Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Farm fresh Recipes _ Herbal Tea

With Thanks and warm regards to Dr. Vijaya Venkat and Associates

I attended the course on nutrition Re-education programme at the HEALTH AWARENESS CENTER and the caption which read –
immediately connected with me. My experiences in Natueco City farming have made me realize the importance of sustainability in harmonious relationship with the environment.

At the center I learnt to use the farm fresh food in the most effective way so as to enable the body to make use of all the nutrition the food is capable ofproviding. I learnt – Quote “Nutrition is much more than food. In fact proper nutrition involves the whole sphere of living. It covers our basic needs like food, air, sunshine, rest and relaxation. It also involves our interaction with the environment, our relationships, and our capacity for creativity and activity. It is only through adequate nutrition that health and healthful living can be achieved.
Fitness can be achieved through exercise. But exercise is only one aspect of Health. Exercise is not restricted to muscular flexibility or supple tendons. Exercise can also be walking, dancing, gardening, singing, taking the stairs, yoga, meditation etc… exercising is the joy of activity – be it cooking or weight lifting or climbing a mountain. Activity is therefore one aspect of health.
Even eating the most perfect raw natural foods everyday will not magically conjure up health. Food is only the stepping stone aided by our choices, to attain good health. Health foods served in spas, gyms are manufactured in a factory that only serve to pollute the air, water, space land and her resources.” -- The handbook of Nutrition Re education Programme (The Health awareness Center)

These external factors are more important to health than anyone of us would believe. Even plants receive 98% of the nutrition from the atmosphere. Only 2% from the soil ! This 2% is what gives vital energy to our food. Damage to Earth and her resources directly inflicts damage on us.

“With growth of the science of ecology (including the various aspects of pollution) the connection between our own natural wealth (health) and health (wealth) of the planet has been established. Our body is the greatest ecological system ever designed. The human organisms symbiotic relationship within themselves and with all organisms within the environment is the biggest testimony to all this. The natural laws that all organisms in the world around us listen to are the same laws that we as humans are meant to abide by. These laws were crafted by nature for a healthy life. (There were no hospitals, no doctors, and no medicines in the wild) yet they are ruled by the same laws of creation that govern people.

Attuning ourselves and regaining our consciousness to this web of nature is what it also takes to be healthy. Here is an attempt to share some farm fresh recipes that we have learnt over the years from books, friends and teachers at the center.

Recipes with farm fresh produce.

This month we begin with the Herbal Tea. Herbal teas can be made with fresh or dried flowers, leaves, seeds or roots, generally by pouring boiling water over the plant parts and letting them steep for a few minutes. Check out

We make our herbal tea using ingredients shown below.

The photo above depicts how the ingredients can be planted on the terrace or a farm. Design courtesy my good friend Sabrina Modak.


Lemon Grass
Mint (Pudina)
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Organic Jaggery (Optional)
Lime (Optional)

Also some red Hibuscus flowers if available

Mix the herbs and boil with water till you smell a fresh aroma of all the herbs. Strain and drink.

As I was making a catalog of the 150 varieties of plants on the MbPT terrace I realised that there is actually a whole pharmacy up there.

A few medinal benefits of the ingredients:

Lemon Grass
Botanical Name: Cymbopogon citratus
Common Name : Lemon grass
Family : Poaceae( Grass family)
Native to India
Propagated by division of clumps

Citronella is known for its calming effect that relieves insomnia or stress. It is also considered as a mild insect repellant. But more than scent, lemon grass provides a lot of health benefits. Studies have shown that the lemon grass has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Drank as tea, it is an effective diuretic.
A recent study by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the department of Science and technology ( DOST ) claims that every 100g of lemon grass when boiled can contain up to 24.205 micrograms of beta-carotene the anti-oxidant that scientists believe can help prevent cancer. Another DOST study shows that lemon grass oil has the potential as a tropical eye medication against keratomycosis, an inflammation of cornea often associated with burning or blurring of vision.

Botanical Name : Zingiber officinale
Common Name : Ginger
Family : Zingiberaceae
Native to Southeast Asia
Propagated by rhizome
Ginger has been revered in Indian and Chinese civilizations for over 5000 years for its powerful health imparting properties. In fact, Indian ginger is said to have the most potent medicinal properties. Danish researchers found that ginger can block the effects of prostaglandin - a substance that cause inflammation of the blood vessels in the brain and can lead to migraines.
nausea, digestive problems, circulation and arthritis. Nausea caused during pregnancy or by travelling is one of the benefits of ginger root. Ginger is also known to have the ability to calm an upset stomach and to promote the flow of bile. Stomach cramps can be eased and circulation can also be improved. Ginger supports a healthy cardiovascular system by making platelets less sticky which in turn reduces circulatory problems.Ginger oil used for massage can help relieve painful arthritis due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger is often included in many herbal decongestants and can help to minimize the symptoms of respiratory conditions, colds and allergies.

Botanical Name : Ocimum tenuiflorum
Common Name : Holy Basil
Family : Lamiaceae
Native to India
Propagated by seeds

The tulsi plant has many medicinal properties. The leaves are a nerve tonic and also sharpen memory. They promote the removal of the catarrhal matter and phlegm from the bronchial tube. The leaves strengthen the stomach and induce copious perspiration. The seed of the plant are mucilaginous.The leaves of basil are specific for many fevers.
During the rainy season, when malaria and dengue fever are widely prevalent, tender leaves, boiled with tea, act as preventive against these diseases. In case of acute fevers, a decoction of the leaves boiled with powdered cardamom in half a liter of water and mixed with sugar and milk brings down the temperature. The juice of tulsi leaves can be used to bring down fever. Extract of tulsi leaves in fresh water should be given every 2 to 3 hours. In between one can keep giving sips of cold water. In children, it is very effective in bringing down the temperature.
Other benefits include: Help heal Cough, sore throat, respiratory disorders, Kidney stone, heart disorder, mouth infections, insect bites, Headaches, skin disorders, eye disorders……

Botanical Name : Mentha Arvensis.
Family: Lamiaceae
Native of America
Propagated by rhizomes

Mint is refreshing, stimulative, diaphoretic, stomachic, and antispasmodic. It helps in colds, flu, fever, poor digestion, motion sickness, food poisoning, rheumatism, hiccups, stings, ear aches, flatulence and for throat and sinus ailments.
References for medicinal Benefits:

Farm Fresh Recipes - Eat what you grow and grow what you eat

Spinach Salad
Packed with nutrients.
Chop ingredients as shown below

Tomatoes from the farm
Fresh Spinach free from any pesticides, from your own little green patch

Green cucumbers, crispy and cooling

Sweet tender corn

Lime and lemony


Sweet Corn
Peanut Powder
Rock Salt to taste
Lime juice

Chop spinach, cucumber and tomato finely. Steam (optional , can be added raw) sweet corn. Mix all ingredients together and add peanut powder, lime juice and salt to taste.
Enjoy the power packed meal and pave your way to a healthy CITY FARMERS lifestyle.....

How to use Amrut Mitti on the terrace farm

Material Required on the terrace
1. Sugarcane Bagass
2. Amrut Mitti
3. Aerated containers like Baskets, drums with base cut off and holes drilled on the side.
4. Organic kitchen waste
Method :
Take aerated containers as shown below.

Soak sugarcane bagass in Amrut jal and fill 40% of the containers with the same as shown below

Fill in Amrut Mitti

Plant the sapling in it.

Cover or mulch it again with Sugarcane bagass.

Now everyday add a fistful of pulvarised/finely chopped organic kitchen waste to it.

The waste can be finely chopped or pulverized and added on the bagass. After every 15 days a layer of sugarcane bagass should again be added.

A word of Caution :

There is no shortcut to this technique. It is important to make your soil for the following reasons.

1. This soil has a high microbial content which decomposes the waste that is added daily. If any other soil is used instead of Amrut mitti, the decomposition may not happen at a desired level .

2. The soil is rich in nutrition and has good structure, Right pH, and good % of organic carbon thereby making plants pest free, reducing water requirements.

3. Do not feed the plants with too much enthusiasm. The rate of decomposition has to match the amount of waste added. If one is more than the other one might see fruit flies etc. At such times stop adding waste and sprinkle with dry soil.

What are the sources of procuring the materials required?

Sugarcane Bagass can be procured from Sugarcane juice vendors…In Mumbai they are available throughout the year and the vendor is too happy to do away with it.
“Amrut Mitti” should be made at your own premises. The relationship developed with the growing local microbes makes for better sustainability of the microbes.

