Food as Medicine – How to Add Healing Power to Everyday Meals
Have you ever heard the ancient saying, “Let your medicine be your food, and food be your medicine”? It’s a wise saying by Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician, from whom originates the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors.
Oddly, while modern doctors recognize Hippocrates’ contribution to medicine in the form of the Oath, the idea that our food can be our medicine is generally not included in the practice of modern medicine.
The good news is, foods are still “medicines,” and you can affect your health positively with the foods you eat. If you’d like to incorporate more healing herbs and foods into your diet, here are some tips that can help.
The healing power of various herbs is becoming more and more recognized and accepted. Here are some of the more readily available herbs that you can add to your foods to boost their healing power.
* Ginger is an effective anti-nausea remedy and has significant antibacterial properties. The fresh root, sliced or diced, can be added to stir-fries, and it can be candied and eaten out of hand.
* Oregano, a tasty herb when added to pizza, spaghetti, and so forth, is considered an antioxidant. Antioxidants help mop up “free radicals” in the body, which are by-products of the body’s metabolic processes.
Free radicals are implicated in the development of arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. So sprinkle this herb on regular dishes that are Italian or Greek in flavor.
* Rosemary is another antioxidant herb, and may help enhance memory and prevent cataracts. It may even help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Rosemary is very good when used in meat marinades and sprinkled on dishes like pizza, focaccia, or pasta.
* Turmeric is commonly found in Indian curries. It has a yellowish color and earthy flavor, and is said to help reduce the pain and inflammation of arthritis. Turmeric can be added to soups and stews, curries, stir-fries, and other dishes.
The food you eat – not just the herbs you put on it – can help heal, too. Here are some suggestions.
* Garlic is a powerful preventer of colds and flu, and it has antifungal and antimicrobial properties. You can make garlic sauce for pasta, add it to soups, and base many meals around this simple food.
* Onions are like garlic in their healthful properties. They are perhaps even more versatile; they can be made into a dish on their own or added to other foods.
* Berries are known for their antioxidant power. Add berries to salads or eat them out of hand. You can also freeze them and blend them into smoothies.
The issues of antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria have gotten a lot of attention lately. The concern is that bacteria, having been exposed to antibiotics for so long, have developed a resistance to the antibiotics, creating “superbugs.”
The grim reality is that bacterial infections that used to succumb easily to antibiotics have turned more serious, even deadly.
Interestingly, though, herbs with antibiotic properties seem to elude the bacterial “learning process” and thus do not appear to produce resistant bacteria.
Antibiotic herbs can be used around the home for minor infections and as antiseptics to prevent infection. Here are some of the more useful antibiotic herbs.
This smelly but effective herb is an antibiotic powerhouse. It’s also widely available and inexpensive. You can even grow it yourself.
How do you use it?
Garlic works best when used internally. It can be made into ear drops and used to combat ear infections; simmered in broth or water, it makes a healing broth that works especially well for upper respiratory infections.
Garlic can be minced and added to all sorts of foods, from pasta to salad. Many natural health practitioners believe that garlic is most effective when used raw – as juice, minced, or crushed.
You’ve probably heard of this herb – it’s all over the place during cold and flu season, and for good reason. Echinacea is a powerful antibiotic and, in the case of colds and flu, anti-viral. It also works as an antiseptic on wounds and to treat sore throats.
How do you use it?
Tea made from Echinacea’s roots and aerial parts is not particularly tasty, but it can be drunk. Such a tea can also be used as a wash for superficial cuts and scrapes. Echinacea tincture, diluted in warm water, makes a very good sore throat remedy.
The golden yellow color of Goldenseal’s roots give it its name, and these roots are the parts that are used medicinally.
Goldenseal works well topically and internally; however, it is such an effective antibiotic that it can affect intestinal flora, and should not be taken internally for more than a few weeks at a time.
How do you use it?
Infused in boiling water and then cooled, Goldenseal has a reputation as a very effective eye wash for infections in and around the eye. Such an infusion also makes a very good wash for cuts and scrapes, and can even be used on surgical wounds, particularly on pets.
Did you know that ginger can work as an antibiotic? It is reputed to be effective against E. coli and Salmonella, both of which are food-borne bacteria that can cause significant illness in people. It has even been shown to treat and cure ulcers.
How do you use it?
Ginger can be made into a tea using the fresh root or the dried and ground root. The fresh root is inexpensive, and a decoction can easily be made by gently simmering ginger slices in water and drinking the result, sweetened with raw honey.
You can also eat candied ginger to help treat ulcers and fight infection.
