I have often stopped at the small juice shops which dot the countryside of Tamil Nadu and ordered a Nannari sherbet. The proprietor would liberally ladle out two tablespoons of the syrup, add crushed ice from a Thermocol container, take out an aluminium lemon juicer and squeeze out half a lemon into the long glass and ceremoniously whisk it with a musical melody made with his spoon. I loved it.
With wisdom catching up, I decided to make the sherbet at home. Nannari (Tamil), scientific name: Hemidesmus indicus is known all over India and its local names include Anantamuulah or Balyam or Dugdhgarbhaa (Sanskrit), Anantamul (Hindi), Nannari or Naruneendi (Malayalam), Sugandhi (Telugu), Anamtamula (Kannada), Suguddimalo (Odia) etc.
While Nannari is called the Indian Sarsaparilla, it is not the true Sarsaparilla, which is Smilax ornata. The root of Sarsaparilla was sold as a tonic syrup in the early part of this century in many drugstores in the United States, till it was replaced by sodas and colas which had none of its health-improving properties. The Native Americans used Sarsaparilla as a blood tonic. It was a component of root beer served locally by many drugstores in the United States. Not many drugstores serve this natural drink any longer.
In India, most Nannari sherbets which are commercially available are made with artificial flavouring ingredients. When buying from stores you need to ensure that it is made from the real root. Unfortunately, most of roadside tea stalls have the artificial variety.
It is easy to make the sherbet at home. Do not ask for Sarsaparilla, ask for it by its local name at the local ‘country drug store’.
Buy about 100 gms of the Nannari roots. You have to remove the central portion of the root. I use the traditional South Indian ammikkal for this purpose. A heavy pestle or a hammer will do as well. Remove the hard central pith and throw it away. Once that is removed, dry the roots in the sun (this makes it easier to grind). Grind the dried roots in a mixie. Boil about one litre of water and cool it. Add the ground powder and let it stand for about eight to 10 hours. You can do this in the late evening and let it stand overnight. Filter with a thin cloth taking care not to let the fine powder through. Add one kg of sugar and boil till you get a sticky, pouring consistency. Do not let the mixture burn. Remove from fire, cool and add juice of six lemons. Because of the sugar, it should keep well, but I keep my bottle in the refrigerator since I do not use any preservatives. If you like the honey colour, you can substitute it with jaggery. Clean the jaggery by adding it to some boiled, cooled water. Filter and then use in the sherbet.
This is an extremely healthy alternative to sodas for young kids. For those adults who are diabetic, I would suggest that you make the drink without the sugar and lemon juice i.e. just boil the powder and keep the strained liquid in the refrigerator. Add lime and sugar-free supplements such as sucralose (Splenda) or stevea, when you need to make the drink.
Normally I add about two tablespoons of the syrup with sugar for a tall glass of the drink. You can adjust the quantity to your taste. Similarly, add about two tablespoons of the plain extract and sufficient sucralose or stevea for a tall glass of the drink.
Nannari is an important Ayurvedic herb used for pacifying Pitta dosha, reducing burning sensations, diarrhoea, dysentery and fever. General debility is well treated by this herb, which is a tonic and strengthens the immune system. It is also an excellent diuretic and so can be used while treating urinary tract infections. It is a drink to be given when young kids come panting in after a hard day’s play in the summer sun. Nannari sherbet is extremely popular in Kerala.
The writer was earlier Health Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu and is currently, Additional Chief Secretary and Chairman & Managing Director, Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation. She can be reached at Sheelarani. arogyamantra@gmail. com. Earlier articles can be accessed at www.arogyamantra. blogspot. com