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Category: Food



Introduction and description

Ajwan or Ajwain, ajowan (pronounced aj’o-wen) -  Trachyspermum ammi—is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae).  The Umbelliferae family has some 2,700 members including dill, caraway and cumin.  The correct botanical nomenclature is Family: Apiaceae; Genus: Trachyspermum and Species: T. ammi.

Other names include Ajave Seeds, Ajvain, Bishop’s Weed, Carom, Ethiopian Cumin, Omam, and Omum.

The plant originated in India and the seed‑like fruit (often mistakenly called seeds) is used in Indian cooking. “It is particularly suited to the delicate vegetarian fare found in the state of Gujarat”.

[right handcoloured-lithograph-by-hanhart-after-a-botanical-illustration-by-david-blair-from-robert-bentley-and-henry-trimens-medicinal-plants-london-1880]


Ajwain is native to India and the plant is mainly cultivated in Iran and India. Rajasthan produced about 55% of India's total output in 2006.  Ajwain is also cultivated in Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. 


According to Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1989 , Ajwain is an annual herb, ± 25–65 cm. tall, much branched from near the base upwards, with long divergent or more divaricate branches; stem and branches glabrous, slender, striate and terete or the stem somewhat sulcate.

Leaves – The plant when young looks nothing like it does when it begins to flower.  Initially [as will be seen on the video below], the leaves look almost like oregano or mint, but as the plant grows and flowers the upper leaves become closer in appearance to dill or caraway

Basal leaves withered at time of flowering; lowest stem leaves ± 5–14 × 2–6 cm., lamina broadly
oblong or ovate, ± bi- or subtripinnate with 3–5 pairs of pinnae, basal pair sessile or with petiolules up to ± 5 mm.; pinnae rather irregularly divided into narrowly linear, glabrous, rather bluntly mucronate segments up to ± 1.4 cm. long and ± 0.5 mm. wide, with ± revolute margins and not dentate; petioles ± 2.5–8 cm. including the tapering, 8–12 mm., ribbed sheath; upper stem leaves reduced and more shortly petiolate and finally sessile but similar; uppermost leaves also much divided, but small.

Inflorescences -The umbrels have a not dissimilar appearance to related plants such as caraway, and fennel

Umbels  - numerous, with 6–20 usually obviously unequal rays 5–21 mm. long, glabrous to minutely scabrid; involucre conspicuous, of 2–4 linear or sometimes trisect or ± pinnate, scabrid-margined, often unequal bracts 3–20 mm. long; partial umbels ± 8–24-flowered, pedicels 1–4 mm., minutely scabrid to subglabrous; involucel of ± 6–8 subulate bracteoles 1–5 mm. long, with scabrid margins; peduncles ± 2–8.5 cm., glabrous.

Calyx - Calyx with very short but distinct, broadly triangular, pale teeth.

Corolla - Petals white or tinged with pink, obcordate with broad lobes, 1–1.25 mm., shortly white-hairy; anthers dark purplish black.

Fruits - Fruit ovate, ± 2–2.5 × 1.75–2 mm., covered with white papillae or at the extreme apex frequently glabrous or almost so and deeply grooved, ribs prominent; stylopodia bluntly conical; styles slender, deflexed or flexuose, subequalling to twice as long as the stylopodia.

Ajwain's small, oval-shaped, seed-like fruits are pale brown schizocarps, which resemble the seeds of other plants in the Apiaceae family such as caraway, cumin and fennel.

Culinary use

Both the leaves and the seed‑like fruit (often mistakenly called seeds) of the plant are consumed by humans.

[Right Ajwain Pakora Chaat]

Ajwain seeds are used as a spice. They have a bitter and pungent taste, with a flavour similar to anise and oregano. They smell almost exactly like thyme because they contain thymol, but “they are more aromatic and less subtle in taste, as well as being somewhat bitter and pungent”. Even a small number of fruits tends to dominate the flavour of a dish.

They are usually sold whole and then ground in mortar and pestle, or crushed by rubbing between hands or fingertips, when needed. When used whole, for parathas or other breads, for example, the seeds are lightly bruised first, to release oils and increase flavour. In Afghanistan, the fruits are sprinkled over bread and biscuits.

