Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Kitchen Medicine

Two thousand years ago Hippocrates said "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food." If ever there was a prescription for kitchen medicine this is it. Since time began plants have sustained us both as foods and medicines, but the march of progress has changed all that and not necessarily for the better.

Food chemists have changed our tastes; food technology frees us from the kitchen; the fast food industry has turned us into a nation of junk food junkies. All together we are over¬fed, undernourished and paying the price with the diseases of western civilization.

The pattern repeats itself with medicines. A pill for every ill, a drug for every bug, a prescription for every patient. Grannies' folk lore is disappearing fast and is replaced by packages of pills and potions, which must be better because they're produced by chem¬ists. Not true! Throughout the country Naturopaths, Herbalists and other complemen¬tary practitioners are reintroducing people to the old wives' tales that work. Even a recent Which? report stated that honey, lemon juice and hot water was as good as most and better than some, cough and cold remedies from the pharmaceutical industry.

For me, there is some consolation to be found in the dreadful recession which we are all suffering. I believe that lack of money will force people back into the kitchen, back to the greengrocer, back to the street market and back to cheaper and healthier eating, based on fresh ingredients. No working kitchen should be without a constant supply of my ten favou-rite Superfoods - they're essential to good cooking and vital as kitchen medicines.

Garlic: The king of healing plants, not only in its traditional role in the treatment of coughs, infections, catarrh and stomach up¬sets, but also a vital heart protector. Latest research shows its ability to reduce cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lessen the likelihood of clots and improve circulation. Garlic also has powerful anti-fungal properties. A footbath of crushed garlic, 4 tablespoons of cider vinegar and 2 pints of hot water will help get rid of ath-lete's foot. The cut end of a clove, squeezed and dabbed onto mouth ulcers will usually get rid of them by next morning. Use it generously in recipes, eat at least one large clove daily but if you really can't bear the smell take Kwai garlic tablets - almost as good as the real thing.

Ginger: A warming and antiseptic spice which goes wonderfully with meat and fish. Wherever possible keep a large fresh root in your kitchen - dried ginger is a poor substitute. It's a great digestive aid and is, in my experience, the best treatment for any form of travel sickness and early morning sickness in pregnancy. Grate about half an inch of the root into a mug, fill with boiling water, cover and stand for 5 minutes. Strain, add a spoon of honey and sip slowly. Add lemon juice for the early treatment of a cold.

Sage: Not added to the stuffing just for its flavour but as an aid to digestion - sage helps break down fatty foods, so add a leaf or two when cooking bacon or sausages. It's also a powerful tonic to the nervous system, so combats stress. Make tonic wine with 6 sage leaves simmered in a bottle of red wine till reduced by half, strain, add a dessertspoon of honey and bottle. A small glass in the evening is a great tonic. The best cure for a sore throat is sage tea. Add a teaspoon of chopped sage leaves to a cup of boiling water, cover, stand for 5 minutes, strain and use as a gargle when cool enough.

Parsley: Looks good, tastes good and does you good. Rich in vitamins A and C, also iron, calcium and potassium, so use lots of it in recipes and as garnish - wash, chop and freeze in ice cubes for easy winter use. A powerful natural diuretic so take 2 cups of parsley tea daily when fluid retention is a problem. Pour 1 pint of boiling water over 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, cover, stand for 10 minutes and strain, add a little honey if required, keep in the fridge.

Cinnamon: One of the great winter warmers and tonics. It combats fatigue after flu and other winter ills, and is also a good digestive. Add a little to meat and chicken dishes as well as the usual pies and puddings. Make a hot toddy for coughs and colds by simmering a quarter pint apple juice, a quarter pint pineapple juice, 1 tablespoon blackcurrant concentrate, juice of half a lemon, 1 teaspoon of honey and a cinnamon stick for 10 minutes. Sip and feel better.

Onions: Even if your kitchen is a two-ring hob in a corner of a bedsit, it must never be without plenty of onions. In the same family as garlic, leeks, chives, spring onions and shallots, they are one of nature's cure-alls. They reduce the stickiness of blood, increase the amount of good cholesterol and are tradi¬tionally helpful in the treatment of cystitis, rheumatism, arthritis, bronchitis and colic. The French have the right idea - a bowl of onion soup after a night on the town is a great hangover cure!

Oats: Are richly nutritious providing protein, vitamin E and B complex, calcium, potassium, magnesium and silicon, all packed in a food which is easily digestible and full of a unique type of fibre. A certain cure for constipation and as shown in studies throughout the world a sure way of reducing cholesterol. Use them in soups, as a coating for grilled herrings or low fat burgers, add them to bread recipes and of course use in muesli and porridge. For one of the best tonic drinks, perfect for convalescents, put 2 oz fine oatmeal and a large spoon of honey in a big saucepan, add 2 cups of water, the juice of a lemon and 1" of peeled grated ginger. Add 2 pints of boiling water slowly, stirring constantly. Simmer for 3 minutes, strain, keep in the fridge and drink 2 or 3 glasses daily.

Millet: Unless you have a budgie there probably isn't any in your house, but millet should be in every kitchen cupboard. One of the most nutritious of all cereals, it's very rich in silicon - vital for healthy skin, hair and nails - and is a source of high quality cheap protein. Use as the base for vegetarian cas¬seroles or to thicken soups.

Mint: Another digestive aid which speeds up the breakdown of fats in the stomach, that's why we eat it with roast lamb which can be quite fatty. The middle-eastern tradition of drinking mint tea after meals is far more sensible than taking coffee. Pour boiling water over a few sprigs of mint, leave to stand for 5 minutes and strain. Add a slice of lemon and a little honey if you wish. Mint is a gentle stimulant to the nervous system and a great aid to the digestive system. Folk lore tells us that it's a mild aphrodisiac!

Rosemary: Yet another of the digestion friendly herbs which encourages the production of extra bile and so makes fat breakdown easier. Add rosemary to all roast meats, roast pota-toes, and other root vegetables. Known as the herb of remembrance, rosemary has been used since the middle ages for "weyknesse of ye brayne" and it is certainly a mild stimulant. To add a real natural shine to your hair, steep a 4" sprig of rosemary in a jug of boiling water for 20 minutes, remove the rosemary and when cool, use the water as a final rinse.


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