Indians are digging deep into their ancient traditions to unearth any herb, berry, seed, grain, or spice that might boost their immune system, as the country’s coronavirus count surges toward the 1.5 million mark.
Reckoning it’s one of the best ways to avoid contracting the virus in a nation where social distancing in densely populated cities is near-impossible, Indians have been trawling the web for home remedies.
A study in May of Google searches showed a big increase in people from India looking up the medicinal properties of certain foods. And they’re not looking for honey or mint tea. Those are humdrum. They are going much deeper in the search for the elixir of immunity.
Herbs normally known only to practitioners of ayurveda, the ancient system of medicine, appear to be sought. For example, the herb giloy is actually known by ayurvedic doctors as the “heavenly elixir” because of its immunity-boosting properties. Kadha is a herbal concoction that claims to protect people against the flu and infections.
Apart from the fact that there is no cure for coronavirus, Indians are extra anxious about contracting it because of the country’s limited medical facilities. Some government hospitals are putting people off because of their decrepitude and lack of hygiene.
A video last week showed pigs roaming in a hospital holding coronavirus patients in the southwest state of Karnataka.
Coronavirus patients in another hospital, in Uttar Pradesh, were stunned to see rainwater gushing like a waterfall through the ceiling because of a damaged pipe.
Yet, private hospitals are expensive and inaccessible to all except the upper-middle class and the rich. It is these fears that are prompting Indians to go the extra mile to build up their immunity.
The bestselling drinks at airport lounges these days are milk and turmeric beverages and saffron shakes.
A firm that supplies milk in the Indian capital of New Delhi has started offering turmeric-based drinks. Another one sells ice cream flavoured with “immunity-boosting turmeric”.
Sales of one the oldest “immunity boosters” in the country, a product called Chyawanprash based on ayurvedic ingredients, have quadrupled in recent months. Inspired by the demand for such foods, Dabur, the company that makes it, has launched a new range of similar remedies.
Other food and drink companies have jumped on the bandwagon, launching new products promising to enhance immunity, prevent infections, and protect the respiratory system.
For the same reason, yoga is being taken up with a vengeance. The soundtrack of the nation these days is millions of Indians inhaling and exhaling.
“My teenage son has asthma so his lungs are already weak. He has joined the whole family in yoga twice a day. With no vaccine, the only way to keep ourselves safe is through our immune system,” said Ashima Puri, 45, a teacher in New Delhi.
Faddism is becoming a way of life. Puri’s morning routine has become an elaborate ritual. Yoga, followed by deep breathing, gargling three times a day (to reduce the viral load in the mouth), a vitamin cocktail that must include zinc, and a weekly Vitamin D pill.
Another must is ‘nasal irrigation’ three times a day to flush out the virus or at least reduce the viral load.
“During zoom calls, all my friends and I do is exchange notes on what we are taking to avoid the virus,” Puri said.
In addition to new foods and potions, Indians have taken to exercising, again to boost their immunity. But with gyms closed, they have discovered that the best way to exercise while maintaining social distancing is cycling.
The All India Cycle Manufacturers’ Association said sales went up by 25 per cent last month as against June last year. Cycle dealers are running out of stock, with some reporting sales increases of 40 per cent in the past few weeks.
With cases still rising, these new trends are likely to continue. Doctors say the peak of the pandemic in India may not come for another couple of months. Every day, India records a new “highest-ever” single-day spike. Sunday saw nearly 49,000 new infections, taking
India’s total number of cases to more than 1.38 million, with just over 32,000 deaths.
The search for the elixir continues. A bakery in Srinagar is offering immunity-boosting breads “enriched with Vitamin A, Vitamin E, B 6, Omega 3, Omega 6”. Even the humble chicken is not safe from Indians wanting to pump their bodies with healthy goodness.
There is a new interest in a little known black chicken called kadanath, found only in Madhya Pradesh state, whose bones and organs are also black. It’s thought to be a veritable atomic bomb of protein, vitamins, iron, calcium, and antioxidant properties.
It has just become available in some organic food shops in New Delhi. Events organiser Salil Kapoor, 34, plans to buy it.
“I’m going to have it twice a week,” he said. “I’ve heard it’s a huge immunity booster and what do we have these days except our immune system to save us from the virus?”
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.