An Introduction to Food as Medicine and Medicine as Food

One of my recent projects for the Naturopathy and Nutrition module of my course looked at Medicine as Food.  Most of the ones I chose for this project are available as wild food making them readily available to a large section of the population and encouraging local and seasonal comsumption. This is in no way a comprehensive article as there are many others that can be included and there is also more information that can be provided for each one.

Burdock (Arctium lappa) is classed as a general alterative (cleanser) for blood and tissues, liver tonic and diuretic. It can be used as a general tonic and immune system booster. The presence of mucilage and inulin would suggest that eating the roots and potentially the seeds of this plant cooked, rather than using them for a decoction or infusion, could benefit gut transit times and provide protection to the mucous membranes of the digestive system. These forms of fibre can help support the growth and diversity of the gut microbiome.  A one cup serving of Burdock contains 0.349mg of Vitamin B6 (26.85% of the Daily Reference Value (DV)), other B Group Vitamins, Choline and over 10% of the DV of each of Phosphorus, Manganese, Cupper, Iron and Magnesium as well as smaller quantities of Potassium, Calcium, Zinc and Selenium. This suggests possible benefit in managing conditions such as premenstrual tension which would also be benefitted by its general cleansing action and improved gut microbiome.  Burdock also contains 18 amino acids, although in small quantities.  Many of these nutrients help support the detoxification processes in the body.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is an extremely useful plant often considered a weed.  All parts of the plant are edible.   The roots are a gentle, yet effective liver tonic and cleanser, also promoting diuresis. The leaves are also a gentle liver and digestive tonic. Dandelion leaves can be eaten in salad although their bitterness may be off-putting. A cup (250mls) of leaves can contain 112% of the daily recommendation of Vitamin A, 32% Vitamin C 535% Vitamin K and 218mg potassium. They are also a useful source of Calcium (10.3%) DV, Iron (21.25%), Copper (10.44%) and Manganese (8.17%) and provide some B group vitamins. Some of these nutrients are provided in greater quantity when the leaves are cooked and used like spinach. Of note Dandelion leaves contain choline which supports liver detoxification processes and is a vital part of all cell membranes. Choline is sensitive to water and could be destroyed by cooking. Foods containing this are best eaten raw or only lightly cooked.  A one cup (55g) serving of raw dandelion greens also provide over 7,000 micrograms (mcg) of Lutein and Zeaxanthin which is essential for eye health.  There is currently no recommended daily intake of these nutrients, however Haas suggests a minimum of 20-40mcg minimum increasing to 5mg per day in patients with known macular degeneration.

 Nettle (Urtica dioica) has a long history of food, medicinal and practical use. Nettle is a blood stimulant, general tonic and diuretic. It assists in removing toxins from the body via 2018-02-03 13.55.05the kidneys and bladder and helps to improve the circulation and lower blood pressure. Nettle leaf has demonstrated anti-allergenic activity and contains histamine and acetylcholine.  As food, it is most often used cooked either as a leafy vegetable or in soups. A one cup portion of Nettle contains roughly 8% of the daily amount of Iron, 12% Magnesium, 35% vitamin A and 42% Calcium and 297mg of Potassium (8% DV).   Thepresence of positive mineral elements make Nettle a useful food for supporting the body during its detoxification processes as they assist in neutralising toxins which are then excreted via the kidneys and bladder.  This makes nettle a useful food all year round, where available, and particularly in the spring when the body is trying to rid itself of the accumulation of waste matter from the sluggishness of winter.

 Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a commonly available herb found in many gardens and readily available in supermarkets and garden centres. The seeds, roots and leaves can all be used medicinally. Parsley’s main actions are as a strong diuretic, carminative, digestive tonic, antispasmodic and as a stimulant of uterine muscle. It is a useful cleansing herb, traditionally used to promote urination, reduce oedema, regulate menstruation, manage kidney stones and for its nutritional value.  Parsley is a source of a range of nutrients, a 60g serving of fresh parsley providing 46.5% of the DV of Iron (3.72mg), 88.67% DV of Vitamin C (79.8mg), 22.75% of Folate (91mcg), Vitamins A and K, and small amounts of Zinc, Copper, Manganese, Magnesium, Phosphorous and Potassium.  Parsley also contains small quantities of up to 18 amino acids.  This profile suggests Parsley is a good nutrition source and that adding it to salads or smoothies would be very beneficial. Care should. The nutritional profile supports the medicinal profile. Parsley can be consumed in salads, smoothies or soups.

 Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been widely used in Indian cuisine and Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Western medicine has only more recently discovered the benefits of Turmeric in the diet and research is proving that many of the claims for Turmeric can be supported by modern science.  Turmeric is best used in tablet or powder form – this latter being the ground turmeric bought for cooking – and alongside freshly ground black pepper to enhance bio-availability and absorption.  One analysis of the nutritional value of Turmeric is based on a 100g “portion”. It is unlikely that an individual would be able to consume this quantity. However, if that is reduced to a more likely 20g per day this still provides a reasonable amount of Niacin, and Pyridoxine with a contribution to the daily intake of Vitamin B6, Riboflavin and Thiamin, which are useful for supporting the nervous system; as well as a reasonable quantity of Iron, Manganese, Phosphorous and Zinc.  Turmeric support the body with nutritional input as well as from a medicinal standpoint.

 Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) also has a long history of use in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. The leaves are available fresh or dried leaves, and the seeds can be sprouted.  Fenugreek seeds are mucilaginous which soothes and heals inflamed or damaged gastrointestinal tissue. This is particularly marked when the seeds have been sprouted. Fenugreek has also been used to soothe the respiratory tract and is also listed as expectorant.  Clinical studies have demonstrated that Fenugreek also helps reduce LDL levels in the blood and cholesterol production in the liver.  The reduction in blood levels is due to inhibition of bile salt re-absorption in the colon which is the result of the action of the mucilage and other non-starch polysaccharides. A 1999 study demonstrated that this activity is, again, greater when the seeds or powdered seeds are consumed after sprouting.  There is also evidence that consumption of Fenugreek can stimulate insulin production as well as slow absorption of glucose, helping people with diabetes better regulate their blood sugar levels.  Mabey refers to Fenugreek being prized in culinary use for its vitamin and mineral content. According to one assay an 11g (1tbsp) serving provides useful quantities of Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Manganese but only small amounts of mainly B group vitamins. If consuming sprouted seeds it is likely that a bigger serving would be taken which would add more significantly to the diet.  Fenugreek is roughly 25% protein and contains a useful range of essential and non-essential amino acids including Lysine, Methionine, Tryptophan, Serine and Glutamic acid.  An 11g serving has also been found to contain 15.4mg of phytosterols which would provide a basis for Fenugreek’s reputation for supporting the female endocrine system.

Elder (Sambucus nigra) provides flowers which are used often as an infusion in managing fevers and cold and flu symptoms as well as allergic rhinitis, also having an anti-inflammatory action; and berries which are prized for their ability to support the immune system. Its antiviral compounds are being investigated for use in HIV/AIDs 2016-06-13 10.05.58management.  Elderberry has traditionally been used in syrup form to speed recovery from coughs and colds.  Of note is the very high level of Vitamin C, which also supports the immune system and general health, in the berries with a 100g serving providing 60% or the Recommended Daily Amount. These measures are for the raw berries and it is recommended that elder berries are cooked. To preserve the majority of the Vitamin C content the berries should be cooked for the shortest time possible.

Chickweed (Stellaria media) is used extensively in herbal skincare preparations for its demulcent properties and is especially useful for managing psoriasis and eczema. Chickweed can be easily added to salads, lightly cooked as a green vegetable or even added to a smoothie.  It is reported to be high and Vitamin C and provides a source of Rutin, Para-Amino-Benzoic-Acid, Gamma Linolenic Acid, Niacin, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Beta-carotene, Magnesium, Iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, selenium and silicon.  Of note – it grows readily in many soils and most gardeners consider it a weed.  This nutritional profile supports most body functions

Seaweeds –Seaweeds have a long history of use in traditional medicine and cuisine. Many are available all year round and can be eaten in various ways incorporated into a variety of foods.  It is well-recognised that Dulse (Palmaria palmata) and Kelp (Laminaria digitata) are both good sources of iodine which is necessary for optimum thyroid function. However seaweeds are a good source of a range of nutrients that can benefit everyone, but particularly those on a plant-based diet.  A 2014 study demonstrates that Laver (Porphyrya umbilicalis) is a good source of bioavailable Vitamin B12. A 100g dry weight serving of green laver contains approximately 63.6micrograms. A 10g serving 2017-05-02 15.37.16would therefore provide approximately 6.36 micrograms. Allowing for a 50% digestion and absorption rate this provides sufficient to meet the daily reference intake for a healthy adult.  Dulse contains approximately 23% of the reference intake of Vitamin B12 in a 7g serving together with 42% of the Vitamin B6 recommended amount and 9% of the Chromium recommended amount, this last is valuable for balancing blood sugar levels.   Despite being low in overall fat many seaweeds contain reasonable amounts of omega-3 fatty acids including quantities of the long-chain EPA and DHA which are predominantly found in fish and shellfish and are potent anti-inflammatories.  Kelp and Irish Moss can both supply reasonable amounts of Magnesium (780mg and 588mg per 100g respectively) as can Sargassum muticum.   Irish Moss is a good source of Calcium.  These nutrients are required for a wide range of body functions and cellular processes.


Bibiliography and References

Launert E. (1981) Edible and Medicinal Plants of Britain and Northern Europe. Hamlyn. London UK

Duke J.A. (1997) The Green Pharmacy. Rodale Ltd. London, UK

Mills S.Y. (1989) The A-Z of Modern Herbalism. Thorsons Publishers Ltd., Wellingborough UK

Weiner M. A (1991) Earth Medicine: Earth Food. Ballantine Books. New York. USA

Singh D., Ray A., Sinha P., (Eds) (2007) Herbal Remedies. Dorling Kindersley. London. UK

Podlech D., (2001) Herbs and Healing Plants of Britain and Europe. HarperCollinsPublishers. London, UK

Allen D.E. and Hatfield G. (2004) Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition. Timber Press. Portland, Oregon, USA

Griggs B. (1993) The Green Witch: A Modern Woman’s Herbal. Ebury Press. London. UK

McGarry G., (2005) Brighid’s Healing: Ireland’s Celtic Medicine Traditions. Green Magic. Suton Mallet. England

Haas E. M (2006) Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Random House Inc., New York. USA

Jirsa A (2015). Herbal Goddess. Storey Publishing. North Adams. Massachusetts USA  (Turmeric and curcumin: Biological actions and medicinal applications)


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