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Ethnic foods that heal

MagazineApril 1999 (Vol. 10 Issue 1)Ethnic foods that heal

Most of us are conditioned to think that alternative medicine requires specially prepared remedies a natural alternative to a drug

Most of us are conditioned to think that alternative medicine requires specially prepared remedies a natural alternative to a drug. But many cultures around the world make use of a variety of local foods containing powerful substances to heal all manner of chronic disease.

In central and western Africa, the locals use Shea butter, made from seeds of the Shea butter tree (Butyrospermum parkii), to relieve nasal congestion and inflammation, either by buttering on other food or rubbing it directly into their nostrils. The active ingredients of the plant fat appear to be linoleic, oleic, palmitic and stearic acids.

In one study, rhinitis sufferers with fairly severe nasal congestion were divided into three groups and given either Shea butter, xylometazoline the decongestant often used in nasal drops or sprays (such as Otrivine) or white petroleum jelly. Those given Shea butter enjoyed far better results in relieving congestion than the other two groups (Brit J Clin Pharmacol, 1979; 7: 495-7).

In China and neighbouring countries, the Shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) is believed to increase resistance to disease. In fact, it contains a potent agent called lentinan, which has been shown to stimulate T-lymphocytes

and macrophages (Immunopharmacol, 1985; 7: 747-51; Chem Abstracts, 1971; 74: 324-5; Immunology, 1980; 39: 551-9). Both these cells boost the immune system and help fight off viruses. These mushrooms have been used in the treatment of AIDS, candida albicans overgrowth, colds and flu, as well as a supportive therapy in cancer.

In parts of Tanzania, a gum resin from the Boswellia serrata tree known as frankincense since biblical times and "salai guggulu" in Ayurvedic Medicine is boiled in sesame oil, with cinnamon and cardamom added. This supposedly settles the stomach and is believed to be good for arthritis (K Braun, Heil-und Gewuerzpflanzen, Berlin, 1929: 11).

In India, it's taken for rheumatism either as a drink or an ointment (Bull Imperial Institute, 1915; 13: 351). Controlled studies have shown that extract of Boswellia serrata indeed does have anti arthritic effects, by increasing blood supply to joint tissues, slowing inflammation and maintaining adequate synthesis of glycosaminoglycan, which is necessary for cartilage production. No side effects have been reported (J Ethnopharmacol, 1993; 38: 113-9; Agents and Actions, 1988; 241: 161-4; Biochemical Pharmacol, 1989; 28: 3527-34).

A refreshing infusion is goat's rue tea (Galega officinalis), which is used regularly in certain parts of Europe by the elderly because it's believed to protect against late onset diabetes (S Y Mills, The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism, New York: Thorson's Publishers, 1985: 108; W Cowling, British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, Yorkshire: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1979: part I, 93).

It is also used by young nursing mothers as a safe and effective way of increasing milk production (Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift, 1968; 118: 546).

In Brazil and other tropical countries, the juice or fruit of papayas (Carica papaya) is known locally as a good remedy for stomach upset or for certain parasites (threadworm and roundworm). This folk wisdom has even been backed up by scientific evidence (J Am Med Assoc, 1969; 210: 2100; Arzneimittel Forschung, 1969; 19: 1593).

Caraway seeds are good for relieving wind, bloating and intestinal spasm, particularly after eating. In the Baltic States and German speaking countries, caraway seeds are a common seasoning to foods, such as rye bread, sauerkraut and cabbage, which are likely to produce wind (British Herbal Pharmacopoeia: part II, 23).

!AHarald Gaier

Harald Gaier is a registered homoeopath, naturopath and osteopath.

Shea butter and Boswellia serrata are both available from the NutriCentre, tel: 0171 436 5122. Contact your local pharmacy to order goat's rue tea from Weleda Pharmaceuticals.


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