The virus is a different creature than the bacteria. Some people find viruses “scarier” because antibiotics have no effect on them. The interesting (and good) thing is that certain herbs do have antiviral action, and many of these are widely available. Here are some of them.
1. Lemon Balm
In Germany, the antiviral effects of lemon balm are well-documented, and creams made from the herb are prescribed for herpes outbreaks and cold sores. Lemon balm is very easy to grow in your garden – a little too easy, in fact, as it tends to take over if not contained.
Lemon balm makes a very good tea, and can be drunk to combat all sorts of viral infections, such as colds and flu. The tea or a cream can be applied to cold sores or other viral lesions, such as shingles or chickenpox.
This lesser-known immune enhancing herb is known as huang qi in Chinese medicine. The root is sweet, not unlike licorice, to which it is related.
It has been shown to be a very effective antiviral herb, particularly in the prevention of colds and flu, and may even be effective against the Coxsackie B virus (this virus can cause an inflammation of the heart).
You can simmer slices of the root in water to make a healing decoction, or you can use the commercially-available tincture.
It is generally agreed that astragalus should be taken as a preventative rather than once the illness is in full swing, so if you think you’ve been exposed, or you experience the very first twinges of illness, you can start taking astragalus.
No discussion of antiviral herbs would be complete without mentioning garlic, an herb that is antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal. It’s not expensive, and you can use the whole herb or take capsules.
However, many experts agree that “deodorized” garlic may not be as effective as the unaltered herb.
You can simmer minced garlic in chicken broth and sip it to stave off colds and flu. Raw, minced garlic can be sprinkled over salads and tossed with pasta. Be careful with consuming too much of it raw, though, as it can cause severe nausea when taken in this form.
Long ago, ginger was considered a “warming” herb that would prevent nausea from a “chilled stomach,” which was said to occur when large amounts of cold water were consumed in hot weather. We now know that ginger has powerful anti-nausea action, and it is also anti-viral.
Teas made from fresh ginger are palatable and spicy. You can sweeten them with raw honey for added germ-fighting benefits and flavor. When you feel the very first stages of a cold or flu, try drinking some of this tea several times a day.
You can even drink it as a preventative if you think you may have been exposed to any viruses. Ginger is considered quite safe, although it is not recommended for pregnant women.
Herbs for Kids – Are They Safe?
When it comes to giving herbs to our children, many of us are uncertain and concerned. After all, children’s bodies are smaller than ours, so how do you know the right dosage? And aren’t there all kinds of horror stories about kids having terrible reactions to herbs?
Added to these concerns are doctors and pediatricians who often discourage the use of herbs in children.
First, to answer the title question – are herbs safe for kids? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that it depends on the herb and the problem the child is having. Following are some brief guidelines on giving herbs to children.
When in Doubt, Give Less
If you are unsure of a dosage, give the smallest possible dose. You can adjust the dosage to fit your child’s weight – the adult dose is usually for a 150-pound adult, so a 25 pound child would receive 1/6th the dose. However, if you aren’t sure, err on the side of less. Remember, less is often more when it comes to herbal remedies.
Herbal Preparations Aimed at Kids May or May Not Be Effective
There are controversial studies regarding the effectiveness of herbs in many children’s remedies. However, remedies and blends sold specifically for children are generally safe.
There are herbs that are generally considered safe for children, and are still quite effective. Here is a list of some of those herbs.
* Chamomile – Peter Rabbit’s mother was right – chamomile tea does help calm the nerves. As long as your child does not have a ragweed allergy (the chamomile flower is related to ragweed), this soothing tea can be taken at regular strength by young children.
You can also brew up some chamomile tea and mix small amounts of it in the child’s regular drinks during the day to help calm nerves and anxiety. Many children enjoy chamomile sweetened with a little honey or stevia.
* Mints – Peppermint and spearmint are safe herbs that are helpful for children. For one thing, peppermint and spearmint taste good and can help flavor other teas that may not taste as good.
Mint teas can help soothe digestion and are quite safe for children. Again, honey and stevia make good sweeteners.
* Lemon Balm – This lemony herb makes a delicious beverage, hot or iced. It is quite safe, but also quite effective – it’s antiviral and helps soothe and calm.
It promotes sleep as well. This is an herb that can be brewed into a “lemon-balm-ade” and drunk through the day, or it can be brewed hot and enjoyed with honey.
* Fennel – This time-honored remedy for colic in babies is considered a safe herb for children. Brewed into a tea, fennel seeds help digestion and soothe the stomach.
