Food as First Line of Medicine
It is rare that I get a head cold or flu...but, every so often it does happen. This weekend happens to be one of them. Not to say that I never, ever get sick. My ailments just tend to lend their time to my digestion, and because of that, I have used food as medicine for some time. Using food as medicine is something that we all have an ability to do. It can not only help to heal digestive ailments, but can help to resolve autoimmune diseases, the common cold and flu, reproductive disorders, etc.
On the other side of that coin, I have also learned through experience that specific foods for some can also react in their bodies like a poison. Quite often, it is an imbalance with what we put in our bodies that cause, or exacerbate an underlying tendency for a disease.
For instance, you may likely already know that if you have a cold, it is best to avoid sugar. Sugars feed bacteria. This includes those juices, crackers, and, carbohydrates in general that many of us were raised to reach for when we feel ill. If you haven't experienced it, try it. No better way to learn than by actually experiencing it. Next time you begin to feel ill, notice id you feel much worse after eating something with sugar in it--pastas, crackers, orange juice, etc. Dairy is another example. If you tend to get terrible sinus headaches with loads of mucous, try avoiding dairy. Dairy is very mucilaginous (mucous like in texture). When we eat dairy, our noses may tend to run more, our sinuses stop up more, and so on.
The fact that the things we ingest for nourishment can have often have quick acting effects is not new news.
People have been writing about it for years, more so, it has become more mainstream in the past ten years or so. While one food can be a gentle medicine for one person, for another it can be a slow poison.
This is something that I slowly began to learn in my late teenage years. But, it, became clear to me to a different degree when I began my clinical herbal apprenticeship at Weeds of Eden with Myron Hardesty in 2005. I was eager to work with him, to learn all about herbs, nutrition, and pathology. I grew up with a mother for a chef who used tons of herbs and spices when cooking. She taught me early on that food is, indeed medicine. Watching and assisting her in the kitchen, I learned the art of pouring your love and intention into a meal. This shined most when she was making a specially requested meal for someone that she cared for.
However, at this time in my youth, I didn't really love cooking. I was a little bit of a rebel in that way. I loved to eat however, and grew up eating a wide variety of cuisines. So, needless to say, it was pretty devastating when in my early twenties, there was a long period where everything that I ate caused me to feel ill. And, with that, I pretty much stopped eating.
I had always been a chubby girl. Being a twenty year old in 2001, I thought it was a great that I was losing weight as a side effect. And, honestly, over time, psychologically, I told myself that I should not eat very much so that I could lose more weight. It was a pretty dark time in my life.
I went to our family doctor to tell her about my digestive troubles. When she saw that I had lost over 30 pounds in three months, she said, "Great! I see you have lost some weight!". I told her I felt unwell. She diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Hypoglycemia (sound familiar?) and followed that up with two prescriptions--all within fifteen minutes. I left feeling terribly angry and frustrated and when I got home I trashed the prescriptions.
My mother had given me a book that I still love to this day called, Whole Food Facts , by Evelyn Roehl. I had been reading it over the year, and with the help of knowing I had low blood sugar (thanks Doc), I was able to read about what foods had chromium and vitamin B to help regulate my blood sugar levels. I learned how I should avoid sugar, and increase protein in my diet. At that time I did not eat very much meat--I always left the meat on my plate as a kid. I would eat my carbs and veggies and be done with it. So, I tried to substitute veggie and legume proteins. It was not until I was twenty four and working at Weeds of Eden, that Myron could convince me that I should eat meat and consider eating Paleo.
So, when the first book Myron handed over to me was Paul Bergners, The Healing Power of Minerals, Special Nutrients, and Trace Elements, I felt right at home. To me food, as in real whole food, and herbalism, go hand and hand. It is hard to separate one from the other. Herbalist, nutritionist, Darcey Blue French, has offered some really wonderful classes on nutrition and herbalism. I loved her online nutrition intensive, it was incredibly informative, and full of priceless resources. You can visit her blog at Gaia's Gifts to check out her index of articles on nutrition.
Herbalism can include the use of roots, bark, flowers, leaves, grasses, fruits, and even some parts of animals. Though, the animal parts are not so commonly used in ointments and medicines as they used to be, they still are used today. Basically, herbalism looks to the vital force in one life form in order to help balance the vital force in another who is ill. We eat lots of roots, leaves, flowers, and fruits and many medicines are best when fresh. Hence, using food as medicine, especially if you can grow it in your own back yard, is some of nature's best medicine, I think.
Compassionate Food Journaling is Well Worth Your TimeSo often when clients come in, they are able to just about completely resolve their issues by creating a food journal and listening to their bodies. This can include (but not exclusive to) symptoms such as joint pain, irritability, chronic neck or hip pain, sinus infections, auto-immune conditions, digestive troubles, migraines, skin troubles, anxiety, arthritis of the spine, insomnia...the list goes on and on.
