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Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Food Pharmacy

This past week, two people dear to my heart suffered from bad burns in their arms while in their kitchens. One of them rubbed butter on the wound right after the burn, which was a TERRIBLE mistake, as fat retains heat and that's exactly the opposite you need when the skin needs to cool down. 

Due to those two burns and in preparation to the imminent arrival of the flu (and regular cold) season with all its greatness, I decided to use this post to write about the most potent food-derived remedies I know of and that I have successfully used with my family.

Of course, as much as I love telling people what to do, this is no substitution for medical advice!

Now, let's get back to the burns. As many of us know, instead of oil, something cooling like ice or cold water is the way to go. My grandmother used to rub egg whites on burnt skin, and I remember it healing quite well, however, some doctors do not recommend that, as there's a concern for infection.

A great (in my opinion, the best) option is to always keep available a jar of good raw honey.  I wrote about it extensively here. But I'll recap. To a certain degree, all raw good quality honey has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory, properties and compounds that help reduce pain and stimulate tissue repair. However, the strength of all those compounds vary from honey to honey depending on how it was produced, its place of origin, and the kind (s) flowers it derived from. Darker colored honeys tend to have stronger medicinal properties, but it's not a rule. 

Manuka honey has been widely studied and has shown amazing results for healing skin wounds and burns.  Manuka is a specific kind of honey derived from the pollen of the Manuka bush flowers that are native to New Zealand. This particular honey contains a strong antibacterial compound (MG), and honey producers in that country developed a scale to rate the potency of each specific batch of manuka honey depending on its concentration of MG. That rating system is called UMF, and in order to be considered of therapeutic level, the manuka honey should have a minimum of 10 UMF (and that's marketed as Active Manuka Honey). That's why if you decide to invest (yes, for all the reasons stated above, producing, transporting, distributing and buying manuka isn't cheap) in a container of manuka, make sure you purchase one that is above 10.

With all this said, a local raw honey might (or might not) be as effective and full of amazing compounds as a jar of manuka, but there aren't any rating systems established in the U.S. A farmer's market is a great place to buy local honey, and the person selling it might know about the composition of his/her honey, and to some extent, all honeys contain beneficial compounds. Avoid giving honey to children under 1 year of age and don't go for the $2.00 squeeze bear of processed (pasteurized) honey. That's been depleted from all the goodness.
Since honey never spoils, it's a no-brainer to always keep a jar in the cupboard (or in the medicine cabinet).

I did criticize above the old belief that butter heals burns as a false remedy passed by our mothers or grandmothers. But credit is due to our mothers, grandmothers, and great, great, great, great....great grandmothers and their herbal, food, home and folk remedies. Many of them are now being backed by science as the best ways to make us feel better and help us recover without scary side effects.

Chicken soup, chamomile tea, brewer's yeast, rice and carrots, burnt orange juice...Which ones did you grow up with? I'd LOVE to hear from your personal home remedies, please share in The Irony of Baking's FB page here.

In my family, freshly squeezed lime juice with honey were essential when we had a cold, and I keep giving that to my children. The vitamin C from the citrus and the properties of the honey are proven to help the healing process. Remember to use RAW honey!  
At my friend Karla's home, they took it to the next level: the concoction also had fresh minced garlic, which although didn't make it quite as palatable, the allicin and other active compounds in garlic contributed even further with their strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties (plus garlic also helps prevent cancer, heart disease and inflammation).

I grew up in a household were home remedies, homeopathy, shamanism (although this one freaked me out), acupuncture (I never forgave my mom for that one!), herbology and traditional medicine were all welcome, and I'm thankful for that (with some exceptions). When we had bad coughs, while in bed ready to sleep, an adult would iron a couple of sheets of newspaper a la Downton Abbey, and still warm (but not burning), would put them directly on our chests and backs, then PJ's on top, blankets and we were supposed to sleep. That's where the problem was: the smell of warm newspaper made me gag and the stiff pulp pajama that creaked as I tried to move left me sleepless. How was I supposed to get better? That's why I don't iron my children when I put them to bed (nor subscribe to the NYT), and why when my grandmother called me to praise the wonders of Oil of Oregano to heal/prevent coughs and colds, I was a bit skeptic. 

But then, Gwyneth, my idol, also raved about the pizza joint-smelling extract; and I was all in (pathetic...I know, but when Gwyneth says jump, I jump!). Oil of oregano (make sure it's good quality) is a very potent antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, anti-parasitic, antiseptic, anti-viral, and disinfectant. It's quite strong, so it must be diluted before consuming it or using it topically, and the dilution depends on the concentration of the specific one you find. Make sure to read the directions on each specific bottle, as the recommendations may range between 4 and 40 drops! For adults, I use the recommended dosage and I mix it with honey or in a smoothie, the minute we start feeling sick, and for children, I add half of the recommended amount to their honey and lime mixture. It's remarkably effective. 

Another successful tip from my grandmother's repertoire is Celery Tea. It works like magic for menstrual cramps. I tried to find something about it online, and although I found recommendations for celery seed tea, grandma taught me that if you steep a couple of celery ribs (and leaves) in hot water for about 10 minutes, and sip it (you could add honey) you can be ready to roll out of bed and go about your day as if no monthly visits had tortured you before the tea. I couln't find much science to back it up, but all my friends from high school adopted the remedy due to its success. It does work!

For stomach ache, I grew up with the typical (and very effective due to its calming and anti-inflammatory compounds) chamomile tea. When I got pregnant for the first time and suffered from morning sickness all day long, I learned about the effectiveness of ginger for nausea and indigestion. But that's not all about ginger. Read this and you'll always keep some of this fresh root handy.

And I couldn't go on without mentioning turmeric, which is an incredible anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rhizome. You can easily purchase it in dry (or fresh) form and add it to dishes, smoothies or tea when you suffer from any sort of inflammation to accelerate the healing process. The turmeric compounds (AKA curcuminoids) are absorbed by our bodies much better, when consumed combined with black pepper and/or with fat. Some good ideas are curry dishes (with coconut milk, coconut oil) or olive oil, nut butters, avocados, or even with chocolate!

Now...don't even get me started on fermented foods, especially right after a round of antibiotics. The more kinds of cultured foods, the better your flora will get restored. My mom Z"L used to give us brewer's yeast. It was a bit disgusting, but after reading about our microbiota, I realized how wise she was to force us to swallow it! For my whole spiel on that, read my post here.

In case you weren't in the mood to read all my marvelous prose at length, here's the bottom line on which food helps with each health issue (remember: don't substitute these for a visit to the doctor):   .



  • COLDS: Fresh citrus, raw honey, freshly minced garlic, oil of oregano.

  • BURNS:Manuka honey (or other raw dark hued honeys)

  • INFLAMMATION: Curry powder (turmeric

  • MENSTRUAL CRAMPS: Celery tea

  • STOMACH ACHE/INDIGESTION: Chamomile tea, and/or ginger tea 

  • NAUSEA: Ginger

FERMENTED FOODS: Consume regularly to help maintain health and especially after consuming antibiotics to restore your gut with good microorganisms and prevent invasion of bad ones.