Food is Your Best Medicine
Hippocrates said, "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food." There's essentially no difference between food and medicine. The difference between food and medicine isn't one of kind; its merely one of degree.
Foods have the same kinds of therapeutic properties that herbs and medicines have; it's just that in foods, these therapeutic properties are milder in degree, whereas the nutritive properties are stronger. Herbs and natural medicines have more potent and concentrated therapeutic properties, but they also have nutritive value, which synthetic pharmaceutical drugs lack.
If foods are essentially like medicines in having therapeutic properties, it follows that many, in addition to having indications, or conditions that they're used for, have contra-indications as well, or conditions in which they do harm, and should not be taken.
This kind of therapeutic knowledge of the indications and contraindications of various foods is a common feature and legacy of Greek Medicine and other traditional healing systems. This is a practical, empirical knowledge derived from centuries of clinical experience. It concerns the basic qualities and properties of foods, and is not based upon a food's nutrient content.
In general, fruits tend to be sedating and cooling, and have a diuretic effect that can be excessive if too many fruits are consumed. The only exception to this general rule would be dark red and blue forest berries, like currants, raspberries and blackberries, which are genitourinary tonics.
Fruits of the Rose family are generally considered to be the most balanced, and the least cooling; most of them are hardy natives of a temperate climate. Apples and quinces are generally considered to be the most heating of the Rose family fruits, having a certain light, crisp astringency to them that tones up the liver, stomach and bowels.
Other Rose family fruits have much more moisture to them, especially plums and peaches, which make them useful laxative fruits to loosen the bowels. Peach kernels and plum kernels are added to herbal formulas as a laxative and stool softener, and peach leaves are strongly laxative. Apricot kernels, on the other hand, open up the lungs in coughing and lung congestion. Pears have a certain juicy, moistening quality that moistens and protects the lungs against the dry autumn weather. Cherries are beneficial in arthritis and rheumatism. A tea made from the cherry stems is a kidney tonic.
Citrus fruits, particularly oranges, are contraindicated in certain types of arthritis and rheumatism. Oranges and orange juice is considered quite cooling and febrifugal, and good at relieving fevers. Lemons have a sour astringency to them that stimulates the bile and gastric juices, and aids in the expectoration of phlegm. The inner rind and white pith of certain citrus fruits like grapefruit is very beneficial for the functioning and potency of the liver, gall bladder and bowels, but the best of all is considered to be the rind of the bitter orange. Various kinds of citrus peels, like those of lemon, lime, orange and tangerine, are used to stimulate and harmonize the stomach and digestion. The fruit and juice of the pomegranate stimulates and moves a sluggish stomach and bowels, whereas the rind can be decocted into a tea which is good for diarrhea, hemorrhoids and intestinal parasites.
Melons, as a whole, are very cooling, sedating and diuretic. In general, they are contraindicated for those with weak kidneys or a weak, atonic digestion. Watermelon can be therapeutic as a diuretic for those with urinary sand, gravel or obstructions.
Bananas, like many other tropical fruits, are too cooling to eat in winter. In addition, bananas are very heavy, unctuous and moist, and are contraindicated in conditions like diabetes. Bananas should be eaten only when they're ripe; otherwise their astringency may be too hard on the stomach.
Certain dried fruits are therapeutic for those with constipation. These are mainly figs and prunes.
Vegetables, like fruits, alkalinize the blood. But whereas fruits do this by the elimination of acidic toxins through the urine, vegetables directly add alkaline minerals and nutrients. So, whereas fruits are more eliminative, vegetables are more building.
Of all the vegetables, root vegetables are the most nourishing, and the highest in caloric value; you could call them tonic or restorative. Tuberous or starchy root vegetables could substitute for grains as the staff of life; these include potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes.
What's the difference between a vegetable and an herb? Not much, really, except gastronomic convention. Herbalists call vegetables pot herbs, to denote that they are usually eaten. And many pot herbs, like other herbs, can also be used for medicine.
Continuing with tonic, restorative root vegetables, beets are a tonic and detoxifier of the liver and the blood. Celery root and Parsley root are adaptogens that enhance overall vitality and energy levels and resistance to stress, and are also tonics for the kidneys and the genitourinary system, particularly in the male. Women have parsnips and burnet saxifrage root, also known as pimpernel root; these are tonics and regulators of the female menstrual cycle.
