What is being labelled as alternative with regards to health care today actually started out as our only source of treatment and medication. Once mainstream and well respected, things like herbs, homeopathy, acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, massage therapy, acupuncture, tai chi, dietary supplements and probiotics have taken a back seat to prescriptions. Plant-based medicine can be found in China back in 2700BC and was used in North America from the 1600s until just after WW1 in the 1930s, about the time big pharmaceutical companies came on the scene. I remember hearing my grandma talk about how good stinging nettle tea was for health and how grandpa swore by arnica as a pain reliever for people and for the family dog.
It may come as a surprise to some, but prescriptions and the plethora of synthetically derived medications is relatively new in terms of our history. Even with that short history, doctors today are reluctant to recommend anything but a prescription drug. And very few will even suggest any change in diet or lifestyle to go along with the prescription, keeping that person dependent on that prescription. Last year there were 502 million prescriptions filled in Canada alone. Which, if you do the math, works out to around 14 prescriptions per person. The real breakdown shows two out three Canadians over age 65 take at least five different prescriptions and one out of every four are taking at least 10. The thing is, if you take a look at the drugs most frequently prescribed and the conditions they are meant for, all can be reversed or improved with diet and lifestyle.
So what did our ancestors use to reduce pain, lower inflammation, heal wounds, balance blood sugars and keep immune system functioning optimally? If you do a lot of home cooking, you may be surprised to find that you have some of the items in your kitchen already. I'm referring to herbs and spices. The right combination can elevate any dish, but did you know that they can also elevate your health?
Herbs come from leafy parts of the plant and spices come from the root, stem/stalk, bulb, bark or seeds of the plan. And not only did our ancestors and ancient civilizations use them to season and preserve food, they also used them for healing. I've chosen eight of my favourites to highlight and show just how powerful plants can be for your health.
Tumeric. Bright yellow and found in curry dishes, its active constituent, curcumen, increases the body's antioxidant capacity. This in turn lowers inflammation, helps with rheumatic pain, assists with leaky gut, improves digestion, addresses inflammatory side effects that come with auto-immune issues, and slows down inflammation-related aging and disease. Turmeric also contains anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and can protect again cancer and the development of tumours.
Ginger, both fresh and ground are beneficial. Along with settling stomachs, ginger is anti-inflammatory, protects again stomach ulcers, and helps relieve flu symptoms. It also contains vitamins B6, C as well as potassium, copper, manganese, niacin, phosphorus and iron.
Cinnamon. One of my all-time favourites that I use daily and add to things whenever possible. With having such a high antioxidant capacity, cinnamon helps slow the aging process, reduces oxidative stress, and rids the body of toxins. As cinnamon inhibits proteins connected to Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s, it's thought to be beneficial here as well. Cinnamon also helps balance blood sugar and regulate insulin levels, fight off infections, improves motor function and helps prevent cancer.
Sage. Whether you add it to your savoury recipes or inhale the scent, you'll reap the benefits. Sage is known to boost cognition, increase memory, recall and retention and may be a preventative food for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. It's also high in vitamin K, normalizes cholesterol levels, improves blood sugar, helps with menopause symptoms, is anti-inflammatory and making an infusion and gargling provides relief for a sore throat.
Parsley, so much more than just a garnish. High in vitamin K, calcium and antioxidants, along with some vitamin C, A, folate and iron, parsley reduces free radical damage and oxidative stress and is considered chemo protective. It also helps rid the body of bloat, stimulates the kidneys, is both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal and the oil is good for skin in helping to clear up blemishes.
Chilli, a spice from peppers and used in Mexican and Asian dishes, contains seven times more vitamin C than oranges. Great for getting rid of congestion, runny noses and boosting the immune system, it can also help reduce arthritis pain. The spicer the pepper, the more effective it will be.
Cumin, delicious in both Mexican and Middle Eastern fare, contains vitamin E for healthy, glowing skin and has internal benefits as well. Cumin aids in production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes, is an immune booster, anti-congestive, antiviral, anti-bacterial, great for warding off infections or clearing airways under respiratory distress and is also a natural treatment for hemorrhoids.
Rosemary. Used a lot in poultry dishes, it contains vitamins A, B6, C as well as folate, thiamin and is high in fibre. Rosemary has anti-inflammatory properties and is great for focus and mental clarity as well as promoting gut health, supporting digestion, and brewing a rosemary tea is a natural remedy for upset stomach and nausea. Inhaling rosemary's scent can give you an energy boost and rosemary oil can be used topically on skin or hair for relief of dryness, dandruff and healing of cuts and bruises.
This is just a taste of what's available naturally to help create and maintain good health. I encourage you to get creative with your cooking, be consistent with creating healthy flavours and start reaping the benefits of good health.
Kelowna Nutritionist STOP dieting, start living! Lose the Bloat, Melt your Belly, Love Your Life!! Last thing, last time, believe it! Sign up to receive my bi-weekly FIT Nutrition blog, and get started today.