The fruits are commonly dry-roasted or fried in ghee (clarified butter). This allows the spice to develop a more subtle and complex aroma. Cooking ajowan mellows it somewhat.

In Indian cuisine, it is often part of a chaunk, a mixture of spices fried in oil or butter, which is used to flavor lentil dishes.

The seeds can be stored indefinitely if kept from light in airtight containers.

Ajwain has a particular affinity to starchy foods like savoury pastries, breads especially parathas, and potato balls. It is also good with green beans, root vegetables, lentil dishes and recipes using besan (chick pea flour). It is occasionally an ingredient of curry powder. 

Spice crusted sea bream

By Vivek Singh From Saturday Kitchen

For the sea bream

4 whole sea bream (350-400g/12-14oz each), gutted, fins and tail trimmed

1 tsp salt

1½ tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tbsp ginger and garlic paste

½ tsp ajwain seeds

½ tsp nigella seeds

2 lemons, juice only

4 tbsp clarified butter

For the spice crust

1 tbsp vegetable or corn oil

1 tbsp gram flour

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp coriander seeds

½ tsp black peppercorns

2½cm/1in piece fresh root ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsp Greek yoghurt (optional)

½ tsp red chilli flakes

½ tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

50g/1¾oz chopped fresh coriander

For the sea bream, preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 5. Line a baking tray with aluminium foil.

Slash the fish 2-3 times on each side using a sharp knife and rub in the salt, chilli powder, turmeric, ginger and garlic paste, carom seeds, nigella seeds and lemon juice. Set aside for a few minutes.

To make the spice crust, heat the oil and add the gram flour, cook for 2-3 minutes as you would do for a roux. Remove from the heat, cool and set aside.

Meanwhile, toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and peppercorns in a pan. Add the seeds to a pestle and mortar and grind. Mix the roasted gram flour, ginger and yoghurt into the spices. Apply the spice crust on both sides of the fish to form an even coating. Use the leftover spice mix to fill the belly of the fish.

Place the fish on the prepared tray and cook in the oven for 15-18 minutes until cooked through. After 6-8 minutes, turn the fish over and baste with the butter. If the skin is starting to colour too quickly reduce the oven temperature to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4 and cover the fish with foil so that the spice crust doesn’t burn.

Serve the fish with green salad and lemon wedges.

Spice-rubbed chicken thighs with coconut sambal and roti

By Andi Oliver From BBC Saturday Kitchen

For the spice-rubbed chicken thighs
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
2 red chillies, finely chopped
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
8 chicken thighs, boneless and skin on
salt and freshly ground black pepper
fresh coriander, to garnish
For the channa roti
125g/4½oz chickpea (gram) flour
60g/2¼oz plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for frying
225ml/8fl oz Greek-style yoghurt or water, plus extra if needed
4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
1 large green chilli, finely chopped
1½ tsp ajwain seeds
2 tbsp caramelised onions
For the coconut sambal
120g/4½oz scraped, fresh coconut
1 spring onion, finely chopped
½ green chilli, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
½ red chilli, roughly chopped
1 lime, zest and juice
For the chicken thighs, combine the spices, ginger, garlic, chilli and oil in a small bowl. Rub the marinade into the chicken thighs and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Heat a griddle pan and once hot, add the thighs. Grill for about 4 minutes on each side, or until the thighs are crispy and a deep golden colour. Check that the chicken is cooked through (the juices will run clear when the chicken is pierced in the thickest part with a skewer.) Leave to rest for a further 10 minutes under a cloth.
For the channa roti, sift the flours and salt into a large bowl. Pour in the oil and yoghurt or water to make a soft, but not sticky, dough. Add a little more flour or water if needed. Add the coriander, chilli and seeds. Knead gently until smooth and all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Cover and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
Divide into even-sized portions and roll each one into a thin circle of about a 2mm thickness, using a rolling pin. Spoon the onions into the middle of each roti, fold over and seal around the edges. Heat a little oil in a heavy-based pan. Roll out one of the roti again thinly into a round with a rolling pin and fry on one side until it puffs up and is speckled brown on the underside. Turn it over and fry on the other side for a few minutes, until it too is puffed up and speckled brown. Remove from the pan, allowing the roti to cool for a few seconds, before transferring to a very low oven to keep warm. Cook the remaining roti in the same way.
For the coconut sambal, put all the ingredients except for the coconut in a food processor and blitz. Add the coconut and blitz until the coconut has turned evenly red and everything is fully combined. Season with salt and lime juice.
Garnish the chicken thighs with the coriander and serve with the roti and coconut sambal.


