Garden, Plant, Cook!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Food as Medicine - Prevention, Not Cures

Let your food be medicine and your medicine be food.

This oft-used admonition is credited to Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460 BC - 377 BC) an ancient Greek physician who is referred to as the "father of medicine" — it is his ‘oath' which our modern doctors take as their vow of healing — "...with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm ..." Epidemics, Book I, Ch. 2 (Source: Wikipedia).

Do you take supplements? Purchase the cheapest food? Do you go to the store with a recipe and not an open mind? Do you unmindfully accept the package labeling as to what you are buying? Do you know what is seasonally available in the produce section? Do you garden? Are you teaching your children to garden?

And finally, are you trying to save money? Ahhhhhhhh!

You know, all of the first questions really relate for many us, to the last one — and of course in our current economic climate the money question begs some answers and they can be found in the first questions.


First let me say that I am not saying that all supplements are wrong, or that you are making a mistake to take any supplements.

The point I want you to ponder is this: If you purchase unripe, out of season (by local standards) produce, packaged goods which say they are good for you but are not (you take the manufacturer's claims at face value), and then take supplements either because your doctor says you are lacking, or because you don't feel ‘up to par," are you not creating the need for the supplement, and perpetrating your own vicious cycle?

When Hippocrates admonished his patients to treat their food as medicine he meant for them to eat properly all the time and it would be their medicine - helping them stay healthy.


What's in season now where you live? Here in the Phoenix area, for produce raised within 100 miles of us, we have a lovely selection of at the very least:
Anise, Beets, Bok Choy , Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Cilantro, Diakon, Dill, Fennel, Greens, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuces, Onions, Parsley, Radicchio, Radishes, Rapini, Spinach, Squash, Winter, Swiss Chard, Tomatoes, Turnips, Apples, Grapefruit, Lemons, Limes, Oranges, Tangelos, Tangerines and for some areas we have peppers and eggplant, and kumquats are coming ripe.

Seasonal, local produce is better for you nutrient wise, it is usually far cheaper because it is local and does not have to be shipped far and if you cook seasonally you get a nice variety in your diet. (As a side benefit you are supporting your local producers and community.)

If you think you do not know how to prepare many vegetables, or ways to use fruits, keep this in mind:
Any combination of vegetables and herbs can be roasted with a bit of olive oil.
Any combination of fruit makes a wonderful compote, salad or side dish.
Go to the market not with a recipe (except the basic idea you want produce of some kind at each meal), but with your mind's eye open for the tasty and colorful possibilities. Roasted vegetables make a great base for stews, soups, or sauces. Prepped fruit is a fast snack.

Where do I begin with the challenges of buying nutritious manufactured/processed foods?
In an earlier blog posting (November 17, 2008) I gave you, my readers, a short method of determining nutrient density of packaged foods.

Recently, I purchased and read "Eat This Not That: Supermarket Survival Guide" by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding, after catching Zinczenko on a Rachael Ray show.

The focus on this book is weight loss through better choices - not just in packaged foods but the authors also include information on produce selection.

The difference of the focus between my early posting on nutrient density and this book is their primary concern is fats and sugars, with a strong emphasis on fiber (excellent!!!), while my emphasis is on fiber and protein. The "Eat This..." authors give you specifics on which foods to choose over others and my focus was on an easy (I think) formula for evaluating the foods.

I do want to emphasize — this is a great book for getting an understanding of what the processors are doing to the food you purchase and the often misleading labeling on the packages. They point out a nice little guideline to go by - how many ingredients are actually in a package — the less the better - they suggest you aim for 7 or less ingredients — and what are the first couple of ingredients (avoid like the plague anything which starts with sugar, high fructose corn syrup-- always a no-no). The authors go a little further and discuss avoiding foods which have more than one sweetener. This is a great education tool. To read more about the book and/or purchase click on the amazon link below.

The formula I worked up (the earlier posting has some examples of foods I regularly have in the house showing how the formula works) was something I felt the need to work out because of the quick way I/we all try to get through the grocery shopping experience.

Take the total grams of fiber and protein, added together and divided into the calories and you have a factor — that is the nutrient density of the product. Example: Green Soybeans-Frozen
(Edamame) Protein 10 Fiber 4 = 14 Calories 120 = Factor 9.

You are looking for a factor of 20 or less — the lower the factor the higher the nutrient density. One of the best cereals for many reasons (fiber, lowering cholesterol, maintaining level blood sugar) is old fashioned oatmeal — Old Fashioned Oats Protein 5 Fiber 4 = 9 Calories 150 = Factor 17 — and it only takes 5 minutes to cook this oatmeal.

If you take the formula to the store with you, you can easily and quickly compare products.

Please educate yourself and your children on prepared foods. Make a game of it - keeps them creatively occupied too - have them do the math on "my formula" and compare foods. Tell them to goal is the math ‘answer' needs to be lowest of all the options you look at.

On the opposite end of the nutrient density spectrum is dessert — and you need to engage the children is this formula comparison too. There are horrible dessert options and better ones. Try to keep the dessert factor to 40 or lower. Have the children make sure there is fiber in the dessert they are looking at.

Example of horrible: Kellogg's Granola Bar, Crunchy Almond/Brown Sugar Protein 2.96 Fiber 2.3 = 5.26 Calories 604 = Factor 114 !!!!!