Pumpkin and squash, especially butternut and acorn squash, help to regulate and lower blood sugar levels in those with diabetes. Pumpkin seeds are good for the prostate, and are also a vermifuge. Another vegetable in the squash family, cucumber, is very cooling and moistening, and is therefoire very good to eat on hot summer days; however, some with sensitive stomachs may find that cucumbers are hard to digest, and give them gas.
Green leafy vegetables are good to build the blood. Bitter greens like dandelion and endive are good for promoting the bile flow and cleansing the liver. Artichoke cleanses the liver and promotes the bile flow, and also has a mild diuretic effect that cleanses the kidneys and urinary tract. Perhaps the most famous vegetable to cleanse the urinary tract in urinary infections is asparagus; you can even smell it coming out in the urine.
Many Nightshade family vegetables can be problematic, especially for those predisposed to aggravations of black bile. Tomatoes can be problematic for those with a nervous or sour stomach, or those who are predisposed towards candidiasis and intestinal putrefactions. They can also aggravate certain autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Eggplant can be very heavy and hard to digest, and hard on the liver; these difficulties are often compounded by the way in which it is prepared. Even bell peppers can unsettle the stomach and digestion for some. Cayenne, jalapenos, and other hot peppers of the Nightshade family can aggravate nervous, colicky or irritable conditions of the stomach and bowels. Nevertheless, Nightshade vegetables are hard to renounce, because they're so tasty.
Spicy vegetables stimulate the circulation, immunity and digestion, and can play a valuable therapeutic role in the daily diet. Fresh ginger root stimulates and harmonizes the stomach and digestion when eaten, is boiled as a tea as first aid for colds, increases the resistance of the organism to colds and flu when cooked into one's food, and purifies the lymphatic system as a tea. Onions also stimulate the immune system to throw off colds and flu and expel phlegm from the body, as does horseradish. Garlic not only stimulates the immune system against infection, but also normalizes blood pressure and circulation and kills off pathogenic bacteria in the intestines, while encouraging the growth of friendly bacteria. Radishes are a spicy vegetable that stimulates the stomach and digestion, eliminates excess phlegm, and stimulates the flow of bile.
Beans and Legumes
As a whole, beans can be a problematic food group, as many of them are hard to digest, often producing gas, distension and bloating. The more problematic beans are pinto beans and navy beans. The easier ones to digest are mung beans, adzuki beans, lentils and black beans. Nevertheless, many beans do have valuable therapeutic properties.
The soak water of mung beans or adzuki beans, if drunk in the morning upon arising, exerts a mild diuretic effect, and is cleansing and healing for the genitourinary tract. Black beans are strengthening to the kidneys, and adzuki beans are therapeutic in diabetes.
Cooking beans with the right spices greatly improves their digestibility. The best of these spices are Cumin, Wormseed. Caraway and Tarragon.
Certain other plants that are not beans are also plants of the legume family, which are sometimes used in cooking. Tamarind is used to make a cooling summer drink; it also has mild laxative properties, and can soften or moderate the action of harsh stimulant laxatives when used with them.
Carob, or the fruit of the Honey Locust tree, is rich in sugars and complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, Calcium, Iron and dietary fiber, and is a complete food. The syrup decocted from the Carob pod is used in the Middle East as a mild laxative. John the Baptist, when he preached and baptized in the wilderness, did not survive on honey and locusts, but rather on Carob, or the fruit of the Honey Locust tree, which is also called St. John's Bread.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a good source of protein, but they shouldn't be relied on as one's main source of protein because many have a kind of astringency that is irritating to the stomach, duodenum and gall bladder. These include peanuts and walnuts. Almonds are rendered much more digestible if they are soaked, and their skins removed, before eating.
If nuts are roasted, they must be roasted freshly, in small batches, right before eating, as they tend to go rancid very quickly after roasting. It's best not to eat roasted nuts unless you can roast them in this manner.
Perhaps the best nut or seed to eat is the sesame seed, which is highly nutitious and easy to digest. A sesame paste called Tahini is also widely used to make desserts and confections like halvah. Sesame seeds are also laxative, as their high oil content lubricates the bowels and softens the stool.