Aerated containers like laundry baskets, bamboo baskets can be purchased from open market. Scrap drums of Oil paint etc… can be recycled as containers for planting. Holes should be drilled towards the peripheral base for releasing heat during decomposition.

Plants and saplings can be planted directly on the slab by floowing the same procedure.

There is no cause of worry as roots do not enter the slab to any harm to the structure. They stop growing at the point where they do not get soil.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Preparing Amrut Jal and Amrut Mitti

Ingredients for Amrut Jal

[1] 1 liter cow dung
[2] 1 liter cow urine
[3] 50 gms black jaggery
4] 10 ltrs water
(substitute ingredient for black jaggery: 6 over ripe bananas or 2 glasses of plain sugar cane juice or 6 pieces of over ripe jackfruit or other over ripe sweet fruit that is may be locally available).
Mix all the above together and keep for 3 days. Stir the mixture 2 to 3 times in a day, clock wise and anti-clock wise. On 4th day, take one liter of this concentrate mixture and mix it with 10 liters of water.
This preparation is called Amrut Jal/Water.
Role of each ingredient of Amrut Jal/ Water
Cow dung
1 gm of cow dung contains crores of microbes. These multiply when fermented for three days and accelerate decomposition. The microbial activity is highest on 4th day, after which it starts declining. Hence the Amrut Jal should be used on 4th day to give best results.
Cow urine
Cow urine contains 24 nutrients. Just as salt gives taste to our food, cow urine makes the compost tasty for the microbes.
Addition of jaggery aids fermentation.

Step 2: Collecting top soil

What we call topsoil can be found below big trees or under the bushes, in nooks and corners of the path of flowing water. The top soil should be collected by scrapping (only1 cm) the layers of any unturned soil and never by digging. This topsoil is a necessary ingredient, because it contains essential minerals along with dormant forms of microbes. By using this topsoil with the bio mass (leaves) we are providing an atmosphere to activate the dormant microbes. The microbes will become active when we mix the topsoil with the moist biomass.
The quality of topsoil will differ from area to area, region to region. Some regions have sandy soil, some clay, and some loam.
If the soil in our region has too much clay we need to add 10% river sand in it to avoid hardening of compost with time. Similarly if the soil in our region has too much sand we need to add river silt or clay soil in it in order to have a proper structure of soil. The ideal soil can be prepared with a balanced mixture of sand and clay.

Step3 a: Collect and use Green bio mass.

Collect different kinds of green biomass from surrounding areas. Chop green parts of plants, leaves and let them dry.

After the leaves dry, soak them in Amrut Jal for 24 hours. By soaking it for 24 hours all the veins in the leaves branches will get saturated with this Amrut Jal. This Amrut Jal also provides microbes, which help to accelerate the decomposing process.

Now, on the ground put one layer of this soaked biomass and then one layer of topsoil.

Sprinkle Amrut Jal to moist the topsoil. Keep on alternating the layers, until a height of one foot is reached, i.e. about 15 to 20 layers.

Alternating the layers helps to increase the surface area. This accelerates the decomposing process. Heaps should be 3 ft broad, 1 ft high and of any desired length. (The quantity of biomass in the layer should be such that it equals the mineral part after complete decomposition.) . Every seven days till the heap. During this period keep the heap moist (not soggy) by sprinkling it with Amrut Jal.

Nursery soil / “Amrut Mitti” is ready in 30 days.

Step 3 b: Collecting and using dry bio mass

While using dry leaves for composting, we also need to add greens. The reason for this is that dry leaves only contain 30% of nutrition (elements), the rest 70% have already been transferred to the mother plant before falling from the tree. Hence to fulfill the requirement for the remaining 70% of nutrition, through experimentation, we have discovered that we can manage by greening the heap with different types of seeds.

Crush dry leaves. This breaks the waxy layer on the veins and ensures seeping of Amrut Jal in veins of leaves. Arrange layers of bio mass with top soil sprinkled in between layers as explained above.
After 15-20 layers add a layer of 2 inches soil.

Greening the Heap

Easily available local seeds (preferably a mixture of seed as detailed below) are to be collected and soaked in Amrut Jal for 8 hours. These should be then spread on a dry cloth overnight for sprouting.

