Reclaiming Ourselves - Food & Medicine: Part 3
‘Happy the age, to which we moderns give the name of ‘golden’, when men choose to live on woodland fruits; and for their medicines took Herbs from the field and Simples from the brook.’ ~ Ovid
This is the last essay in the series, not because we’ve gone through all that there is (indeed that would probably require a small library with many books), but rather because I don’t want to bore you all to death! In truth, there is much that each individual will learn for themselves as they progress along their own paths, and part of my love for this way of life is because of the small delights in discovering something new, or rather a new use for something old or familiar. I also know what it’s like to struggle to live day to day, and so I’m a believer in making the most of what you have. Exotic plants and ingredients are certainly alluring, but what’s the point of learning to use them if you can’t get hold of them, for whatever reason? It just makes sense to use what you already have or is readily available.
In previous weeks, we looked at food and medicine as two separate entities. Here then, we will take a look at some everyday ingredients, their benefits and how you might utilise them in medicine. It goes without saying that the best way in which most food stuffs benefit us is internally. Eating well and giving the body the nutrients it needs is the best way of staying healthy, but with that said, there are many practical external applications that will ease the symptoms of and help the body recover from many minor ailments.
The humble oat, who would have thought we’d be discussing that here? But the truth is that oats are extremely nutritious. As well as being an excellent energy source, oats are full of nutrients including potassium, iron, magnesium and calcium. Internally oats are beneficial to so many systems within the body. They help to keep the cardiovascular system healthy, as well as help to regulate blood sugar. They also help help to keep the bowel healthy.
Externally oats can be used in many folk remedies. It makes an excellent facial scrub for most skin types. In fact oats can help with a number of skin complaints, soothing sore and inflamed conditions. Use in a either a warm or cold poultice by pressing between two gauze or thin muslin/calico and keep in place with a bandage. If the skin isn’t broken, apply directly as a mask.
If you listened to all of the hipster and even mainstream fads or diets, then you’d be forgiven for thinking that the potato is the devil of the food world. However this often overlooked food staple is highly nutritious and contains almost no fat. Now, to get the most from the potato, it should be cooked, with its skin intact (the skin itself has antioxidant properties). They are an excellent source of energy and contain B vitamins as well as vitamin C and minerals.
Raw potato juice is a folkish remedy that is used internally as well as externally. Internally it is used in the treatment of digestive problems, gall stones, for heartburn, and colic. Externally, the juice can be used in poultices by soaking the bandages or wadding. You can even just slice the potato and apply directly, keeping in place with a bandage. Potatoes can be used in the treatment of skin infections, sunburn, headaches and migraines.
Good on chips (British chips) and in the preserving of foods (pickling and chutnies), but perhaps less well known for it’s healing properties, vinegar is one of those ingredients that every one has in their cupboard and can be bought for as little as 25 pence. In fact vinegar is an astringent, an antiseptic, diuretic and anti-fungal. Because of its acidity, vinegar inhibits bacteria. Vinegar is taken internally (diluted in water) and helps with urinary conditions such as cystitis . Gargled in water, vinegar aids in the healing of conditions including tonsillitis and sore throats. Vinegar can also be taken as a tonic, diluted in water, that generally promotes good health. Apple cider vinegar is particularly good to use in these remedies, however do not be put off if you only have the cheapest brand for any vinegar will be good to use.
Externally, vinegar can be used to check bleeding, and reduce swelling and inflammation. Its anti-fungal properties make it good to use against athletes foot and ringworm.
Eggs are full of proteins, valuable fats, minerals and vitamins including zinc, magnesium and folic acid. When eaten, eggs calm the mucous membranes in the stomach as well as easing indigestion, constipation and heartburn. When corrosive substances have been consumed, egg whites beaten into milk is a quick antidote.
Externally, eggs soothe the skin and the whites can be applied directly to the skin and left to dry as a peel off mask. The whites are also good for hair too.
When eaten raw or steamed cabbage is highly nutritious, containing vitamins A, B, C, and E as well as minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron and many others beside. When taken internally, cabbage stimulates the immune system, specifically antibody production, and so cabbage soup is a must when suffering with cold and flu symptoms. It helps the digestive system, and offers relief to a variety of ailments including heartburn and gastritis. Eaten regularly, cabbage lowers the risk of bowel cancer.
Externally, cabbage is soothing and has antiseptic properties, making it good to use in poultices for conditions such as wounds and burns. Cabbage is also good for coughs and cold and can be applied to the chest via a warm poultice to bring relief. Cabbage juice is good for insect bites, spots and cold sores.
Onions are one of those ingredients that you always seem to have in your kitchen. Easy to grow and cheap to buy, onions lower cholesterol and reduce blood pressure. They are particularly potent when eaten raw. They are beneficial to the digestive system, and help combat tiredness. They cleanse the blood and help to ward off respiratory illnesses, as well as coughs and colds.
Externally, onions make a powerful poultice. To extract the juice from an onion, slice it, and sprinkle with salt. Cover and leave overnight. In the morning, the juice will be ready to use. Dab it on burns, cuts, boils and spots, abscesses and toothache.
Garlic contains high concentrations of allicin which is a powerful antibiotic. When taken internally, particularly raw if you can stand the strong taste, garlic helps all areas of the body including the lungs, bowels and skin (the active ingredient is carried in the blood). It lowers blood pressure and just generally improves health.
Externally garlic can be applied either directly or in a poultice to the skin. It’s good to use on cuts, abrasions, strings, athletes foot and ringworm.
Recipe: Hearty Vegetable Soup
This is my own recipe, and I love this soup. It’s an easy way to eat well and it feels indulgent even though it’s full of goodness. Hot with thick buttered bread, this soup is perfect for a damp and dull autumn day. I will say that when I make this at home, I very rarely measure out anything. I tend to play it by eye and the size of the pan (bonus - this is a one pot dish!), so as you follow these instructions, please adjust to suit your own tastes. The beauty of soup is that you can easily substitute ingredients.
In a large pan, saute 2 large onions and 2 or 3 cloves of garlic in two tablespoons of butter or alternative (oil)over a medium heat until soft.
Add two tablespoons of flour and mix in. Add 500 ml of vegetable or chicken stock (home made is awesome, but store bought is just fine too) and stir until smooth.
Peel and and quarter 4 medium sized potatoes, slice 3 large carrots, shred some cabbage leaves, slice a leek and add to the pan. Season with thyme, rosemary, a bay leaf and a dash of black pepper. Leave to simmer (add more stock as needed) until the potatoes are soft.
Serve with thick crusty bread.
My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!
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