Channeling the mistress of spices

With the flu season here, our very sorceress offers some tantalizing remedies to stay healthy

November 26, 2010 08:47
4 minute read.

Spices. (photo credit: Courtesy)

With the weather these days, I can’t believe that some people still doubt global warming. But the strange thing is that even though it’s still relatively warm, so many people are still getting colds and flu. Is there any way to prevent them? First of all, experts say, wash your hands very often. Not with anti-bacterial soaps, but with plain soap and water.

Without realizing it, we pick up and pass on germs that lurk on door handles, handrails, copy machines, etc. and even by using a friend’s computer keyboard.

Second – stock up on herbs and spices. Believe it or not, there are certain herbs and spices that have antiseptic qualities, others that contain anti-inflammatories, and all are a source of vitamins and minerals.

In the herb department, I always keep sage and white savory on hand to make tea.

Both are antiseptic and sage is also helpful in relieving stomachaches.

Have a cough? Drink an infusion of fresh or dried thyme with honey. The active ingredient in thyme – thymol – is found in most cough syrups.

To strengthen the immune system, try astragalus (not recommended for those taking blood thinners), or elderberry flowers – both sold dried in health food stores. Drink them as you would a tea.

And when it comes to spices, you’ll find almost all of them at my house. Simple turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory, and Ayurvedic practitioners recommend it mixed with an equal amount of honey and a teaspoon of the mixture swallowed several times a day at the onset of a sore throat or flu symptoms.

(Don’t worry, you can’t overdose.) My family and I have used it for years, and it really works! Another way to use turmeric is by heating a tablespoon or two in a dry frying pan until it smokes. If you breathe in the vapors for a few minutes, it will clear a stuffy nose. But don’t wait to be sick to add turmeric to your diet. Consuming turmeric with black pepper (delicious together in soups, vegetable stews, etc.) helps its absorption, and helps prevent illness.

Incidentally, renowned American Dr. Andrew Weill suggests that if you don’t eat turmeric and ginger every day, you should take them in capsule form. He believes that these spices can help lower C-reactive protein, or CRP. CRP indicates that something in your body is inflamed, which might be an early warning sign of heart disease.

To get your daily quota of ginger, you can add it to tea or food and even sprinkle it on  buttered bread with a little honey (I use homemade ghee rather than butter) – the original “gingerbread” of the Middle Ages.

Powdered ginger, fresh ginger, dried ginger and candied ginger are all effective.

For sore throats, some people swear by a concoction of chopped onion soaked overnight in honey. It may work, but it tastes lousy. Other alternatives are lemon juice and honey, licorice tea, or gargling with hot water and salt.

Make sure to also have cloves in your pantry. In a study done several years ago at the University of Kansas, ground meat was injected with E-coli bacteria, and then with various spices. Cloves were the only spice to kill 99% of the bacteria.

Add a few whole cloves to tea, rice dishes, winter beverages and even vegetables. For nausea, simply place a whole clove in your mouth for a few minutes.

And finally, don’t forget the vitamin C – preferably from natural sources like fresh peppers, papaya, guava, kiwi, parsley and dill – and the entire range of citrus fruit.

Keep healthy!

The spices in this lentil soup also help to make it more digestible. Add any vegetable you like or thin noodles.

Makes 8 servings
✔ 2 cups brown or green lentils
✔ 8 cups water
✔ 2-3 tsp. salt
✔ 2 large onions
✔ 1⁄3 cup olive oil
✔ 11⁄2 tsp. each turmeric cumin, ground coriander seed
✔ 3 large garlic cloves
✔ Black pepper to taste
✔ Fresh coriander, chopped, to garnish

Rinse and drain lentils and place in a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered until lentils are almost tender, about 45-60 minutes.

In the meantime heat the olive oil and cook the onion till softened. Add the turmeric, cumin and coriander and cook an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Cook an additional 10 minutes. Add the crushed garlic cloves just before serving. Thin with boiling water if necessary.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve.

Makes 4 servings
✔ 1 cinnamon stick
✔ 2.5 cm. ginger, peeled and sliced into 4 pieces
✔ 12 cardamom pods, preferably green
✔ 8 allspice berries
✔ 8 cloves
✔ 1 tsp. coriander seeds
✔ 4 tsp. black tea leaves
✔ 1 cup milk or almond milk
✔ Honey to taste.

Mix all the ingredients, except for the tea and milk, in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Add tea and milk and simmer for 3 more minutes. Sweeten with honey, then strain through a fine sieve and serve.

Adapted from Adriana’s Spice Caravan, Storey Publishing.

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