©Kat Morgenstern March 2009, all rights reserved.
It is no longer a secret that proper nutrition plays a vital part in maintaining good health. But when Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine first proclaimed
'Let Your Foods Be Medicines and Your Medicines Be Food' he wasn't just talking about nutrition. Instead, he was referring to the fact that the distinction between staple foods, vegetables, spices, herbs and drugs are often rather arbitrary, and that many common foods have interesting healing properties, which are often much safer to use than 'chemically potent' drugs.
It may come as a surprise, but your kitchen cupboard is in fact a veritable medicine chest, that can provide remedies for all kinds of ailments, aches and pains for those who know how to use them. Let's consider some of our most ordinary everyday staple foods and vegetables:
Although often shunned by certain nutritionalists as 'fatteners', grains and starches are in fact an important part of a balanced diet. The operative word here is 'balance' and being mindful of what shape that starch takes - white flour products including bread and pasta, polished rice and fried potatoes have little to commend them and contribute virtually nothing but calories to the diet. Yet, in a less process form grains and starchy root vegetables, are considered 'the staff of life'. They should form the basis of a balanced diet, as they not only supply energy in the form of complex carbohydrates, but also provide a large range of nutrients. They are rich in fibre, too, which is especially important for maintaining a healthy digestive system, eliminating toxins and keeping cholesterol levels low. But, they should not dominate the diet but should be eaten in amounts that are appropriate in terms of your physical output. People who live a more or less sedentary lifestyle don't need lots of carbs to keep the burner going. Medicinally grains are more versatile:
Barley (Hordeum vulgare)
Barley gruel is an excellent nutritional food useful for throat and stomach problems. Boiled in milk it promotes lactation. Externally it can be used as a poultice for sprained or stiff muscles, rheumatism and skin afflictions. Simmered in milk it soothes inflamed skin sores and ulcers. Even Barley beer has its virtues: it stimulates the appetite and increases the secretion of digestive juices, thus making fatty foods more digestible and easing heartburn. Warm beer acts demulcent and diuretic and is useful for urinary complaints.
Oats (Avena sativa)
Oats are very nourishing and provide an excellent food for convalescence. Plain oat porridge is one of the best foods for stomach and intestinal afflictions such as ulcers and inflammation. Oat bran ranks among the best inner cleansing agents, providing fibre that not only adds bulk, but also binds and eliminates endotoxins.
Wheat (Triticum sativum)
Wheat is one of the most important staple foods of the Western diet, though the highly refined and bleached form that is most commonly used for bread and pasta provides almost no nutritional value and it is hardly surprising, that wheat allergies are becoming common. As a less allergenic alternative try using spelt instead.
External use, however, seems mostly safe: pure, unadulterated wheat starch is a great drying and soothing powder for weeping skin rashes and inflamed sores (poison ivy!). Wheatgerm, is rich in vitamin E and numerous other nutrients. It is beneficial for debilitating or nervous conditions, circulatory problems, digestive troubles, blood impurities and skin afflictions. Wheat bran is often used as laxative or to create a sense of fullness when dieting. This is not a recommendable practice as wheat bran is water insoluble and thus does not bind endotoxins. While it adds bulk, the sharp edges of coarse bran can irritate the intestinal lining while adding no nutritional benefit. However, externally it can be used as a bath additive for rheumatism, gout and certain skin problems. Mixed with honey it makes a good combination for a facemask to treat blackheads and pimples.
Vegetables supplement carbohydrates by supplying a host of vitamins, amino acids, minerals and other trace substances that are vital to our health. Vegetables are essential, yet they should play a subordinate role: Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body and can be toxic if accumulated to excessive amounts. Too much asparagus can damage the kidneys and spinach can leech calcium from teeth and bones. But as vegetables are rarely eaten by the kilo, this seldom presents a problem.
