Otiz the Iceman froze in the Alps 5,300 years ago. The well-preserved mummy was discovered in 1991 by hikers in the remote Alpine border between Austria and Italy. Along with Otiz, they found a copper ax, a flint-tipped dagger, a bow and arrows, and a pouch that, upon examination, was the Iceman’s traveling medicine kit. Inside the kit were over a dozen different plants along with berries and birch fungus, known to possess antibacterial properties. The active ingredients of birch fungus act as a disinfectant and coagulant to stop bleeding. The fungus is also an edible mushroom when eaten can initiate diarrhea. The oil of the mushroom is toxic to certain parasitic bacteria. According to the analysis of his intestinal content, the Iceman had whipworm, an intestinal parasite that he fought by eating the mushroom which killed the parasite then purged his intestinal tract. Neolithic people were obviously aware of the curing aspects of certain plants that served as both food and medicine.
While exploring the ruins of an Egyptian city a few years ago, I walked into a room the guide said had been the kitchen of a home. I was amazed by the pungent smell of garlic and onions even after more than 2,000 years. Why did the Ancient Egyptians, famous for their medical knowledge, use such large amounts of garlic and onions in their cooking that the smell remained for so many years? I knew it had to involve more than taste. As I later discovered, the medical benefits of garlic and onions are the earliest documented examples of plants used for the treatment of disease. Garlic has even been found in Egyptian pyramids, presumably to keep the dead healthy in the afterlife.
Ancient practitioners were quite versed in the healing properties of certain plants. The healing properties of these plants have become the traditional roots of modern medicine. Recently, scientists have discovered the importance the role of food (i.e. plants) can play in the prevention and treatment of certain ailments. For example, garlic and onions can rev up the immune system. They contain T cells or killer cells that help defend against the ordinary cold and the more serious diseases like cancer and heart disease. Garlic helps keep platelets from sticking together to clog blood vessels. Onions and garlic contain expectorants that thin the mucus in the sinus and breathing passages.
What about the curing properties of other foods? Orange juice through its concentration of Vitamin C boosts immunity as well as having antioxidant abilities. This is especially important with flu always on the horizon. Vitamin C is the first documented vitamin used to cure a disease and that disease is scurvy. Scurvy, caused by a Vitamin C deficiency, is a serious disease that is affecting teenagers today. Signs of scurvy are swollen and bleeding gums, bleeding under the skin, and anemia. The cure? Two eight ounces of orange juice daily.
Omega 3 is in the news almost daily. Probably the most important “miracle” performed by Omega 3 is the reduction of inflammation in the body that can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, and a myriad of other aliments. Eat a handful of walnuts daily to alleviate the risk and symptoms.
This is only the beginning of the value of food possessing curative properties. Everyday foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean meats offer health benefits to prevent and cure many ailments. Check out your food pantry. It’s a veritable medicine cabinet.