One of my passions is educating my patients to utilise the 'medicines' that they already have at their disposal in their pantry or garden. With the advent of 'modern medicine' many think that a trip to the doctor or pharmacy for a magic pill will be the answer to all that ails us. Alas this us often not the case and can prove to be an expensive exercise in futility. Even more frustrating is the fact that what is actually beneficial, healing and usually inexpensive to boot has been right under our noses all along!
I started out wanting to write up a post about the '10 most useful items in the pantry' however once I got started I couldn't limit it to just 10!
Here is my list of 21 useful foods (not in any particular order and certainly not by any means exhaustive) for 'food as medicine' and some remedies to go along with them. I also love learning about what works for you guys so if you have any tried and true favourites or you try out anything mentioned in this post, I'd love to hear all about it! So please feel free to share the love by popping a post in the comment section below!
Much love xx
1. Turmeric |traditionally used in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine and more recently Western Herbal Medicine for chronic inflammatory conditions and to improve healing. Turmeric has anticancer, neuroprotective and immune modulatory effects. Therapeutic culinary use of 1.5-3g/day of powdered turmeric is generally considered safe. To increase the bioavailability of turmeric be sure to have it together with an oil and black pepper. You can make a turmeric paste and keep in the fridge for use in curries, smoothies, golden lattes and stir fries.
2. Garlic | has long been known be protective in patients with cardiovascular disease. Garlic is an an immune stimulant, antimicrobial and anti parasitic. In acute infections 3-6 fresh cloves can be consumed daily. For an irritating night cough..rubbing an oil onto the soles of feet (any oil will do it's to act as a barrier so the garlic does not irritate the skin) then place whole garlic glove on soles of feet and hold in place with socks. Garlic can be very heating and irritate the stomach so caution should be taken if having very high doses regularly.
3. Ginger | a hot dry herb, traditionally used to warm the stomach and treat the chills. Fresh ginger root is used to promote sweating and as an expectorant for colds. Ginger is highly regarded by herbalists as a wonderfully warming circulatory stimulant. Dried ginger root is used mainly to warm and stimulate the stomach and lungs in Chinese medicine. Recent research has shown the positive effects dried ginger root has for travel sickness and severe sickness during pregnancy. For colds, add 1-2 slices of fresh ginger root to a mug of water, simmer for 10 minutes. Add a pinch of cinnamon and sip!
4. Fennel seeds | are soothing for the digestion. Fennel seeds also promote milk flow for nursing mothers, in addition to this when taken by the breastfeeding mother it can also relieve colic in the infant. An infusion of fennel seeds can be made and drunk after meals to aid in excessive wind, indigestion, colic and other digestive discomfort. Fennel seed infusions can also be used gum disorders and sore throats. Caution: high therapeutic doses during pregnancy should be avoided. Small amounts used in cooking is considered safe.
5. Mustard plant |warming and stimulating. Crushed mustard seeds can be made into a poultice, applied to the chest, useful for chest infections and will ease coughing and spasms. The mustard plant is part of the Brassica family (i.e cruciferous veg) the greens are therefore useful in liver detoxification and are a great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
6. Lemons | are a great addition to a morning routine, 1/2 lemon juice freshly squeezed in a glass of room temperature or warm water is a wonderful way to flush out the system first thing in the morning, kickstart your metabolism for the day and support liver detoxification pathways. Lemons are rich in vitamin c and so are a great natural boost for the immune system. A hot lemon and raw honey drink with a slice of fresh ginger and a pinch of cayenne pepper is a great way to kick start your metabolism, to cleanse, boost energy and support the immune system. Lemon juice and olive oil are a wonderful addition to salads or drizzled over cooked vegetables. And when you've finished juicing your lemons you can use the lemon halves to rub over your chopping boards and give them a good clean!
7. Honey |besides being a deliciously sweet treat, honey has medicinal benefits to boot! Honey is antibacterial and so makes it useful for mouth and throat infections when applied topically. A favourite 'go to' remedy in our household is a little raw honey mixed with slippery elm powder to make a paste and suck it straight of the teaspoon, it helps with tickly, irritating night coughs, mouth ulcers and sore throats.
8. Rosemary | is a fantastic tonic and general stimulant. It is an uplifting and energising herb. The aerial parts are ideal for use in exhaustion, depression and general weakness as they invigorate circulation and blood flow. Rosemary has been used as a memory aid and to help with liver detoxification. An infusion of fresh rosemary can be made and used as a final hair rinse for dandruff.
9. Parsley | leaves and roots used primarily to treat gastrointestinal and urinary tract disorders, parsley is a diuretic and is also a fantastic addition to daily diet to support liver detoxification pathways. Chopped fresh leaves or dried herb can be used in food preparation and cooking and parsley tea can be made by adding 2g chopped herb to boiling water and taken up to 3 x day. I love to chop fresh parsley and sprinkle over roasted vegetables. Yum!
10. Cinnamon | is warming and pungent and great for all sorts of 'cold' conditions, from sluggish digestion to arthritis. Research has also shown cinnamon is useful in lowering blood glucose levels. Sprinkling ground cinnamon over porridge, yoghurt, added to smoothies and in savoury dishes is a great way to get a warming extra kick this winter. Additionally, cinnamon can be sprinkled around ant trails as a good way to naturally deter the little guys instead of using harmful chemicals.
11. Coriander |mainly used in herbal medicine to treat loss of appetite and dyspeptic conditions. Coriander seeds can be chewed after eating garlic as a breath deodorant. Coriander is also useful to include in the diet to support liver detoxification pathways.
