Herbal medicine, also referred to as botanical or phytomedicine, is the process of using all parts of plants (seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark, and flowers) for medicinal purposes. Someone who would understand the ways of herbal medicine would be a naturopathic doctor, who is trained in the same way that an allopathic doctor would be, but also combines the wisdom of nature into their healing methods. A naturopathic physician helps people by facilitating the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health. This is in stark contrast to an allopathic physician, who tends to rely on pharmaceutical drugs to mask or treat symptoms. Learning how to use herbal medicines to treat minor deficiencies, before they turn into larger-scale health problems, can give you more power over your own health care.
For generations before us, our ancestors used herbs to bring our bodies back into homeostasis, ensuring that members of their tribe, clan, community, or family stayed healthy. Emphasis was always on holistic methods that did not suppress annoying symptoms and conditions, but worked at building a healthier immune system, gut and mind.
Scientists have found that certain foods, including some herbs and spices, contain phytochemicals, which can affect our bodies biologically. Through their ability to stimulate the immune system, they have learned that these phytochemicals can also aid in helping to keep cancer at bay. The nice thing about the particular herbs and spices that seem to help in the area of cancer, are that they can also help to spice up your everyday food and keep you happy at the same time. A little pinch of “this,” or a half teaspoon of “that” might be all that you need to help bring your body into a better state of wellness. There is no reason to think that all bodies could not benefit from including extra herbs in their diet.
These are a few of the favorites that I use:
- TURMERIC – The spice turmeric contains curcumin, which is one of the most powerful anti-inflammatories used. Cancer tumors have a network of blood vessels that feed them, and curcumin can work against these blood vessels and essentially choke the cancer cells to death. Curcumin supplements provide curcumin in good amounts, but it can still be difficult to absorb. Mixing tumeric with black pepper and a healthy fat (coconut or olive oil) can activate curcumin’s power, turning it into a powerhouse of health. A teaspoon or two of turmeric can be added to your soups, fresh vegetables, stews, and curries.
- GINGER – This is another key spice for aiding in building your immune system. Fresh ginger contains gingerol, and dried ginger forms zingerone; both have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Not only is ginger useful for digestion and motion sickness, but it actually can cause tumor cells to “commit suicide” by destroying themselves, yet leaving the surrounding healthy cells untouched. Ginger is anti-viral, and is a powerful anti-inflammatory that is used to help with pain caused by inflammation. Including fresh grated or sliced ginger in hot water can create a healthy tea that can help you stave off symptoms of cold and flu. Add ginger to rice, fish, vegetables, stews, and soups; or include the candied version in something tasty and sweet for your family.
- GARLIC – Garlic is an allium vegetable, along with onions, shallots, scallions, and leeks. Allium vegetables are reported to help prevent cancer, especially of the stomach. Allium vegetables contain organosulfur compounds, which have have immune-strengthening and anti-carcinogenic qualities. Garlic is a versatile cooking essential and can be included in meals throughout the day. Sautéed in olive oil, it can be the beginning of savory egg dishes, homemade soups, stews, and delicious sauces that your whole family can enjoy. The favorite way that my family enjoys eating it, is by baking it in the oven and then spreading it on crusty bread…yummy!
- CAYENNE – Cayenne contains capsaicin, which is known to be a powerful antioxidant that is toxic to cancer cells. Capsaicin acts as a vasodilator, or blood vessel expander, which is important for promoting circulation. It is used to help with pain management, causing the brain to focus on the “heat pain” that it gives, and less on other aches and pains that you may have. In addition to fighting cancer, cayenne pepper can be added to many foods that require some extra “heat.” I would be remiss if I did not include a blurb about its safety. Cayenne must be handled with care, and it is encouraged that you wear gloves. Do not use this spice without caution, as a little bit of this heat can cause extreme discomfort to those who are not prepared for its intensity.
- OREGANO – Oregano contains carvacrol, which has been shown to induce apoptosis (cell destruction) in cancer cells. It is thought that carvacrol may help offset the spread of cancer cells by working as a natural disinfectant. Carvacrol is also present in marjoram, mint, thyme, basil, and parsley. Marinating your meats and other grilled foods with oregano may also reduce the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are created when they are cooked at high temperatures. Oregano can easily be added to marinades, pizza, sauces, pasta, and vegetables.
- ROSEMARY – The two key ingredients in Rosemary are caffeic acid and rosemarinic acid; both potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents, which help protect the body’s cells from damage by free radicals. Rich in carnosol, Rosemary has been found to detoxify substances that can initiate the breast-cancer process. It is also a rich source of vitamin E, which is another powerful antioxidant. Like oregano, it can easily be added to the family-friendly meals that you eat all the time.
These are a few of the healthy herbs that seem to be easily integrated into my life, and into the life my family. These natural products are best ingested through eating them in their natural state, but you can benefit from purchasing these all in a pill, capsule or oil format. I encourage you to experiment with foods first, but know that you can buy quality supplements in many health food stores and online.
Listing of references for further review: