For millennia, our ancestors experimented with the leaves, roots, seeds, fungi, lichens, barks and other natural substances around them for healing.
Modern medical science owes a lot to their discoveries. More than 27 percent today’s over-the-counter and prescription drugs derived originally from plants.
Much of the sophisticated plant wisdom of previous eras has been lost, and it’s difficult for lay people to know which modern practitioners, products, and practices to trust, especially if we’re looking for information about treating serious illnesses.
But large and growing body of research demonstrates that eating a wide variety of plant foods, especially vegetables, promotes overall health and helps prevent diseases of many sorts.
Start with Soup!
Homemade soup is inexpensive, comforting, and delicious. Made with care, what’s a good soup containing diverse leaves, roots, legumes, and grains but a supercharged herbal health-booster?
I often think of my soups that way.
Using water to extract some of the protective phytocompounds is what happens when you brew an herbal tea (an infusion), or simmer a root (into a decoction). (Phytocompounds are chemicals that plants manufacture to protect themselves from diseases, solar radiation, and other threats.)
But the instructions for brewing infusions and decoctions generally tell you to discard the herb once the water has extracted some of its constituents, whereas with soup, you get the benefits of the whole product, with its many associated nutrients and fiber.
Last night I made a delicious black bean and barley soup that contained onions, garlic, celery, spinach, kale, mustard greens, cabbage, carrots and red potatoes (skin included). I added a few skinned, frozen tomatoes and a good handful of chopped, fresh culinary herbs: parsley, basil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme, along with a pinch of cayenne.
During the growing season, I usually add handfuls of the weeds abundant in and around my vegetable garden: lamb’s quarters, dandelions, purslane, nettles, or amaranth.
If you checked and learned to use a phytochemical database, you’d find dozens, maybe hundreds of phytocompounds tucked into one of my delicious soups: compounds with known antibiotic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, and anti-cancer properties.
I don’t have to know just which diseases this or that compound helps me ward off, but I do hold my herb-and-vegetable rich soups (and salads, sauces, and casseroles) substantially responsible for my good health and emotional resiliency.
Soup it up and see for yourself!
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.