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Medicine You Can Cook With: 10 Health Boosting Ingredients for Your Kitchen

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On my kitchen counter I often have turmeric root (Curcuma longa), garlic (Allium sativa) and ginger root (Zingiber officinale) to use in day-to-day cooking. Maybe you use these plant ingredients in your own food preparation for color, beauty, or a punch of flavor. But did you know that each of these items also has a medicinal effect? When squeezed, chopped, grated, or sautéed, the impact of these plants on your body approximates taking an anti-inflammatory, a mild blood thinner and an easy to absorb digestive aid, in that order.

Not only are many pharmaceuticals derived from plants, but many of the foods and spices we use in our kitchens work to prevent or address illness. A growing number of physicians, such as licensed naturopathic doctors, are “prescribing” foods not only for weight management, but also to prevent and treat chronic diseases. Studies have shown evidence that dietary changes can slow inflammation, for example, or make the body less hospitable to cancer cells.

Teaching people about which foods are nutritious and how to prepare them can actually transform their health. That’s why I spend time helping patients learn about the well-studied healing benefits of many herbs and foods in their cupboards or gardens. I encourage everyone to integrate ingredients that are both culinary and medicinal into the daily menu. Depending on your symptoms, food often is your best medicine.

Here are ten things you may want to stock in your kitchen before reaching into the medicine cabinet.

  1. Feeling really achy after a long run or day in the garden? Try a glass of pomegranate (Punica granata) juice for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory capacity.
  2. Trying to boost immune function? Sautéed mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) as a main or side dish are filled with immune system supporting components being studied for their capacity to fight cancer.
  3. If you need a boost of iron or calcium, dark leafy greens like kale (Brassica oleracea) or spinach (Spinacia oleracea), lightly steamed or integrated into other dishes like smoothies or salads, are packed with absorbable forms of both minerals and fiber.
  4. A box of Grandma’s Tummy Mint Tea from Celestial Seasonings made from Peppermint (Mentha piperita) Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) and Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), is one of the best over-the-counter medicines to soothe an upset stomach.
  5. Try a mixture of ginger root (Zingiber officinale) tea with a shot of cayenne (Capsicum annuum) and a squeeze of lemon (Citrus limon) for a cold when it’s hard to breathe through your nose. This will open the sinus passages to make breathing easier.
  6. Are you someone who has risk factors for cardiovascular disease? Studies show that garlic (Allium sativa) offers protection from arterial stiffness and inflammation. You can eat garlic raw, cooked, or in extract form to derive benefits.
  7. Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has numerous medical applications, from helping to regulate blood sugar, to helping clear infections, to reducing pain and inflammation caused by osteoarthritis.
  8. Eating horseradish (Amoracia rusticana) root, grated up and taken raw, will open up blocked sinuses. Take only a narrow sliver to start, as it can be quite strong.
  9. At the very first sign of a bladder infection, before reaching for a prescription antibiotic, try unsweetened cranberry (Vaccinum macrocarpon) juice which studies show helps to kill infection-causing bacteria.
  10. For people with a tendency for gout, cherry juice has shown positive preventative capacity. Cherry juice helps to keep uric acid levels in check.

Naturopathic doctors spend a lot of time studying botanical medicine and learning about therapeutic nutrition in order to prescribe food as medicine and to help inform patients how particular ingredients impact their bodily systems. We also provide guidance on food/herbal interactions with pharmaceuticals.

Even with decades of advances in pharmaceutical drugs, many of which are truly innovative and lifesaving, my first inclination as a practitioner is to lean into the botanical and food medicine cabinet. While many people think food can’t possibly be as potent as drugs, I see the powerful benefits all the time.

Author: Amy Rothenberg is a licensed naturopathic doctor who practices in Connecticut www.nhcmed.com and teaches through the New England School of Homeopathy www.nesh.com. She authored the book The A Cappella Singer Who Lost Her Voice & Other Stories From Natural Medicine. Dr. Rothenberg can often be found in her art studio, in the garden, and on the ballroom dance floor.

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