Often times, people have a hard time with the idea of giving up foods or paying close attention to what they put into their bodies. The only thing I can say to them is that the amount of effort it takes is very little compared to the amount of positive results that they may experience. Why not at least give it a chance?
Once aware of our body's voice, we all have the ability to use food as medicine. We can also recognize what foods act like poison when we ingest them into our bodies. As my partner says, "Once you have that realization, it's just about the discipline. For me it's the hardest thing, but, it's also the most important thing".
Of course, some foods are pretty much poison in all of our bodies, especially in large quantities. This pretty much pertains to artificial food coloring, preservatives, corn syrup, corn in general, soy (in my opinion) and, rancid fats, for example. On the other hand, food items such as full fat dairy, raw milk, eggs, and, saturated fats, that were villainized for much of the 1900's, are actually not bad for you, as a whole. This was a definite case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Of course, if your animal food products are from a corn fed animal whose life was spent in terribly sad, disgusting, and cruel living condition, such as the ones exposed in the film Food Inc, of course they will be bad for you! You aren't just what you eat, you are what you eat, eats.
Calendula Nettles Tea+Nutritive Chicken Veggie Soup=Nourishing, Comforting GoodnessSo, while I have had flu like symptoms this weekend, I made bone broth for my food medicine. Actually, the first broth I had was a gift from a friend, thank you and thank goodness! It had been a long week, I was at the very tired stage of getting sick, and I had little energy to make my own, let alone go to the store to buy a chicken.
He had purchased his chicken whole- head, feet and all, and made a delicious chicken broth with what looked like cilantro in it. Because the broth was done with the feet, there was a higher content of gelatin, which is great for your bones, hair, nails, and skin as well as digestion. I have to say, that broth definitely filled me up; I could tell a difference in that broth from the usual broth I make with a headless and footless chicken. From here on out, I will buy them whole. I encourage you to give it a try, the difference is remarkably noticeable.
Yesterday I was drinking tea of Calendula and nettles, it was quite tasty. I love to drink a tea where I can eat the plant material that sits at the bottom of the cup! When I made my broth I added these herbs to the mix.
Calendula was used long ago in soups to help drive out deep seated infections as well as the cold. It is slightly warming, a wonderful lymphatic, and from my experience, I find it fairly drying. Nettles are packed full of minerals and have a vegetable like flavor. I think to add this combination of herbs to soups whenever I have them on hand.
Here is a bare bones recipe for chicken vegetable soup based on what I made this morning. Last night I baked the meat portion of the chicken. I put the meat over 3 chopped onions, a bulb of chopped garlic, and topped it with sage, cumin, basil, lemons, olive oil, and, rosemary, yum! I baked it on 375 (covered) for one hour, then my partner broiled it (uncovered) for 10 mins. We served it over quinoa and I added some coconut oil for some extra fat.
Usually, when I make a chicken soup, I first boil down a broth from our saved vegetable scraps (tops of veggies, onion peels, garlic peels, etc. that I keep in a baggie in the freezer) with the chicken carcass and bones. I strain the liquid broth and save what meat that has fallen from the bone, then compost the cooked down vegetable scraps. Now the broth is ready to drink or one easily add fresh veggies to make soup. My grandma referred to the left over water from cooking veggies as "pot liquor", and that never went to waste! Many of the nutrients end up in the water, so, it is best to drink it, as long as it is organic.
Though fresh has been almost always best, it may be a good idea to freeze up a batch to thaw and enjoy for the next time you have a cold or a flu.
There are many great cookbooks out there that offer recipes to make healthy, whole food meals, but I recommend Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. My mother also recently lent me a book called Grandmother In The Kitchen that I loved to look at. Though, I think it may be a rare one, I had a hard time finding a link.
The carcass of 1 whole chicken
2 hands full of calendula flowers or petals
3 hands full of nettle leaf
1 small hand full of sage
1 small hand full of basil
1 Bulb of Garlic
1 Celery Bunch
4 Golden Beets
*Serve with fresh lemon juice and salt
**I added a habanero to this batch to help me sweat things off a bit.
**I added a habanero to this batch to help me sweat things off a bit.
Add a small amount of olive oil to the base of the pan, lightly sautee the onions, and then the garlic. Add the cumin, and then the veggies. Place the carcass over the veggies and cover the entire pot of goodies with water, maybe about two inches above. Add the rest of the herbs. Cover. Bring to a rolling boil, then simmer on low for hours on end. To be honest, I have left a broth simmering overnight, my mother would keep it on all day. Just be sure to keep up with adding water if you need to!
You don't have to use all the veggies I suggested. Come up with your own favorites, or use whatever you have. Although, I do suggest starting always with a base of onion, carrots, and, celery.
*While growing up cooking with my mother, I noticed that she rarely seemed to add much salt to certain meals until it was ready to be served. Sometimes she didn't even use any! Don't get me wrong, I do like salt, it is just that everyone has a different palate. She taught me, that when you cook, it's best to do it that way. You can always add more, but, you can never take it back!