If you’ve grown up in India, it is most likely that you were made to drink barley water as a child. It would have, probably, been cloaked in lime or rose syrup or made curiously inviting by adding some Tulsi seeds or Sabja seeds in it, but it is rare for an average Indian summer to pass without at least a glassful of barley water. Why does barley make a sudden appearance in the summer? Does it have any superpowers that make it a must-have in the season? What is barley, to start with?
Barley or jau as we know it more commonly, is an ancient grain that finds mention in the Rigveda as “Yau” and is advocated as among the ideal foods for Buddhist monks as well. Archeological findings also suggest that barley was once as common a staple as wheat is today, even around the times of Mohenjodaro; in fact, it was a distant second to rice but considered much superior to wheat. It was milled and eaten as steamed or fried cakes or cooked into a porridge—cooking methods that we do not seem to associate with barley anymore.
Ayurveda identifies Barley as a diuretic; which means it helps keep urinary tract infections at bay—a very common ailment in the summers. No wonder, then, that it is also considered to aid the passing of kidney stones.
This also means that Barley acts as a detoxifying agent, flushing toxins out of our body through urine. Barley, essentially, has “cooling” properties not just according to Ayurveda but also according to the Middle East, where it originated. Avicenna, the celebrated Persian scholar of the Islamic Golden Age, mentions Barley as a cure for fevers and as a digestive soother in his work. Some recent research also indicates that the fiber present in this complex carbohydrate helps reduce bad cholesterol and aids blood sugar management. It is no surprise, then, that so many generations have advocated the consumption of the grain on the basis of sheer experience.
Use barley not just as a liquid infusion but also as flour to make breads of or use the whole grain to make stews, salads, risottos, and other recipes. To make a simple jugful of barley water, simply boil ¼ cup of barley with two litres of water, and 1-2 slices of young ginger for 10-12 minutes. Cool and add Sendha Namak, Raw Sugar (if liked), and squeeze in the juice of 3 limes. Drink this infusion several times through the day, perhaps with a muddle of fresh mint.