Food as medicine: The functions of food as traditional medicine and in boosting one’s health

By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Modern medicine has come so far in addressing health issues that the world faces today. Pills, tablets, shots, and all sorts of treatments have become available to treat ailments and illnesses. Yet, traditional medicine in the form of food and plants still hasn’t faded from the spotlight. 

Healthcare professionals like doctors, nutritionists, and more even recognize the role of food, herbs, and other traditional plants to treat common ailments or boost a person’s immune system. 

One such practitioner is Mechelle Acero Palma, a medical doctor who developed the first training and curriculum on Culinary Medicine in Asia to explore the benefits of nutrition prescription and translating them into the kitchen to produce healthy plant-based meals. 

Palma said during an AgriTalk 2020 webinar which aired live on the Facebook Page of Agricultural Training Institute-Region 6 that food can be considered as medicine because it too has active constituents, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and water. All of which help the body in fighting against diseases while also maintaining its general health. 

For example, cabbage, which is usually used in soups and stir-fry noodles, can actually act as detoxifying and inner-cleansing agents. Fresh cabbage juice taken five times a day for two weeks can also be a remedy for stomach ulcers. 

“It’s important that the cabbage is naturally produced since the fresh juice is what we need to treat patients for stomach ulcers. If it’s not naturally produced, it’s best to just use it externally,” Palma said. 

Naturally grown fruits and vegetables steer clear from the use of chemicals thus keeping the consumer safe from ingesting such compounds. 

On the other hand, hot cabbage leaves can be applied to muscle aches, arthritis, and rheumatism to soothe the pain.

Another example is carrots. This vegetable is a good source of vitamin A and is also used as a blood cleanser. Moreover, it can help boost the immune system of children and cancer patients. 

Palma advises that although these ingredients have their own medical properties, it’s best to cook them properly if they are to be consumed. Cooking can bring out or enhance the health benefits of vegetables and such while also ridding itself of harmful chemicals and the likes. 

Treating illnesses with herbs

Apart from the health and medicinal benefits that are in fruits and vegetables, another traditional form of medicine that’s also natural can be found in herbs. 

“Like medicine, herbs also have specific functions in treating ailments. These include antibacterial, purgative or laxative, and analgesic or pain relieving properties,” Palma said. 

One medical property that’s common among most herbs is that they are carminative or able to relieve the body from flatulence or excess gas. Some examples include basil, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, onion, oregano, pepper, rosemary, thyme, and more. 

Meanwhile, Palma said that patients who are hypertensive or have hypertension could do well with diuretic herbs that help expel urine from the body and dissolve kidney stones. This includes horsetail (Equisetum arvense), sambong (Blumea balsamifera), and cat whiskers (Orthosiphon aristatus)

“Sambong is popular among Filipinos and was originally known to treat fevers. But with research, it was discovered that it also has diuretic properties to help remove toxins from the body through urine,” the doctor said. 

But when it comes to herbs that can reduce the need for prescription drugs, Palma suggested chilis (capsicum or cayenne), eucalyptus, and mint because these can be alternatives to anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat chronic as well as mild to moderate pain. 

“Mint is one of the ten medicinal plants that’s proven to help with pain. It can be taken orally like a decoction or infusion. This will not only help with muscular pain but it also has carminative properties and can treat headaches, fever, and more,” she said. 

Another medical function of herbs is having sedative properties. This helps calm the nerves or make sleeping easier. Examples of these include butterfly pea, coriander, lettuce, and mint. 

These are only some of the things that herbs can do in terms of medicine since there are a lot more that people can explore. But like medicine, it’s best to take things in consideration and consult professionals first before using or ingesting these. 

Watch the full video of the AgriTalk 2020 webinar here. AgriTalk is presented by Agriculture magazine, Manila Bulletin, the Agricultural Training Institute, and Smart Communications, Inc.

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Patricia Bianca S. Taculao
Patricia Taculao, or Patty as she likes to be called, is a content producer for Manila Bulletin Digital Lifestyle. She graduated from University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She loves to spend her free time, reading, painting, and watching old movies.

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