Corn silk, as the name suggests, are the silky hair that we see when we buy a whole intact corn. They grow out of the corn ears like a tuft of silky hair. Fresh corn silk is about 10-20 cm long and the colour ranges from golden yellow to greenish brown. They are fibers that grow out of the ovules of corn and start protruding out of the corn ears. External tips of the silk capture the pollen which is then transferred to the ovule and the kernel starts developing. Once pollinised, the growth of these silky hairs more or less stops, and the kernel starts growing within. So much for the botanical story, the food story starts here. Like most of the plants we use as food, almost all parts of a plant provide nutrition and health benefits when consumed. Corn also consists of not just the kernels, which we are familiar with, but also the silky hair that have been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Corn silk as a medicine was first recorded in by a Chinese physician Lan Mao.
Nutritionally, corn silk contains proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, Ca, K, Mg and Na salts, fixed and volatile oils, steroids such as sitosterol and stigmasterol, alkaloids, saponins, tannins, and flavonoids. These nutrients and compounds are what lend it its medicinal/health properties.
Traditional medicine has used corn silk for treating a wide variety of ailments, evidence of the efficacy of these claims is rather limited in modern medicine.
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Health Benefits attributed to corn silk are:
Corn silk has been used in Chinese medicine for controlling blood sugars for centuries. Animal studies in labs have also found that ingestion of corn silk helps control hyperglycemia by increasing the insulin levels in the blood. It has also been seen to help recover injured B cells of the pancreas, where insulin is produced.
One of the most common diseases the world over, HT is a major risk factor for heart diseases, renal dysfunction and stroke. Chinese traditional medicine and native American Indians have been using corn silk tea to manage HT for centuries. A systematic review of 567 studies on CS published in a scientific journal concluded that taking CS along with medication for lower BP was more effective in controlling HT than the drugs alone. While more robust studies may be needed to establish a scientific credibility, in its natural form, CS cannot be harmful and it does help control high BP.
The one organ or rather one system of our body - the urinary system - comprising kidneys, urinary tract, bladder is what seems to benefit the most from CS. Traditional medicine has used it for the treatment of cystitis, oedema, kidney stones, diuretic, prostate disorder and urinary infections as well as bedwetting, and research has shown it to be effective too. Its action is attributed to the fact that it probably soothes and relaxes the lining of the bladder and urinary tubules, hence reducing irritation and increasing urine secretion. CS tea has also been used to decrease prostrate inflammation. CS tea is also used to flush out kidney stones and prevent formation of stones.
CS is rich in phenolic compounds, especially flavonoids, which give its excellent antioxidant properties. Non-nutrient antioxidants found in food are major components in managing the oxidative stress in our body. CS contains strong anti-inflammatory properties, which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and help boost our immunity. Because of its strong antioxidant properties, it is found to be protective in radiation and nephrotoxicity.
Experimental studies have found that CS is effective in preventing adipogenesis- the formation of fat cells, while encouraging lipolysis - breakdown of fat cells. This combination of decreased fat cell production and an increased breakdown of fat cells is the perfect equation for weight loss. Experimental studies have shown positive results in weight loss and hence better health.
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Corn silk are fibers that grow out of the ovules of corn.
How and How Much?
Corn silk tea is the most common method of consuming the herb. It is made by pouring hot water over the fresh CS fibers and letting it seep for 5-10 minutes or you can dry the fibers, powder them and use 1-2 teaspoons of this in hot water.
CS taken in its natural form is by and large safe to use. 5g for every 10kg of body weight is safe to take. Supplemental forms as tablets and powders are to be taken as per the instructions of your healthcare provider, especially if you are on medication.
SIDE EFFECTS associated with CS include low potassium levels that may lead to palpitations. This is because it works like a diuretic, throwing out water from the body so you may get dehydrated. It may also lead to hypoglycemia; pregnant and lactating mothers must avoid it.
So you see, nature gives us everything we need to stay fit and healthy, stay close to nature.
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About Rupali DattaRupali Datta is a Clinical Nutritionist and has worked in leading corporate hospitals. She has created and lead teams of professionals to deliver clinical solutions for patients across all medical specialties including critical care. She is a member of the Indian Dietetic Association and Indian Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.