Medicinal uses

The seeds are sometimes chewed on their own for their medicinal value, tasting bitingly hot and bitter, leaving the tongue numb for a while.

Ajwain seeds contain an essential oil which is about 50% thymol - a strong germicide, anti-spasmodic and fungicide. Thymol is also used in toothpaste and perfumery.

Ayurvedic medicine traditionally uses the seeds for diarrhoea and flatulence, indigestion and colic, and the crushed seeds are used in poultices to relieve asthma and arthritis.   Traditionally it is believed to have “aphrodisiac properties and the Ananga Ranga prescribes it for increasing a husband’s enjoyment in his middle years” [sic].  Ajwan is widely used in Pakistani cuisine and it is also an important ingredient for herbal medicine practiced there.

Trachyspermum ammi commonly known as 'Ajwain' is distributed throughout India and is mostly cultivated in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The fruit possesses stimulant, antispasmodic and carminative properties and is used traditionally as an important remedial agent for flatulence, atonic dyspepsia, diarrhea, abdominal tumors, abdominal pains, piles, and bronchial problems, lack of appetite, galactogogue, asthma and amenorrhoea.
Medicinally, it has been proven to possess various pharmacological activities like antifungal, antioxidant, antimicrobial, antinociceptive, cytotoxic, hypolipidemic, antihypertensive, antispasmodic, broncho-dilating actions, antilithiasis, diuretic, abortifacient, antitussive, nematicidal, anthelmintic and antifilarial. Further, studies reveal the presence of various phytochemical constituents mainly carbohydrates, glycosides, saponins, phenolic compounds, volatile oil (thymol, γ-terpinene, para-cymene, and α- and β-pinene), protein, fat, fiber and mineral matter containing calcium, phosphorous, iron and nicotinic acid. These studies reveal that T. ammi is a source of medicinally active compounds and have various pharmacological effects; hence, it is encouraging to find its new therapeutic uses. PMID:  22654405

References and further reading

  • Video showing ajwain plant or trachyspermum ammi on youtube
  • Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases  - List of chemicals
  • Trachyspermum ammi: A comprehensive review
    Article (PDF Available)  in International Research Journal of Pharmacy 3(5):6 · May 2012
  • Pharmacogn Rev. 2012 Jan;6(11):56-60. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.95871.  Trachyspermum ammi.  Bairwa R1, Sodha RS, Rajawat BS.
  • Mostaph, M.K. & Uddin, S.B. (2013). Dictionary of plant names of Bangladesh, Vasc. Pl.: 1-434. Janokalyan Prokashani, Chittagong, Bangladesh.
  • Van Wyk, B.-E., Tilney, P.M. & Magee, A.R. (2013). African Apiaceae: a synopsis of the Apiaceae/Umbelliferae of Sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar: 1- 317. Briza Academic Books, Pretoria.
  • Kumar, S. (2012). Herbaceous flora of Jaunsar-Bawar (Uttarkhand), India: enumerations Phytotaxonomy 12: 33-56.
  • Hadinec, J. & Lustyk, P. (2012). Additions to the flora of the Czech Republic. X Zprávy Ceské Botanické Spolecnosti 47: 43-158.
  • Dobignard, A. & Chatelain, C. (2011). Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 2: 1-429. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève.
  • Hedberg, I., Edwards, S. & Nemomissa, S. (eds.) (2003). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea 4(1): 1-352. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia & The Department of Systematic Botany, Upps.
  • Abdulina, S.A. (1999). Spisok Sosudistykn Rastenii Kazakhstana: 1-187. Academy of Sciences, Almaty, Kazakhstan.
  • Collenette, S. (1999). Wildflowers of Saudi Arabia: 1-799. National commission for wildlife conservation and development (NCWCD), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  • Townsend, C.C. (1989). Flora of Tropical East Africa, Umbelliferae: 1-127.
  • Vvedensky, A.I. (ed.) (1959). Flora Uzbekistana 4: 1-507. Izd-va Akademii nauk Uzbekskoi SSR, Tashkent.


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