Food & Wellnes Articles

Herbs and Spices: Food Remedies That Heal

‘The use of medicinal plants, referred to as herbalism, has as many traditions and theories as there are cultures on earth.’ In the book Alchemy of Herbs, it speaks of plants being a major source of healing for people all over the world, long before the internet or even books existed. There was a shift in thinking in the early 1900s when the American Medical Association (AMA) proclaimed what was “science” and what was “quackery.” Furthermore, with the creation of antibiotics in the 1930’s, people began to turn more readily to “better living through science” and used pharmaceutical pills for their illnesses rather than plants. Herbs were revitalized in the 1960’s with the back-to-earth movement – it’s here that we see the beginnings of our current herbal resurgence.

So how do we know what herbs can do? When learning about plants, it is important to realize there is no one way of knowing. There are historical records of plant use going back thousands of years. Many modern-day herbalists use herbs in their lives and in their practices and share their personal experiences.

Get the Recipe! See Dandelion Root Vinegar Below | Photo Credit: Eartha Lowe

There’s also a growing number of scientific studies on plants. Herbs support natural energy, provide essential nutrients, promote healthy aging, aid in the repair of vital processes, and strengthen healthy bodily functions.

Pungent, Salty, Sour, Sweet, Bitter

Pungent Herbs Black Pepper, Cayenne, Cinnamon, Fennel, Garlic, Ginger, Holy Basil, Lavender, Mustard, Nutmeg, Parsley, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Turmeric

Most common culinary herbs are classified as pungent. Pungent herbs awaken the senses and get things moving. They are warming, spicy, and have become part of culinary tradition because they not only taste good but also support one’s health. Chinese FiveSpice Blend, a recipe that calls for a blend of peppercorns, cinnamon chips, whole star anise, whole cloves, and fennel seeds, is commonly used to flavour many popular Chinese dishes.

Salty In herbalism, “salty” refers to herbs that are high in micronutrients. Salty herbs like Nettle, have a mineral taste rather than an overly salty taste.

Sour Elder, Hawthorn, Lemon Balm, Rose

Just as with salty, the sour taste in herbalism tends to be more subtle. Many sour herbs have an important herbal action: they are astringent. Think of astringency as a mouthfeel rather than a taste. If you’ve ever bitten into an unripe banana or drunk a strong cup of black tea, then you’ve felt the astringent action often described as a dry sensation in the mouth. Astringent herbs tighten the mucosal tissues they come in contact with. Sour herbs are said to stimulate digestion, build strength, and reduce inflammation.

Sweet Sweet herbs like Ashwagandha nourish and build. Some Sweet herbs might be slightly warming or slightly moistening, but most have fairly neutral energetics.

Bitter Artichoke, Cacao, Chamomile, Coffee, Dandelion

A bitter taste causes you to salivate, which is one of the first steps in the digestive process.

Ginger is worth embracing. It has been widely studied by scientists with positive results for a variety of issues, making it one of the more accepted herbs in Western Medicine. This root contains anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, which inhibit pro-inflammatory molecules, and is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including digestive issues, nausea, motion sickness, arthritis, headaches, colds, and flu.

Ginger is also a delicious culinary spice that can be added in small amounts to both savoury and sweet dishes. It is very aromatic with a strong, spicy taste.

Plant properties: aromatic, anti-inflammatory, diffusive, stimulating diaphoretic, stimulating expectorant, carminative, analgesic, antimicrobial, blood moving, vermifuge, rubefacient

A Ginger Tea Recipe
To make ginger tea is easy. You can roughly chop pieces of ginger and boil in water for about 10 minutes – 6oz ginger to 1 ½ cups water. Alternatively you can grate the ginger and strain the liquid once it has finished boiling. Sweeten to taste and enjoy the heart-warming healing properties.

Should a recipe call for 1 teaspoon of hot pepper sauce for example, and perhaps you don’t have that option in your pantry, try whipping together 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (a standard grocery store item), 1 teaspoon vinegar and 1 teaspoon sugar as a substitute.

The cayenne pepper is a rather hot and spicy herb (also known as chili pepper) 2 – 3 inches long. It is commonly used ground for flavouring various recipes including sauces, soups and stews. Many bottled hot sauces use cayenne for extra heat.

Cayenne is a hot and spicy herb that has countless uses in your kitchen as well as benefits for your health as stated in the book Alchemy of Herbs. Pungent herbs like cayenne awaken the senses. They are warming, spicy and have become part of culinary tradition that not only taste good but also support one’s health.

Plant properties: stimulant, antimicrobial, metabolic stimulant, blood mover, anti-fungal, antioxidant

Plant uses: toothache, arthritis, fever, heart disease, poor circulation, parasites, digestive problems, sore throat, bleeding, inflammation, weight loss, menstrual cramps

Plant preparations: culinary spice, tea, tincture, liniment, oil salve

Cayenne is a great addition to many culinary dishes. It is most often used dried, either whole or powdered. The most capsaicin is located in the lining of the seeds and the membrane from which the seeds hang. If using whole cayenne chilies, you can decrease the heat by removing the seeds.

A Cayenne Tea Recipe
Start with 1/8 or ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper depending on potency. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Place the cayenne powder in a cup, then pour the water over it. Add 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice. Sweeten to taste as desired, stir, and get ready to sweat it out!

Dandelions are spring, summer, and fall greens which grows like a weed (some people think it is one). So instead of harvesting this free food and medicine, dandelions are sprayed with harmful chemicals to kill them. Why is there this hatred against dandelions? Because dandelions make an area look unkempt? Many of the herbicides used to kill dandelions are known to promote cancer, poison our soils and waters, and kill countless birds and bees. It’s time to embrace this “weed” for its many benefits. If you’re picking wild dandelions, pick them as early as possible in the spring and, of course, from a place where no sprays have been used.

Dandelion has the distinction of being among the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, containing more protein, fiber, calcium and potassium than any other green; they’re also loaded with beta-carotene. When young, it is mild-flavoured; when mature, it is the most bitter of greens.

Plant uses: poor digestion, water retention, nourishment, skin eruptions, supporting healthy liver function

Plant preparations: decoction, tincture, food

Dandelion leaves can be found more and more readily in grocery stores. Dandelions can be eaten in salads when young, but quickly become too bitter to eat raw, and are then best stir-fried, with soy sauce or garlic and lemon. When preparing dandelion, wash well to eliminate sand.

How To Make Dandelion Root Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar helps to extract the high mineral content in dandelion root. Use this herbal vinegar to make your own salad dressing, as part of a marinade, or even as a digestive (try a tablespoon diluted in water) prior to eating a meal.

Instructions Fill a jar with finely chopped fresh dandelion root. Fill the jar with apple cider vinegar. Cover with a glass or plastic lid. If using a metal lid, place parchment or wax paper between the lid and the jar (vinegar will corrode metal).

If using dried dandelion root, fill the jar 1/3 full (to leave room for the root to expand.

Infuse for 2 weeks, shaking once daily. Strain when ready. Use within a year.

Resource: Alchemy of Herbs

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Written material, illustrations or photographs from this magazine are copyrighted and must not be reprinted, duplicated or transmitted without prior written consent.

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