I like soup—winter, spring, summer or fall. And the more I research plant compounds and their effects on human health, the more I am convinced that healing soups make an ideal “food pharmacy.” With soup, you can combine ingredients that have tremendous potential to ward off, and possibly reverse, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and dozens of other conditions. Every plant—vegetable, fruit, grain or herb—contains a long list of chemical compounds (known as phytochemicals) with properties ranging from anti-aging to immunostimulant to vasodilator. If you’re interested in exploring the chemical compounds of food and their properties yourself, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture database that I am compiling at Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases.
Here are two soups that I cooked up at my Green Farmacy (see below), along with one that my friend Susan Belsinger contributed. Try them yourself—I think you’ll find them much tastier than their pharmaceutical counterparts.
3 Healing Soups• Hearty Four-Bean Soup
• Immunity-Boosting Winter Soup
• Curried Celery Soup
Soothe Aching Joints
Every ingredient in the Curried Celery Soup works to tame the enzyme known as COX-2, which is associated with the inflammation and pain of arthritis. One of them alone (capsaicin) is nearly as potent as the COX-2 Inhibitor in the controversial arthritis drug Vioxx. And garlic, at last count, contained at least nine different COX-2 Inhibitors.
Even if you aren’t bothered by arthritis, there’s good reason to add this soup to your menu: Recent research reported in Science News suggests that inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme could delay or prevent some cancers.
Fight Colds and Flu
To me, garlic is the tastiest and best all-around stimulant for the immune system. Of the other immunostimulant herbs in my database, I’d also include shiitake mushrooms, chickpeas, calendula, ginger and turmeric if I were going to make an immunity-boosting soup. I’d also use some ground black pepper (to enhance the uptake of the curcumin) and some chiles or cayenne.
The Immunity-Boosting Winter Soup recipe, adapted from the Creative Herbal Home by Susan Belsinger and Tina Marie Wilcox (Herbspirit, 2007), includes nearly all of these ingredients—and a few more—to jumpstart your immune system.
Protect Your Heart, Prevent Cancer
A Hearty Four-Bean Soup is one of my favorite foods, especially on cold winter days, and knowing its many health benefits makes it all the more appetizing.
Besides being an excellent source of heart-healthy fiber, beans are rich in daidzein, genistein and other plant compounds that can help prevent heart disease.
The ingredients of this soup also could help reduce your risk of cancer. The Journal of Nutrition recently reported that an increased intake of genistein and daidzein in soybeans lowered the incidence of prostate cancer as much as 58 percent in a study of 200 Japanese men.
Although soybeans commonly are touted as a superior source of these useful compounds, almost all edible beans contain them. Many beans—including chickpeas, yellow split peas, black turtle beans and lima beans—contain even more gen-istein than soybeans, according to an analysis of 75 bean varieties conducted at the University of Michigan.
The anti-cancer and heart-protective properties of garlic, onion, turmeric, and red and black pepper make these ingredients essential to my hearty bean soup.
What’s On the Menu?
To find out what antiarthritic chemicals are contained in each of the Curried Celery Soup ingredients, go to Jim Duke’s Multiple Activities Menu (MAM), available free from the USDA. If you want to know the anti-arthritic chemicals in onion, for instance, just type in “onion” and “arthritis.” Within seconds, you’ll have a list of the onion’s dozens of anti-arthritic chemicals.
You can do a similar search using any one of thousands of different herbs and 100-some different ailments.
James A. Duke , a botanist and former USDA researcher, is widely considered one of the world’s leading authorities on healing plants. He conducts seminars on botanical medicine at the Green Farmacy Garden and leads annual expeditions to the Amazon rainforest and coastal forests of Maine. His new book, Duke’s Handbook of Medicinal Plants of the Bible , will be published December 2007. The Green Farmacy Garden, patterned after James Duke's best-selling book The Green Pharmacy (Rodale, 1997), is a teaching garden in Fulton, Maryland.