Better Health Grows in the Garden; Common Herbs and Spices Help Prevent, Treat Some Complaints

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 18, 2006 | Go to article overview

Better Health Grows in the Garden; Common Herbs and Spices Help Prevent, Treat Some Complaints


Byline: Ann Geracimos, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

They are common herbs and spices, and they are proving to be uncommonly good for you. Rosemary, basil, oregano, thyme, garlic, ginger, cilantro, cinnamon - the list is long and, in food scientists' view, their medicinal value goes hand in hand (and dish to dish) with their decorative and culinary uses.

These are among a great number of everyday ingredients found in the kitchen and garden that function as natural medicines for the body, several of them being what botanist Jim Duke calls "faith-based" because they are mentioned in the Bible.

As far as ingesting them for their curative powers, the fresher the better, he says, because "each time you smell them you lose molecules."

His favorite four, in terms of their medicinal value are garlic, above all, and then a toss-up among turmeric, ginger and capsicum, or hot pepper.

As if to prove in person what he writes in his many books, Mr. Duke stood by the stove in his Fulton, Md., home one recent morning and cut up a few green plants - several or them picked just minutes earlier - to add to a soup he was cooking for the volunteers weeding among the 300 species in the Dukes' terraced garden. The author of "The Green Pharmacy" and "Anti-Aging Prescriptions" and co-author of "A Handbook of Medicinal Spices," he retired many years ago from a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and says he hasn't had a serious illness in his 77 years.

The smell in the kitchen was enticing; the aroma of fresh plants rubbed between the fingers even more so. He began with a few frozen vegetables and a can of tomatoes in a pot of water. Then came cilantro, celery seed, fiddlehead greens, stinging nettle - a weed that he held carefully inside a garlic mustard leaf, and, finally, some West Virginia ramps.

At noon, the soup was ready - a tasty tonic on a cold spring day. Just before serving, he added a dash of Mrs. Dash, a commercial taste-enhancer sprinkled out of a can.

Mr. Duke decidedly is no purist. A teacher as well as a research scientist, he talked as he snipped, offering practical wisdom as well some cautionary asides. He doesn't believe in self-diagnosis or self-medicating - meaning that doctors have their place. He knows some plants contain carcinogens, but what constitutes a harmful dosage is relative and also is contingent on an individual's metabolism and genetic makeup.

He says cilantro has a number of pain-relieving compounds, as do clove and turmeric. Celery seed, he has found, helps with his gout, and stinging nettle, which loses its bite when cooked, relieves joint pain and hay fever.

Garlic, which he says is best taken raw, is something of a magic elixir, having nine treatment uses listed in his 2001 book, "Anti-Aging Prescriptions," and many more in "The Green Pharmacy" index. Among them are prevention of colds and flu, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. (He takes garlic pills daily as an additional precaution.) Fresh ramps he says have power as an antiseptic.

Obviously, fresh-picked herbs and spices are best, but he is not adverse to preserving them by putting them directly into the freezer in a paper or plastic bag.

"They come out looking natural but stiff," he says.

Mr. Duke is on the staff of the Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, a degree-granting institution for people interested in alternative or "complementary" medicine, and he uses his greenhouse and garden as a teaching tool. The plant species are arranged alphabetically according to the disease or ailment they most likely will help.

Basil - the darker the better - is good for the eyes, to help prevent macular degeneration. …

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