Don’t let pain stop you from enjoying summer’s social activities. The next time you have a picnic or invite friends over for a barbecue, try some of these proven pain-fighters to enhance the flavor of your meal as well as your enjoyment of the experience:
Ginger: Fresh, chopped ginger is amazing in summertime drinks, desserts and Asian-inspired dishes. It is a digestive aid with analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties and has been found effective for people suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. James Duke Ph.D, herb expert and author of the classic book, The Green Pharmacy (St. Martins, 1997), also recommends using ginger externally. He uses hot ginger in a compress to alleviate abdominal cramps, joint pain and headaches. (But ginger tastes so good, I’d much rather eat it than wear it.)
Mint: Who doesn’t like the taste and aroma of mint? It is a great herb to complement all kinds of food but I love how it pairs with Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Mint contains a compound called menthol, which is an effective muscle relaxant and, according to Duke, particularly good for back aches. While there are many different types of mint, try peppermint if you have digestive pain. It has anti-spasmodic properties and can soothe stomach aches and indigestion, but it should not be consumed in large amounts by pregnant women or infants. The amount you would get in a single cup of peppermint tea or as a garnish with a meal is not a problem.
Green Tea: Green tea is not revered solely for its anti-cancer, weight loss and brain protecting benefits. It is also a muscle relaxant and contains high amounts of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has shown powerful anti-inflammatory properties and success with different types of joint pain. If you are not thrilled by the taste of a hot cup of green tea, mix it up a bit by serving it cold with ginger juice and mint or squeeze a fresh lemon into a glass, add some ice and top it up for delicious green tea lemonade. Green tea is a great base for sauces and marinades, as well as fruit smoothies.
Oregano: This classic herb is an Italian favorite but don’t stop there. Oregano’s flavor works well with spicy foods like many Mexican dishes, as well as salad dressings and marinades for grilled vegetables or meats. Most people are familiar with the dried herb sold in bottles or packets but fresh oregano is a real treat to add to your most popular savory recipes. Oregano is a member of the mint family and is high in antioxidants that fight free radical damage that is linked to inflammation and various forms of arthritis.
Rosemary: This highly aromatic herb is great on roast potatoes, poultry and Mediterranean-style bean dishes and flat-breads. A little goes a long way and I prefer the fresh herb to the dried version. The latter can be as hard as pine needles if you eat them. Rosemary is also a member of the mint family and shares the same pain – and inflammation properties as oregano. The rosmarinic acid in both these plants is also anti-microbial so it helps keep the nasty viruses and bacteria at bay.
Fennel: Fennel is a versatile option for your meals. You can use the leaves like an herb (they look like dill), you can flavor broths and sauces with the stalks, and you can eat the white bulb that looks a little bit like a white onion. You can also buy fennel seeds in most grocery stores or gourmet food shops. Grilled fennel is delicious. The licorice-like taste it has in its raw form is mellowed by cooking, although I love the flavor imparted by the raw ingredient as well. Fennel has been used for centuries for muscle pain, rheumatic pain and pain from indigestion. It is effective for menstrual pain but, based on its antispasmodic and muscle-relaxing properties, should be used with caution by women who experience excessive bleeding with their periods.
Chiles: While chiles are more of a food than a flavoring ingredient, no list of natural pain fighters would be complete without this spicy, delicious food. A staple in Mexican cuisine, chiles such as poblanos, jalapeno and habeneros contain the potent ingredient capsaicin. It heats up both your meal and your metabolism, the latter of which makes it a great fat-burning food in your diet (especially when it has not yet been dried). Capsaicin is an anti-inflammatory compound and stimulates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. Don’t limit chiles to southwest and Tex-Mex dishes. Try it in desserts that contain chocolate, as well as your curries and stews.
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