While healing with herbs is an ancient art, (in lineages such as Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, and other traditional systems worldwide), more than a quarter of drugs used today contain active ingredients derived from plants used in ancient medicine; aspirin is one common example. Immune system boosters and common cures for inflammation, indigestion, and other ailments are sitting right on the shelves of your kitchen cabinets. Here are a few common herbs and spices for at-home healing:
- Turmeric: The deep yellow spice commonly used in curries (providing their characteristic yellow hue) is an antioxidant and immune booster that fights inflammation and calms heat in the liver. Thus, it’s good for any “itis” condition like colitis, gastritis, arthritis, as well as ulcers, dementia, joint, and bone health, and even helps regulate high blood pressure and cholesterol. For sore throat, gums and canker sores, add to salt water and gargle. For skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, make a thick paste of turmeric powder with water and apply topically. (Beware as turmeric’s strong color can stain!)
- Ginger: Beloved in Ayurvedic medicine, ginger improves digestion, eases nausea, and enhances circulation and blood flow. It can even help prevent headache, ease the pain of osteoarthritis and strengthen joints and bones. Store fresh ginger in the freezer to extend its shelf life and easily grate on a box grater when ready to use. Mix a couple tablespoons of fresh or frozen ginger with equal parts Bragg Amino Acids or soy sauce, olive or grapeseed oil, and honey, and use as a sauce for fish or pressed tofu. Or simply enjoy it as a tea or dried candy.
- Garlic: Also great for digestion; due to its sulfur content, garlic is antimicrobial, detoxifying, and supportive of immune function. It also strengthens cardiovascular and circulatory health by helping to manage blood sugar, blood fats/cholesterol, and high blood pressure. In fact, it’s so good at improving blood flow that garlic is considered an aphrodisiac; it even helps stimulates semen production and vaginal lubrication. For immune support at the start of a cold or for an ear or sinus infection, make an infusion by simmering a few cloves in olive oil over medium heat; cool, strain, and then apply a few drops into ears using a dropper bottle.
- Basil: Basil fights colds, cough, sinus congestion, headaches, arthritis, rheumatism, fevers and bloating. While there are numerous varieties of basil, holy basil or tulsi is revered as the most medicinally potent in Ayurveda for these uses. Due to its properties of purification and energy clearing, keep a live plant in the home and harvest leaves often to enjoy for their immune-strengthening properties. To enjoy in a pesto sauce; place one cup fresh basil leaves in a Vitamix or blender with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup walnuts or pine nuts, a couple cloves fresh garlic and sea salt and pepper to taste. Process until desired consistency, and then add a few tablespoons fresh grated pecorino or parmesan cheese or substitute nutritional yeast for a vegan version.
- Cinnamon: A sweet, warming spice, cinnamon is perfect when temperatures begin to drop and colds become common. It strengthens circulation, warms the kidneys, and promotes digestive fire; an expectorant, it helps ease congestion from colds, sinus conditions, and bronchitis. Recent studies indicate that cinnamon helps moderate blood sugar levels with as little as 1-6 grams per day, so can be useful for folks with diabetes or metabolic syndrome. For a hearty, warming breakfast porridge, simmer a diced apple with 1/2 cup rinsed quinoa, 1 cup of water, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (about 5-6 grams) and 1/2 teaspoon of ginger for about 15 minutes. Divide between two bowls and top with a good splash of almond, soy or coconut milk and sprinkle with crushed walnuts or almond slivers.
- Coriander: It’s the seed of what we commonly call cilantro, Historically, it’s been used for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, to fight diabetes and improve digestion, especially of fatty foods. Recent studies suggest that it even helps lower cholesterol. Cilantro as a fresh juice is helpful for allergies, hay fever and skin rashes when taken internally. Applied topically, cilantro juice helps with itch and inflammation. It’s bitter, cooling nature provides a great antidote for hot, pungent and/or spicy foods, so add a handful of fresh chopped cilantro to spicier dishes like salsa or curries to balance their heat.
Red Jen Ford is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Yoga Instructor and Seasonal Eating Expert. Jen teaches her clients the benefits and simplicity of eating local, sustainably grown food. Enjoy more of her dishes in her seasonal recipe booklets or online course, Simply in Season – Fall Recipes to Celebrate Healthy, Easy Seasonal Food. Redjenford.com
*Webcast event hosted by Floracopeia, “The Top Ten Essential Herbs for Every Home and Family” with Karta Purkh Khalsa, World-Renowned Herbalist,14 November 2012
**The Yoga of Herbs–An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine,” 2nd Edition. Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad 2001