Pumpkin seeds are eaten by older men to improve the health of the prostate. They're also eaten to eliminate intestinal worms, or parasites.
In the traditional cosmology and worldview, the seed was the most balanced part of the plant, and the most nutritious because it contained the creative essence of the whole plant in miniature. The nutritive essence and Life Force of the whole plant are concentrated in its seed.
What are grains but seeds? They're seeds that are high in complex carbohydrates and caloric energy. As seeds, they are whole and complete, and capable of being the staff of life. But the various grains do have their different virtues.
Wheat is considered to be one of the more heating grains, and high in bodybuilding nutrients; however, in those so predisposed, it may be hard to digest, and aggravate phlegm and allergies. These are people with a gluten intolerance.
Rice is probably the most balanced and easy to digest grain, and the least problematic. Corn is also light and easy to digest, but is rather cooling, and can aggravate phlegm in sensitive individuals. Oats have a high mucilage content, which is very soothing to the stomach and intestines; oats also have the reputation of being a restorative for the nerves and beautifying to the skin.
Buckwheat is the most heating grain, and is the best to eat in winter. Millet is light and easy to digest, yet very high in protein. The favorite grain of Hippocrates and the classical Greek physicians was barley.
Milk and Dairy Products
Milk and dairy products are, as a whole, very cold, wet and phlegm forming. Milk is very concentrated nourishment given by a mother to her offspring at a time when the offspring's body is growing faster, and demanding more nutrients than ever. Dairy products, especially milk, being so rich and moist in nature, are the most suited to children and youths, whose bodies are themselves moister by nature, with the moisture fueling and being consumed by rapid growth.
Of all the various kinds of milk, cow's milk is considered to be the heaviest, richest and hardest to digest. And so, in Greece and other Balkan countries, milk and cheese from other animals, like sheep and goats, are also consumed.
Of all the dairy products, milk is the most cold, moist and phlegm forming. In declining order of dampness after milk are yogurt, fressh cheeses, and finally aged cheeses. Aged cheeses can also congest the liver, gall bladder and the bile.
Because of its cold, wet, phlegm forming nature, milk is often heated up and cooked with the following spices to improve its digestion and assimilation:Cinnamon, Cardamom, Allspice, Cloves, Ginger and Black Pepper.
Meat, Fish, Poultry and Eggs
In general, meat and flesh foods are the heaviest and hardest to digest; they also leave many toxic residues after digestion. Eggs and poultry are generally the easiest of the flesh foods on the organism, with fish, shellfish and red meat being the most difficult and problematic.
Red meat is the heaviest and hardest to digest of all flesh foods, and can easily aggravate bilious problems. Of these, the worst offender is beef, followed by pork and lamb. The heavy animal fat in beef and pork is very hard on the bile. To neutralize the toxins from red meat and aid in its digestion, it is either cooked or eaten with hot, pungent spices and condiments like Cloves, Mustard, Black Pepper, Garlic, Onions or Horseradish.
Fish tends to be heavy and cold in the residues it leaves behind, because it comes from the cold, watery depths of the ocean. Some kinds of fish, like cod, are lighter and easier to digest, whereas others, like tuna and mackerel, are heavier and more difficult to digest. To aid in its digestion, fish is commonly sprinkled with lemon juice; capers or horseradish are also good.
Shellfish pose a particular problem, as they tend to aggravate eczema, pustules, rashes, acne and various skin conditions. Also included within this group are lobster and shrimp. Oysters and shrimp have the reputation for being sexual tonics and aphrodisiacs. Turtle soup and turtle essence are great tonics for strengthening the Radical Moisture and the constitutional resilience of the organism.
In spite of all the problems connected with meat and flesh foods, one important reason why they are eaten, aside from their taste, is that they are good at strengthening and fortifying the organism, and in breeding abundant blood. In particular, the endocrine glands and their secretions are greatly nourished and benefitted by foods of animal origin.
Many people who abstain from eating meat do so for religious, moral or ethical reasons, because it involves the taking of sentient life. However, there is one medicinal superfood of animal origin that has great virtues as an endocrine tonic and adaptogen, which doesn't involve the taking, or even the inconveniencing, of any animal or sentient life form in its obtaining. That incredible tonic and superfood is Human Placenta.