These sprouted seeds are then broadcast on heaps as explained above providing the layer of 2" nursery soil or top soil on the heap (of biomass.)

The ratio is 10 grams per square foot. The seeds are then covered by soil. The layer of soil used should be double the size of the seeds. Cover the heap by 2 to 4 inches of mulch i.e. dry grass or dry leaves. Sprinkle Amrut Jal in order to maintain moisture levels continuously. Remove the top mulch after the seeds germinate. Sprinkle with Amrut Jal time to time to maintain the moisture of the heap and microbial activity.

After the first 21 days interval

After 21 days, the seeds would have sprouted and grown to some height. Harvest (CUT OFF) 25 % of the greens, without disturbing the roots. Allow one inch of the stem to remain on the heap at the time of harvesting. Through this process, we are harvesting tender leaves of the plant and they are to be used in the compost heap. These tender leaves provide the nutrients zinc, boron, phosphate, molybdenum.

After the second 21 days interval

Let the cut sapling also grow for another 21 days. Then, again cut off 25% of the growth, which will consist of matured leaves. Put these green cuttings on the compost heap. These provide the nutrients nitrogen, magnesium and potash.

After the third 21 days interval

Let this second time cut sapling, grow for another 21 days along with not pruned plants. On the 3rd 21st day i.e. the 63rd day, some plants would have started flowering. On this day remove all the plants by cutting them from stem close to the soil. Chop them up into 2 or 3 inch pieces and spread them out on the heap of compost. Leave for 3 to 4 days till they become dry. Immerse them in Amrut Jal and then mix them into the heap. Composted heap is to be kept for 30 more days. However after every 7 days it should be tilled. These provide the nutrients Calcium, Silica, Boron, Iron, Manganese.

Highlights of this Process

· At the flowering stage microbial activity near the feeder roots zone is at its peak. The microbes facilitate maximum nutrition to the plant. As plant is in the flowering stage it needs and is ready to receive all nutrition, so up rooting it at this stage along with attached soil, feeder roots and utilizing it to make the heap will facilitate growth of many different varieties of microbes in our heap.

· Our heap (soil) will be rich bacteria and nutrition. Having bacteria of different varieties at different stages is beneficial in the same manner as utilizing parts of plant at different stages to get maximum nutrition.

· When plant is in flowering stage it contains nectar and pollen and special hormones, it also has the vital energy at this stage at higher level as plant also wants to exist and entire system is in the reproduction stage so it creates a system of microbial sources which protect the plant.
Through the greening process we start our search for plant nutrients, from our soil, and the growing parts of the plants which harvest the various nutrients necessary to build up necessary volume of fertile nursery soil. It is not important whether plants grow vigorously or germinate and die or are suffering in keen competition. We can recycle this whole biomass to build up the limited requirement of soil.
We are in sense repeating nature’s grassland and pasture eco system evolution in our limited space. Unless we raise such greening we will be loosing our daily opportunity of harvesting sunlight that is otherwise lost forever the very night.

Properties of Amrut Mitti

· It will have proper CN ratio
· It will have 7 pH.
· It will have maximum water holding capacity
· It will be airy soil, which will have carbon content of 5%
· This soil will be called nursery soil or “Amrut Mitti” or compost.
· Microbial count will be highest.
· It will have a sweet smell as emerges with the first rainfall on the soil

Life is infused into the compost heap through addition of cow dung and ‘Amrut Jal’.
The tender leaves and the matured green leaves render the soil full of nutrition. The fiber of dried leaves and stems becomes the structure of the soil.

The procedure of building soil must be done only once in the lifetime of the farm. Maintaining a proper balance of the elements ensures that the soil will continue to be the ideal soil.

How do we maintain nutrition in the heap?

The compost heap is subject to both loss of volume as well as a loss of nutrients. By the following methods the nutrient level of the compost heap can be maintained:

1. Dry Mulching
2. Live mulching
3. Providing it with roots leaves and branches harvested from this heap.
4. Providing the heap with ash can compensate the loss of nutrients.

1. Dry Mulching:

There is a loss of volume of 30% of the compost heap annually due to the conversion of carbon into carbon dioxide because of the heat. Covering the heap with grass cuttings and dry leaves can control the loss of volume. This process is called “Mulching”.

