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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   John McMahon, N.D. & Deidre Williams, N.D. | Kitchen Medicine:

Kitchen Medicine: Helpful Plants for Daily Home Use

Herbal remedies are great allies. Vegetarians can expand their health-promoting use of plant foods by including botanical medicines. It's a natural fit.

Herbs provide safe and effective therapy from the plant kingdom. The medicinal use of common herbs such as garlic can be traced back to 1700 B.C. and the Egyptians. (1). Traditional Chinese Medicine, whose roots date to the year 2500 B.C., uses cinnamon, seaweed, fruits such as jujube (Chinese date) and mushrooms including ling-zhi (Reishi) in tonic or therapeutic soups (2). Native American people relied on rose hips, wild licorice root and echinacea as medicines (3). In the western and naturopathic traditions, botanical remedies such as ginger, hawthorne, dandelion root, peppermint leaf, turmeric, calendula flower and aloe vera have proven to be effective medicines (4). The recent publication of the German Commission E monographs details the safe and reliable employment of healing plants over the past quarter century in Europe.

Although there are powerful herbs such as rauwolfia, belladonna and ephedra whose use should be restricted to employment under the guidance of a medical herbalist or naturopathic physician, there are quite a few valuable herbs whose use as home remedies can be safely encouraged.


A few of these uses follow.

GARLIC. This is one of my favorite herbal remedies. Fresh garlic taken raw possesses antibacterial, antifungal and lipid-lowering properties (4). Garlic is also very effective home care for preventing or treating the influenza virus (5). At the first sign of a cold or flu I recommend mincing raw, organic cloves of garlic and eating close to 5-6 cloves daily for 7 days. When used at this dose, garlic's potent scent usually creates a sort of "aroma quarantine" around you, not a bad idea when you're ill. Although garlic's medicinal constituents are largely inactivated by the heat of cooking, copious amounts of garlic added to a vegetable sautee is tasty kitchen medicine.

GINGER. This is a wonderful root for treating motion sickness. Homemade ginger root tea, tablets of organic ginger or genuine ginger ale dosed before and during a car, plane or boat ride reliably prevents motion sickness. In addition to the appropriate diagnostic care to find out the cause, a warm cup of ginger root tea is great therapy for any "tummy ache".

DANDELION ROOT & GREENS. Root and leaf of dandelion can be eaten as a food in salads, steamed or sauteed as well as used as a tea. Dandelion root has been found to exert antitumor effects in studies on mammary carcinoma in mice due to its activation of macrophages (6). Dandelion is an excellent source of potassium in addition to being perhaps the best widely applicable diuretic and liver tonic in the herbal medicine cabinet (8).

HAWTHORNE. Many medical herbalists and most naturopathic doctors, including myself, consider hawthorne the quintessential tonic plant for the heart. Hawthorne has been proven a clinically effective medicine for European men and women with a form of heart failure referred to as stage II cardiac insufficiency (4). Hawthorne fruit, leaf and flowers contain compounds called oligomeric procyanidins which increase blood flow to the heart muscle and improve the force generated by the contracting heart (4). These same compounds present in hawthorne can also be found in smaller amounts in blueberries, cherries, blackberries and grapes and are one of the reasons why these fruits are healthy choices for your heart. A solid extract of Hawthorne spread like a jam on a morning apple or toasted whole grain bread is a heart-smart food choice.

PEPPERMINT. Leaf tea or oil of peppermint has a direct antispasmodic action on the smooth muscle of the digestive tract (4). In crampy abdominal pain such as occurs with irritable bowel syndrome or after a meal eaten in haste, peppermint tea or enterically-coated capsules of peppermint oil can bring relief without the need for either over-the-counter pills or pharmaceuticals. As an after dinner tea, peppermint is a wonderful choice to aid digestion (8).

TURMERIC (Curcumin). This spice contains phenolic compounds which have antitumor and liver-protective activity. Turmeric's constituents also increase the production of white blood cells. It is valued by herbalists as an antioxidant-rich anticancer plant, which may prevent the initiation stage of tumorigenesis (6). Liberal use of this culinary spice is not only tasty; it's downright healing.

CALENDULA. Marigold flowers, referred to as calendula botanically, prepared as a poultice, salve or cream, are excellent care for abrasions or lacerations. After appropriate cleaning with antiseptic soap and hydrogen peroxide, application of calendula salve reduces inflammation and promotes granulation (healing) of a wound (4). Calendula is a rich source of the carotenoid lutein.

REISHI. This medicinal mushroom, known as ling-zhi in China, contains constituents which are both actively antitumor and immunostimulating. In numerous studies on human beings, Reishi has been evaluated as beneficial for the treatment of heart palpitations, for lowering elevated blood pressure and for treating bronchitis (7). Reishi can be taken as a food in soups although it is more often used as a tea or tincture. The medicinal mushrooms, so evidenced by Reishi's healing properties, have extraordinary potential as foods for health.

I encourage everyone interested in promoting health with plants to read the works on healing herbs written by my friends Donny Yance, Christopher Hobbs and Ed Smith as well as books by David Hoffman, Penelope Ody, Michael Murray, James Duke and Susun Weed. These men and women have practical experience as medical herbalists and their books document the safety and science of botanical medicine.

(1) The Complete Medicinal Herbal, Penelope Ody, Dorling Kindersley Inc., New York, NY, 1993

(2) Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, Bensky & Gamble, Eastland Press, Seattle, WA, 1986.

(3) Uses of Plants by Indians of the Missouri River Region, Melvin R. Gilmore, University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

(4) The Complete German Commission E Monographs, Blumenthal et al, American Botanical Council, 1998.

(5) Tsai, Cole et al, Antiviral Properties of Garlic; in vitro effects on influenza B, herpes simplex and coxsackie viruses, Planta Medica, 1985; 460-1.

(6) Herbal Medicine, Healing & Cancer, Donald R. Yance, NTC Publishing. 1999.

(7) Medicinal Mushrooms An Exploration of Tradition, Healing & Culture, 2nd edition, Christopher Hobbs, L.Ac., Botanica Press, 1995.

(8) The Holistic Herbal, David Hoffman, Element Books, 1989.


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