Why is it that some Indian food recipes tend to go easy on the digestive tract even when eating more than you should? The secret lies in the herbs and spices used to make their sauces with that fuel the body's digestive powers.
Coriander, turmeric, cardamon, black pepper, cumin are all common ingredients in their dishes. Anise seeds are commonly consumed after a meal for the same reason.
With some experimentation adding the following condiments to your meal preparations, you will be providing your body with that extra edge it needs when digesting certain foods or food groups.
What follows is a list of common herbs and spices, along with their specific digestive benefits, derived in part from personal experience and the following sources: Medical Medium materials, Journal of Medicinal Food, Dr. Axe, and the Journal of Nutrition
Turmeric – helps digests all types of foods; cleanses the liver & blood, improves circulation by promoting bile to digest oils and fats in the bloodstream; potent antioxidant, addresses inflammation, viral, bacterial, and parasitical infections
Black Pepper – helps digest fats/oils, dairy; and as a circulatory stimulant it improves nutrient assimilation by improving bile flow, thus predigestion of oils & fats before they enter the bloodstream
Ginger – helps digest all types of foods; muscle relaxant; antioxidant; promotes B-12 production & nutrient assimilation as a circulatory stimulant; addresses nausea, inflammation, viral, bacterial, and parasitical infections
Cinnamon – second most effective spice for sugar metabolism; reduces triglycerides, total cholesterol & inflammation; addresses bacterial infections
Cloves – the most effective spice for sugar metabolism; antioxidant; protects the liver against injury; reduces inflammation. Use in moderation as clove is one of the most potent sources of eugenol which can be toxic in very large amounts, but perfectly medicinal in moderate amounts.
Cardamon – helps digest fats/oils, dairy; most effective common spice for reducing respiratory phlegm and sinus congestion caused by dietary fat/dairy; notably high in manganese; helps improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels; increases antioxidant presence in the body; addresses bacterial, parasitic, fungal, and viral infections
Hawthorn Berry – helps digest meat; circulatory stimulant, thus improves nutrient assimilation, one of Nature's best herbs for the heart; relaxes constricted blood vessels, thus lowering blood pressure; helps lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels; helps reduce transit time of food moving through the digestive system; helps reduce fatigue, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations
Cumin – helps digest fats/oils, carbohydrates, and proteins; reduces gas, mucus congestion in the respiratory tract, and inflammation; antioxidant; addresses bacterial, parasitic, fungal, and viral infections
Tulsi-Holy Basil – supports sugar metabolism; protects against radiation; has an adaptogenic balancing effect on hormones; improves blood pressure and blood sugar levels; promotes memory, elevates moods, and reduces anxiety; improves cortisol levels (stress hormone); improves respiratory conditions; naturally high in vitamin K, thus beneficial in bone mineralization, blood clotting, brain function; addresses bacterial, fungal, and viral infections
Fennel or Anise Seed – helps digest fats/oils; reduces gas, indigestion; supports sugar metabolism; antioxidant; muscle relaxant; addresses bacterial, parasitic, viral, and fungal infections
Licorice Root – helps with sugar metabolism; increases stomach HCL; the best adrenal tonic known (in moderation); your most effective herb for viral infections and allergy relief
Cayenne & Red Chili Pepper or Chipotle – helps digest fats/oils, gas, and indigestion; boosts capillary circulation, thus nutrient assimilation by increasing delivery of nutrients into the bloodstream through the intestinal wall; antioxidant; helps maintain histamine balance; helps prevent blood clots, relieve migraine, nerve and joint pain, promote detoxification, improve allergy symptoms, and support weight loss; addresses inflammation
Rosemary – helps digest fats/oils, starches, sugar; antioxidant; promotes mental alertness, memory, cognitive function, heavy metal chelation, and hair growth; relieves muscle aches and pains, addresses inflammation and bacterial infections
Oregano – supports sugar metabolism; addresses numerous bacterial infections, allergies, and inflammation
Thyme – elevates mood, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol; addresses respiratory conditions, sore throat, viral, bacterial, and fungal infections
Parsley – potent alkalizer of the whole body; addresses bad breath, inflammation, kidney stones, digestive issues, skin problems, poor immunity, bladder infection, and oxidative stress; addresses bacterial, parasitic, and fungal infections
Cilantro Leaf (supports sugar metabolism; adrenal tonic, heavy metal detoxifier; protects against DNA damage; addresses bacterial, parasitic, and viral infections)
Coriander Seed (helps digest fats/oils, gas, and indigestion; calming, antioxidant, addresses bacterial infections and cholesterol)
Triphala – helps digest all food groups; made from three Ayurvedic bitter fruits, amla, haritaki and bibhitaki commonly consumed with meals; lowers cholesterol, aids weight loss, reduces inflammation, relieves constipation
Chamomile – helps with gas and indigestion; alkalizes the body; acts as a sedative; promotes beneficial improvements with allergies, insomnia, anxiety, depression, arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, and skin irritations; helps relieve toothaches, PMS symptoms, muscle spasms, reduce inflammation, and heal wounds; addresses bacterial, fungal, and viral infections
The Mint Family including Lemon Balm, Hyssop, Rosemary, Thyme, Peppermint, etc. – helps reduce gas and indigestion; addresses bacterial, parasitic, fungal, and viral infections;
Within the mint family, Hyssop is uniquely a deep organ cleanser of heat, toxins, and inflammation, especially effective in respiratory conditions. Hyssop also helps improve appetite, moderate sugar metabolism, increase circulation, promote skin health, and support the health of your liver and gallbladder.
