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IBRF Magazine

6 May 2010 13:45:19

Rose Elliot and Jill Davies' Introduction to kitchen herbs

By Rose Elliot and Jill Davies

Health is so crucial to happiness and I believe that the kind of food we eat has a direct affect on our health. For instance it has been shown that up to 60 per cent of cancer is diet-related. Scary? No, I think its' empowering to know that we can do so much for ourselves, simply and in our own kitchen.

I am convinced that what happens in the kitchen can make or break our health. That's one of the reasons I love being a cook; I believe that nourishing others with good healthy food that uplifts the spirit and sustains the body is one of the most important jobs you can do. Of course like all the caring, nurturing tasks - teaching, nursing, looking after children - real, everyday cooking (as against celebrity froth and nonsense) is grossly under-valued by our society, to its great loss.

But proper cooking, healthy home-cooking, isn't difficult and it needn't be time-consuming. I hope to set the record straight and show just what healthy food can do for you and your family and how to prepare it. I'm going to tell you which everyday foods can make you healthy, and how to cook them, and Jill is going to give us more detail from the point of view of a practising herbalist.

I promise you the recipes won't be difficult or take too long to make. I know what it's like when you get back from work exhausted, everyone is clamouring for your attention and a meal has to be made, and quickly. The recipes won't be expensive, either although I have to say I believe money spent on good ingredients is an investment in health and in the future. That's why I'm passionate about buying organic produce whenever possible. Organic 'box' schemes - whereby you receive a box of assorted vegetables every week - are usually wonderful value for money. You can find about those in your area by searching on ibuyrealfood or check with the Soil Association.

But if for whatever reason you can't manage to go organic, please, please don't give up. Although I believe organic vegetables are best for health, all fresh vegetables and fruit are beneficial and the corner-stone of health, in my opinion. You might prefer to go organic gradually, trying this one week, that another week, as funds allow. That's how I started, and this gradual approach works really well. Even now I'm not 100 per cent organic but I do what I can.

Apart from that, there are a few healthy basics: olive oil for all cooking expect frying and deep-frying when rape seed oil is best; freshly-ground black pepper, more for flavour really though it does have some therapeutic properties; real wholemeal bread; butter rather than margarine or any kind of spread. Perhaps the most important of all, cutting back on sugar as much as you can, especially refined sugar and sugary products including drinks. Drink, and get your kids to drink, plenty of water - it's the healthiest drink in the world. Other ingredients we'll tell you about as we get to them. Bon apetit!

The number of people set to be diagnosed with cancer is expected to double in the next 25 years, according to the World Health Organisation. Yet what would you think if you were told that a natural flavouring, which may already be in your kitchen cupboard, could help your body build up its resistance to tumours?

That substance is turmeric, the spice which gives curries their golden colour and staple ingredient in Eastern cookery. It's easy to add to rice dishes, soups and vegetables, not to mention its main use as a flavouring for curries. Not only will it help to protect you from cancer, but clinical studies have shown that it also lowers cholesterol levels, helps to keep blood thin and increases bile production and flow which improves circulation and makes the liver healthier. Oh, and it also has a powerful anti-inflammatory action which protects the stomach and eases irritable bowel syndrome. A pinch of turmeric a day really could keep the doctor away.

But turmeric, although impressive, is by no means unique in it's protective and healing powers. Take globe artichokes, for instance, much-loved by our gourmet neighbours across the Channel, and now known to contain cyanarin and other substances which cleanse and protect the liver and strengthen the pancreas. A perfect natural anti-dote to all that rich food and red wine.

Another recent discovery is of a particular protein called faba agglutinin which may protect against, or slow down, colon cancer. This protein is found in broad beans and also the dried fava beans which are so popular in Middle Eastern cookery. A plateful of broad beans with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice, or some Greek 'Ful Nabed' (dried white broad beans soaked and cooked then pureed with lemon juice, olive oil, fresh herbs and spices) would supply you with a generous amount.

