When colds strike, it’s tempting to stock up on cold meds at the neighborhood pharmacy or run straight to the doctor. However, before making an appointment, take inventory of your pantry and spice rack.
Many foods and spices have natural healing properties — you may have the ingredients for a home remedy that will alleviate symptoms without leaving you with “med head.”
“Mom’s chicken soup,” for example, may not be what the doctor ordered, but research has shown it can help lessen congestion. When there’s fever and tightness in the chest, the body needs hydration. Water, juices, teas and soup are all excellent ways to hydrate the body.
“Modern medicine doesn’t have anything to offer for [the common cold],” said Dr. Meenakshi Budhraja, a Little Rock gastroenterologist and a culinary instructor. Budhraja studied at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. “You end up getting an antibiotic, which is why we already have such a problem with antibiotic-resistant germs.”
She taught a Healthy Foods class at Pulaski Technical College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute, during which she encouraged students to think beyond taste and presentation when planning meals and, instead, to think of food as a means to healthy living and preventive medicine. She also teaches cooking classes specifically for medical professionals; it’s a way to share information about preventive health that can be passed on to patients.
“Chefs translate medicine,” Budhraja said. “What good is having research if you can’t translate it, or apply it to something beneficial?”
She is an advocate of the Mediterranean-style diet, which emphasizes whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish and seafood, and limited meats and sweets. Many reports have documented the diet’s positive effects on cardiovascular health, and the Mayo Clinic, along with many health organizations, recommends it as a heart-healthy diet.
“We have evidence that the Mediterranean-based diet prolongs life and prevents strokes,” she said. “We know that red meat contributes to colon cancer. If you go beyond that and eat a 100 percent plant-based diet, you [may be able to] reverse pre-existing diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.”
A plant-based diet also includes the extensive use of herbs and spices, many of which have documented healing properties. Cinnamon, for example, is a natural antioxidant, and it could help regulate blood sugar.
Turmeric has been used for more than 4,000 years for its potentially anti-inflammatory effect. In Indian cuisine, the spice is incorporated into khichri, which is thought to soothe many gastrointestinal problems. It’s made by boiling equal parts brown rice and orange lentils with a little chopped garlic, ginger, turmeric, salt and pepper. Ginger also is used to treat nausea, and garlic is believed to modestly reduce blood pressure, according to WebMD.
A simple solution preferred by some for upset stomach and diarrhea is roasted rice cream, which is made by toasting brown rice in a skillet, grinding it up with a coffee grinder, and cooking it with enough water to create a cereal consistency. Aside from medically documented remedies, many remedies are passed from one generation to the next simply because they seem to work, like chicken soup. Most cuisines have some form of broth-based remedy, and cultures far older than the United States have a long tradition of home cures.
The Japanese use kuzu, a derivative of kudzu, for therapeutic purposes; they combine it with apple juice and vanilla extract to make a nighttime drink to induce relaxation, while other kudzu drinks are used to cure hangovers. Some believe radishes, pickled with vinegar and a little sweetener, are another natural pick-me-up for a hangover. Asian and Chinese cultures have long used radishes as a natural digestive aid and to rid the body of toxins. “There are many remedies out there,” Budhraja said. “We just need to broaden our repertoire.”
Basic Vegetable soup
- 1 carrot, washed and chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 leek, washed and sliced
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- ⅓ pound string beans
- 6 cups of filtered water
- 1 bay leaf
Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until veggies are softened. Serve as is, or season with a bit of soy sauce.
Used to possibly lower blood pressure and cholesterol and as a natural anti-inflammatory.
- 1 head of garlic (10 to 12 cloves)
- 4 ½ cups of chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 ½ tablespoons white miso paste
Simmer garlic in stock for 15 minutes, partially covered. Remove the garlic from heat. Puree garlic and miso paste in a blender with some of the stock. Add back to soup and stir.
Ginger Lemon Tea
Used to alleviate nausea, cleanse the liver and strengthen lungs.
- 2 cups water
- 4 slices of peeled fresh ginger
- 1 organic lemon peel
- raw honey
Bring water to a boil. Add lemon peel and ginger; simmer 15 minutes. Remove ginger and lemon. Add honey to taste.