12. Black cumin seeds (a.k.a nigella)| are an important part of Arabian folk medicine, mainly used to treat stomach upsets and colic but is also considered useful for intestinal worms, headaches and asthma. A tea made from the crushed seeds can be taken as a general tonic. I personally love to liberally sprinkle these glorious little seeds over salmon, salads, cooked vegetables, curries and dips (over hummus...amazing!).
13. Aloe vera | has been used throughout history worldwide both topically and internally. The gel is thick and mucilaginous and is an ideal home remedy for burns, wounds and sunburn. In Ayurvedic medicine the gel is an important tonic for excess fire or pitta. Apply the fresh gel directly to burns, wounds, dry skin, insect bites and fungal infections. The gel can also be used in steam inhalations for bronchial congestion. Avoid internal preparations during pregnancy as high doses of the leaves especially the outer layers can cause vomiting.
14. Flax | flax seeds or linseeds as they are also known can be a useful remedy for constipation. Eating 1-2 tbsp of seeds and follow with 1-2 glasses of water. The seeds swell in the bowel and are a great gentle bulking laxative. The seeds can also be mixed with muesli, porridge or raw honey and soft cheese and eaten at breakfast. It's important to remember that high fluid intake afterwards is important to get the swelling action. The crushed seeds can be used as a poultice to apply to boils, abscesses and ulcers. It is important to note that flaxseed (linseed) oil oxidizes rapidly and so freshly prepared is best. And only use food grade flax or linseed oil for therapeutic use.
15. Apples | have been used since Roman times as both laxatives (ripe apples) and to treat diarrhoea (unripe apples). An infusion of fresh, raw apple can be taken for intestinal colic and as a cooling remedy for fevers. Stewed apples are useful to treat diarrhoea, intestinal infections and gastroenteritis...this remedy can be kicked up a notch with the addition of liquorice root and cinnamon. *Note: apples are cooling and so eating too many or too quickly can lead to excessive wind and digestive upset.
16. Basil | aside from being delicious on a margarita pizza ;) basil leaves are a great remedy to rub on insect bites to reduce inflammation and itching. Additionally the leaves can be taken for a warming and uplifting tonic. A steam inhalation can be used with the fresh leaves for head colds.
17. Fenugreek | one of the oldest medicinal herbs. In ancient Egypt, fenugreek was used to ease childbirth and increase milk flow. More recent research has shown fenugreek to have hypoglycaemic properties. Fenugreek seeds are warming for the kidneys and reproductive organs, are known as a bitter digestive remedy. Powdered fenugreek seeds can be made into a poultice to treat boils.
18. Thyme | an amazing antiseptic expectorant, the aerial parts of thyme are great for chest infections producing thick phlegm. Thyme is also a wonderful digestive tonic, warming for stomach chills with associated diarrhoea. Infusions of thyme can be used for a sore throat. Thyme essential oil is highly antibacterial and anti fungal and can be made into an effective chest rub for chest infections or diluted in water an applied to insect bites or infected wounds. Caution: thyme oil should always be diluted well as it can irritate mucous membranes.
19. Dandelion | a wonderful addition to salads, the bitter aerial parts of the plant are bitter and aid digestion. Dandelion root is a favourite liver stimulant among herbalists and is often used as a gentle cleansing tonic. Dandelion may be used to ease constipation and chronic joint inflammation, eczema and acne. Dandelion leaves are also rich in potassium. I like to harvest before doing the lawns ;) if wild crafting yourself be sure to pick from clean, unpolluted environments.
20. Cayenne | potently stimulating for the whole body! Cayenne increases blood flow, increases appetite, tonifies the nervous system, encourages sweating (thus waste elimination) and is antibacterial. An ideal remedy for colds and chills...i'm thinking a great chicken broth with warming chilli added! Or an infusion of 1/2 tsp of fresh herb to a cup of boiling water, dilute 1 tbsp of this infusion with more hot water to make a cupful and sip as required. Useful for colds, chills, aches, pains, depression or shock. Cayenne compresses have been used for muscle aches, rheumatic pains, sprains and bruising.
Avoid therapeutic doses of cayenne whilst pregnant or breastfeeding.
21. Comfrey | traditionally used for healing fractures, comfrey also bears the name 'knit bone'. The active constituent, allantoin encourages bone, cartilage and muscle cells to grow. The crushed herb can be applied to an injured limb or minor fracture that wouldn't normally be set in plaster, the allantoin is absorbed through the skin and hastens healing.
This list is by no means exhaustive....I could go on and on and on about the benefits of so many different foods, spices, herbs, fruits etc that we have available but I won't ;) I just ask that you take a fresh look at plants...perhaps try incorporating some new plants that you have not yet tried or simply be determined to look at the old faithfuls in your household with fresh eyes and an even greater appreciation! Most importantly have fun, creating new dishes, exploring new flavour profiles and knowing that you are feeding your body, nutrient dense food as medicine!
* Please note with all the herbs mentioned, I am talking about the fresh, whole plant. Essential oils and standardised herbal extracts require professional guidance from a qualified naturopath, herbalist, nutritionist and/or aromatherapist. Whilst I highly recommend starting to freely incorporate more plants into your daily diet through culinary use, fresh plants, herbs and spices, I do not recommend starting supplements, tinctures, tonics or using essential oils without the appropriate guidance from a qualified professional. xx