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Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Culinary Herbs Provide Spice and Health

Sep 04, 2014 01:30AM
by EleonoraGafton

Herbs and spices have a deep history in evolution and haveplayed an integral part of in civilization. With the discovery of fire, humans realized that they couldcook food instead of just eating it raw, thus introducing the craft of cooking into the culture became the most revolutionary phenomena.

Cultures realized that they couldchew cooked foods better, spend less time on eating and thereby have more time to devote to creativity and thought. The first record of documented herbs appeared about 2000 B.C. in Babylon where the tested medicinal use was detailed with applications and instructions included of some of the herbs usedtoday, like bay tree, thyme, coriander and caraway.

The Roman upper class consumed spices in large quantities due to the poor quality of the foodstuff. Culinary herbs like onions and garlic were used by the Greek and Roman soldiers and were part of the soldiers’rations, knowing the healing properties of the allium species.Emperor Charlemagne being a huge herb enthusiast coined the phrase “the friend of physicians and the pride of cooks” referring to the great value of the herbs.Later the French chefs introduced standards of using herbs in cooking.

Today, it is popular to incorporate fresh and organic culinary herbs and spices into cooking and  medicine. We are at the crossroads and we want authentic flavors in the foods we consume. We demand the lush aromas of fresh herbs and spices, not only for theculinary benefits as flavor enhancers, but also for theirmedicinal properties. Culinary herbs and spices were used to alleviate our aches and pains throughout history.

Although 20th century science has isolated the individual constituents of plants and has succeeded in reproducing them synthetically and offered in small bottles, it has not replaced the use and preference for fresh herbs and spices.Our current desire for more quantity and super-sized portions has been at the expense of reduced flavor, less aroma and diminished nutritional value. These characteristics are experienced through the tongue and our sense of smell.

To overcome this challenge modern science tries in vain to replace it with artificial flavors. The true aroma and flavor of fresh herbs and spices have the uplifting power of light and warmth compared to the artificial flavors that have the opposite effect. Our consumption of food is directly related to our mind, body and spirit well-being.

Culinary herbs offer many health benefits and reward us with their aroma. While we know that fresh herbs and spices offer many health benefits, there are no dietary recommendations established at this time. We currently rely on traditional medicinal practices employed by cultures throughout the world and continue to study appropriate amounts that produce therapeutic benefits.

Herbs and spices are helpful for low sodium diets for thosewho have high blood pressure. It improves the taste of foods, making them more palatable. Fennel and caraway are excellent spices used as carminatives to reduce belching and flatulence. For medicinal purposes, these herbs and spices need to be administered about 30 to 60 minutes before meals in the form of tea infusions, tinctures, powders or as capsules. Anise, fennel, and thyme are known for their expectorant properties. Juniper berries, lovage and parsley are used for their diuretic action and used for urinary tract infections. Horseradish and garden nasturtium are recommended as urinary antiseptics.

Sources: Swahn, 1991; Boxer, A., & Back, P., 1980; Geuter, 1962.

EleonoraGaftonis the Cooking Lab Coordinator for the Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH).Gafton completed her professional chef training in Bucharest, and went on to work in a three-star tourist hotel, becoming the first female executive chef in a Communist country. Growing up on her grandparents’ organic farm and father's winery in Romania, Gafton developed a deep appreciation, love, and passion for natural foods. Gaftonreceived bachelor's degree in Hotel Management from Cornell University and worked for 20 years in the hotel industry in Washington, DC.  Gafton completed the health coach training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City and is currently completing her master’s degree in Herbal Medicine at MUIH. See ad, page 60.


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