Growing up, my mom was a very different type of cook than I turned out to be. She was definitely a product of her generation where Betty Crocker and technology in food science were much more appealing than always making stuff from scratch. The section of our cupboard that housed her spices was full of Lawry’s Seasoned salt and a few of the same old McCormick spice tins but there was this one jar that had actual whole leaves in it. I don’t remember her ever using it but I remember seeing it as I reached for the cinnamon sugar. It was decades before I found out just how interesting those leaves are!!
Bay Leaves, are just incredible! The leaves are picked and dried from a bay laurel, a type of evergreen that comes from the Mediterranean Sea although it is now gown all over the planet. In ancient Greece, students wore them as a crown when they finished their school- Baca- meaning branches and Lauris- laurel being the original beginning for baccalaureate. The Bay Laurel leaf was a symbol of victory and courage for both the Greeks and the Romans.
It’s important to note that Bay Laurel is the only plant I’m talking about here but there are several plants that often get interchanged for it due to their common name have “bay” such as California Bay, Indian Bay, or Mexican Bay. These are not the same plant and in fact aren’t even related to the Bay Laurel so don’t be confused. Most Bay Laurels are imported from Turkey or Greece. Look for darker color and those that are hand selected for a better and often fresher herb, as always I recommend organic.
In herbal medicine, BL has been studied for a number of things but it’s antioxidant properties are truly stand out. A group of Korean scientists were looking for the plant with the highest anti oxidant power and guess who came out on top, Yep!! Bay Laurel beat them all and even when tested against over the counter vitamins and supplements like Vit C and BHA and BHT, BL was victorious. In fact it even came up as an equal in resveratrol in red wine that part that makes people swear it’s a health food, so good news for those of us who don’t or can’t drink wine, we can have some Bay instead.
Since it’s the leader of the antioxidant world, it’s wonderful to add to your diet for overall health benefits but also to help with cancer, bacterial infections, SARS, and wound healing through out the body. Research has been done around the world on all of the above mentioned and it's always shown that Bay is a wonderful ally for them all.
One particular compound out of the 80 found in Bay Leaf stands out and it’s in a class called sesquiterpenes which are really keen at helping stabilize blood sugars. In a recent study, people with Type 2 diabetes took bay laurel supplement and in just 30 days, 26% saw consistent drops in blood sugar AND their LDL cholesterol dropped anywhere from 20-24% while their HDL cholesterol rose 20- 29%.
It’s used to help with ulcers and the inflammatory responses in the body such as arthritis, indigestion or minor aches and pains. It’s been compared to anti inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen and naproxen with no known side effects or counter indications.
Bay Laurel is a tasty plant and you can make teas from it, add a little cinnamon, mints or thyme. It’d be great with all three actually. In cooking it’s typically added to savory or fatty dishes. It pairs well with basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, garlic or cumin. I personally never make a pot of soup with out several. Add it to pot roasts, any and all tomato based foods and seafood boils or mashed potatoes.
Fennel, a plant that is known as an herb, a veggie and a spice- ooohhh how nice!
This plant has been on my mind a lot lately as I have several clients who are trying to improve their gut health and this beautiful guy is perfect for that and more. It’s not very popular in the US but I’m hoping that changes as more and more people try it for themselves. It’s my son’s favorite herb so we always have it on hand. He grew up eating Indian food at Sitar, it was his favorite restaurant. In fact we took him there for his first birthday, but anyway he always loved the fennel seeds you can get when you leave. His carseat used to be full of them.
Perhaps what fennel is most known for in the healing world is it’s ability to calm a colicky baby and if you’ve ever experienced a colicky baby you would gladly pay a king's ransom to get some help. One study of 125 babies with diagnosed colic were divided into 2 groups, one with a placebo and the other with fennel. The fennel eliminated colic in 65 % of the babies and reduced it in the other 35 %.
Fennel is both anti inflammatory and high in antioxidants with some studies showing it to be more powerful that the often touted Vitamin E. Oxidation and inflammation are the undynamic duo that cause pretty much all chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, arthritis, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Fennel gets studied often because it is such a powerful ally and it’s tasty, not a common combo. Researchers in India have been leading studies on it’s effects on Alzheimer’s and dementia and have proven that Fennel seeds consumed long term “profoundly” boosted the brain chemical called acetylcholine, which is what drugs created to help with cognitive disorders do with no side effects.
Researchers in Morocco found that fennel lowered systolic blood pressure and prevented platelet aggregation, both of which are key reasons behind strokes, embolisms and heart attacks without the side effects of aspirin. Most type 2 diabetics, heart patients and people recovering from strokes are encouraged or required to take aspirin daily despite the recent side effects coming to light. I’d love to see fennel as a replacement offered in the medical community.