It has been shown in studies to be as effective as commercial gas relief drops. It tastes a bit like licorice and makes a pleasant tea.
The Healing Power of Honey
When you go to the grocery store, you probably see an entire shelf or several shelves dedicated to various types of honey. When we’re talking about honey as a healing remedy, though, it’s important that raw honey is used.
Raw honey has not been “sterilized” with high heat, and it has not has anything added to it.
Raw honey varies quite a bit, too. There’s wildflower honey, tupelo honey, organic honey, and clover honey. A good middle road is raw wildflower honey.
It tends to contain the medicinal qualities of a variety of wildflowers, and when you’re trying to kill germs, the more germ-fighting constituents, the better.
How Is Honey Used?
One of the great things about honey is how good is tastes. Children (over 1 year of age) respond well to honey as a treatment. Here are some of honey’s healing uses.
* Burns – Honey has been shown in various studies to be an extremely effective burn treatment. It has various antibacterial compounds that have yet to result in bacterial resistance, and its moist nature helps keep burned skin supple and reduces moisture loss.
If you use honey to treat minor burns, simply spread honey over the burn and cover lightly with gauze. Honey does not need to be refrigerated, but it feels good on a burn if it’s chilled.
* Coughs and colds – Studies have shown that regularly eating raw honey helps prevent colds. It also helps soothe coughs and sore throats. Its viscous texture coats the throat, and has a cough-suppressing effect.
Its antibacterial properties help fight throat infections and upper respiratory infections. By gently heating raw honey and mixing in healing herbs such as sliced ginger, steeping for a few hours, and straining out the herbs, you can create a healing cough syrup.
* Cosmetics – Honey is good for dry skin due to its high moisture content, and its antibacterial qualities may help with skin infections like acne. Plain yogurt mixed with honey makes a soothing cleanser or facial mask.
Sugar mixed with raw honey and sweet almond oil makes a moisturizing exfoliant.
* Allergies – Interestingly enough, regularly eating raw honey may prevent allergic symptoms, particularly those of hay fever.
Because raw honey contains residual pollen and other plant components, the theory is that the low levels of exposure – such as occurs with allergy shots – may reduce sensitivity to common allergens.
* Wound healing – Some interesting studies have shown that honey is a remarkable wound healer, especially for diabetics who have trouble with minor wounds developing into ulcers. It may even reduce scarring and tends to be less painful than conventional antiseptics.
Natural Treatments for Acne
Acne is the sort of problem that can strike at any age, it seems. While we tend to associate it with teenagers, it can flare at various other points in your life. Hormones play a key role in the development of acne, as does nutrition and other factors.
You may be looking for natural treatments for acne. After all, the “chemical” acne treatments sold over the counter may seem harsh and/or ineffective. Here are some ideas for natural treatments for acne, regardless of what age you are.
Take a Good Multivitamin
Many people are deficient in key vitamins and minerals. Among those nutrients most important for the treatment and prevention of acne are Vitamin A, zinc, Vitamin E, selenium, and chromium.
If you can’t find a supplement with all of these nutrients, you can take some of these separately, or increase your dietary intake of these key vitamins and minerals.
The role of the diet is somewhat controversial with regard to controlling acne. For example, the great chocolate dilemma – does eating it cause acne? – has never really been resolved.
However, given the role that vitamins and minerals play in staving off and healing acne, it makes sense that a healthy diet is important in managing this condition. For example:
* Experts recommend cutting back on dairy products, especially milk, as the hormones and trans-fatty acids it contains can worsen acne.
* Refined sugar is said to exacerbate acne. Sources point to sugar’s effect on the body’s insulin production, and the connection between effective sugar metabolism and skin health.
Studies have shown an improvement in acne when sufferers received insulin injections. Since most of us can’t inject ourselves with insulin – nor is this advisable for non-diabetics – it makes better sense to cut out refined sugar and the increased need for insulin that it leads to.
* Fresh, whole foods are implicated in the treatment of acne. Processed foods often contain artificial dyes and preservatives, which have been shown to affect hormone levels in the human body. Given the role of hormones in acne, it makes sense to avoid such artificial substances.
Natural and/or Homemade Cleansers
Helping your acne heal also means applying treatments to your face. Sulfur-containing soaps and cleansers can help quite a bit, and are available at many natural health stores for less than $10. Here are some homemade options as well:
* Mix 2 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt with 1 teaspoon of raw honey. Apply this to your face as a cleanser or to clean skin and massage gently. Leave it on for as long as possible, up to 15 minutes. Then rinse with warm water. Yogurt and honey both help balance bacterial activity on your skin.