2. Live mulching
Erosion of the compost heap can be minimized by “live mulching” by planting lentils, sesame, and mustard, maize and “ragi”.

3. Providing it with roots leaves and branches harvested from this heap.

The volume of the Compost Heap can also be maintained by providing with roots, leaves and branches from the plant material harvested from this heap.

4. Providing the heap with wood ash can compensate the loss of nutrients.

By drying the wood from the trees that are pruned in one's own compound and then burning them we can obtain this ash. This ash will replace all elements in the heap, which the plants have extracted from the soil.
Every three months, ash is to be provided to the compost heap, this will help overcome any deficiency of minerals and also help in maintain the pH of the soil.
Twenty-five grams of ash can be given per square foot at intervals of 100 days.

Pitfalls that one must Avoid while using this Technique

1. Shortcuts : A common shortcut is to mulch and sprinkle with Amrut Jal rather than making the Amrut Mitti. This helps to some extent by nourishing the white feeder roots. However as the soil in contact, with the roots is of poor quality, it does not provide all the nutrients to the growing plants resulting in a poor canopy and thus low production.

2. Using EM Technology instead of Amrut Jal: This must be purchased or ingredients must be purchased, so it involves reliance on others. The microbes in EM are not local microbes. Local microbes are more sustainable. Microbes in EM may not be of optimum quantity depending on the age of the purchased solution.

3. Drip irrigation: to keep the soil moist instead of watering with a garden pipe. This results in over-watering in one place causing water logging and rotting of the roots and leaching of the nutrients out of the topsoil. At the same time the surrounding areas have too little water, which leads to microbial death. Thus this soil will not flourish. There is no control on the water supply. Using garden pipe demands awareness of the person watering, to the amount of water he is supplying.

4. Using chemicals along with this soil. This technique is in fact retrogressive as both the fertilizers and pesticides kill the microbes, and thus reduce the quality of the soil.

5. Keeping the “Amrut Mitti’, unmulched and open to sunlight. When the microbes are exposed to the sun even for a short period, they die, resulting in a loss of all the efforts taken to build them up.

6. Using cow dung or vermicompost instead of preparing nursery soil.
Cows generally eat dry grass, which does not have the nutritive value of a variety of biomass. As the cow takes the energy from the grass, the cow dung is devoid of energy. Also usually the cow dung is stored in a pile, which results in anaerobic decomposition. When this is placed on the field, it absorbs oxygen from the soil resulting in less oxygen supply to the plant. If it rains before the complete decomposition takes place, nutrients are leached out. Often cow dung is used before it is properly decomposed. This does not provide proper nutrition to the plant. In the case of vermicompost, if this is done only with dry leaves, it will provide only 30 % of the nutrients compared to Amrut Mitti. Also by composting away from the fields, the enzymes released during decomposition, which are essential for the formation of the white feeder roots, are lost. When the compost is put on the fields the worms are unable to survive because of the higher temperatures. On the contrary the microbes are acclimatized to higher temperatures. Finally, the use of earthworms results in the loss of energy as the earthworm uses up a certain amount of energy for its own purposes.

7. Tilling.
Tilling the soil results in loss of moisture and microbes, and increases the erosion leading to a loss of 10 – 80 tonnes per hectare per annum, depending on the slope, wind and rainfall. It also results in a loss of organic carbon resulting in a loss of water holding capacity. These losses are observed all over India.

8. Green mulching on the heap.
During the decomposition of green biomass methane is produced which retards the growth of the white roots. For this reason green biomass can only be placed on top of dry biomass in a heap, by which it will dry before the decomposition begins.

9. Providing too much water.
This results in the rotting of the root system. It also leaches nutrients out of the soil.

10. Biomass used is of one or a few varieties only. This will not provide all the nutrients needed. The soil will be deficient.

Providing nutrition to the heap through a mixture of seeds

Nutrition can be provided to mother earth through the six “rasas” as described in Ayurveda. This can be achieved when a mixture of following seeds is added to green the heap.

The sweet taste is provided through Varyali or Saunf
The sour taste through Ambadi , Amli ,Tomato
The pungent taste through Chilli
The astringent taste through “Gawar”
The salty taste through Spinach, Rajagara
The bitter taste through Methi, Bitter gourd.