We’ve all heard that old saying, wise in its simplicity: “You are what you eat.” Master herbalist Rosemary Gladstar picks her favourite superfoods.
What we do – and don’t – eat, a healthy daily dose of exercise, good sleeping habits, and a positive perspective are the golden keys to a high-quality, productive life. Following is my list of natural whole food supplements that create radiant wellbeing.
Spirulina, protein powerhouse
In Healing with Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford writes: “Blue-green algae were among the first life forms. In spirulina, we find three and one-half billion years of life on this planet encoded in their nucleic acids (RNA/DNA). At the same time, algae supplies that fresh burst of primal essence that manifested when life was in its birthing stages.” A tiny aquatic plant, spirulina is a blue-green algae that grows on freshwater ponds. It has been traced to the first forms of plant life on Earth. Respected as an excellent source of nutrition in many cultures for centuries, it only found its way into the Western diet a decade or two ago.
Why it’s beneficial: Spirulina is 60 to 70 percent protein by weight. It is considered the highest plant source of usable protein, is rich in B vitamins and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and is second only to dried whole eggs when compared to animal forms of protein.
How to use: Spirulina is available in tablet and powder form. I recommend the powder for quality and economy. If you take the tablets, a recommended amount would be six to 10 daily; if you use the powder, mix two tablespoons of spirulina into a blender drink, or sprinkle on stir-fries and salads.
Fermented foods, to boost immunity
Did your Granny, like mine, have jars of colourful vegetables foaming and fermenting in her pantry? Or leave her milk sitting on the counter to be magically transformed into a fermented product like yoghurt or kefir? All around the world for thousands of years, people have used various techniques to ferment or ‘culture’ food. Not only is it an excellent technique for preserving food, fermenting substantially increases the nutritional value of food. In the fermenting process, vitamins and minerals increase and a host of beneficial bacteria develop, making good food even better. Through fermentation, milk, various grains, and vegetables and fruit are turned into products such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, yoghurt, and buttermilk. These foods are not only staples in millions of people’s diets but also are well-known for their positive effects in promoting health.
Why it’s beneficial: During the fermentation process, numerous bacteria or lactobacilli develop. Called friendly flora or probiotics, these healthy gut bacteria, which include L. acidophilus and Bifidobacterium, colonise the stomach and colon, improving digestion, assimilation, and elimination. Fermented foods are essential to a healthy active immune system, and are also recommended during medical treatments for cancer and other immune-suppressing illnesses to help restore health and vitality. And it’s always recommended following treatments with antibiotics to eat fermented foods as well as probiotic supplements to restore healthy gut bacteria. Fermented foods nourish and replenish the nervous system. Many vitamins and minerals, including the B-group complex, vitamin C, calcium and protein – all essential to a healthy functioning immune system – are increased during the fermentation process. Simply by including a small amount of fermented food in your daily diet, you begin to replenish and rebuild a depleted nervous system.
How to use: Because fermented/cultured foods are becoming popular again as people rediscover their healthy healing properties and delicious flavours, a wide variety of fermented food is easily available in supermarkets and natural food stores. However, make sure that the products you buy are ‘raw’, not cooked or pasteurised, as cooking and high heat destroy the living enzymes and bacteria produced by the fermentation process. Better yet, ferment your own food!
Flaxseed, heart protector
Much has been written about flaxseed and flaxseed oil in the past few years, especially for its role in preventing heart disease and other degenerative illnesses.
Why it’s beneficial: Flaxseed is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for keeping the arteries clean, the heart functioning, and the immune system in good health.
How to use: One tablespoon of the oil daily is sufficient. Be certain to buy only cold-pressed oil and store it in the refrigerator. Two to four tablespoons of the ground seeds (they are easily ground in a spice mill or coffee grinder) added to your daily meals not only helps to prevent heart disease and improve your immune health, but will add a beautiful glow to your skin and hair. Their mucilaginous quality aids digestion and makes them mildly laxative. Flaxseed oil goes rancid quickly, so store seeds in the refrigerator and grind only a few days’ supply at a time.
Seaweed, treasure from the deep
There are several seaweeds available, harvested off the many coastlines around the world, and though they all have several nutritional factors in common, they vary greatly in flavour and texture.
Why it’s beneficial: Seaweed contains a wider range and broader spectrum of minerals necessary for human metabolism than any other known organism. They have been used for thousands of years to promote longevity, prevent disease, and impart health to those wise enough to use them.
How to use: The many types of seaweed have distinct flavours and textures that lend themselves to a variety of dishes. My favourites include hiziki, arame, kelp, and dulse. Add seaweed toy our meals several times a week in salads, soups, Asian dishes, and salad dressings. Some seaweeds, like dulse, are just nice to snack on by themselves.
