It is not a well-known fact about me that I have a strong faith and belief in foods as useful healing and remedial ingredients. Despite the desserts and fried foods appearing on my Instagram and this blog (I can hardly be blamed for loving that sort of thing!?) I have a soft spot for some medicinal ingredients I have used in my life.
The importance of herbal remedies and natural healing became clear in my own life through my personal struggles with gut and bowel health. Sadly, (especially so for my love of diary and gluten) gut health problems are commonplace within my family. In light of some of my own health issues and struggles in the past, I would like to share with you some of the benefits I have gained from some otherwise overlooked and undervalued ingredients.
These remedial ingredients are a big part of the reason that I continue to be able to enjoy some of the other (urrr…….. not so medicinal or beneficial) foods I love!
⊗I will say from the outset that I am not a medical professional, nor is this post, in any way, medical advice. I am simply sharing some of my personal experiences of ingredients which have made me feel more comfortable. I have tried to cite research appropriately while, at the same time, keeping it brief (you could write an Epic on this topic!).
Ginger is a widely used and widely available ingredient. I bet most of you reading this have ginger somewhere in your kitchen at this very moment. I love ginger for its deep warmth and the spice it brings to any food – sweet or savoury. With that in mind, I am always surprised at how few people are aware of the benefits of ginger to health and healing.
The healing properties of ginger have their origins in the histories of Asian, Indian and European cuisine and traditional medicines. Perhaps the most commonly known remedial benefit of ginger is its ‘antiemetic’ property – that is, it relieves nausea. Singletary (PhD) agrees with this by discussing the use of ginger to alleviate nausea for pregnant women, as well as ginger’s overall anti-inflammatory advantages.
Further animal studies referenced in research literature (see Singletary above) also suggested that ginger can be useful for preventing problematic blood lipid and glucose levels.
Ginger is most simply used in tea – you can already buy teas with preserved ginger extract which are a great way to incorporate tea into your diet. Otherwise, my suggestion would be to add some slices of fresh ginger into other herbal teas, or introduce sliced or minced ginger into stir fries. The smell of sauted garlic and ginger is heaven…
Fennel seeds are a wonderful ingredient for digestion, relieving nausea and their overall carminative effects (click link for definition). My personal experience of fennel seeds is that they are the fastest and most effective way of relieving nausea. Due to some health issues in my past, fennel seeds were just about the only thing that relieved my intense nausea in the morning, which was related to my illness.
Aside from these beneficial properties, fennel seeds are shamefully undervalued for their flavour and what they can add to many types of cooking. I absolutely love the menthol freshness of fennel seeds which provides a cooling renewal as if breathing menthol gum through the nose.
You can buy packets of fennel seeds and steep them in boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes before drinking as tea. Otherwise, Pukka has a wonderful fennel seed tea which I would highly recommend.
Turmeric is very well reputed as a natural remedy for its circulatory and anti-inflammatory properties. More specifically, Chattopadhyay et al. identified in their 2004 research article that the yellow bioactive element of turmeric (called curcumin) has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, antibacterial and antiviral properties (just to name a few of the many ‘anti’s’).
The conclusion of Ramadan et al.’s research was comprised of similar findings as to the medicinal benefits of turmeric. Here, the specific study of arthritis was used to demonstrate the ways in which turmeric is beneficial by regulating the body’s anti-inflammatory response, activating the anti-oxidant defence system and improving food intake.
In my own life, I have used turmeric to help with reducing gastrointestinal inflammation. Although this shouldn’t replace the intervention of medical professionals, it certainly helps with overall body inflammation and detoxification.
Turmeric is incredibly easy to find and use (either fresh or in powder form) simply by adding a teaspoon to any stir fry at the stage when you saute your aromatics or to any curry (indeed, many curries would be remiss without turmeric!) My favourite way to incorporate turmeric for anti-inflammatory benefits into my day is with a turmeric latte pictured to the left. Simply infuse a teaspoon of both turmeric and ginger into a cup and a half of almond or coconut milk, add a crack of black pepper and some cinnamon. Sweeten with maple syrup or honey and drink warm.
Valerian is a really interesting herbal remedy. It is a perennial plant (which just means it lives for longer than 24 months) and is native to parts of Europe and Asia. With its supposed origins in Ancient Greek medicine, the main remedial use for Valerian is as a muscle and mood relaxant, especially for sufferers of insomnia and sleep disorders.
Valerian operates most specifically on the nervous system, its warmth spreading to relax major muscle groups and ultimately lower the heart rate.
I have a strong relationship with Valerian (despite its pungent odor!!), as it has been useful to me for anxiety and difficulty sleeping. My recommendation with this particular ingredient would be to seek advice from a qualified herbal nutritionist as to the appropriate dosage and use.
Well, what else can I say about Kombucha which hasn’t already been said? For any of you that have been living under a rock, Kombucha is essentially the result of the fermentation process of a parasitical fungus. What is left is a naturally carbonated, slightly bitter tea with profound probiotic qualities. To me, it is the ultimate elixir.
It seems that Kombucha is the latest fashion and all the rage in the food world and I must admit, I am all in. After a significant gut illness I suffered which left me needing to heal my digestive system, Kombucha played a major role in that healing.
My recommendation is to drink your favourite flavoured Kombucha first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Essentially, the probiotic, digestive, detoxifying and cleansing qualities of Kombucha create the ideal gut environment for optimum food digestion. There are heaps of different brands and flavours – experiment and discover your favourite!
Oh, and did I mention that Kombucha is (-very very very slightly-) alcoholic 😉
* Please note the contents of this post are not to be considered medical advice. I am not a medical professional, nor do I have any medical training or qualifications and am only sharing my personal experiences. You should seek independent professional medical advice for any serious or persisting health concerns.