Just like us, plants have to fight off micro-organisms. Most of the vegetables we enjoy, in particular herbs and spices, have natural infection-fighting properties.
Cooking with herbs and spices not only helps with flavour, but also imparts immune-boosting effects. Let’s take a look at a few remedies that you may already have in your kitchen.
Ginger Kills Bacteria and Reduces Fever
This versatile spice is derived from the root of the plant, and a variety of amazing phytochemicals have been isolated from ginger and found to possess antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, fever-reducing, and pain-relieving properties.
Fresh Ginger (Zingiber Officinalis)
In Traditional Chinese medicine external cold is one of the causes of illness. If you have been exposed to environmental cold then cup of hot ginger tea & lemon juice may be just what you need to drive out the cold which could lower your immune system. Ginger is a diaphoretic to create sweating to release the cold that has invaded your system and compromised your immune system. Ginger can be added to stir frys, soups, salads and is one of the essential ingredients of chai spiced tea.
Traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine utilizes ginger root as a digestive aid for young infants with colic and for adults with indigestion. Ginger is a natural remedy for nausea and vomiting due to seasickness & morning sickness of pregnancy.
For example, a study involving morning sickness of pregnancy found that one gram of ginger taken by mouth significantly reduced the frequency and severity of nausea episodes. Be aware that if you take the drug ‘warfarin’, a well-known blood thinner, there is the potential for interaction with ginger, so avoid ingesting large amounts of ginger while taking warfarin.
Rosemary for Memory and Immunity
Garden Rosemary is an antioxidant and hence can be placed in your olive oil to add flavour and keep it fresh. Rosemary oil or water infusion is a great hair conditioner and the circulatory stimulant properties of Rosemary may relax the scalp and nourish hair growth. The leaves of this herb are used fresh as well as dried in traditional Mediterranean dishes and they go very well with potatoes. Besides the strong antioxidant properties, research shows that rosemary extract has both antibacterial and anti fungal properties.
Furthermore, some preliminary research suggests that rosemary’s relatively high level of carnosic acid may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. In Australia Rosemary is a symbol of Remembrance Day and studies have indicated that inhaling rosemary oil can increase memory by up to 70 percent. Additionally Rosemary is a specific herb for those troubled with unhappy memories. It can be taken with other herbs for sadness during the winter months.
Four to six grams of ground, fresh rosemary leaves is a typical therapeutic dose for boosting immunity during winter months.
Garlic Prevents Cold and Flu Symptoms
This remarkable culinary herb has a wide array of health benefits ranging from cardiovascular protection to immune stimulation. The chemistry of garlic is complex, with over 100 different substances that contribute to its effects.
Fresh Garlic (Allium Sativum)
The most significant feature is garlic’s high concentration of sulphur compounds, which are responsible for both the aroma of garlic and its effectiveness against bacteria, viruses and fungi. During the cold and flu season it is advantageous to take either a clove of fresh garlic or a supplement daily since it has been demonstrated to significantly reduce both the number and duration of colds.
Numerous studies have established garlic’s antibacterial properties as well. For example, garlic is effective at killing the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, a virulent organism that grows in the stomach and is associated with stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. In laboratory studies, compounds found in garlic were effective at killing even drug resistant H. pylori.
Since most people infected with H. pylori show resistance to antibiotic treatment, and because garlic is known to act synergistically with antibiotics, treatment with garlic may be an effective approach.
Oregano Preserves Immune Function
The leaves of this nutrient-dense spicy herb contain calcium, vitamin C, beta carotene and omega-3 fatty acids. The oil of this herb has antioxidant, antimicrobial and antiviral activity and may be one of the most promising agents against yeast infections.
Oregano oil in combination with clove oil has been tested against the yeast Candida in the gastrointestinal tract with positive results. Oregano assists to create healthy bowel flora and may be used in meals with garlic for this purpose.
Like other kitchen herbs Oregano is very beneficial for congested lung conditions.
Cloves Reduce Pain and Fight Bacteria
The oil from this warm, aromatic spice is approved in Germany as a topical analgesic and antiseptic. Not only do compounds in this spice confer antibacterial and anti fungal benefits they also help fight the aging process.
The high amounts of phenols found in cloves are associated with the ability to block the formation of advanced glaciation end products (AGEs). AGEs are non-functioning compounds that are associated with many age-related conditions like wrinkling of our skin or cataracts.
Cloves has an analgesic action and can reduce pain in the teeth and gums cloves can also reduce infection because of its antiseptic properties. In addition, clove oil is also beneficial for reducing toothache. Boil a glass of water and then add a few grains of pimento. Once the ingredients are cool, gently gargle. Alternatively a drop of clove oil can be rubbed around the area of a painful tooth.
Cloves may enhance enzymatic digestion and are used in various forms of gastric irritability and dyspepsia. The anaesthetic action of cloves helps in dealing with abdominal pain and a sensation of fullness after meals. The warmth of cloves assists the digestive ‘fire’ to digest food.
Symptoms of sore throat, coughing and phlegm can also be reduced by eating cloves.
Cloves is well known in India as a remedy which may assist to lower blood sugar.
Basil is a Natural Immune Booster
The fragrant leaves of this plant are the main ingredient in pesto. The oils derived from basil have been shown effective against various bacteria in a laboratory setting. Basil also contains apigenin, a bioflavonoid which is presented in leafy plants and vegetables (e.g., parsley, artichoke, basil, celery) and may help the immune system prevent cancer.