Onion (Allium cepa)
The onion family provides a host of wonderful foods and medicines, both as cultivates and wild plants. Onion is antiseptic and anti-putrefactive. It stimulates the heart and circulation, acts diaphoretic, diuretic and expectorant and increases mucous secretion. To make an impromptu cough syrup, simply cut up an onion and cover with sugar. Cover the dish and leave overnight. Onion juice stimulates the kidneys and helps to dissolve small kidney stones. However, it should be avoided if the kidneys are inflamed or diseased, as it can prove too irritating.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic is an excellent antiseptic home remedy. It stimulates the immune system and kills off many common bacteria. Garlic reduces cholesterol levels and is most beneficial for the heart and blood circulation: it lowers the blood pressure (vasodilator) and inhibits arteriosclerosis. It is full of vitamins and acts strongly antiseptic, killing worms (enema) and disinfecting most foods. It also acts on the liver and gallbladder and improves the metabolism. Cooked in milk it is a powerful expectorant. In former times garlic juice was used as a remedy for tuberculosis.
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
Asparagus stimulates the kidneys and increases urinary secretion. This can be beneficial as part of a cleansing diet for rheumatism, gout or certain skin problems. It is also used for treating bladder problems, though excessive amounts can irritate the kidneys.
Cabbage (Brassica oleracea capita)
Rich in vitamin C, the humble cabbage is another wonderful healing plant. Sauerkraut and raw cabbage are great detoxing agents. Fresh cabbage juice, (5x a day for 2 weeks) is an effective remedy for stomach ulcers. Bruised cabbage leaves, applied as a poultice, draws pus and infection from rashes, sores and boils, or, applied to the chest, makes a pulmonary plaster for bronchial infections. It can also be used to treat engorged breasts. Hot cabbage leaves soothe aching muscle, neuralgia and rheumatic pain.
Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana/ Cochlearia armoracia)
Horseradish stimulates the circulation, digestive system and metabolism. It can be used both internally and externally: Applied as a poultice it will stimulate the circulation and soothe aching muscles, gout and rheumatic joints, neuralgic pain, sciatica or even paralysed limbs. For more convenient application the tincture can be used. Applied to the forehead this can prevent migraine. Horseradish mixed with lemon juice can halt an asthma attack - though this remedy is not for a weak stomach. Added to a pint of ale and sweetened with sugar it yields a powerful diuretic remedy for oedema. Steeped in wine and taken in teaspoonful doses it is an anti-catarrhal for the respiratory and digestive system. When using Horseradish internally it is best to start with small quantities and monitor the effects closely. Too much of it can be rough on the kidneys.
Carrot (Daucus carota)
Carrots offer one of the best sources for vitamin A. They are wonderfully vitalizing and stimulate the immune system. They are antiseptic and anti-putrefactive and can been used to stimulate the metabolism. Carrot juice cleanses the intestinal tract and is an excellent remedy for excessive stomach acid and heartburn. It is also good for rheumatism and arthritis and acts positively on the sugar metabolism in diabetes. Externally, grated carrots can be applied to bruises, burns and sores.
Celery (Apium graveolens)
Celery sticks are an excellent diuretic and are popular as a diet food. The fresh juice is very beneficial for suppressed urination, oedema, rheumatism, gout and cellulite. It is a good digestive aid, recommended for indigestion, lack of appetite and wind. In continental Europe the rootstock rather than the sticks are more commonly used. The water in which celery root has been boiled is a useful rinse for treating dandruff. The juice boiled with sugar to a syrupy consistency makes an excellent cough remedy. However, celery should not be used in cases of kidney inflammation, as its diuretic effect may prove too irritating. The seeds are an emmanogogue and should be avoided during pregnancy.
Cucumber (Cucumis sativus)
This is more of a cosmetic plant than a healer, although cucumber also has medicinal properties: it acts on the water balance, is diuretic and loosens kidney stones. It is useful in cases of oedema and cellulite and stimulates sluggish intestines. For cosmetic purposes, it is one of the best moisturizing agents. Used externally, the juice is refreshing, tonic, cleansing and soothing especially on sunburned, dry or tired skin.
