HEALTH IN A PILL?
In cultures where longevity was common and degenerative
disease rare, the traditional diet functioned like preventive
medicine. It featured hearty broths, a dizzying variety
of vegetables and wild herbs, small amounts of nutrient-dense
meats (including liver, kidney, etc.), fermented grains
and cultured dairy products with beneficial bacteria,
loads of fiber, minerals, natural anti-oxidants and
anti-inflammatory compounds. (These diets didn't contain
chemicals, hydrogenated fats, sugars, refined or fake
foods, etc.) Many "modern" people pop acidophilus
capsules, take dessicated glandulars, mineral supplements
and Omega-3 fish oil, hoping for the best.
If only we could take a few pills and guarantee vital
health, right? Well, it's not that simple. In general,
vitamins, minerals and trace elements depend upon each
other. Good quality food and herbs, in a diverse, well-prepared
diet, contain these elements, in just the right balance.
What if we returned to eating not one or two, but all
of these complete foods? Could we set the supplements
aside? (I understand that people with serious health
challenges may need supplements to help turn things
I know what you're thinking: "But how could we
get what we need? Our world is so toxic, soils are depleted,
and foods don't contain the nutrients they once did."
Good point. My answer? Look for a complete palette of
essential elements in the neglected weeds of the land
and sea--wild foods and seaweed.
It pays to acquire a taste for sea vegetables, which
offer a bounty of minerals and trace elements. Eating
just two tablespoons a day is a reasonable and affordable
goal. I regularly use seven different tasty varieties,
most of them gathered in clean waters off the coast
Wild greens and herbs contain a gold mine of vitamins
and minerals (always gather them on clean land). For
example, wild dandelion leaves boast about twice the
beta carotene and calcium as spinach. Lambsquarters,
purslane, dandelion, amaranth greens and mallow are
delicious and free for the taking, probably in your
There are a couple of inexpensive supplements that
can really make a difference. One is cod liver oil,
an "old-fashioned" item with an A+ reputation.
It nourishes the cardiovascular, nervous, immune and
respiratory systems, bones, skin and more. If you just
can't chug the oil, then try capsules. To avoid a potentially
dangerous buildup of vitamin D, take the oil only from
mid-October to mid-April, and don't use it when living
in a tropical area.
The other is flax seed. It's a food, an herb and a
medicine, and a month's supply costs only a few bucks.
Freshly ground, raw flax seeds help prevent breast and
prostate cancer, normalize the menstrual cycle, and
GOOD FOOD = GREAT HEALTH INSURANCE!
Many people seek the omega-3 cold-water fish oils, and
end up purchasing relatively affordable farm-raised
salmon (which, by the way, has considerably lower levels
of omega-3s than its wild brethren). Since health problems
abound on most fish farms, you'll want to avoid farm-raised;
but then the real thing--wild salmon--may be out of
range for your tightwad budget. Consider sardines! Some
people have unpleasant visceral reactions to this suggestion,
but there are some very good tasting brands, like Bela.
Sardines are cheap, eminently therapeutic, and these
baby fish haven't had time to accumulate mercury. Eat
whole (not boneless/skinless), smoked sardines, packed
in olive oil (not cottonseed or soy oil). Cost? As little
as $1.60 per can--even lower if you purchase by the
Many of the best meals start with sautéed onion
and garlic (rich in anti-oxidants). A once-weekly serving
of shiitake mushrooms (tasty immune support) might cost
$1.50. Miso, a traditionally fermented food, is easy
to add to your diet. Thin a scant teaspoonful in a bit
of water and add to soups or stews just before serving
(cooking kills the organisms), or mix with tahini for
a sandwich spread. My favorite is the "mellow white"
variety. A reasonable amount of complex carbohydrates--dried
beans, whole grains, etc.--are important, too. If pre-soaked
or sprouted, so much the better.
