As a child I often accompanied my paternal grandmother to a sprawling old bungalow in Model Town – the home cum clinic of Hakeem Muhammad Hussain. The Paternal and Maternal side of my family were deeply divided on the issue of healthcare. The former believed that Hikmat was the panacea for all types of sickness and pain, while the latter had faith in modern medicine and the uncanny healing powers of Dr. Yar Muhammad Khan, who lived and practiced from his spacious home on the corner of the MacLeod and Hall Road intersection.

As far as we were concerned, we had a noticeable bias in favor of the Hakeem Sahib, for no other reason except his delicious aromatic concoctions that adorned the cupboard shelf in my ‘Daadi’s’ room and which we often ‘sampled’ in a most ‘discreet’ manner. It was perhaps our belief that we had two excellent individuals ordained by providence to keep us in good health that we became rather fearless in ingesting any palatable looking stuff growing in our compound – only to realize much later that our childhood discoveries had already been explored, documented and used by experts long ago.

Take for example the case of the Nasturtium flower that adorned our verandah in its yellow, gold and orange splendor. We found that munching on its round shaped leaves and funny looking seeds was a tasty, peppery and rather refreshing experience. It was while browsing through salad menus years later, that the word Nasturtium leaves and flowers appeared as an exotic ingredient in a tasty plate of healthy food.

Everyone in the family looked forward to the onset of the cold season and one amongst the many reasons that made it our favorite time of the air was Chrysanthemums. These magnificent flowers were tended in their pots for nine months of the year to burst into a riot of color in November and December. While they were show stoppers as far as floriculture goes and made excellent cut flowers, it was as an adult that I came across another use for ‘the Mum’. While on a trip to China, I was offered an aromatic tea that immediately triggered memories. I found that the beverage was made from Chrysanthemum petals, leaves and stalks. My host also informed me that the tea had been used for hundreds of years in Chinese medicine to treat respiratory problems, high blood pressure and hyperthyroidism. A concoction made from petals of this flower also reduced inflammation and calmed nerves.

Rose water derived from distilling rose petals, has long been used throughout the world as a perfume, soothing agent and an effective cure for skin ailments. In some parts of the world desserts are flavored with the wonderful aroma of, what is accepted universally, as the king of flowers.

Hibiscus is a bushy annual plant, hybrids of which are now being cultivated as a popular perennial garden feature including mine. It is however, the original red colored bloom that is made into a popular drink in Egypt called Karkade, while various parts of the plant are used to make jams, spices, soups, and sauces. The flowers are also used for treatment of appetite loss, colds, heart and nerve diseases, upper respiratory tract inflammation, fluid retention, stomach irritation, circulatory disorders, constipation and as a diuretic.

In many parts of the western world, violets are treated as weed – not so in the subcontinent (and my house), where this wonderful ground cover and its profusion of indigo colored delicate blooms add value to the landscape. In their dried form these flowers have been used for hundreds of years as an effective ‘cold’ remedy in a popular infusion known to us as ‘joshanda’. So whatever, some friends might say, violets are not weeds in my dictionary.

I sometimes grow California Poppy (not to be confused with its prohibited cousin) in my garden because its excitingly bright golden color provides a wonderful backdrop to flowerbeds. Little did I know till a few months ago that this plant has other uses such as curing insomnia, aches, nervous agitation, bed-wetting in children and mitigation of bladder and liver ailments.

I must however humbly admit that I have been unable to even scratch the surface of a subject, whose dimensions and scope are beyond imagination. Tomes have been written on herbal medicine over centuries with the realisation that some of the plants and flowers growing at our very doorstep and in our homes are not mere adornments, but carry a far more important role to mitigate disease and pain. I must however caution readers to consult a qualified expert on herbal remedies before trying something out on the basis of this week’s piece.

While on a trip to China, I was offered an aromatic tea that immediately triggered memories. I found that the beverage was made from Chrysanthemum petals, leaves and stalks.