The Center for Mind-Body Medicine

Culinary Medicinals

Culinary Medicinals

Did you know that anything and everything you put in your body either helps or harms? Surely it is all about balance, but statistically speaking we have a pretty sick nation. Consider this a slight wake up call…

As far as “bad” choices, you probably know a little something about my top ten by now including anything artificial, drugged animals and GMO’s (and if not, you can learn more about them when my book, tentatively titled, What the Fork (are you eating): An Action Plan for Your Pantry and Plate comes out this year thanks to Tarcher/Penguin Random House).

But as far as good choices, there are many including the very obvious vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, fish and even many healthfully and humanely raised animal foods. Each and every bit of true nourishment contains molecules of medicinal mothering that can literally make or break your health.

I have spent years teaching people how to cook with an array of whole foods to prevent illness and restore health. And what never ceases to amaze me is the utter underutilization of what I call the true culinary medicinals—herbs and spices. They are edible underdogs that if used daily can add so much value to your health.

Here are some of my favorites, a snippet of their medicinal properties and an idea or two about how to use them:

Basil
medicinal properties
Basil is noted for its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

culinary uses
Fresh basil is ideal for making pesto but how about tossing some whole leaves in a green salad or even a morning smoothie? When it comes to the dried version you can layer it in soups and sauces with other herbs and spices for robust flavoring or include in a rub for meats, poultry or fish.

Cayenne
medicinal properties
Cayenne is noted for its anti-inflammatory properties as well as its use for pain management.

culinary uses
A small sprinkle of cayenne goes a long way and can be used in any dish to add a little spike to flavor whether dips, dressings, soups, stews or marinades for meats, poultry and fish. A small pinch in any beverage whether hot (i.e. tea) or cold (i.e. smoothie) can add some zip to your liquid and your health.

Cilantro
medicinal properties
Cilantro (as well as its seed, coriander) is noted for its ability to aid in digestion. It may also aid in controlling blood sugar, lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol and reducing the production of free radicals.

culinary uses
Fresh, it can be mashed into a pesto just as you would basil. Toss it in a salad or include in any bean dip. Smoothies are another great home for this fresh herb. For coriander seed (whether ground or whole), you can add to soups and sauces with other herbs and spices for robust flavoring or include the dried morsels in a rub for meats, poultry and fish.

Cinnamon
medicinal properties
Cinnamon’s medicinal properties are extensive. Most noted are its anti-microbial activities as well as its ability to help control blood sugar. It is also very warming providing relief when a cold or flu is lurking.

culinary uses
Cinnamon is great in a hot morning cereal or any baked good whether granola, muffins, cookies or cakes. Add it to a soup (i.e. butternut squash or sweet potato) or even chili. It’s great in a smoothie and even toss a stick in a cup of hot water to make cinnamon tea.

Cumin
medicinal properties
Cumin is noted for its ability to help support the immune system. In addition it is a great digestive aid.

culinary uses
You can use the seeds or the ground variety. Used primarily in Indian, Middle Eastern and Mexican cuisine, cumin is subtle but offers a unique flavor to foods. Both fresh and dried (whether whole or ground) are great to add a little depth to dips like guacamole or hummus. You can also layer in soups and sauces with other herbs and spices, especially cayenne, chili powder or curry, for robust flavoring. You can also include in a rub for meats, poultry and fish.

Curry (Turmeric)
medicinal properties
Curry, whose main ingredient is turmeric, is a medicinal powerhouse noted for its anti-inflammatory properties as well as its anti-cancer effects.

culinary uses
Curry is incredibly versatile. Use it in bean dips, dressings, marinades, sauces, soups, stews, rubs, and even smoothies.

Mint
medicinal properties
Mint is noted for its ability to soothe your tummy. It’ss also anti-microbial meaning that it can help stop the growth of unwanted bacteria.

culinary uses
Making pesto or any other fresh herb rub is a given here. You can also toss some whole leaves in a green salad, a morning smoothie or a hot mug of water. It’s also a great addition to dressings, marinades, dips, soups and stews.

Oregano
medicinal properties
Oregano is mostly noted for its anti-bacterial properties as well as its potent anti-oxidant activity, meaning that it is super charged to keep the unwanted “warriors” away.

culinary uses
Oregano is stellar mixed in with other fresh herbs, garlic, oil and a little salt for marinade for any meat, poultry or fish. You can also toss some whole leaves in a green salad, a morning smoothie or a hot mug of water. It’s also a great addition to dressings, marinades, dips, soups and stews.

Parsley
medicinal properties
Parsley is noted for its ability to clean the blood. It is a rich source on anti-oxidants and overall great health supporter.

culinary uses
Parsley is perfect mixed in with other fresh herbs, garlic, oil and a little salt for a marinade for any meat, poultry or fish. You can also toss some whole leaves in a green salad, a morning smoothie or a hot mug of water. It’s also a great addition to dressings, marinades, dips, soups and stews.

Bottom line, I hope you now understand how incredibly powerful these edible underdogs are. And this is just the tip of the iceberg! For more extensive information, check out Whole Foods Companion by Dianne Onstad.

And, don’t forget to tune in to Stirring the Pot on WPPB 88.3 FM Thursdays at 5:30pm (with an encore Saturdays at 7am) for Tea for Two and surely check out the Weekly Yum Recipe.

This post originally appeared in Stefanie’s Stirring the Pot Blog.

Author: Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN


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Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN

About Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN

Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN is a culinary nutrition educator who is a Cooks on Call Chef at Food As Medicine. Listen to her Stirring the Pot show on Hamptons NPR and watch for her new book, What The Fork Are You Eating: An Action Plan for Your Pantry and Plate December 2014.

View all posts by Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN →

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