Nuts and seeds have such excellent credentials that
they deserve a place on your table. Pumpkin, sunflower
and sesame seeds; New Mexico-grown pecans; lightly roasted
almonds and walnuts...buy them raw, in bulk, for the
best prices. Excess carbohydrate intake is the usual
culprit when it comes to weight gain, but if you tend
that way, you may need to limit your nuts.
Top quality saturated and monounsaturated fats play
a critical role in body chemistry: These include grass-fed
meats, olive oil, coconut oil, real butter and ghee,
avocado, goat and sheep cheese, buttermilk, unsweetened
yogurt. Actually, dairy products made from raw milk
are far superior to pasteurized, but they're hard to
find (some are illegal to sell). In New Mexico, certain
raw milk cheeses are available (Organic Valley brand
is one)--check your specialty cheese counter or local
farmers for raw options, and look for the best buy.
(Some may not thrive on meat or dairy, so fine-tune
these issues with a practitioner.)
Include generous amounts of fruits and vegetables,
whose brightly colored pigments store resveratrol, carotenoids,
lycopenes, anthocyanins, epicatechins and all those
unpronounceable things that are so good for you. They
also balance out excess acidity in the body. In general,
the darkest, richest colors offer the most (cabbage
and cauliflower being notable exceptions). Don't eat
only broccoli; make friends with collards, kale, Swiss
chard and bok choy. In the fruit world, blueberries
rank number one in antioxidants, followed by raspberries,
sour cherries, blackberries and strawberries. These
powerful fruits can be kept frozen and used daily. In
small quantities, unsulfured dried fruits like apricots,
figs and raisins have many benefits. Combine fruits
with nuts and yogurt for a balanced snack. Fruit juice
is pricey and contains loads of sugar. Instead, eat
whole fruit or dilute your juices.
ANCIENT, ELEGANT MEDICINES
While the pharmaceutical industry appears to be in the
midst of a long-overdue moral crisis (over Premarin,
Prozac, Vioxx, Celebrex), and public confidence in drugs
is heading toward the gutter, the world of herbal medicine
marches on as it has for thousands of years, safely
providing unique qualities unavailable in drugs. And
they don't cost much. The ultimate way to save money
on medicines is by growing or gathering plants for a
home pharmacy. You can address an astonishing number
of minor health conditions with a few ordinary herbs
like chamomile, mullein, peppermint, yarrow, etc.
Robust health is more likely when you encourage harmonious
gut functioning, keep your liver happy and soothe your
adrenal glands. Herbs easily accomplish such goals.
Tea blends with plants like nettle, red clover, oatstraw,
raspberry leaves, horsetail and spearmint, offer minerals
in abundance. Frequent use of culinary herbs do more
than simply flavor your food. They're medicines, too,
and as their volatile compounds pass through your body,
they relax your gut, prevent infection, and more. Use
minimal amounts of ginger, cayenne and cinnamon (rather
heating); add basil, thyme, oregano, fennel, dill and
rosemary with a heavier hand.
Here's one example of a combination tonic that covers
a lot of bases, acting on the liver, kidneys, skin,
circulation, gut and adrenal glands. Mix dried herbs
in a jar: Two parts each Jamaican sarsaparilla root
and Eleuthero root (formerly Siberian ginseng); one
part each burdock root and dandelion root; one-half
part each licorice root and ginger root. Simmer one
level teaspoon of the root mixture in a cup of water
for ten minutes, and drink one to two cups a day. Herbalists
can suggest a daily tonic blend to support your well-being,
based upon your individual constitution.
It's my fervent wish that people could be healthy without
spending a fortune. Self-care is a revolutionary act
in a culture steeped in consumerism, and where health
care is big business. So find practitioners who will
teach you skills to care for yourself and try a few
of my suggestions. I wish you vibrant health!
* GARDENING the SOUTHWEST: How to care for your land
while growing food, beauty and medicine, by Carole Tashel
(1999, Healing Earth Publications) - Available from