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At a time when cooks were wise to the ways of food as medicine, the kitchen was seen as a veritable treasure chest of simple yet effective preparations. These same recipes work as well today as they did in the past.
The kitchen is undoubtedly the cosiest place to be as the weather cools. Even the sound of hearty winter meals gently bubbling away offers reassuring comfort during chilly spells. But, the onset of winter also heralds the beginning of the sniffle season.
While a healthy diet ensures the best defence against a variety of winter complaints, there are those times when seasonal bugs simply get the better of us. Colds, flu, aches and pains visit all of us from time to time, but many ingredients already in your pantry have been used since antiquity to lend welcome relief from those unpleasant winter woes. In fact, people are often pleasantly surprised at how effectual they are without the use of conventional chemical ingredients.
Here is a collection of some fabulous kitchen concoctions from around the world that celebrate the idea of the kitchen as apothecary – and as a first port of call when the season leaves you feeling a little under the weather.
HERBAL HOT TODDYThere is nothing quite like a cup of hot steaming brew to remind you that you are not going to feel lousy for long. This alcohol-free toddy is a cheering infusion of common kitchen staples that is gentle enough to be sipped throughout the day without causing any unwanted side-effects or drowsiness. The ginger and cayenne are gently warming and help to improve circulation, the garlic and lemon help to boost the immune system, and thyme protects and soothes the respiratory tract. Make larger batches of the basic brew and heat as needed and then add the remaining ingredients to each cup – not forgetting the spoonful of honey, of course, to help the medicine go down.
Basic brew750 ml water½ cup ginger, washed and sliced4 to 5 sprigs fresh thyme2 garlic cloves, wholeFor each cup2 tbsp lemon juice1 tsp raw honeyPinch of cayenne pepper
Method1. Place all tea ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. 2. Place the lemon, honey and cayenne pepper in a cup for each serving. Strain tea into the cup and stir until honey is dissolved. Drink hot and reserve remaining liquid for future use.
TURNIP AND HONEY COUGH SYRUPTurnips are an excellent ingredient in any hearty soup and a welcome addition to the winter pantry. The slightly pungent juice of turnips is also a wonderful natural expectorant. As a child I remember my mother making this syrup for me to soothe a particularly nasty cough which conventional medications had failed to ease, and I still use it today.
The recipe is based on an old Middle Eastern remedy for unproductive coughs and can be safely administered to children of all ages. Adding the honey or sugar to the sliced turnip will draw out the expectorant juices to make an extremely affordable remedy for persistent coughs.
Ingredients1 turnip, thinly sliced¼ cup raw honey (or brown sugar)
Method1. Layer a few slices of turnip in a bowl. Sprinkle with a little sugar (or drizzle with honey).2. Repeat layers and allow to stand for at least 4 hours. 3. Take 2 teaspoons of the syrup every 1 to 2 hours until symptoms abate.
TIP: Don’t throw away your turnip greens, they are an excellent source of vitamin C and protective phytonutrients that can add an extra immune boost to any soup.
GARLIC OIL EAR SALVEGarlic and olive oil are the basis of scrumptious Mediterranean seasoning, but they also make a knockout combination to ease the discomfort of mild ear infections. The antimicrobial qualities of garlic are well documented, and olive oil provides comforting relief to an inflamed ear canal. In addition, the oil will soften any build-up of wax in the ear so that it may be gently expelled. Be mindful never to pour any oil directly into the delicate ears – a little dab of cotton wool into the infused oil to make an earplug is all that is needed to let this simple combination work its magic.
Ingredients¼ cup extra virgin olive oil2 cloves garlic
Method1. Pre-heat oven to 100ºC. Place a saucer on a baking tray (this will allow easy transfer to the oven) and pour the olive oil into the saucer.2. Cut the garlic cloves in half lengthwise and place cut side down on the saucer.3. Place in the oven and turn off the heat. Allow to stand for at least one hour to infuse.4. Dab a small amount of cotton wool lightly in the oil and use to plug the ear – slighty warm oil is best. Keep the mixture for 3 to 4 days before replacing. Never put very cold oil into the ear. Never drop or pour directly into ears.
WARMING MUSTARD BATHColds and flu are often accompanied by muscular aches and pains, and this traditional English mixture offers a warm hug to weary bones. The ancient Greeks, Romans and the Ayurvedic tradition have all used mustard in this way. It is so easy to prepare in large batches and is the best way to use up any unused mustard powder or bicarbonate of soda that may have be lingering on your shelves. It is an excellent addition to a hot steamy bath on days when you feel chilled to the bone, or even when you feel like a little winter pampering. Add two to three drops of eucalyptus oil just before stepping in for added aromatic bliss.
Ingredients¼ cup English mustard powder½ cup coarse sea salt½ cup bicarbonate of sodaMethodCombine ingredients together and place in an airtight container. Use ¼ cup mixture per bath and soak for 10 to 15 minutes
Tip: A sore throat can signal the onset of a cold or flu. To soothe an irritated throat look no further than the seasoning shelf. Make a strong infusion using one heaped teaspoon of sage to a cup of water. Steep for 10 minutes and gargle with the strained liquid.
Caution: Be responsible with natural recipes. Any symptoms that persist should never be second guessed. Seek the advice of your primary health carer.
He studied Holistic Nutrition in the UK, returning to South Africa in 2007. He was the resident cook at the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo and created the recipes for the extremely popular book The Cake the Buddha Ate. His first solo book, Retreat – The Joy of Conscious Eating, was published in 2014 and has earned Daniel the affectionate title of ‘South Africa’s most beloved vegetarian chef’. He teaches popular cookery retreats around the country with a strong emphasis on seasonal eating.
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