With all the talk of tinctures and tablets, it’s easy to forget a simple concept: Food is the best preventive medicine we have.
Sometimes a concentrated form of medicine such as a tincture or capsule is appropriate and necessary when treating illness, trying for a specific effect (such as energy enhancement), or making up for a deficiency. But when it comes to prevention, nothing beats a healthy diet. Scientific research confirms what our ancestors knew from experience: We are what we eat. A healthy diet means that we absorb more nutrients and regularly expel more toxins, which ultimately means we are less prone to disease.
The recipes presented here are designed to taste good and help you stay healthy. The healing ingredients fall into several categories, outlined below. You’ll find a little of everything in these easy recipes, so experiment with what best suits your taste buds and your lifestyle.
And don’t be scared off by the intense tastes of some herbs—strong flavor is associated with the healing volatile oils found in these plants. If a particular taste is too much for you, try adding the herb to a stock or substituting parsley for part of it.
When eaten regularly, culinary herbs work to stimulate digestion, break down foods for better nutrient assimilation, and provide roughage for elimination of toxins. Fresh, mild, culinary herbs are very forgiving. Add and interchange them freely.
Sage has been thought a remedy for many health problems, including arteriosclerosis, eczema, diarrhea, and asthma, according to internationally known French healer Maurice Messegue. Messegue also indicates that sage is used for supporting the kidneys, liver, and digestive system. (See the recipe for Sage Salmon.)
Often considered a mere garnish by Americans, parsley effectively freshens breath and is loaded with nutrients and vitamin C. Its stimulant and diuretic properties help clear poisons from the kidneys, bladder, and urinary tract. Parsley is wonderful in and on top of soups, stews, and salads.
Rosemary stimulates bile and has been used traditionally for depression, migraine headaches, and digestion. Thyme’s antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial properties may make it useful for coughs, colds, and digestive problems.
Basil, tarragon, chives, mint, cilantro, dill, and many other familiar items from your garden or spice rack are excellent sources of antioxidants and nutrients. Try cilantro on top of beans, basil on grilled vegetables, and mint with entrees containing hot peppers. Stir a little tarragon into mustard for sandwiches. Mix fresh dill into yogurt to top bagels or potatoes.
Greens can spruce up your spring meals. They can add flavor to salads or, like spinach, steam nicely. Try topping them with sesame oil, olive oil, vinegar, or lemon juice.
Dandelion, the quintessential medicinal spring green, is a powerful and tasty diuretic. Dandelions add potassium to the body instead of depleting it, as prescription diuretics do. Both its young spring leaves and roots can be used. (See the recipe for Spring Bitters Salad.)
Other greens will satisfy you while they keep you healthy. Chicory cleanses the liver and stimulates digestive juices. Violet leaves and flowers are highly nutritious. Young borage leaves contain minerals that stimulate the kidneys to flush poisons. Common garden sorrel is a cooling tonic, diuretic, and laxative. (See the recipe for Sorrel Soup.)
The term nutraceutical means “food medicine”, and the category includes such old familiars as onions, garlic, and carrots.
Onion is a powerful tonic used traditionally for maladies such as gout and high blood sugar. Garlic is well known to reduce both cholesterol and hypertension. Research shows it also stimulates the immune system and fights infections; garlic was used in World War I to prevent gangrene. Carrots provide appreciable amounts of beta-carotene and other antioxidants. (See the recipe for Carrot and Beet Slaw.)
Ignoring your fat intake would significantly reduce the effects of an otherwise healthy diet. Avoid processed oils, which have had their nutrients stripped, and unsaturated fats and meats, which tend to retain toxins. Natural polyunsaturated oils become rancid easily and oxidize in the body, promoting free radicals, so buy them in small quantities and refrigerate them.
Cold-pressed olive oil, on the other hand, inhibits free radicals. Nuts and seeds provide invaluable sources of unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, protein and vitamin E, an essential for flushing toxins. (See the recipe for Day-Ahead Garlic/ Ginger Stir Fry.)
Fiber-rich grains are easier to prepare than most people suspect; the only thing you need to know is how much liquid and how long to cook. Whole grains can also easily be cooked in the microwave. I recommend a cookbook called Barbara Kafka’s Microwave Gourmet Healthstyle (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1996) for instructions on cooking tabbouleh, kasha, barley, and millet.
Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) deserves a special note here. This ancient South American gluten-free grain provides more essential nutrients than any other single food, including vitamins B and C, along with the most ideal protein balance of any common grain. Its traditional use for liver and urinary disorders, along with its ability to enhance blood oxygenation, has created significant interest among health-food connoisseurs. (See the recipe for Quinoa, Garlic and Red Peppers.)
For more information about the health benefits of the herbs and other foods described in this article, see previous issues of Herbs for Health as well as the references listed below.
• Duke, James. The Green Pharmacy. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale, 1997.
• Foster, Steven. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave, 1996.
• Hoffmann, David. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal. Shaftesbury, Dorset, Great Britain: Element, 1996.
• Margen, Sheldon, et al. The Wellness Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition. New York: Random House, 1992.
Debbie Whittaker demonstrates her healthy cooking style as the “Herb Gourmet” in Denver, Colorado.