These are just ordinary foods with extraordinary benefits. They're cheap, easy to get and good to eat. Yet they are not alone. There are many others like them, each with slightly different properties, complementing each other and supplying phyto-nutrients to keep our bodies in tip-tip shape. It has been estimated that our hunter-gatherer forbears ate 100-200 different wild plants in a year. Even today, the people who live the longest and get the least disease, such as the people in rural China or those who live on the Japanese island of Okinawa are remarkable for the wide range of ingredients - around 200 - that they consume.

Compare this with a typical modern British or American diet which may contain 20 or at most 25 different foods making it deficient in many subtle nutrients. And that's not the only way in which these diets differ.

The hunter-gatherers, like the rural Chinese and the Okinawans, got about 70 per cent of their daily calories from grains such as rice, 10 per cent from vegetables, 14 per cent from fat and a mere one per cent from animal protein.

Today, in the West, the proportions are rather different. Forty per cent of daily calories come from refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar, 11 per cent from animal protein, 30 per cent from fat and only six per cent from vegetables.

This is tough on our bodies for two reasons. With those proportions it's much harder, if not impossible, to eat the wide range of vegetables and whole grains that we need. Secondly, it means that not only are we starving our bodies of the foods that they need for optimum health but in addition we're feeding them with an over-load of protein, saturated fat, refined wheat and sugar, and other foods, such as dairy products, for which they were not designed.

Many of the foods we eat today are very far removed from their natural state. Natural fibre, vitamins and phyto-nutrients have been removed and 'improvers', emulsifiers, colourings, flavourings, anti-caking agents, glazes, preservatives and so on have been added. Our bodies have to cope with all of these unnatural substances and at the same time manage to keep healthy without the benefit of the numerous and varied plant foods which would help strengthen and cleanse them. Is it any wonder an increase in cancer and other diseases is predicted, obesity is nearing epidemic proportions and experts are seriously worried about the health of our children growing up today.

If this sounds depressing, we have to agree, it is, particularly when the health service is so compromised. However there is a positive side. More and more people are realising that they have to take responsibility for their health, and that this begins with diet.

It's not difficult to improve your diet. Just by adding say 10 more plants and varying them as much as you can - regularly can make a noticeable improvement; and if you can manage more, so much the better. Keep on trying new things! The problem is we've got so far away from our natural way of eating that we may need to re-train our palate, if we're used to lots of sugar and refined flour products, and to learn some new tricks in the kitchen. But though these plant foods may be a natural form of medicine ('let food be your medicine and medicine be your food', as Hippocrates said) they are also very delicious to eat. If they weren't, we wouldn't have survived as a species.

Although any fruits, vegetables and herbs are better than none, we believe that organically-grown produce is the best of all, both for our health and for the countryside. It's quite shocking how much the levels of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and phyto-chemicals in plants have declined over the last 50 years as a result of intensive farming methods. Now that the value of organic farming is being recognised again we hope that our impoverished soil can be enriched and the nutrients in our crops will return to their previous levels. Yes, organic produce is more expensive, but can you put a price on health? Organic 'box' schemes - whereby you receive a box of assorted vegetables every week - are usually wonderful value for money.

But if for whatever reason you can't manage to go organic, just do what you can. Remember, all fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables are beneficial and the corner-stone of good health. You might prefer to go organic gradually, trying this one week, that another week, as funds allow.

For maximum results, combine your fresh fruits and vegetables (and frozen ones are fine, too, if they make life easier for you) with other vegetable produce such as whole grains like oats, brown rice and real wholemeal bread. Remember too the dried vegetables - lentils and beans. It's perfectly OK to buy these in cans to save time, but avoid those with added sugar. Use olive oil for cooking rather than margarine or any other kind of spread so you'll avoid eating the harmful substances used in their manufacturing. Butter is fine for your bread or you could try putting a jar of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil in the fridge so that it become semi-solid and spreadable. Most important of all, cut back on white flour products and on sugar as much as you can, especially refined sugar and sugary products including drinks. Drink, and get your kids to drink, plenty of water - it's the healthiest drink in the world.

Follow these guidelines, think simple, think natural and you'll be treating yourself to the best possible prescription for health.

For more information on Rose Elliot go to

For Jill Davies go to

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