Usually around this time of the year we start to think about our health and those old New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, join the gym or change our diet.
One thing that we can do to improve our diet and our health is to incorporate herbal superfoods. Some of these you may have heard of, as they’ve gotten their 15 minutes of fame in the headlines. But others may be a little more obscure.
So what qualifies as a superfood? These are plants with a large array of nutrients, like multi-vitamins. Also, these plant nutrients are healing for the body, like antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
Moringa: anti-inflammatory and nutritive
Called the miracle tree, every part of the tropical Moringa tree is edible and is used often in countries where malnutrition is prevalent. The leaves have 25% protein and contain all nine amino acids. They have seven times more more vitamin C than oranges, four times more vitamin A than carrots, four times more calcium than milk and a ton of antioxidants.
Moringa is used for diabetes, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and balancing hormones.
Turmeric: potent anti-inflammatory.
One of turmeric’s traditional uses has been for the treatment of arthritis. While turmeric contains a whole family of active compounds, the one most responsible for turmeric’s medicinal effect is curcumin.
Curcumin has shown promise in slowing the growth of some types of cancers (including pancreatic and colon) as it may help fight cancer cells by reducing either the number or size of tumors.
When taking turmeric, you should add a little black pepper to help the absorption into the body.
Ginger: universal remedy with antimicrobial and antiviral properties
Ginger is an antiemetic, to help prevent and treat nausea and vomiting. Ginger is also great for the gastrointestinal tract, the cardiovascular system, pain, fever, immunity and even the deterrence of cancer cells.
It’s no wonder that a cup of hot ginger tea with lemon is a home remedy for all sorts of “under-the weather” symptoms.
Macha: energy and sexual healing
Macha roots are believed to have unique medicinal qualities. Macha’s main claim to fame is as a libido enhancer, although it is also well-known for its ability to boost overall energy.
Macha is also known as “Peruvian ginseng,” because it is used as a folk remedy to increase stamina, energy and sexual function. Macha has a long history of successful medicinal use for menopausal discomfort, infertility and sexual healing.
Chia: stabilize blood sugar and boost energy
Eating chia seeds can boost energy, stabilize blood sugar and help with digestion. This is partly due to the high fiber content of the seeds — one ounce (just under three tablespoons) has 11 grams, almost half the daily fiber requirement for adults.
Chia seeds also contain a good amount of calcium, magnesium and potassium, and they offer 30% of your Daily Value (DV) of manganese, an important mineral for bone health.
When buying chia, remember that both the white and the black seeds are a fine choice.
Basil: body protector
Two flavonoids found in basil — orienting and vicenin — are believed to protect chromosomes from environmental damage, such as radiation. Basil also provides protection against bacterial growth due to the presence of strong oils found in and on basil leaves.
A natural anti-inflammatory, basil contains a substance that blocks the activity of cyclooxygenase (COX), an inflammatory-inducing enzyme. This produces the same effect as active ingredients in pain medications, such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
Basil’s high percentage of vitamin A may help prevent the oxidation of blood cholesterol, which could lead to the hardening of arteries.
Garlic: heart health
Garlic is one of the oldest medicinal foods on the planet. The Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, one of the earliest herbal medical texts, mentions garlic repeatedly. In ancient times, garlic was used to treat everything from leprosy and toothache to chest pain.
Garlic has been shown to be lipid lowering, anticlotting, antihypertensive, antioxidant and antimicrobial.
The key to the astonishingly wide range of health benefits in garlic seems to lie in a compound called allicin, which is created from the reaction of two other compounds — alliin and alliinase. Nature designed it so that the alliin and alliinase live in different parts of the garlic clove, so how you prep garlic is critical for the creation of allicin.
Crushing or chopping garlic releases the enzyme alliinase, which reacts with the chemical alliin to form allicin. To get the most out of garlic’s health benefits, crush or chop garlic cloves (the finer the better) to join the active compounds and let them sit for 15 minutes before using.
Cacao Nibs: anti-inflammatory
Cacao nibs are pure cacao beans from the fruit of the cacao tree that have been harvested, fermented and dried, then peeled and broken up into pieces. Cacao beans that are cleaned, roasted and processed after being dried are classified as cocoa, which is the more processed form of cacao.
Both contain antioxidant flavanols, which are widely thought to carry a host of health benefits. These flavanols are also known to help lower blood pressure and act as an anti-inflammatory and vasodilator. Nibs contain a lot more, containing about 9 grams of fiber per ounce.
Cacao nibs also contain a natural chemical called phenylethylamine, which speeds up the body’s pulse, making one feel more alert and focused.
There are some great vegetables out there that are super foods also. Someone called me once asking for beet powder in a pill supplement form, which I do not sell at my store. I told them simply to eat some beets! Have some cauliflower, walnuts, berries or some dark leafy greens.
There’s lots of healthy choices we can make and its easy to add these plants to our diet for a healthy future. n
Melissa Aurora Adlebush is the president of the Fox Valley Herb Society, and was the state champion of plant identification in 2004. She studied Botany and Ethnobotany at Northland College, Ashland. She teaches many classes all over the state. Melissa is Herbalist and Owner of Aurora’s Apothecary where she grows most of the herbs that are put into their products. Aurora’s Apothecary is located at 1607 Richmond St, Appleton, and 9428 Cedar Court #3 in Fish Creek, Door County. For more information, call 920-430-7846 or visit www.aurorasapothecary.com.