Foxtail millets are the oldest grains to be ever eaten by humans and the oldest granary dating back to 8000 years ago discovered in China- was found to have contained Foxtail millets. In India, the reference to Foxtail millet can be traced back to 2nd century BC 1, during the Sangama Period.
Unlike today, where noodles are made either of wheat or rice, the earliest discovered noodles were made from Foxtail millets.
Foxtail millet is a hardy crop- it needs very little water to grow and can be grown in poor soils. They can tolerate a wide range of climates, from equatorial to temperate and are not fussy at all. These millets once formed the backbone of our civilization and today unfortunately we are forgetting all about them.
Our country is today littered with dams and canals and large areas are bought under irrigation by building canals. Despite all these measures, we see a lot of farmers suffering when the rains fail them. How did our ancestors, who had no irrigation, survive the vagaries of the seasons? They grew foxtail millets. A farmer in ancient India sowed paddy in his field and whenever his crops failed due to bad monsoons, he just sowed foxtails millets that year. The crop would be ready within 60 days of sowing. The millets could grow in near drought conditions and sustained both humans are their cattle. They were hardy and were unaffected by disease. Over the years, the area under millet cultivation has slowly reduced and we are increasing the amount of water guzzlers we cultivate- Wheat and Sugarcane. Two crops that we can easily live without. (It takes 3000- 4000 liters of water to cultivate a kilo of wheat, while it takes 300 liters for a kilo of millets)
Today, most of us have forgotten how to use these millets and due to a low demand, farmers don’t bother growing it. Although growing millets makes ecological and economic sense, these millets are poorly promoted. In fact, once can make everything with foxtail millets, what they would have otherwise done with rice.
Due to their low Glycemic index and other inhibitory properties foxtail millets are best suited for diabetics. 2
In a study where people were given biscuits made of foxtails millets, it was observed that there was a significant reduction in glucose (23%), cholesterol (6%), LDL (20%) and GHb (16.5%), and a slight decrease in serum triglycerides and VLDL. HDL (popularly called good cholesterol) increased significantly by 23per cent.3
Foxtail millet is rich in iron, copper, manganese, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and B vitamins, antioxidants, flavonoids, certain amino acids and tryptophan.
It is time we promote this humble ancient grain- not just for our health but for the overall betterment of our ecosystem.