Food as Medicine

Medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last 100 years, particularly when it comes to surgical techniques and medications. Despite these advancements, there is still a place for seemingly old-school remedies, some of which may have been passed down through your family for many generations. In my family we still talk about the chicken soup our nana made us whenever anyone in the family was sick. There are many examples of “healing foods” that not only provide us with a little bit of warmth and healing nostalgia but also may improve the symptoms of the cold or flu.

Perhaps the most traditional healing food that has been passed down through the years and is currently having a bit of a renaissance is chicken broth (or bone broth). Bone broth (essentially chicken or beef stock) is popping up all over the place in liquid or powdered form and has been lauded as a food with many different health benefits. Before its newfound fame, bone broth was a food that was made by families as a cure for the common cold and even before that, it was a simple, nutritious and affordable staple. 

Bone broth is easy to make with either leftover chicken bones or fresh chicken thighs/legs/backs with bones in and some vegetables, typically celery, onion, carrots and garlic. It’s a good source of protein, is hydrating, can help to clear up congestion, promotes healthy gut tissue (which promotes immunity) and is anti-inflammatory. It is the perfect food to have on hand when you have a cold and it is something that your whole family can participate in making. It can be frozen in batches (after cooling to room temperature and then refrigerating overnight) so you can easily thaw some when you need it. You can add fresh vegetables and other ingredients to make a heartier soup or you can simply enjoy it as broth. 

Another healing food that can be produced in your own home is elderberry tincture or syrup. Elderberry is a herb that can be used to promote immunity and fight the cold and flu and is safe for the whole family. We are lucky to live in a place where it grows so readily so you may be able to use fresh elderberries but if not, dried elderberries work as well and may be easier to process. There are plenty of options for spicing elderberry syrup with ginger, cloves, cinnamon etc. but I like mine plain with some honey. Sweetener is important for lengthening the shelf life (or fridge life) of your elderberry syrup. It’s also important to ensure that the elderberries are cooked prior to consumption as cooking eliminates the toxic glycosides in the seeds and also concentrates the polyphenols and anthocyanins (which do the heavy lifting when it comes to fighting colds). I enjoy the syrup with some hot water but it can be taken straight as well. 

Elderberries can also be made into alcohol or glycerin based tinctures, which have a longer shelf life. Glycerin based tinctures are good options for people avoiding alcohol (including kids and pregnant people) or honey (under the age of 1). Elderberry syrup or tincture is a tasty treat that is starting to get a bit of research behind it in support of using it to fight cold and flu viruses. 

For the more advanced homesteaders, most fermented foods can be made at home with simple ingredients and techniques. An easy way to start is to make sauerkraut. While sauerkraut might be a newer food in our current culinary culture, it has been a staple in the diets of many cultures and even ancient civilizations. Historically it’s been a simple way of storing food to allow for nutritive eating to continue throughout the winter. As we are becoming more familiar with the healing properties of fermented foods, most notably the impact it has on the gut and thus digestion, immunity, and inflammation, sauerkraut has become a more mainstream food. Producers have become creative with the blend of vegetables and spices resulting in a wide array of flavours, many of which can be easily replicated in the comfort of your own home with a few supplies. 

There are many other options for healing foods that can become a part of your family’s tradition but like anything else, it’s best to start with something small and doable. These healing foods have stood the test of time and would all be a great tool for promoting health in your family during this cold and flu season. As a bonus, making them might also create memories for your own kids that will carry on the feeling of nostalgia for another generation, much like the feeling of nostalgia I get every time I get sick and make myself a bowl of chicken soup. 

Have a wonderful holiday season!