I use fennel seed often to help ease flatulence or stomach upset in clients, such as IBS, candida, heart burn, esophagitis, diarrhea, flu bugs, or just nervous stomach. It can be mixed with rosemary and activated charcoal for food poisoning and it’s safe for babies and has little recorded contra indication.
Fennel seeds, once dried keep for up to 3 years in a dry place with no excess heat or light. The fronds are definitely more delicate and should be eaten first, while the bulb will keep for about a week in the fridge. Much longer than that and it looses it’s potency and starts to shrivel. Fennel is super easy to add to your diet.
The fronds can be diced and added to salads, put on a sandwich or turned into a tea. I like the fronds sprinkled in chicken salad or even a fruit salad is good. The bulb is fantastic roasted with other veggies. You can eat it in it’s whole form here or puree all the veg and make a creamed soup. It pairs really well with apples, any root veg, or onions. Try it in your veggies cooked on a chicken or pot roast. The seeds can be added to bread doughs, pasta sauces, muffins, scrambled eggs or made into a tea.
Black Pepper, often called “the king of spices” is the most commonly used spice in the world for good reason. Not only does it’s potent flavor improve the taste of foods from meats to pastas and every veggie and grain in between it also can be a not so secret ally in your medicine cabinet.
During the Middle Ages, black pepper was one of the most coveted spices in Europe, your status and wealth could be defined by how much black pepper you had in storage. In fact it is one of the spices that pushed Columbus’s trek for a more direct route to India. Sadly, we know how this worked out. Growing and exporting black pepper in Vietnam has recently edged India out of it’s first place slot of growing this plant, but India still boasts having the most prized spice with the highest volatile oil content which makes it the best tasting and the best for healing mojo.
Black pepper corns are actually a fruit and they grow like grapes in bunches on a vine that usually reaches 30 feet or so in height. As the fruit ripens it changes color to a dark green. That dark green layer known as a pericarp will darken and get rough as it dries eventually turning black giving us black pepper. There are other “colors” of pepper on the market such as green, white and pink. All peppers have the compound piperine which is the part of the plant that gives us it’s flavor and healing goodness but black has it most concentrated and that is the one with the most healing effects.
Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine have used it for centuries to help with constipation, tooth decay, sunburn, arthritis, lung disease and heart disease. Scientists have also studied it’s effects on protecting hearing, preventing heart disease by lowering high blood pressure and treating hyperthyroidism.
Today scientists have found that it aids in digestion speeding up the transit time that it takes for food to move through the digestive tract and out the body. It also helps people who have dysphasia or difficulty swallowing simply by smelling the oils in black pepper. It also has been shown to inhibit colon cancer growth as both a preventative to avoid a diagnosis of colon cancer and something to take while treating a current case.
Piperine not only helps with the above aspects of digestion it also helps you metabolize medications better by increasing the bioavailability of a drugs like antibiotics, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, cough medicines, arthritis, respiratory medications, TB and even drugs for HIV/AIDS.
Other cancers it has been shown to help the body fight are lung cancer and breast cancer. In fact one study published in Cancer Letters, Indian doctors noted an increased lifespan of 65% in animal trials simply by adding black pepper extract to their daily diet.
Using black pepper is easy as you can add it to most foods. Look for dark and rough skinned pepper corns, shiny is not your friend here. It’s best to buy whole and grind it fresh as you need it. Your pepper grinder should be metal, glass or plastic not wood as it leeches the oils from the pepper.
Meats and fatty foods can take a LOT of pepper so be generous to the point of obnoxious. Add it in marinades, salad dressings and always keep a grinder on the table. I like adding a dash of pepper to teas or even a coffee with warming spices like a chai or cinnamon blend. It’s great with cloves or ginger in tea. PLAY with it. Start small and adjust the more comfortable you get.
Black Pepper Rice
1 cup rice
1 TBSP olive oil
1 small dried chile or a dash of chipotle
2 tsp of dried ginger or an inch or so of fresh minced
1-2 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 cup onions, chopped- feel free to add in garlic, lots of garlic
1/4 cup sliced almonds or another nut
1. Cook rice according to directions and let it cool for an hour or so. I do it over night all the time.
2. Heat oil in a pan or wok. When oil is hot throw in the dried spices and cook about 30 seconds stirring the whole time.
3. Add in onions and fresh spices if using. Cook for a minute or so and add in rice. Mix together and add in nuts and salt to taste.
Wife, Mom, herbalist and friend. Feel free to change the order of the description to fit your needs, I do several times a day.