Example of Better: Kroger Ginger Snaps Protein 2 Fiber 1 = 3 Calories 120 = Factor 40
(One of my favorite quick snacks is a small piece of cheddar cheese between 2 ginger snaps — nice complimentary flavors--an after school snack couple this plus some apple slices.)


First when you look to purchase seeds, find companies which have signed the voluntary "Safe Seed Pledge" begun in 1999 by High Mowing Seeds

The pledge is each company's stance on "...commitment to non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seed. We feel that the regulatory framework for the introduction of genetically modified crop varieties is flawed, and that GMO seeds themselves present a threat to plants' genetic diversity through their ability to pollinate non-GMO plants."

I would add, also, that the producers of GMO seeds (Monsanto among others) are attempting to buy up seed source companies. While they have not withdrawn those producers from commercial activity - if you were a company wanting to control source materials and replace them with your higher profit, monopolistic substitutes, what would you do?

Heirloom, hybrid, and organic will be phrases you see when seed and plant shopping.

Heirloom refers to an old or even ancient plant variety which cannot be patented, and is still around because 1) it produces consistently, with great flavor and, 2) people worked at keeping or reviving the strain for use.

Hybrid plants are crosses produced either spontaneously in the wild or garden, or intentionally created by horticulturists, farmers, gardeners or laboratories. Usually hybrid plants are patented which means you do not, as the purchaser of the plant, have a legal right to propagate it. This, by the way, is the underlying profit motive for the GMO producers, you only have the legal right to use the seed once and may not propagate it intentionally or ‘unintentionally' - chew on that one for a while.

Organic means the seed or plants were raised under certified conditions for organic plants meeting Federal organic standards.

Not all heirloom plants are raised organically, and not all hybrids are raised non-organically.

As a general concept — organically raised seed or plants are a good thing, but not necessarily needed in your garden if you garden with natural (meaning organic-like) practices - no chemicals. Plants not raised organically will have most of the offending chemicals out of their systems in 90-120 days.

As stated at the beginning of this section, if you purchase your plants or seeds from providers who have signed the safe seed pledge, then you can be reasonably assured you will be getting quality products, with no laboratory interference.

What to plant in February in your garden:

Herbs: Basil, Epazote, Hardy Herbs: oregano, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, lavender, sage, savory, bay, mint
Edible Flowers: Bee Balm (Monarda Didyma), English Daisy (Bellis Perennis), Hollyhock (Alcea Rosea), Marigold, French (Tagetes Patula), Marigold, Gem (Tagetes Tenuifolio), Marigold, Tangerine Scented (Tagetes Lemonii), Marigold, Signata, Marigold, Citrus Scented (Tagetes Nelsonii), Pansies (Viola X Wittrockiana), Primrose (Primula Vulgaris), Purslane (Portulaca X Hybrida), Safflower (Carthamus Tinctorius), Scented Geranium, Sunflower
Other Edibles: Artichoke, Asparagus, Beets, Bok Choy, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Chard & Mustard, Collards, Cucumbers, Corn, Fruit Trees, Green Onions, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lettuce & Greens, Musk & Winter Melons, Onion Sets, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Radishes, Spinach, Strawberry, Summer Squash, Tomatoes, Turnips, watermelon.


My 3-part "soil to table" class at the Desert Botanical Garden is coming up and filling up fast (there is a class limit) — First session is February 22. For information and registration (must pre- register) Call Steen Lawson Office 480.481.2066, or visit


Check out my posting on January 1st for Rosemary Lemonade
Goes along nicely with the following seasonal recipes:

1 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup shredded green cabbage
1 red apple
1 green apple
11/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
11/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon celery seed, crushed
Optional herbs: rosemary, thyme, oregano, cilantro, about half to 1 tablespoon finely minced.
Salt & pepper to taste (taste first)
Add celery seed to red wine vinegar and set aside. Core, shred or finely dice apples (don't peel). Toss with cider vinegar.
Mix cabbages and apples (including the cider vinegar) in a large bowl. Mix red wine vinegar/celery seed with olive oil, pour over salad, and toss to coat well. Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

...ah, the possibilities...frugal cooks once routinely saw the almost empty mustard jar as an opportunity for a salad dressing or sauce. Even 1 tablespoon left over could be turned into a tangy dinner enhancement.

1 almost empty mustard jar
2 tablespoons citrus juice (orange or tangerine are lovely)
4 tablespoons oil
Dash of salt and pepper
1 tablespoons fresh herb of choice, finely chopped (rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram or combination)
Place all ingredients in the jar, cap and shake well, dress the salad.

Options: If you enjoy chunky salads aka chopped salad (where the ingredients are left larger sized) create your own ‘green goddess' dressing — in a blender place this salad dressing and add 1-2 cups of finely chopped salad greens (lettuces, kale, escarole, etc.), blend to combine and pour over coarsely chopped vegetables.

1 almost empty mustard jar
2 tablespoons white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons vinegar, citrus juice or other fruit juice (pineapple, apple, etc.)
4 tablespoons finely chopped thyme, or 2 tablespoons finely chopped oregano, or 1 tablespoon of finely chopped rosemary.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Mix well and pour over boneless chicken or sturdy fish (tuna, shark, halibut, swordfish). Marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Grill until cooked through, about 10-15 minutes per side depending on thickness and heat of grill, basting with marinade periodically during grilling.

Find more recipes in my book "101+ Recipes from The Herb Lady"

Have a great day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady