Kerala is one of the southernmost states of India. It is world famous for it’s spices. It has several spice gardens all through the state. We happened to visit Kerala in November, 2010. On our way from Cochin to Munnar, we visited an enormously spread and beautiful Spice Garden.
It was a very informative and interactive trip. As, a guide took us around the spice garden, filling us in with knowledge about the background and history of spices of Kerala, different spice plants, their significance etc.
History of the Kerala Spices
You will not be able to believe it that Kerala was a major spice exporter right from around 3000 BC !! It’s fame as a center of exotic spices travelled far and wide in the world. Soon, the Babilonians and Egyptians were importing spices from Kerala. Later, Arabs also started trading spices with Kerala. Actually, the spices of Kerala were so famous that in the old Sumerian records, Kerala is fondly referred to as “The Garden of Spice” or “The Spice Garden of India”. As the BC era came to closure, the fame of Kerala spices had reached to the Greeks and Romans. And they also came forth to do spice trading with Kerala, specially black pepper.
Later on, when Vaso da Gama discovered a direct route between Europe and India, then the Portuguese and Dutch started using this route to do frequent trading in spices of Kerala. Some even settled in Kerala, marrying the locals and thus giving birth to new hybrid cultures. Interesting, huh! The spices can add as much flavor to life as they do to the food!!
The spice gardens of Kerala
Thus, spice growing has been an integral part of Kerala since the beginning of time. As a continuation, several spice gardens exist in the state in different parts. And these garden host the exotic spices. Many of these gardens are located at strategic tourist locations. Thus, being frequented by tourists. The one we visited on way from Cochin to Munnar was also similar.
The Garden that we visited
This garden hosted plants and trees of almost all the spices that are used across India in everyday cooking like turmeric, coriander, chilli, cumin, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg etc. It also had plants like vanilla, whose extract is widely used for commercial purposes and as an active flavoring ingredient for many food preparations. Also, it hosted many vegetable plants but they were special.
For instance, we spotted a Brinjal plant that was supposed to have medicinal values. Then there are many other plants and trees which are used for some medicinal purposes or Ayurvedic purposes, like Eucalyptus, snake plant, mint, cocoa pods, ornamental pineapples, betle nuts, brahmi. And the list goes on. We saw a beautiful dwarf wild orange plant, ladened with fresh green oranges and couldn’t help clicking it.
We took a guided tour of the garden and the Guide filled us in with some really valuable information. Would it not have been for him, we won’t have known that the brinjal plant we were looking at had medicinal value. And that turmeric is added to almost all Indian curry preparation with other spices because it absorbs the negative effects and harshness of the other spices, balancing the combination in turn. Or the fact that this hive we observed high up on a tree was not the one made by honey bees but rather flying ants 🙂
The garden store
The garden also had a shop near the entrance from where one can buy different packaged products like spices, eucalyptus oil, handmade soaps from the extracts of the flora in the garden and various other such products of Ayurvedic or Herbal cosmetic value. And the bonus is that these are available at quiet reasonable prices in the spice garden. Maybe because they are extracted and prepared then and there itself!!
There is also a small nursery in one corner of the garden. From here, you can buy some of the spice plants and dwarf plants. But be specific and ask the guide if they will be able to thrive in the kind of climate that you come from. Otherwise, it will be a waste carrying them all along. We wished to buy some plants but the problem was we had just started our journey. We were going to be roaming around for the next few days. And, I am not sure if the plant would survive through the trip. So, we dropped the idea. Next time for sure!!
Famous Spices of Kerala
For your benefit, listing here the major spices that Kerala is specially known for. When you visit a spice garden, do go around and look for the corresponding plants. You may catch some breeding with the fruits. It will be fun :
Pepper is known as the king of the spices. And Kerala is world famous as one of the leading suppliers of pepper across the world. From Kerala, pepper first traveled to Arab countries. And from there, it reached Europe. Since then the Kerala pepper has been making non stop rounds of the world from Kerala 🙂
While pepper is called the ‘king of spices’, cardamom is referred to as ‘the queen of spices’. It is a spice known to be as old as the human civilization itself. Kerala boasts to grow the best known variety of cardamom in India. And this is also exported to several parts of the world, with Europe being a major importer.
A spice which originates from Sri Lanka, and is grown in a few parts of Kerala, Cinnamon boasts of high antioxidant properties. Kerala is also one of the major consumers of cinnamon, with most of it’s recipes including this spice. Cinnamon doesn’t have a strong flavor like most other spices, and is considered relatively mild.
Ginger is a spice extensively used in Indian curries. It has many medicinal values. Again, ginger is grown extensively in Kerala and is also used heavily in the cuisines of Kerala. We also use ginger in our cuisines. Not only that, we do use it’s medicinal properties. For instance, when we get cold, we use ginger extract in hot water with honey for instant relief.
Yet another important spice used in Indian curries. Actually, turmeric is believed to have antiseptic properties. It is believed to be a cleanser of human body. It is highly used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines. We , in India, also use turmeric for home remedies of sickness. For instance, when you get a sore throat or a body pain, add a pinch of turmeric to a glass of warm water or milk and drink it at night before bed. It provides immediate relief.
So you see, Kerala has a life long connection with spices. It’s really very interesting to visit a spice garden in the garden of spices!! And to learn about the different spices, their role in human life and their benefits. So, when you happen to visit Kerala, don’t forget the spice garden. And do tell us how was your experience there…we will be awaiting to hear your story.
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