* Grind rolled oats in your blender until they are a fine powder. Mix the oatmeal with enough water to make a paste and apply it to the problem areas. Leave on for a bit, then rinse off. Alternatively, you can mix the oatmeal flour with plain yogurt.
Herbal Options for Arthritis
Arthritis comes in various forms, but it’s always painful. The typical medical approach is to take some sort of pain medication (usually non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NASDs) that might result in various side effects, such as stomach pain.
Thankfully, there are some natural, herbal approaches to arthritis pain management. Here are some of them.
1. White Willow
The bark of the willow – especially the white willow – has been used to relieve pain and inflammation for decades, even centuries. It contains a substance called salicin, which is the basis for aspirin. White willow can be taken as a tea or in capsule form, preferably with food.
2. Stinging Nettle
This persistent weed may provide significant relief for arthritis sufferers. You can use it topically or take it internally. If you use it topically, you take advantage of stinging nettles’ sting, slapping the plant onto the area of your body that is experiencing arthritis pain.
Cooking and eating stinging nettles (the stings disappear when it’s cooked) as a vegetable can also help. Stinging nettles contain significant amounts of the mineral boron, which is said to help the bones and joints retain calcium.
3. Red Pepper/Capsicum
Red pepper’s heat comes from a substance called capsaicin, and it’s this same substance that helps relieve arthritis pain. Capsaicin acts as an endorphin trigger – endorphins are the body’s natural pain killers.
If you like spicy foods, add some red pepper to your daily diet in the form of hot pepper sauce, or by adding ground red pepper to foods.
Red pepper can also be applied topically. Red pepper/capsaicin creams are available in most drug stores, but make sure you wash your hands after applying it, or wear gloves when applying. You don’t want to get it in your eyes!
4. Foods and Spices
There are various foods and spices that you can incorporate into your foods for arthritis relief. Here are some of them.
* Ginger – Drinking a cup or three of ginger tea every day is said to help arthritis pain. It works as an anti-inflammatory, relieving the pain and swelling of arthritis.
* Turmeric – This yellowish spice can be added to curries, rice pilafs, and other dishes. Its effects are similar to those of ginger. Turmeric can also be taken in capsules.
* Oregano – In addition to containing anti-inflammatory properties, oregano is also reputed to be an antioxidant. Sprinkle it liberally on your pizza, add it to your spaghetti sauce, or mix it into meatloaf. Oregano can be added to a lot of Greek and Italian foods.
Natural Fungus Fighters
Fungal infections plague a good number of people, and they are not only uncomfortable; they can be stubborn to clear up, too.
The subject of fungal infections in general and yeast infections in particular has gotten a lot of attention lately, and as fungal infections seem less and less responsive to conventional treatment, herbal remedies are being explored.
Thankfully, there are some very effective herbs and natural treatments for fungal infections. Here are some of them.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
While a bit smelly, apple cider vinegar is a powerful antifungal. For athlete’s foot, you can soak your feet in a diluted apple cider vinegar solution several times a day, and/or you can “paint” the affected area with a cotton ball or swab soaked in apple cider vinegar.
For internal infections, apple cider vinegar can be consumed several times a day. It’s strong stuff – you will probably want to dilute it with water and sweeten it with raw honey or stevia, but avoid sugar sweetening. Sugar is said to worsen yeast infections, since yeast thrive on it.
Sources also point out that diluted apple cider vinegar can also be used as a douche to cure vaginal yeast infections.
Look for raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, as it has the most active constituents.
Again with a smelly remedy! Garlic may be odorous, but it’s reputed to be a great fungus fighter. Taken internally, garlic can help cure yeast and fungal infections in the body.
For vaginal yeast infections, a peeled garlic clove can be inserted into the vagina and left overnight, and the process repeated (with a fresh garlic clove) every night for about a week, or until symptoms subside.
Rub a cut garlic clove over athlete’s foot several times a day for topical treatment.
For more than just colds and flu, a German study has shown that Echinacea is a powerful antifungal. Taken internally, Echinacea helps clear up yeast infections and prevents their recurrence, the study showed.
The yellow root of this plant contains berberine, which is not only an antibiotic but an antifungal as well. A diluted tea made from the roots could be used as a douche or foot-soak for athlete’s foot, or the diluted tincture could be used similarly.
It can also be taken internally, but not for more than three weeks or so (after that, it might affect intestinal flora).
5. Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE)
This somewhat controversial antifungal remedy is alleged to be quite potent. It’s controversial because the active constituents have not been thoroughly identified, but it’s been shown to be quite effective at treating fungal infections, both topically and internally.
