1. “Let Food Be Thy Medicine”


      Superfoods are all the rage nowadays, but as using food as medicine was a natural part of ancient cultures; not only an integral part of traditional culinary practice, but also central to cultural belief and folklore; a way of passing information from one generation to the next.

      Back as early as the 1400’s, scurvy was the leading, and most feared, cause of death for sailors on long voyages. The disease caused dreadful symptoms including aching joints, bleeding gums, bulging eyes, bruising and haemorrhaging, resulting ultimately in death. Around the mid 1700’s it was discovered that simple citrus fruits were the solution, and that orange, lemon or lime juice helped the sailors survive. This was later understood to be a deficiency in Vitamin C so the humble citrus fruits were a simple solution to a terrifying health crisis (hence why sailors became known as Limeys.)

      So which medicinal foods do you have in your store cupboard or garden, and what can they do?

      An apple a day might not literally keep the doctor away, but is a great source of dietary fibre, and also contains pectin which is great for digestive support and to help manage healthy cholesterol levels. Chicken soup has plenty of healing ingredients to boost the immune system when fever kicks in, and oats have properties which can alleviate the swelling and inflammation from a sting.

      Dig around your garden or local park and you will invariably come across some stinging nettles. Traditionally used to treat scurvy and anaemia, and rich in Vitamin C and iron, nettles can also help with pain management since the tiny hairs contain formic acid which, when coming into contact with the skin, increases circulation to the injured or inflamed area.

      Dandelion (from the French ‘Dent de Lion’  or lion’s teeth) has a cleansing and diuretic effect on the kidneys so can help protect against high blood pressure and reduce fluid retention. The bitter nature of its roots can help stimulate bile and liver function. Dandelion coffee is a great alternative to caffeine-fuelled options (albeit an acquired taste!)

      Kitchen cupboards stuffed with herbs and spices contain an Aladdin’s Cave of medicinal treats. Spices we now just treat as condiments have traditionally been recognised as havign powerful healing properties. Turmeric, a traditional Chinese and Indian ingredient dating back thousands of years, has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and is now being used alongside cancer treatments and to help reduce inflammation in arthritis, heart arteries and for other chronic conditions.

      Saffron, one of the most expensive spices – more expensive than gold ounce for ounce – has been grown for over 5000 years in the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe and was administered traditionally for mood boosting and heart health. It is now being researched in the quest to support Macular Degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease. Cannabinoid oil  (from the cannabis plant) is all over the health pages, but has historically also been sourced for pain management. Ginger has been used for millennia to support sickness, and is now another tool in the cancer treatment box; particularly for chemotherapy patients.

      As for herbs; most of us have a pot or 2 growing on the windowsill, or a rack of dried varieties and these are the perfect way to add flavour to any meal but can also variously help with memory and mood, relaxation, immune support and even menopausal symptoms. 

      Increasingly, modern medicine is hankering back to these traditions of so-called ‘alternative’ or ‘complimentary’ practices to investigate the evidence around methods and ingredients used by our ancestors to try and make sense of what has worked anecdotally since records began. After all, the remains of Otzi Man, a skeleton found in the Tyrol Alps dating back 5,300 years, were buried with medicinal herbs now used to treat intestinal parasites!

      As Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine so wisely said ‘Let Food be Thy Medicine…’

      Join our next Historical Cooking for Health course on Friday 14 June at The Regency Town House in Hove where we will be exploring the traditional methods of fermentation, and how they can support your digestive health . You can Book Here

      NOTE: some herbs and also plants found growing in the wild can be dangerous as well as beneficial, and can interact with some medicines, so please seek advice from a medical practitioner or herbalist before using.