Shiitake mushrooms, health defender
The shiitake mushroom is a staple of the traditional Japanese diet, and it has long been used in Asia to enhance the body’s resistance to infection and disease. This mushroom is not only exotically delicious, but also easy to grow. You can grow a mushroom log in your basement or under your sink.
Why it’s beneficial: The mushroom contains a polysaccharide complex called lentinan, which has been shown to possess significant immune-enhancing properties. It also stimulates the production of interferon, as well as macrophages and lymphocytes, infection-fighting agents that form the first line of defence against viruses, colds, and other illness. This fungus also has anti-tumour properties and is useful in the treatment of ovarian cysts and tumours, as part of a nutritional therapy protocol for people with cancer. In addition, it lowers blood cholesterol and is good for the heart.
How to use: Include shiitake mushrooms as a food for wellbeing in your meals several times a week. Shiitakes are best fresh but are fine dried as well. Try your hand at growing them, or buy quality dried ones.
Coenzyme Q10 A powerful antioxidant, this helps control free radicals, thus preventing cellular damage and guarding against disease. It has been widely researched in Japan, where it is used as a treatment for heart disease, high blood pressure, and brain disorders. It has been found to be effective as a preventive for many illnesses associated with ageing.
Glucosamine sulphate Originally used on dogs with hip dysplasia, this naturally occurring substance enhances cartilage regeneration and so assists stiff joints, arthritis, and other bone and joint problems. I take it myself for joints that have stiffened up at those points where bones have been broken over the years – each with a tale to tell.
Vitamin E This guards against fat and cell membrane degeneration and protects the sheath surrounding each cell. It is a natural anticoagulant and so guards against heart attack and stroke. Vitamin E oxygenates the blood and helps with fatigue and oxygen-deprived red blood cells. For people on heart medication, consult your doctor first.
Vitamin D It’s estimated that one in seven adults is vitamin D-deficient and approximately 40 to 50 percent of hospital patients under the age of 65 have too-low levels. Supplementation has been very helpful for many people experiencing depression, mood swings, SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and PMS.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids Vital for normal metabolism, omega-3s are essential for a healthy nervous system and also contain important anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce inflammation in the blood vessels, joints, and heart. Many people with depression and anxiety-related disorders have also found supplementing with omega-3s reduces symptoms.
Lutein If your eyes are getting worse with age (and most people’s do), there are three things that seem to strengthen the eyes and reverse their ageing process: bilberry, eye exercises, and lutein – a member of the carotenoid family, lutein strengthens the eyes, helps repair vision, and is especially useful as a preventive for macular degeneration.
Long life recipes
This is a wonderful recipe that can incorporate any number of tonic or adaptogenic herbs. A highly nourishing and restorative blend, it is an excellent choice when someone is sick or recovering from illness. While the herbs can be fresh or dried or a combination of both, you should use fresh herbs whenever possible.
2 onions, chopped
3 litres water or chicken stock
4 fresh or 120g dried burdock roots, sliced
4 fresh or 60g dried dandelion roots, sliced
60g goji berries
30g fo-ti (Ho Shou Wu), cut and sifted
30g ginseng root
1 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
8 large shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried, chopped
1. In a large pot, sauté onions and garlic until tender. Add water and bring to a boil.
2. Add herbs and mushrooms, turn down heat, and simmer for several hours.
3. When roots are tender, turn off heat and strain out the herbs. Add miso paste to taste. Do not boil the miso, as this destroys its valuable enzymes.
This herbal tonic builds strength and vitality. Although it can be used by both sexes, it is predominantly a yang (masculine) type of tonic.
¼ part saw palmetto berries
1 part astragalus
2 parts Siberian ginseng
2 parts fo-ti
2 parts damiana leaf
2 parts ginger root
2 parts licorice
1 part Chinese star anise
panax ginseng roots
black cherry concentrate*
1. Place herbs in a wide-mouthed glass jar and cover with brandy. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and let sit for 6-8 weeks; the longer, the better.
2. Strain, reserving liquid. Set the ginseng roots aside, and discard the other herbs. To each cup of liquid add ½ cup black cherry concentrate. Be sure this is a fruit concentrate, not a fruit juice, and do not add more than ½ cup of concentrate per cup of tincture. Shake well; rebottle. Drop the ginseng into the bottle also. I often put them in whole, but they can also be sliced first. Store the elixir in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and place in a cool spot. It will keep for several weeks. A standard daily dose is about 1/8 cup.
* Available in most healthfood stores, or online.
Rosemary Gladstar is the author of Herbs for Long-lasting Health (Storey Publishing) from which this extract is reproduced with kind permission; for wholesale enquiries contact firstname.lastname@example.org; available from www.booktopia.com.au. Visit Rosemary at www.sagemountain.com