The nineteenth century may not have been so kind to natural healers. Western medicine was witnessing the dawn of many fascinating achievements, after all, and commandeering the spotlight: antibiotics, advancement in surgery techniques, and better trauma care were seen throughout Texas and the United States.
The love affair was in the lab, not in the garden. Somehow, much of the traditional knowledge has been forgotten in the excitement, but even residents of cities like Dallas and Austin can grow sage, rosemary, and marjoram in their own backyards.
As Western science becomes more mature, more well-rounded, and more self-aware, however, natural remedies are gaining a renewed sense of appreciation. Many individual health insurance plans now even cover treatments like chiropractic care, and Western doctors are more open to recommending natural remedies for at least part of their treatments.
Every day we hear about what wonderful things a single nutrient can do: lycopene (found in tomatoes and other vegetables) can help prevent specific cancers; antioxidants (particularly high in berries, acai and pomegranate) counteract the damaging effects of free radicals; zinc can single-handedly shorten a cold by several days.
In fact, with the constant stream of facts from whatever the latest study may be, it can become difficult to know what, and how, to apply principles of natural health into everyday life. Doing so can not only improve immunity, mood, and productivity level, but may also grant access to better individual health insurance premiums by improving overall health.
The truth is, it’s really not so difficult. In fact, it’s frighteningly easy to utilize at least one natural remedy a day to maintain good health, and you’re probably already doing it. Did you have a cup of chamomile, green, or mint tea today? Perhaps you sprinkled some oregano, garlic, or basil into your pasta, ate a dish with hot peppers, or bought a bouquet of aromatic flowers. At any given point, you may be unwittingly participating in very basic herbal, nutritional, or aromatherapy. Here are some common examples.
(1) Spicy food. Many traditional dishes use culinary spices so hot our eyes water just thinking about them. Foods from South and Central America, and East Asia are perhaps the most well known for their heat content, and Texas adapts many of its recipes from the former. But there’s a reason for this burning experience: many hot peppers, commonly found in dishes from Dallas, Houston, and across the Southwest, are known for their antibacterial and/or antiparasitic properties, infections with which are more common in tropical climates.
In essence, the tradition of eating spicy foods (like chili) could be seen as an adaptive response to disease; i.e., in this case, medicine created from the local environment to treat a common illness. Many hot peppers also aid in circulation, increase sweat production, and temporarily heighten metabolism. So, the next time you power through that habanera-laced guacamole, just think how many unpleasant things you may be scalding out of your system
(2) Common Culinary Herbs. Many powerful medicinal herbs can be found in the kitchen, passed off as mere spices. Particularly in their freshest (and tastiest) form, they have proven to be dependable allies in the fight against common complaints, such as muscle soreness and insomnia, and common illnesses, such as cold and flu. When taken internally, rosemary displays antibacterial properties; when applied externally (through use in oils, baths, or vaporizers), it can relieve eczema, anxiety, muscular pain and insomnia, and improve peripheral circulation. Oregano oil is believed to be not only antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic, but also a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Parsley acts as an effective diuretic and a mild antihistamine. Everyday, you are probably consuming at least one tasty medicinal herb. The fresh (versus the dried and stored) variety retain more of their therapeutic and nutritional qualities, so go ahead – cook, eat, enjoy! It’s good for you!
(3) Tea. Tea is the most popular drink in the world, next to water. Technically, it’s just a short-lived infusion or an extract prepared by steeping or soaking certain parts of (an) herb(s)and since there are thousands upon thousands of edible herbs, the possibilities are endless. Sweetened, black, iced tea, of course, is popular in Texas and the Southwest, but the United States is really just getting in on the amazing variety this ancient tradition offers. Cities like Houston and Austin house thriving businesses based entirely on the supply, preparation, and consumption of this endless assortment of drinks – from black teas, to green, to red, to white, to herbal.
Nearly everyone today has at least heard of chamomile, mint, or green tea, and is probably fairly familiar with others, as well. Chamomile is well-known for its soothing effects, as is rose and lavender, and can ease a mild case of insomnia, muscle cramps, or arthritic joint inflammation. Green tea is fortified with antioxidants, is low in caffeine, and can aid in weight loss. Peppermint or spearmint may calm an upset stomach, and a strong ginger brew helps digestion. Echinacea and sage are commonly steeped for colds; nettle, raspberry leaf, and red clover are traditional tonics for women.
While one needs to be careful when choosing an herbal tea some may be harmful to those who are pregnant, nursing, or have certain health conditions in general, they are easily-prepared, therapeutic beverages for everyday good health.
(4) Aromatherapy. While learning the extensive details of it is a discipline, the basic premise of aromatherapy is simple: utilize scents for their therapeutic effect. Once passed off as folklore, aromatherapy’s popularity is booming – ads for candles, incense, oil burners, detergents, and home products abound. Companies touting the “zesty” and uplifting sensation of their soaps are actually applying the basic principles of aromatherapy.
If you’ve ever felt comforted by the fragrance of home-cooked food, inhaled the scent of your morning coffee to get you going, or lit a candle just to “brighten your mood,” you, too, are treating yourself to aromatherapy. Aromatherapy encompasses a wide variety of applications, from massage oil treatments, to soak baths, and overlaps with many herbal remedies. The scent of chamomile, for instance, is part of the soothing experience of drinking the tea.
Be conscious of the aromas around you and how they may affect your mood or state of mind. Sleep with lavender under your pillow, don’t be afraid to splurge on that soy-based, essential oil candle, and remember that just the smell of coffee can do wonders for you in the morning.
So it would seem we’re beginning to come full circle in appreciating the traditional plant knowledge that was humanity’s first form of medicine. Much of it is still valid, and easy to integrate on an everyday basis to optimize health. Don’t be afraid to smell something pretty, boys, and sip that chamomile tea at night. Sound sleep and increased immunity just may ward off the next round of office flu.