My Ten Favorite Natural Healers
I always say that the most powerful medicines aren’t in your medicine cabinet—they’re in your pantry and your garden. And Mother Nature’s cures aren’t just powerful; they’re also far, far safer than the drugs your doctor prescribes. (Do your berries or herbs come with a warning label that’s eight hundred words long? No. I rest my case.) So, in honor of my Month of Favorites, here’s a new list: my favorite natural healers. Put these ten potent prescriptions to work for you, and they’ll make you healthier inside and out!
This awesome spice, a staple of Indian cooking, is finally coming into its own in the West. In part, it’s because people are falling in love with its warm, peppery flavor and mouth-watering aroma. But it’s also because they’re discovering the incredible health benefits of the curcumin in turmeric. These benefits include antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, neuroprotective, and anti-diabetic properties. This spice has so many benefits that I try to use it at least two or three times a week in curries, smoothies, or cauliflower dishes like this zingy one from the Food Network.
Is there anything that blueberries can’t do? Here’s a list of just some of their incredible health benefits:
- They protect your skin against sun-related damage and wrinkling.
- They can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- They can help protect your eyes against damage from sunlight.
- They can keep your brain young, delaying cognitive decline as you age.
- They can help protect against breast cancer and prostate cancer.
- They can lower your blood pressure and help keep your arteries elastic.
That’s a lot of powerful medicine in a teeny, tiny package! And blueberries are incredibly versatile, too—so toss them in everything from smoothies to salads to grilled salmon recipes. To get you started, check out this recipe for my lime-blueberry poppy seed coffee cake.
It’s not just an old wives’ tale; this succulent really does make wounds heal faster. Research suggests that it does this by binding growth factors at a wound site, making their effects last longer. And of course, topical aloe vera is awesome for soothing sunburns. However, there’s some controversy over whether you should drink aloe vera juice or use aloe vera gel orally. Here’s the scoop. Research shows that oral aloe vera may lower blood sugar levels in diabetics, fight bad bacteria in the mouth, and even help fight cancer.
However, a study by the National Toxicology Program found that long-term consumption of non-decolorized whole-leaf extract of aloe vera increased the incidence of colon cancer in rats and mice. (Decolorizing is a process that removes a constituent of the aloe called the latex.) But a more recent study found that decolorized whole-leaf aloe vera had no adverse effects on rats—and aloe gel, which is different from whole leaf extract, doesn’t contain the substances implicated in cancer.
Confusing? A little—but it looks like you can get all of aloe’s benefits from decolorized products or aloe gel, without any of the risks. And there’s no question that topical aloe vera works wonders. So plant some aloe in your garden, or put a pot of it on your windowsill. Rub it on cuts, burns, sunburn, and even eczema and psoriasis. (Just do a little “patch test” first to make sure you’re not allergic to it.)
Cayenne doesn’t just give your mouth a burn; it can make you burn calories faster. In addition, it reduces your appetite naturally—and it lowers blood sugar. How’s that for cool? By the way, here’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy cayenne pepper: in home-made sweet potato chips. (Yum.)
You knew this would be on my list, right? And it definitely earns a top spot in my pantheon of natural healers, because it’s loaded with gut-soothing gelatin, joint-healing glucosamine and chondroitin, and the deep nutrition of bone marrow. Bone broth makes you look healthier, too, because it contains the building blocks of wrinkle-erasing collagen. If you’ve never made bone broth before, it’s super-simple; here’s my easy recipe for basic broth.
Coconut oil is loaded with medium-chain triglycerides that are converted directly to energy by the liver, so they don’t wind up on your waistline. It’s also rich in lauric acid, which is a powerful germ fighter—and if you have arthritis, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant power of coconut oil may help to ease your pain. I cook with coconut oil all the time. (For instance, check out my pork fried “rice” here.) In addition, I use it as a skin cream, and I prescribe it for my patients with psoriasis or eczema.
Honey can heal you on the inside and the outside. Here are just some of its health benefits:
- It inhibits inflammation.
- It helps fight cancer.
- It has antibacterial properties.
- It’s rich in antioxidants.
- It can help heal your gut. One study, for instance, found that honey promotes the growth of good gut microflora and helps protect against damage caused by dangerous mycotoxins.
- Used externally, it helps heal diabetic ulcers and can even knock out the super-bug MRSA.
Make sure you buy raw honey—not the cheap, adulterated stuff—and use it sparingly, because it does raise your blood sugar. For external use, buy sterile Manuka honey. And never give honey to a baby, because it can contain botulinum spores that are harmless to older people but can endanger infants.
Maple syrup contains 54 different beneficial compounds. Researcher Navindra Seeram, whose team discovered the wealth of nutrients in this healing food, says that the “sheer quantity and variety of identified compounds with documented health benefits qualifies maple syrup as a champion food.” But use this super-food only occasionally, because like honey, it will elevate your blood sugar.
What would life be like without guacamole? I don’t even want to think about it. And I don’t just love the taste of avocados; I also love the fact that they’re loaded with dozens of nutrients, as well as healthy fats that help your body absorb these nutrients. (They’re high in fiber, too.) Eating avocados can improve your cholesterol and lower your risk for metabolic syndrome, and a new study suggests that pregnant and nursing women in particular should be sure to include them in their diets.
Cinnamon reduces blood sugar and blood pressure in diabetics. It may even fight cancer by slowing the development of new blood supplies to tumors. And remember, cinnamon isn’t just for sweet dishes; it’s also awesome in savory dishes like this sage and cinnamon chicken over at Civilized Caveman Cooking. — Can you see why I tell my patients that the key to healing and anti-aging is a good grocery list—not a pill? When you take advantage of the medicines that Mother Nature provides so generously, you’ll do everything from reducing inflammation and lowering your blood sugar to healing your gut and protecting yourself against cancer. And here’s the best part: You’ll do it all deliciously. Bon apetit!
Keep Thinking Big & Living Bold!