The trade name ajwain is based on the Indian name which is derived from adarjawan. Ajwain or Bishop's weed has been used as a carminative medicine from the time of Charaka and Sushruta. Even Greek physicians like Dioscrides and Gelen used it in various carminative medicines. Some very valuable Unani medicines are prepared from ajwain seeds. Bishop's weed is cultivated in Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan and India.
An analysis of the ajwain seeds shows them to consist of moisture 7.4 per cent, protein 17.1 per cent, fat 21.8 per cent, minerals 7.9 per cent, fibre 21.2 per cent and carbohydrates 24.6 per cent per 100 grams. Calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin are amongst the vitamins and minerals in it. Its calorific value is 363. Steam distillation of crushed seeds yields an essential oil which is valued considerably in medicine on account of the presence of thymol. The oil was, for a long time, the chief source of thymol.
Synonyms for ajowain include carum ajowan; ajwain; ajwain seed; carom seed; bishop's weed; ajowan; ajowan seed; ajwon; ajwan
The seed of the ajowain plant is medium brown and has lightly marked indentations. Its appearence is very much like the western caraway or the Indian shahi zeera. The flavour is, however, a far stronger version of thyme. The stems of the plant are ridged and are upright, the flowers are white and the fragrant oval fruit is yellow and shiny.
Though the ajowain plant is variously believed to have originated in India and Egypt, the cultivation of this plant is now naturalised in India, Iran, Egypt and Afghanistan. States in India where cultivation is most widespread are Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.
Ajowain is a spice most often used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. In India, it is largely used in North Indian cooking. Possibly due to its digestive properties, it is often added to fried and starchy foods to aid in the digestion of these "heavy" and difficult to digest foods. The traditional griddle fried, unleavened bread of North India, the paratha, is often flavoured with this spice, as are deep fried, potato filled samosas and other starchy vegetable curries, such as those made of colocasia. The spice is famously added to batter-fried fish fingers called Amritsari Fish.
While the spice is easily available and inexpensive, it is not used as widely as say, cumin is used. Ajowain is also one of the five spices that comprise the Bengali panchphoran mixture and it is sometimes added to curry powder.
Traditional schools of medicine, both Greek and Ayurvedic, are united in their belief in ajowain as an anti-flatulent. Ancient Ayurvedic treatises used from the time of Charaka and Sushruta, as well as renowned Greek physicians like Dioscrides and Gelen, used the spice as an aid to expel gases from the digestive system.
The spice is used in many household remedies in India to treat mild stomach ailments. Ajowain goli is a favourite churan, a spicy pastille, commonly given to children as a tasty and healthful treat. Ajowain water is also often drunk every morning to aid the stomach.
Unani medicine also uses the spice in its preparations.
Ajowain seeds are effective digestive aids. Ayurveda suggets several ways in which they may be taken. They may be eaten rolled in betel leaves, with a little rock salt or as a decoction made with boiling water. Eating a little black salt with the seeds increases their effectiveness. Ajowain seeds also soothe colic. A paste made of the seeds helps if applied on a specific area of the stomach.
These are helped by drinking a mixture of buttermilk and the seeds. This apparently clears dried-up mucous and clears respiratory passages. An inhalation of the vapours of ajowain seeds steeped and boiled in water also helps in this regard.
Migraines are apparently relieved by inhaling crushed ajowain seeds. A local application of the essential oil of ajowain also helps relieve migraines and rheumatism pains. A decoction in milk is used to treat earaches as well.
A paste made of ajowain seeds and turmeric on the area with the skin infection is apparently an effective treatment.
Its other uses include treatment of bronchitis, coughs, colds, insect bites and muscular pains. The seeds are also used in poultices to relieve asthma and arthritis, and are believed to have aphrodisiac qualities.
Ajowain is also available today as a dietary supplement in tablet and capsule form.
The excessive use of ajowain seeds cause several ill-effects, including the drying up of bodily fluids, eye damage and a reduction in milk and semen secretion.
The essential oil of ajowain yields thymol, which is a solid crystalline substance occuring naturally from the oils of thyme, ajowain and horsemint. Thymol is used commercially in the perfume industry, and also in the manufacture of dental hygiene products, such as mouthwashes and toothpastes.
The Book of Ingredients: Philip Dowell and Adrian Bailey; Penguin/Mermaid Books 1993
Indian Spices and Condiments as Natural Healers; Dr. H.K. Bakhru; Jaico Books, 2006