Monday, 6 July 2009

Herbs - Yea or Nay? Pt 2 - Flavourings, fragrance


In Pt 1 I explained the Natural Hygiene view of herbal medicine and why I wouldn't use herbal medicine now, any more than I'd use conventional medicine.

However, NH doesn't just see herbal medicine as toxic. It sees herbs as toxic per se.

NH says herbs shouldn't be ingested at all. Not for healing. Not for teas. And...not in any other way either.

But, we find, amongst those who are known to be Natural Hygiene in philosophy, differing opinions on the use of herbs as flavourings. It appears that although the majority of classic Natural Hygiene writings veto herbs across the board, some who we might describe as Natural Hygiene-orientated, such as Dr Doug Graham ('80/10/10 Diet') and (the less famous) Debbie Took, do mix herbs with their food.

The 'could we make a meal out of it?' argument

Some NH'ists say that the test of whether something is a suitable food for human beings is whether we'd enjoy it in large quanties.

It's fair to say that I wouldn't enjoy eating a bowl of parsley, or basil, on its own. But then I wouldn't 'make a meal out of' celery either, which NH does say is a suitable food for us. I quite like the taste of celery in small quantities, but wouldn't relish more than a stick, or possibly, two. In fact, I find the taste changes from pleasant to unpleasant soon after that. I greatly enjoy a little chopped celery added to meals, as a flavouring, and in that respect I can find little difference between adding celery to meals and adding parsley.

And, much as I enjoy bell peppers, chopped and added to salads, I don't find the thought of a bowl of them attractive. I also use lemon and lime juice for flavouring, in small amounts, both of which are recommended as flavourings in Natural Hygiene texts.

So, it doesn't seem logical to me to say that herbs shouldn't be ingested because we 'can't make a meal out of them', as NH'ists are fine on using other substances that they would almost certainly not enjoy eating in large quantities.

What do animals do?

Sometimes nature can provide clues as to how to eat optimally, eg animals don't damage their food by cooking it, they eat simply, they don't blend 'abombo-combos', and they eat foods singly rather than mixed. And not only do they not mix their foods, they don't add 'flavourings' either. But then, there are many differences between humans and 'all other animals', and they're not all bad...those relevant to this discussion could include: we decorate, we combine, we create...

Also, animals do sometimes seek out certain plants to ingest in small amounts only. There are various theories as to why they do this, and I won't go into those here, as they're theories only, suffice to say simply that animals do occasionally ingest things that they don't eat in large quantities.

'If it tastes nasty that's nature's way of telling us we shouldn't eat it.'

Agree. However, the taste thing can be a bit subjective. Renowned Natural Hygienist Herbert Shelton said: 'almost without exception, herbs are bitter, strong and foul tasting.' I can't agree with that. I've just run outside and torn off a basil leaf. Being as fair as I can be, I wouldn't say it tastes good. But wouldn't say it tastes bad either. I'd say it tastes 'interesting but I wouldn't like a lot of it.' A little mixed in with a salad? Definitely. I'd say similar for dill - which imparted a delicious flavour to a melon-cucumber soup made recently.

I've just tried a sage leaf. Looks beautiful, smells good. Tastes...not good. So, I'm thinking that perhaps sage shouldn't be eaten, or at least my body says no. If we've been raw for a while, I think we can trust our bodies to tell us as to whether something is 'so good, eat tons!', 'OK - maybe eat a little', or 'no way!'.
Cilantro (coriander leaves) is an interesting one. I detest cilantro and will only tolerate it if it well-disguised in a mixture. Natural Hygiene tells me that that means cilantro is not fit for human consumption. However, other raw people I know love it, and will eat it in quantity. So, I feel the taste test can work well for individuals, that is, cilantro is not for my body, but may be fine and even good for other bodies! So I'm not sure that it makes sense for one raw fooder to make a judgement on what food is or isn't optimal for all raw fooders based solely on what their own taste buds tell them.

'Condiments pervert the tastebuds.'

Many Natural Hygienists see herbs as flavourings just the way they see 'condiments' in general, such as salt or chili - the arguments against using them being that if we add such strong flavourings to food the tastebuds will become so accustomed to their use that, sadly, our food will seem 'bland' and unattractive without them.

