We’re all familiar with the familiar phrase of Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
But notice he didn’t say “Let food be thy source of calories, and medicine be thy white pill that may or may not contribute to a host of undesirable side-effects.”
Food is more than just a source of energy. It’s more than carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Ideally, our food should possess the medicine necessary to keep us well.
As the agricultural revolution accelerated, the wild plants that once sustained us had most of the bitter medicine bred out of them by humans in a trade-off for taste and size. These powerful compounds found in a wild plant, like garlic mustard, are what protect it from predation and consumption in the wild. Through the process of breeding, these protective compounds are mitigated to allow for a tastier crop (think broccoli). Without these bitter compounds, the cultivated organisms cannot fend for themselves quite like they could in the wild, and are reliant on the services humans provide, like adequate sun exposure, water, food, fencing, etc.
Answer this: Have you ever seen cauliflower growing in the wild?
No? Why not?
It is not strong enough to survive on its own. Through years of domesticating the Brassicaceae genus, most of the protective bitter compounds have been removed. Today we have “cauliflower,” or a subspecies of Brassica oloracea, which absolutely requires the support of humans for its reproduction and survival.
Cauliflower tastes great (I think so) and has a healthy nutrient profile. It just doesn’t possess the same medicinal composition that a wild Brassica may contain.
Those who traditionally consume wild plants are aware of the medicinal effects and utilize the food for both nutrition and medicine. Inhabitants of the Bekaa Valley of north-east Lebanon, for example, are no exception. There are six of these plants commonly harvested by them in the spring season (1). They include:
Cichorium intybus (chicory)
Eryngium creticum (eryngo)
Foeniculum vulgare (fennel)
Malva sylvestris (high mallow)
Thymus syriacus (wild thyme)
Gundelia tournefortii (akkoub)
When surveyed about the uses for these particular plants, the individuals discussed their edible properties while mentioning medicinal actions as well. For example, chicory leaves and stalks are gathered in the spring for consumption, but are also used, according to those interviewed, for their blood-strengthening properties in treating anemia. Current research shows that chicory is high in folate, at 110 mg per half-cup of chopped, raw leaves. In treating folate deficiency anemia, chicory may indeed help.
Eryngo, a perennial in the carrot family, is harvested in the Bekaa Valley for its leaves and shoots. It is prepared either raw or cooked. When asked about its other uses, the individuals discussed its hypoglycemic effects and its value as an antidote to scorpion poison. Sure enough, research has confirmed both the hypoglycemic action of eryngo’s aerial parts in rat studies, as well as the potent antidote activity from its leaves.
You see, it isn’t difficult to treat oneself without conventional supplementation. The consumption of wild plants makes it very easy to receive nature’s medicine in a complete package, devoid of the major side-effects modern pharmaceuticals present.
Instead of eating a nutrient-deficient diet of domesticated foods, getting sick from this lack of nutrition and paying companies for drugs that are usually extracted from the wild predecessors to the foods nowadays eaten … we can simply eat more wild food.