Evidence shows that the antioxidants and volatile oils in basil make it of great assistance to the immune system. The leaves and oil both have antibacterial properties including the ability to inhibit several species that have become resistant to commonly used antibiotic drugs. Studies have shown that washing fruits and vegetables in a solution containing just 1% essential oil of basil resulted in killing such bacteria, so it makes good sense to include basil in salads.
Basil was used by the ancient Greeks to improve recall during exams. A drop or two of basil essential oil in your hair or a cup of basil tea may reduce your mental fatigue and assist mental focus.
Thyme is a Natural Cough Remedy
This popular Mediterranean herb is a common ingredient in cuisine and has a strong, savoury flavour. Thyme is a traditional cough remedy and continues to be used widely in Europe for this purpose.
Thyme in the form of a tea, syrup or a steam inhalation may be beneficial for the common cold, catarrh, laryngitis and bronchitis. Thyme is a good expectorant for congested lungs with a cough. The active component of thyme, thymol, is also found in a variety of mouthwashes to reduce oral bacteria and plaque build-up. It is easy to remember Thyme as rhyming with Thymus – an important gland of the immune system which sits in the chest area- which seems to be the main area of action of this spicy herb. Additionally as with most kitchen herbs and spices Thyme helps prevent indigestion.
Turmeric is an Immune Booster
Curries and other South Asian and Middle Eastern meals typically include the bright yellow spice turmeric. This spice is in the same botanical family as ginger. It is often available as a fresh root in the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket. You can add some of the root to soups to add flavour and experience the health benefits. Or add the powder to your meals while cooking. Small pieces can be added to salads using a potato peeler. It is advised to wear gloves and an apron as it can stain clothing. Powered turmeric can be added to omelettes to enhance the colour and obtain the health benefits of this beneficial spice.
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, and scientific support involving curcumin includes anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Since curcumin inhibits the inflammatory pathways in the body, it can be effective against the aches associated with arthritis or even relieving a head cold. Curcumin is known as an immune modulator and can improve the ability of specialised immune cells to engulf and destroy germs.
It has been said that if turmeric was a patentable drug then it would be the most popular medicine in the world. It turns out that modern science indicates that this versatile spice has therapeutic properties relevant to over 500 different health conditions.
Some of the more noteworthy examples are its ability to help reverse aspects of dementia (Alzheimer’s disease), improve mood, assist to prevent type 2 diabetes, produce cardiovascular benefits as significant as exercise, diminish the incidence of post-bypass heart attack, protect the liver, and help to reduce pain of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It is another remedy that may be used to improve peptic ulcers related to helicobacter pylori.
In India turmeric cream is a popular remedy to improve skin conditions such as acne.
Cautions: Those taking antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs should not take high doses of turmeric because it has an antiplatelet action itself.
Mushrooms are Immune Support Powerhouses
Several species of edible mushroom have been found to provide powerful immune support, including the popular Maitake and Shiitake. There is ample evidence to suggest that the specific phytonutrients in these mushrooms optimise the immune response to cancer and pathogenic microorganisms. The Reishi and Shiitake mushrooms are both indicated as an adjunct therapy in cancer and in particular are beneficial during chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Because of their tonic and immune boosting actions both these mushrooms are useful for those with chronic immune deficiency syndromes such as chronic fatigue.
The chief phytonutrients are beta glucan and other polysaccharides. These natural compounds stimulate a system-wide immune response — activating macrophages, interferon, T cells, and natural killer cells — to prevent the proliferation and spread of cancer cells.
Beta glucan also reinforces the body’s resistance to infectious disease by increasing the activity of phagocytes (specialised immune cells that engulf and destroy germs). There is some evidence that it may boost resistance to viral infections.
Why not try some of the more exotic mushrooms available at your supermarket which are easily added to stir fry, along with fresh shallots and ginger, and experience the benefits to your health and immune system. Here is a simple recipe to get you started:
Sesame Soba Noodles with Shiitake Mushrooms and Spinach
1 cup soba or rice noodles (about half of a pack)
½ chopped shallots
1½ tablespoon sesame seeds – black is preferable.
½ cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)
1½ tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon crushed garlic or ginger (paste or grated fresh)
2 cups vegetable broth
On medium heat and in a soup pot add 1 table spoon sesame oil, chopped white stalks of the shallots, garlic/ginger and sesame seeds.
Toast the sesame seeds for about a minute then add rice wine, vegetable broth, and brown sugar.
Stir, and add the noodles to the pot. You can cook them ahead or break them in half and cook them in the pot.
Cook noodles for 5-7 minutes. They will soften in the mix and add more broth if needed.
Once noodles are cooked down add the Shiitake mushrooms and spinach, stirring the mix together/
Garnish with chopped green stem of the shallots
Serve and enjoy!
The Spice of Life
If health and wellness are your top priorities, don’t neglect kitchen remedies for your immune system. It fights bacteria, viruses, fungi, moulds and even cancer cells. The great thing about using kitchen herbs and spices is that they not only enhance the flavour of food but also assist digestion and boost your immune system to prevent illness. Winter is traditionally a time of eating mostly cooked warming foods with added herbs and spices. It is a time of going inward to store nutrition and energy before the increased activity of the Spring. If you can nurture yourself with good food and rest during the winter you will feel the benefit the rest of the year. Rest enhances the immune system whilst adrenal depletion from excessive activity and stress lowers the immune system.