For thousands of years, before the invention of pharmaceuticals, plants and plant foods were utilized to prevent and treat many common illnesses and symptoms. Civilization, as a whole, appears to have forgotten that these foods are a source of phytonutrients, many of which have therapeutic healing and medicinal properties that can enhance health and support wellbeing. While we eat for pleasure and sustenance, we should also consider that eating the right foods may improve both our genetic and metabolic bodily functions. When you begin to look at individual foods as being either helpful or harmful to your long term and overall health, you may be surprised to see how quickly you lose your taste for high calorie, high sugar, non-nutritious foods.
Because plants and humans evolved together over millions of years, our bodies recognize the substances found in plants and are able to metabolize and utilize the nutrients. And while plants evolved to have natural properties to protect them from drought, pests, blight and oxidation, these properties often perform similar functions in the human body. Since we have consumed plants in natural, fermented or juiced forms since the beginning of time, their nutrients are part of our own composition and chemistry. Archeological discoveries of ancient human burials dating back 60,000 years have found medical kits containing herbal remedies, some of which are still in use today. Plant medicines are derived from flowers, berries, seeds, leaves, stems, stalks and roots. Today, we know that specific plants contain anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antibacterial, antidepressant, antifungal, anti-viral, anti-tussive and anti-hypertensive properties to name just a few. In addition, many have cardio-protective, sedative and analgesic effects.
Plants and their derivatives are the original source materials for approximately 40% of the pharmaceuticals in use in the U.S. today. These pharmaceuticals contain either plant derived materials or chemically copied or synthesized materials derived from plant agents. For example, quinine, which is used to treat malaria, originated from the bark of the cinchona tree. Silymarin, found in milk thistle, is used to treat liver problems, and leaves and flowers of the herb senna are used as a laxative to treat constipation. A plant compound called Taxol, found in the bark of the Pacific Yew and now chemically synthesized, is a very effective and widely utilized drug in breast and ovarian cancer treatment. References to the poisonous properties of the Pacific Yew are found in ancient Roman literature and in the writings of Shakespeare.
While pharmaceuticals certainly have value, let’s remember the well documented, non-toxic and inexpensive healing properties of whole foods. To get the benefit of healing plant foods, choose minimally processed foods known to contribute to good health. Everything you eat sends a message to your genes. By choosing to eat the healthiest of foods, you can choose health over disease. It’s important to eat a variety of colorful foods, as plants use colors as their protective mechanisms and those mechanisms help our bodies to function better. To get your plant-based medicine every day, try to get as many of the thousands of beneficial plant chemicals as possible by eating a diverse painter’s palette of colors.
Herbs, spices, hot peppers and alliums, otherwise known as onions, garlic, chives, scallions, shallots and leeks – Used for both culinary and medicinal properties these foods may be helpful in many medical conditions including nausea, infections, high blood pressure, and inflammatory conditions.
Fruits and vegetables – Abundant in antioxidants and phytochemicals, high vegetable and fruit consumption helps to reduce the risk of developing many chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, macular degeneration and obesity. Fruits and veggies have a low glycemic load and are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Plus they’re low calorie when consumed in their natural form without added sugars or sauces.
Medicinal Mushrooms – Long used in traditional Chinese medicine for their therapeutic properties, mushrooms such as Turkey Tail, Reishi and Cordyceps offer many important health benefits including antioxidant and immune support and cholesterol-lowering properties. In addition, medicinal mushrooms have anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, anti-viral and anti-microbial effects as well.
Unprocessed whole grains, nuts and seeds – A higher consumption of unrefined whole grains is associated with a reduced risk of early aging and diseases, including cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Whole grains provide a high level of minerals, energy supporting B vitamins, plus fiber and essential fats. Nuts are high in antioxidants and healthy fats and are linked to lower risks of cardiovascular disease and help regulate insulin and blood sugar. Seeds are actually embryonic plants that have high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, proteins, essential oils and dormant enzymes. Seeds are living foods that should be eaten in raw form to get the most nutritional benefits.
Formulas to aid you in getting an array of plant foods every day include:
Power Greens® Premium Berry by NuMedica – It’s easy to get your daily dose of energizing phytonutrients with this great tasting all inclusive blend of plant extracts and certified organic whole foods. This great tasting premium formula provides a full complement of vitamins and minerals, along with high quality fruits, vegetables, high ORAC value antioxidants, fiber, digestive enzymes and adaptogenic herbs. Gluten, dairy and soy free, vegetarian formula.
Mycoceutics MycoPhyto Complex® by EcoNugenics – Physician formulated and cultivated on immune-enhancing herbs, this medicinal mushroom formula provides powerful immune support with a proprietary blend of 6 medicinal mushrooms plus beta-glucans, natural immune promoting phytochemicals. Gluten and allergen free, vegan formula.
Power Fruits and Veggies for Kids by NuMedica – Perfect for children who refuse to eat their veggies, this tasty and nutritious formula provides natural vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, digestive enzymes and probiotics. Gluten, soy and dairy free, vegetarian formula.
Super Garlic 6000 by Metagenics® – This popular product delivers high concentrations of potency-preserved allicin and other naturally occurring, health supporting constituents found in garlic. Special enteric coating is designed to dissolve in the intestine, avoiding stomach upset and preventing garlic breath. Guaranteed to supply 6000 mcg of allicin per tablet in support of cardiovascular and immune system health. Gluten, soy and dairy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formula.
Plant Based Drugs and Medicines. http://www.rain-tree.com/plantdrugs.htm
Cinchona Bark. https://www.lib.umn.edu/bell/tradeproducts/cinchonabark
A Brief History of Taxol. http://www.research.vt.edu/resmag/1999resmag/taxol.html
What Do Specific Foods Do? http://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/explore-healing-practices/food-medicine/what-do-specific-foods-do
Healing Foods Pyramid™ 2010. http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/
The Healing Power of Medicinal Mushrooms. http://fantasticfungi.com/healing-power-medicinal-mushrooms/