Pumpkin (Curcurbita pepo)
Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A and B. For medicinal purposes it is only used raw. Mashed pumpkin soothes sore feet, inflamed ulcers, sores and varicose veins. When added raw to a salad it is blood cleansing and especially beneficial in cases of kidney inflammation. Pumpkin seeds are one of the most effective and non-toxic worming agents. They are also rich in Zinc and as such are particularly beneficial for bladder and prostate problems.
Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Potatoes are rich in vitamin C and extremely nutritious. A temporary diet, consisting of little more than mashed potatoes (without salt) relieves stomach problems associated with intestinal cramps and constipation. Used externally, raw, mashed potatoes act anti-inflammatory and can be applied to cankerous growths and sores.
Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)
Tomatoes stimulate the digestive juices and are beneficial for stomach ulcers and liver complaints. They also have a positive effect on oedema, neuritis and circulation complaints, particularly with regard to peripheral blood vessels. Externally, fresh tomato juice applied to wounds can prevent infection and relieves inflammation.
Fruits, while delicious and wholesome, are also very rich in sugars. They boost energy levels and supplement the diet with a host of nutrients and trace elements.
Lemon (Citrus medica)
Who hasn't enjoyed a hot lemon and honey drink to soothe a cold or flu? Indeed, it is one of the best remedies to ally such conditions. It is extremely rich in vitamin C and acts as a powerful immune system booster. Its diaphoretic properties are cooling in feverish conditions. As a gargle, lemon juice is a very useful astringent to treat a sore throat. Though perhaps not the most pleasant therapy, nose irrigation with diluted lemon juice cures even severe cases of nasal catarrh (e.g. allergies). As a diuretic it aids elimination, supports the liver (breaks down fats), and stimulates digestion.
Apple (Fructus malus)
'An apple a day, keeps the doctor away.' Whoever coined the phrase knew what they were talking about. Apples are nutritious and cleansing while stimulating the circulation and metabolism. Apple therapy is indicated for migraines, gout, acidic stomach complaints, constipation and biliousness as well as gouty and rheumatic problems. Apple juice or flower tea is good for colds, especially when accompanied by cough, hoarseness, bronchial catarrh and fever. Apples soothe the nerves and eaten at night time bring a tranquil sleep.
Apple cider vinegar is a most remarkable remedy for arthritis, gout, sinus catarrh, high blood pressure, migraine, chronic tiredness and night-sweats. Taken regularly diluted with water (sweeten with honey) it is one of the best anti-rheumatism remedies. It is rich in calcium and helps to improve memory and concentration, muscle strength, circulatory problems, badly healing wounds, itchy skin, joint pains and lack of appetite. Apple wine has been shown to prevent kidney and bladder stones.
Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Blueberries are a cleansing and toning remedy for the digestive system. The dried berries simmered in wine with Cinnamon and Cloves makes a wonderful, fortifying and warming remedy for indigestion and other stomach and intestinal troubles. Blueberry wine eliminates endotoxins without disturbing the intestinal flora. (Blueberry wine = blueberries steeped in wine for a period of time, usually 4-6weeks) Fresh blueberry juice can be used as an excellent gargle for throat infections and as a mouthwash for periodontal disease. Externally, an infusion of the leaves is a useful aid for treating hair loss. Blueberries have anti-tumour properties and inhibit free radicals. Concentrated extracts are used to increase the circulation to small blood vessels, as an effective treatment of retinal degradation caused by diabetes.
The list is by no means a comprehensive guide and should not replace a visit to the doctor. It is only meant to give a small insight into the remedial properties of common foods. Many others that could have been mentioned here have been omitted only for reasons of space limitation. And, we haven't even touched on the spice rack yet. Perhaps that will come in another edition. When using any plant for medicinal purposes make sure you have familiarized yourself thoroughly with its properties and possible side effects.
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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs
are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses
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