Herbs in Food as Medicine for Winter
Eating seasonal foods and eating according to the seasons is a sensible idea for health reasons as well as reasons pertaining to our planet. Winter is a time when we need to keep warm, so warming, comfort-style foods are going to be the most effective in this regard. The Chinese believe we should eat according to the seasons and actually have five seasons, the extra one being Indian summer.
In nature plants differ according to the seasons in that in autumn and winter many plants “die back” storing the nutrients in their roots, before sprouting anew in the spring. Herbalists make use of this by harvesting many roots at this time when the level of nutrients and chemical constituents is at its highest.
Chefs are not usually focussing on the health properties of the dishes they prepare, but unknowingly as they add herbs for the flavour or their dishes, they are adding health giving properties. It would be good if they knew more about these!
In cookery, root vegetables are used more during winter for making stews, roast vegetable dishes and as accompaniments for heavy meat meals. Such hearty fare is warming and nurturing but can be stodgy and acid forming. The extra starches in winter food can also be mucus forming, which makes people more susceptible to catching colds and flu. Herbs in cooking can lessen the side effects of winter food by subtly helping the kidneys and liver. At the same time herbs bring unsurpassed flavour to most dishes.
I believe in cooking from scratch. This means I have most herbs and spices in my kitchen, to blend and use as the dish demands. Most of the meals I cook start with one or two chopped onions sautéed in olive oil. This is the ideal time to add herbs that are rich in aromatic oils such as torn fresh bay leaves, thyme, sage, rosemary, garlic and ginger. The heat of the olive oil, helps release the aromatic oils of the herbs. I never use a high heat, rather a low heat that sweats the onion and herbs to release the juices into the olive oil. Herbs rich in aromatic oils usually have very good antiseptic, antibacterial and antioxidant properties. They will protect against flu and colds when used regularly. They also help to keep blood vessels healthy and encourage good circulation.
The same principle applies to spices – which are anyway regarded as herbs by herbalists. Lightly frying them releases the flavours, and using them regularly can help the circulation, especially garlic, chilli and ginger, and act as antiseptics too. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and is something one can use in many dishes, either hot or mild curries for example, for easing the pain of arthritis.
For colds and flu good old chicken soup to move mucus and to hydrate the body, is still the best. Antiseptic herbs like sage, thyme, oregano and garlic, with parsley and celery as blood cleansers, make the perfect medicine. Garlic, wasabi and horseradish break down mucus, and are great for people with chronic sinus problems.
Bay leaves, celery, parsley and lovage are diuretic and good for the kidneys. They also help for arthritis, so regular use can supplement other treatment. Rosemary, ginger and garlic are excellent for the circulatory system, and will enhance memory if there is poor blood flow to the brain. Thyme is a powerful antiseptic, good for treating coughs, even better when combined with garlic,and healthy for the liver. Bitter herbs such as chicory will also help the liver function better.
Most herbs go well in a soup or with meat dishes. Starting off a soup with onions and bay leaves gives it a wonderful flavour. Add some cloves for an interesting contrast, and don’t forget lovage which is unsurpassable as a soup herb. Herbs in food put small amounts of antiseptic into your body every day, as well as boosting elimination of waste by stimulating the liver, kidneys and circulation. This in turn keeps you looking healthy, as the skin benefits from the antioxidant and stimulating action of the chemical constituents of the herbs.
Try to vary your cooking on a daily basis by choosing a different herb or combination of herbs. Tonight for example I’m doing chicken with sage. The sage that you see in the photo above will soon be in the pan giving off its wonderful flavour before I add the chicken and garlic. And some crispy fried sage leaves as a garnish will add the final delicious and healthy touch!