If you live in the northern hemisphere this is a most dreary time of the year. Temperatures in many parts of the United States have plummeted down into negative numbers that are downright scary. The snow keeps coming down, and to add to the discomfort, many of us are suffering from colds and flu. Here are some gentle healing foods that can help relieve your snuffly stuffed up head and cough.
Yes, I said dark chocolate. Is there anything that it can’t do? A study at the National Heart and Lung Institute in London has shown that theobromine, a chemical found in cacao, can block the action of the sensory nerves which cause a cough reflex. If you have an annoying scratchy cough that pops up at inconvenient times during the day, or are just trying to stop coughing so you can get to sleep, this is a delicious remedy to try. This does not cure the cough, which will come back until the root cause of it is gone, but it is a more effective temporary suppressant than cough medicines on the market today, with less side effects.
A little over two ounces of unsweetened dark chocolate will give you the amount of theobromine used in the experiment, so to get the benefits you should eat dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao content.
Dark chocolate also contains a small amount of caffeine, so if you are very sensitive to this it may not be a good idea to eat dark chocolate at night.
Ginger makes a spicy tea which will stimulate and cleanse your system and warm your body. Oriental medicine prescribes warming foods for those who have a cold. Makes sense, right? One of the phytonutrients in ginger that has medicinal effects, gingerol, has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is being studied for its abilities to inhibit cancer growth. Ginger is very commonly used as a remedy for nausea, seasickness, and diarrhea. Just the aroma of a cup of ginger tea can help to clear a stuffy head, and in my family we are convinced it takes less time to recover when you have a cup of ginger tea before bed.
Do not eat a lot of ginger or drink ginger tea if you are on blood-thinning medications, as ginger can interfere with blood clotting.
Ginger tea is a decoction, meaning you actually boil the ginger in water. Slice up a piece of fresh ginger into 7 or 8 thin slices. Put it into a small pan and add as much water as you will need for your tea, and then another quarter cup, because some will boil away. Bring the whole thing to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Your tea will be light brown and spicy. Add a spoonful of honey and some lemon. The honey is good for a sore throat, and lemon will give you a shot of vitamin C and help mellow out the spiciness.
Ginger is one of the healing foods that I keep in my fridge all the time to throw in a stir fry or brew up a tea. I cut my fresh ginger into pieces about 2 inches long and store them in a little jar filled with white wine. They will keep for months like this, and you end up with a nice ginger-flavoured wine at the end.
Gargling with salt water is an amazingly easy way to speed along the healing of a sore throat. Just add 1/2 teaspoon of table salt to about 8 ounces of warm water. Stir it up really well until the salt dissolves. Gargle the whole glass of water away. The salt will make a really hostile environment for those bacteria that are living in your throat and on your tonsils. If you do this several times a day it will disorient the bacteria enough that your body will be able to overcome them. If you need to actually know HOW to gargle, try this site from ehow.com.
Sage, Rosemary and Thyme Tea
Sage and rosemary both contain rosmarinic acid, which has antiseptic properties and can be used to treat sore throat. One of the phytonutrients in thyme is thymol, an antioxidant with more antiseptic properties. Thymol is actually used as an ingredient in medicines such as Listerine and Vicks VapoRub. Inhaling thymol can loosen phlegm and relax the respiratory muscles. Thymol has been used as an ingredient in cough medicines in the United States and Europe.
Fresh herbs are best for making tea. I realize the dead of winter isn’t the best time to be going out and picking fresh herbs from the garden, but you may have a rosemary plant spending the winter in your windowsill. If fresh isn’t available the next best is dried. This tea is an infusion, meaning you don’t actually boil the herbs in the water, but let them steep. Take 1 or 2 teaspoons each of the dried herbs or 1 or 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh, pour boiling water over them and let it all sit for 15-20 minutes. Strain out the herbs, sweeten the tea with honey if you like, and enjoy.
Whoever wrote the old English song Scarborough Fair, a long time ago, must have been sitting at home eating chicken soup. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are the classic chicken soup seasonings. Sure, having a bowl of hot chicken soup just makes you feel better, but it also gives you some real benefits from the phytonutrients. I already discussed sage, rosemary and thyme above. Parsley contains volatile oils like limonene that can inhibit growth of tumours. It also has lots of flavanoids, phytonutrients which act as anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants. The chlorophyll in parsley has disinfectant properties, and it’s loaded with vitamins like C, A and K.
It’s easy to make your own chicken soup. If you have some leftover chicken on the bone, boil it down until you have a nice stock. You can throw in a few onions and garlic cloves for extra flavour. When you have boiled the daylights out of this, strain everything out. Pick the chicken meat off the bones, cut it up and add it to the stock. Then add your parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Use fresh herbs if they are available, especially parsley, which you can usually find year round in the grocery store. You can throw in whatever vegetables you like – onion, garlic, celery are my standards. Add a handful of noodles, rice or corn if you want a heartier soup.
If you don’t have time or just don’t feel like making your own soup, and no one has been kind enough to bring you a pot of homemade soup, canned is the next best thing. Just add a few extra herbs yourself to give it more medicinal properties.
Honey is a sweet way to soothe a sore throat. You can mix it with tea or warm water, or eat a spoonful. A study at Penn State College of Medicine showed that if you give children honey at bedtime they will cough less during the night. However it’s very important not to give honey to children under 1 year old, since it contains a form of botulism that can be fatal at this age.
What is your favorite food for treating a head cold?