Subcontinentthis bottle green coloured leaf provides a plethora of health benefits. Diverse bioactive components are found in the leaves which facilitate treatment of tuberculosis, diabetes, digestive disorders and other illnesses like cold, cough and fever. Regular consumption of Bel Leaf is also known to keep jaundice, diarrhea and other intestinal diseases at bay. It is due to the multitude of medicinal properties of the Bel Leaf that it is treated as immensely sacred by the Hindus and chewing one Bel Leaf every morning is a routine business for them.  

A Responsible Afterthought 

Regular, aboriginal and primitive, there are many more leaves native to South Asia that have pharmaceutic and medicative uses. Bay leaves, Drumstick leaves, Fenugreek leaves, Neem leaves, Betel Leaves, etc to name a few are known to maintain a salubrious climate and are also major sources of drug. A balanced use of these leaves in daily diet would promote the overall well-being of people. We have to acknowledge that a rampant rise in population along with aggressive deforestation has led to a thorough dwindle of many such trees and plants that are highly therapeutic and natural healers. It is definitely a social responsibility on our part to adopt a futuristic approach and grow few such naturally wondrous plants in our personal gardens along with enlightening the posterity about their miraculous effects. With more greenery around this world will surely appear more comfortable and homely to us.