However, although I've certainly had to work hard to wean myself off salt (and not quite there yet!), and it's certainly the case that use of salt can make foods seem flavourless without it (when of course the 'flavour' is that of the salt itself, masking the true flavour), this isn't the case with herbs. I can enjoy a dish with herbs, and without. I don't recall anyone saying that they can only enjoy such-and-such dish with herbs, but have heard many say similar about salt (and chili).

Are herbs toxic?

I've discussed the toxicity of herbs when made into medicines, and, even in natural, 'undecocted' states, herbs will contain toxins to some degree. As to whether the level is going to give our bodies any problems is debatable. Certainly they will in some herbs. For example, pennyroyal, a mint I used to have in the garden has been used in the past as an abortifacent. And there are herbs that will play havoc with our own hormones.

NH says that because there are volatile oils and alkaloids in (all) herbs that can result in severe illness or even death in some cases if large amounts are consumed, they shouldn't be ingested at all (although note alkaloids are contained in many plant foods, such as tomatoes and bell peppers).

This discussion links to some extent with the 'could we make a meal out of it?' argument. I'm thinking my tastebuds would soon find the taste of anything more than a tiny amount of a herb sufficiently repellent to ensure that my body did not receive a dose likely to cause problems. Again, the 'aliesthenic taste change' mechanism can come to our rescue here. When we eat raw, (note - doesn't work for cooked food, doesn't work for cooked herbs (medicines!) we can rely on our bodies to tell us, by eliciting revulsion, when we've had enough for our bodies' requirements.

At this point, I'm guessing that some readers will be sighing with relief along the lines of 'yes, exactly! That's what I feel!'. Others will be rolling their eyes, smiling at the efforts of this fledgling NH'ist to construct seemingly-plausible arguments to persuade herself that it's fine to carry on eating things she just doesn't want to give up.

And they may be right. But, at present, I'm not convinced that they should be 'non grata' in my kitchen, and a few strips of basil on hunks of sliced tomato evokes such sweet memories for me that, for now, I'm using some herbs in small amounts for flavourings. What's for certain though is that, while I am using them, I'll thoroughly enjoy the flavours, and will not be beset by anxieties as to whether I should be using them or not, as it's certainly not going to help my body cope with any toxins in them by enervating myself getting all stressed when I eat them!

Dr Doug Graham, who certainly takes a Natural Hygiene stance in most things, makes an exception for herbs. At a recent workshop, he had us listing all the herbs we could possibly think of, as possibilities for flavourings for dressings, soups...amongst herbs he used himself were cilantro, mint and rosemary, recommending rosemary with cauliflower (tried this - not to my taste!), and mango with 'chocolate mint' (now that was good, although I'd needed to make a visit to the Herb Farm to buy that particular variety of mint - it 'sort of' tastes like chocolate - 'After Eights' perhaps (from a previous life!)).


Now, most importantly...herbs, or at least most herbs, smell wonderful! Now, isn't that the main thing that differentiates herbs (or what we in present day call herbs) from all other plants? Fragrance! So, as they're special for that, might that not be a clue as to how human beings are to benefit most from them?

The aromas of herbs can lift our spirits. Lavender is said to be calming. The smell of thyme and curry plant on a hot day gives me a feeling of well-being, perhaps because the smells evoke memories of happy days in Greece. I might have a bath with a little lavender or rosemary sprinkled in. And if anyone who knows me is reading this, please could I have a massage with aromatherapy for next birthday?

I'm sure that herbs can help our bodies heal themselves, in that pleasant fragrances can make us feel good, happy, relaxed, and thus free energy for our bodies to be able to carry out vital work. That's got to be good!


So - I won't be making medicines out of nature's fragrant little gifts to us, as explained in Part 1. But I will be mixing in little bits of the unadulterated plants with my foods, for now..., revel in the beautiful fragrances, and appreciate their beauty (and hardiness - in most cases) in my garden.

(PS Do recommend a soup of blended (very) ripe mango with a few fennel fronds - courtesy of Dr Doug!)

No comments: