Ancient Wisdom for Modern Healing
Call me crazy, but it seems that everyday some new super supplement which promises to unlock the next dimension in health and wellness has been discovered. Whatever it may be: an antioxidant super berry packed pill, a unicellular sea urchin protein powder, or an energizing root food bar spiced with unicorn tears, we can easily become convinced that this or that revolutionary ‘super food’ will be the miracle pill that will make us instantly healthier, happier, wittier, taller and quite possibly a little more sexy. Although the claims are certainly enticing, we needn’t gamble our health and money on the sometimes ridiculous and largely unsubstantiated claims for which the supplement industry is notorious. However, all is not lost for those looking for a nutritional boost, because there is a wealth of medicinal foods that have been utilized for centuries whose benefit has been found to be truly miraculous. Unlocking the ancient wisdom of healing foods like umeboshi plums, shiitake mushrooms and kuzu root are simple and rational ways to relieve the discomfort of illness and improve our health beyond measure.
Widely regarded by natural healers as one of the best preventative medicines, umeboshi derives its powers from the fermentation process where “good” lactic-acid-forming bacteria are cultivated. When done properly, this process provides the plums their powerful ability to alkalize the body, eliminate fatigue, stimulate digestion and cleanse the liver while relieving stomach and intestinal gas. While it may also be worth mentioning that pickled plums are also known to be a potent hangover cure, their main function is to facilitate smooth bodily function. Accordingly, there is no substitute for the zesty, palate cleansing flavor and fast acting medicinal benefit of umeboshi and are still enjoyed daily by traditional Japanese communities.
Shiitake mushrooms contain a wide variety of important vitamins and minerals that help support total health and wellness. One its more important components is the elusive vitamin B12 that is vital to healthy neurological function. Shiitake are also high in the nonessential amino acid glutamine, which is often considered “brain food” because of its ability to stimulate neural activity and transport potassium to the brain. Further, these little gems contain all eight essential amino acids and can be considered an “ideal” source of protein for those adhering to a plant-based diet. Abundant in other nutrients such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, potassium, zinc and fiber, shiitake mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses and are a valuable source of several nutrients that are generally deficient in vegetarian diets.
Kuzu root, or Kudzu in America, is a member of the legume family (think beans, lentils and peas) and has been used medicinally in China and Japan for close to 2,000 years. It is believed that by consuming kuzu’s complex starches, we can effectively relieve the discomfort caused by over-acidity, bacterial infection and excess water (diarrhea) without resorting to over-the-counter stomach medications. Kuzu root’s high concentration of flavonoids (potent antioxidants) aid digestion and the circulatory system by inhibiting the contraction of smooth muscle tissue, thereby increasing blood flow to relieve stomach cramping. Although kuzu root has enjoyed an excellent reputation as an herbal remedy to a number of digestive issues, it is also often used medicinally to reduce high blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, relieve chronic migraines and ease muscular tension.
The best part is that integrating these three amazing foods can be done easily! I often enjoy the dramatic flavor of umeboshi plums straight from the package, but umeboshi paste and umeboshi vinegar (a.k.a. ume plum vinegar) may be more easily integrated into salad dressing or as a flavor enhancer to an assortment of cooked grains and vegetables; ume paste can be used on sushi rolls or greens rolls too or for a healing tea made from kukicha. Shiitake mushrooms can easily be added to your favorite meals. Use these versatile little fungi in curries, cream sauces, soups and for richly flavored broths. But heads up: it is believed that shiitakes are better able to retain their amazing nutritional profile when dried immediately after picking so it may be best to purchase dried mushrooms and simply reconstitute them prior to use. To reconstitute, simply soak in enough warm water to cover; chop or slice as needed, reserving broth for soups or stews.
Kuzu can typically found be found in starch form (see photo above), but it can be easily crushed and stirred into warm beverages (see Kuzu Apple Tummy Elixir recipe below), or as a component of healing herbal teas. Another tip: many healers prefer to utilize kuzu in tea form because some of its water-soluble flavonoids may be lost during starch production. Kuzu can also be used as a replacement for cornstarch in sauce recipes, and creates a silky, smooth sauce without the graininess that cornstarch can sometimes create. Simply mix a two-to-one ratio of water to kuzu and whisk into liquids, and then stir to thicken.
Kuzu Apple Tummy Elixir
½ cup apple juice
½ cup water
1 rounded tsp kuzu starch, dissolved in 2 Tbsp water
- Warm apple juice and water on the stove over low heat.
- When juice mixture is warm (do not bring to boil) add dissolved kuzu.
- Stir constantly until kuzu thickens and becomes translucent. Approximately 1 to 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat, let cool and enjoy!
Whatever your need may be, unlocking the power of ancient healing foods such as umeboshi, shiitake and kuzu is an natural and organic way to prevent and heal a wide variety of ailments and greatly enhance our health, wellness and vitality.