Hay Fever and Allergies – A Natural Approach
Allergies can produce a great deal of suffering. In America alone, around 28 million people suffer from hay fever, and that does not include all the individuals who are allergic to pet dander, dust, foods, and bee stings.
Allergies are the result of an immune response gone overboard. Substances like dust, pollen, dust mites, and so forth are not harmful like pathogens.
But in the allergic individual, these substances produce an extreme immune response. From debilitating to a mere annoyance, allergy symptoms are no fun.
Thankfully, there is a place for natural remedies in allergy management.
Here are some natural approaches that may help reduce allergy symptoms. (Note: the natural remedies discussed below are not intended to be used to treat or prevent anaphylaxis, a deadly form of allergic response that is a medical emergency.)
Have you heard of Ginkgo for memory? Interestingly, Ginkgo contains some substances that inhibit a chemical produced by the body during an allergic response: platelet-activating factor, or PAF.
When your body produces PAF in response to an allergen, the PAF sets off a chain of events that lead to allergic symptoms and inflammation.
Inhibiting the PAF means that the allergic response does not get to complete its cycle. It’s like breaking the link in a chain.
Ginkgo is generally sold in standardized extract form. Herbalists recommend 60 to 240 milligrams daily, but no more than that. Ginkgo is low in side effects but high in effectiveness.
Garlic contains a substance called quercetin, which can actually be taken as a supplement (more on that below). Other foods contain quercetin, too, but garlic has high concentrations of this substance.
Quercetin is reputed to slow down inflammatory reactions, such as those found in allergic reactions. Onions, too, contain a significant amount of quercetin.
3. Enzymatic Therapy
Enzymes – or a lack of them – are implicated in the development of allergies. At their very basic level, allergens are proteins, and certain enzymes are able to break down proteins before they can incite an allergic reaction.
Enzymes can be taken in supplement form, but they may have digestive effects. However, many allergy sufferers find that the side effects are greatly reduced when the enzymes are taken with food.
Quercetin supplements are often suggested as a treatment for allergies. As noted above, certain foods contain quercetin, too.
This is another argument for a healthy diet, because the foods that contain the most quercetin are those foods that are some of the healthiest: garlic, onions, apples, red wine (in moderation!), and citrus fruits – to name a few.
A Natural Approach to Headache Relief
Headaches can be debilitating at worst and a nagging inconvenience at best. They can affect work and school productivity, and a bad headache can simply put you out of commission, no matter what your vocation.
Taking medications can help relieve pain, but some of these pain relievers have side effects (such as stomach pain) and, if taken over too long a period, pain relievers can cause a rebound effect (in the form of another headache) when you stop taking them.
Some of the common causes of headaches are muscle tension, dilation and constriction of the blood vessels in the brain, food sensitivities, and hormone fluctuations.
Once you’ve seen your health care practitioner and have ruled out anything serious, there are some natural approaches to headache relief that you can try.
1. Cramp Bark (Vibernum opulus)
As the name of the herb suggests, Cramp bark helps alleviate muscle tension and cramps. Vibernum prunifolium is also sold as “Cramp bark,” but it is generally used to relieve uterine cramping.
Cramp bark (Vibernum opulus) is touted as a prevention and treatment for muscle tension headaches. It is generally taken in capsule form, but a tea made from the bark can also be taken.
The relaxing effect of massage can help ease muscle tension and increase circulation, both of which might help a headache. There are massages you can do yourself in your own home or ask someone else to do them, or you can go to a professional for headache relief and prevention.
Muscle tension can cause bone and joint misalignment, say chiropractic practitioners, and then the misalignment exacerbates the muscle tension as muscles work to pull the bones back into alignment.
Getting an adjustment at a chiropractor can bring almost instant headache relief, and seeing the chiropractor regularly (say once a month) can help stave off future headaches.
This daisy-like little flower is considered by some herbalists to be a very effective remedy for headaches, particularly migraines. While there are many ways to take it, capsules are probably the easiest and have the fewest side effects.
You can take feverfew regularly to prevent migraine attacks.
You might have heard of white willow for pain relief; but actually, various willow (Salix) species can help relieve pain. The precursor to aspirin, the inner bark of the white willow can provide pain relief for headaches.
It also has an anti-inflammatory effect. White willow (and other willow bark) is usually taken in capsules.
6. Stress Management
It’s generally understood that stress and headaches are interconnected. Engaging in regular stress relief may help prevent the onset of headaches. Stretching, meditation, Yoga, Pilates, and other methods can help align the body and reduce stress.