I have taught lots of Kitchen Medicine classes for all ages and can guarantee that every kitchen has some natural medicine just waiting to be used. Historically our culinary foods were often used to stave off bacterial infections of our foods and to help us digest. Black pepper is a good example of a spice that does double duty killing unwanted bacteria in food and helping our body to produce digestive enzymes to then digest our food. Sometimes spices even improve our absorption of healing components from food as well as our absorption of vitamins (Turmeric and Black pepper increases our absorption of Tumeric as well as the absorption of the healthy vitamins in the meal itself!). Here are some of my favorite kitchen medicines:
Garlic is one staple I can find in most kitchens. Garlic has so many uses. It is antibacterial, anti-fungal and improves digestion and breakdown of fats in our body. Fresh, raw garlic is best because the components that are the most helpful are released with chopping and/or chewing and that pungent smell is evidence that they are there in great numbers! Dried, cooked or really old garlic loses its ability to provide the healthy isothiocyantes that heal us. Dr. Weil recommends 1 fresh clove a day to help protect the heart and blood vessels as well as improve our immune system. I try to use it fresh and chopped in salad dressing, pesto and other culinary dishes because eating garlic straight is not fun. I also like to mix it with local honey and cinnamon for a quick and tasty immune boost during a cold or for any lung congestion and for just about any common infection. Careful not to put garlic directly on your skin - as in on a rash or wound - as it really does burn and can peel your skin off!
Cinnamon is probably the most common spice found in the average kitchen. Most people have it in powder form which works just fine. Cinnamon is very drying - so much so that it is my ace in the hole for stopping diarrhea. With diarrhea you always want to stay hydrated and seek care if it goes on for more than a couple of days and/or the person is seeming lethargic. However, a teaspoon of cinnamon a day can really make a big difference in slowing down the water loss, engaging the immune system to stop the infection and giving relief to the digestion turmoil. Cinnamon works very well on intestinal yeast, too. I often pair it with garlic for this use. It helps to balance out blood sugar if used regularly (though not in the cinnamon roll form!). Careful not to overdo it though, it is so drying it can constipate and it is quite heating so too much can irritate the intestines.
Some folks use Fennel (or its relative, Caraway)in baked breads, a common Norwegian delicacy. Fennel is another one of those spices that helps us digest foods such as meats and grains. It is the surest help for gas after a meal - which is why candied Fennel is served at Indian restaurants as you leave. My kids love the taste of Fennel and eat the seeds straight but you can candy them quickly by heating them in a little honey in a frying pan. I love to grow Fennel so that we can eat it fresh as well as the delicate greens. It also makes a nice tea that can work as a mild expectorant as well as a useful medicine for colicky infants (I use about 10 drops of a tea for this - but it is wise to check with your local Registered Herbalist or Naturopath about giving any medicines natural or otherwise to an infant under 6 months). It also has significant history of supporting milk production for breastfeeding mothers. A rather versatile little seed!
Who doesn't have an onion sitting around? Feel a cold coming on? Chop up some onions thinly and put them in honey or layer the slices with thin layers of sugar. Wait about an hour or two and you'll have a great medicinal syrup for decongesting and shortening the duration of your cold. I add Thyme and Garlic sometimes or Spearmint and Anise Hyssop for cooling and further support for the congestion to come. A teaspoon of this every couple of hours can really thin the mucus production and boost your immune system's response to the virus.
Probably one of my all time favorites. Thyme is antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial as well as decongesting and opens up the airways in the lungs. On top of that it is a good digestive herb as well. You can't really go wrong with this herb. I prefer it fresh but keep lots of dried Thyme around too. Of course I add it to many of my culinary dishes - salad dressings. sauces, and soups - but I love to add it to my medicinal teas and syrups for colds, coughs and digestive support, too. You can simply eat a few leaves or mix it into the onion syrups I mentioned above, or put 1/2 tsp. in with some Spearmint or Peppermint tea for digestion or decongesting your cold. I always have a pot growing on my deck and prefer the English Thyme over the others.