Lemongrass – helps with gas and indigestion; has stimulating, soothing, balancing and relaxing properties; eases anxiety, reduces fevers, eases pain, and stimulates menstrual flow; addresses inflammation, bacterial, and fungal infections
Horseradish – helps digest fats/oils and proteins; as a circulatory stimulant it increases nutrient assimilation; antioxidant; eases respiratory issues, urinary tract infections, and pain; addresses bacterial, parasitic, fungal, and viral infections
Dandelion Leaves, Stem, Flower, and Root – as a bitter herb that stimulates bile it helps digest oils & fats; performs a gradual deep cleanse of all organs, blood, and lymphatic system; antioxidant; helps regulate blood sugar levels; reduces cholesterol and inflammation; protects skin from sun damage
As can be readily seen, numerous health benefits can be derived from adding these herbs and spices to your recipes and teas. Three recipes are provided below as an example of how several of the above healing spices can be added to a meal to gain the benefits of both their flavor and their medicinal qualities.
Many of the above mentioned herbs and spices (among other powerful herbs) are also found in the following herbal formulas, all of which boost the digestive and immune powers of the body:
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1 cup brown basmati rice
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
5 whole cardamom pods
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks (each about 3 inches long)
1 small red onion, cut in half lengthwise & thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
3 1/4 cups water plus more for water sautéing
Place the rice in a medium-size bowl. Fill the bowl with enough water to cover the rice. Gently rub the rice between your fingers to wash off any dust or foreign objects. The water will become cloudy. Drain the water. Repeat 3-4 times until the water is relatively clear. Fill the bowl halfway with cold water and let the rice sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. Drain.
Heat a medium-sized pan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin, cloves, cardamom pods, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Stir constantly to prevent burning. The spices will sizzle and scent the air in 30 seconds to 1 minute. If needed to keep the spices from sticking, add water, one tablespoon at a time. Add the onion, stirring frequently. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, to prevent sticking. Stir fry for 3-5 minutes until translucent and slightly browned.
Add the drained rice to the spiced onions, tossing gently. Add 3 ¼ cups of water and the salt. Stir to mix the ingredients. Bring the water to a boil, still over medium-high heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated from the surface and craters are starting to appear in the rice, about 10-15 minutes.
Stir once or twice to bring the partially cooked layer of rice from the bottom of the pan to the surface. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid & reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Let the rice steep for about 10-15 minutes, or until just a small amount of water is left in the bottom of the pan and the rice is still moist. Then turn off the heat and let the pan stand on that burner, undisturbed for 5-10 minutes.
Uncover the pan and fluff the rice. Taste the rice to see if it is done. If it is not done, add a little more water, cover and simmer on low heat until most of the water is absorbed. The goal is to have moist, fluffy rice.
You may choose to remove the big pieces of spice before you serve the rice, or you can leave them in and instruct the folks eating the rice to watch for the big pieces.
Makes 3 cups
* This Rice Pilaf can be a side dish, or it makes an elegant bed for a saucier main dish. Traditional Indian food is made with meat, dairy, or an oily sauce, so for those recognizing the benefits of the low fat, high starch diet, eliminating the fat can make this dish taste a bit dry if eaten by itself. Add a vegetable broth gravy (use the bean broth in the Spicy Bean Dish, for a tasty example) or a saucy main dish to add the desired moisture. Adding a small amount of avocado is also an option.
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1 lb. organic dry beans - pinto, black, navy, kidney or whatever you prefer
1/4 cup whey from organic, pasture-raised cows (or lemon juice)
One 3" piece of kombu
2 tablespoons dried celery or parsley leaves
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 - 1 tablespoon cumin powder, depending on taste
1 tablespoon onion powder
1-2 teaspoons smoked paprika, depending on taste
1-2 teaspoons smoked chipotle powder, depending on taste
Himalayan salt to taste
Put beans in a large pot and cover with water by 2″. Stir in whey or lemon juice, cover and leave in a warm place 12 – 36 hours. Longer soaking removes additional phytic acid from the beans. Drain and rinse the beans.
Return the beans to the pot. Cover with water by at least 2". Add the kombu, celery or parsley leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, and salt.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 2-4 hours, depending on the type of beans you are cooking. Some beans take longer to cook than others.
Stir & taste frequently, adjusting seasoning if necessary. When cooking is complete, remove kombu.
Freeze in smaller portions for a quick meal. Broth can be used as a gravy for potatoes, rice or pasta.
* Kombu is a seaweed that imparts a boat-load of minerals and flavor into the cooking liquid, along with beneficial enzymes that help break down the sugars of the bean.
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1 bulb of garlic
Fresh Thyme and/or Oregano - about a 3" piece of one or both (or 1/8-1/4 teaspoon leaves) depending on taste
Himalayan Salt to taste - optional
Nutritional Yeast to taste - optional
With your hands rub the bulb of garlic to remove the outer, loose skin. Place the whole bulb on a baking sheet and roast at 375° for 15 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and let cool.
When cool enough to handle, separate garlic cloves. Peel and place in a small bowl.
Remove the Thyme/Oregano leaves from the stem and add to the garlic.
Add the salt & nutritional yeast, if using them. Mash the garlic cloves with a fork, blending in the spices.
Use as a spread on toast, or add to potatoes or pasta.
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4 large potatoes - grated - any kind
3 tablespoons chia seeds (or ground flaxseeds)
1 medium onion - grated
1/4 cup whole-grain Einkorn flour
Himalayan salt to taste
Black pepper to taste (optional)
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place grated potatoes in a strainer and press to remove excess liquid. Set aside.
Combine chia seeds and 1/2 cup water in a small bowl. Let sit 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, combine potatoes, onion, and flour in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt, black pepper (if using), and crushed red pepper flakes (if using). Mix well. Add the chia seed mixture to the large bowl and mix well to combine.
Transfer to a 9x13 inch casserole dish. Bake, covered, 60 minutes. Remove cover and bake 30 minutes more, or until the top is crispy.
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