Manathakkali keerai / Black Nightshade is a very healthy green leafy vegetable that is regularly included in south Indian menu. It has a cooling effect on the body.
Since India is a tropical country, some tend to get oral ulcers especially during summer. This leaf when consumed daily (cooked or uncooked) for 2 -3 days , can effectively heal oral ulcers. This is more effective than medicines. If your ulcer is severe, drink a cup of (raw leaf) juice for a week and the pain will be gone and ulcers will heal. The summer heat can also transform us into temperamental folks. So we, the tropical folks, need stuff that keeps us cool and calm. Haha
When we were little kids, during our summer holidays, we used to play for hours under the sun during the hot month of May. No wonder my cricket obsessed brother suffered with oral ulcer every summer.
To keep our body cool during Indian summers, our parents used to make sure we
- Take regular traditional oil massage baths and massage hair with castor oil to keep our eyes and head cool,
- Soak hair with fenugreek paste to prevent us from going bald because of the heat. This annoying paste was so hard to rinse away but it can arrest hair fall instantly.
- Wash hair with areetha nuts instead of shampoos
- Drink lots of herb infused buttermilk , barley kanji, tender coconut water and ragi kanji
- Drink juices like aam paana and other juices made with Indian herbs
- Eat curry made with buttermilk like more kuzhambu (majjiga pulusu) , Aviyal.
- Eat cooling curry / kootu like banana stem kootu, snake gourd curry with moong dal, ridged gourd gravy with moong dal.
- And even force us to keep jasmine flowers in the evening as it is aroma therapeutic and cools the head and eyes. I remember how much I tried to avoid this “country girl” look.
- Last but not least, consume cooling green leafy vegetables that will protect our stomach and mouth from getting ulcers – Fenugreek leaves kootu and Manathankkali kootu
Manathakkali (mana thakkali) keerai grows like weeds as long as there is enough water. So it used to grow in our backyard near the mango and coconut trees. I grew up in a house with mango trees, coconut trees, curry leaf trees, guava tree, banana trees, neem trees, papaya trees, gooseberry tree and pomegranate trees etc. And yes! We climbed trees like monkeys, fell down, scrapped our knees and elbows, fractured a few bones but never ever learnt a lesson. How can life be fun without a few fractures and sutures? Fun days! fun days!
It is very easy to identify this plant. It has tiny berries that resembled mini tomatoes. They are green at first and then they turn dark purple.
When we were playing in the backyard, we used to pluck these berries and eat a few. We were not health conscious. Not at all. We just wanted to avoid oral ulcers which could make our parents curb our time under the roasting sun. “Eat this or you won’t play” was more than enough to motivate us to do anything.
These tiny berries are also dried and stored in air tight boxes for a few months and added to sambar. Most traditional Indian medicine shops will sell them. These can also be deep fried and consumed as a crispy side dish for sambar.
Botanical name: Solanum nigrum.
Tamil: Manathakkali keerai / Milagu thakkali keerai
Telugu: Kamanchi Chettu
The method for cooking this is very simple.
- Remove leaves and the fruits from the stalk.
- Wash and rinse.
- Heat oil and season with mustard seeds, cumin seeds, urad dal and curry leaves.
- Stir fry onions.
- And add the leaves and stir fry.
- Garnish with coriander leaves.
- Eat as side dish for sambar rice.
- You can also add cooked and mashed moong dal or any dal just like we do for the ridge gourd and snake gourd curry.
Nowadays we have stopped using food as a medicine for minor ailments like oral and stomach ulcer. It is time we bring back the good food habits our previous generation had.