What does “Let your food be your medicine” really mean? (and all about Sunchokes)

“Let food be your medicine,” says Hippocrates, the father of modern-day medicine.
As herbalists we love to quote this sage advice and lately I’ve I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

I mean, what does that really mean, let food be your medicine?

One thing is for certain, there is very little agreement about the matter! Is it a vegan diet? a raw diet? a paleo diet? Mediterranean diet? Asian cooking? Indian cooking? Does it mean sprinkling some basil on top of your spaghetti? Drinking a fruit smoothie for breakfast?

In this day and age it’s good advice to avoid discussing food, religion or politics unless you are looking for a heated debate!

The new course form LearningHerbs.com on the topic of Culinary Herbalism explores what it means to use food as medicine. Herbalist Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa (KP for short), the course presenter, looks at food as medicine in ways I’ve never imagined before. After listening to all ten lessons I felt my mind rearrange into a whole new way of looking at food and medicine.

Since this paradigm shift I’ve been thinking of ways we currently use food as medicine and incorporating many new facets of these concepts using KP’s advice.

In today’s newsletter I am going to share some of the most important ways we do this in our family.

Fermented foods
All over the world we see fermented foods as part of a traditional diet. Looking to the wisdom of our ancestors we feel this is a cornerstone of our health. For us this is often fermented cabbage like sauerkraut and kimchi or miso soups and yogurt.

These fermented foods provide live healthy bacteria to the digestive system. Balanced healthy gut flora means better digestion, the effects of which reach into practically every corner of human health.

But there is more to it than just eating these healthy bacteria. We can also feed them to promote a healthy living environment.

Inulin and PRE-biotics
One way to do this is by eating foods rich in inulin (Not to be confused with insulin; the “s” really makes a big difference here).

Inulin-rich foods are often found in the Aster family. They store this substance as a means of energy storage in their roots. Dandelion root, elecampane roots, echinacea roots and burdock roots all contain high amounts of inulin. If you’ve ever tinctured any of these plants, then the white film you see at the bottom of the bottle is evidence of inulin.

So what is inulin?
Inulin is a type of polysaccharides that is literally food for the intestinal flora. It is sometimes referred to as PRE-biotics, implying the relationship between it and PRO-biotics (like the fermented food we mentioned earlier.) Inulin can also increase the absorption of other nutrients like calcium and magnesium.

To get a healthy dose of inulin there is no need to buy any fancy and costly supplements; instead, we can find an abundance of it in some tasty whole foods.

Food as medicine
I’ve already mentioned dandelion roots and burdock roots, both delicious foods that can be found wild and increasingly in the produce department of grocery stores. Inulin is also high in one of my favorite all-time foods, artichokes.

But today we are going to look at a strange knobby-looking tuber that isn’t all that handsome to look at, but is tasty, easy to grow, and cheap to buy.

This plant boasts a beautiful sunflower and is called by many names: Jerusalem artichoke, sunchoke, sunroot and so on. For this article we’ll call it a sunchoke, not only is it easier for me to type than Jerusalem artichoke, but it’s a better name for a plant that is neither from Jerusalem, nor is an artichoke.

Sunchokes have a nutty and earthy taste to them that is quite tasty to most folks. They can be made into soups, stir fried and roasted. Sometimes they are used as a potato substitute. They have that same creamy texture we adore in potatoes, but they do not spike sugar levels, making them appropriate for those with insulin resistance and diabetics.

Rich, tasty, cheap to buy, easy to grow, supports healthy digestion, increases nutrient absorption, seemingly a perfect food! BUT there is one small caveat. These tubers are rich in inulin and inulin is indigestible to humans. The result is that when eaten in high doses it can cause, well, incredible amounts of gas, and I am not kidding around here, incredible amounts!

There are a couple of ways around this unpleasant side effect. One is that cooking sunchokes for a long time and thoroughly can help reduce this. Cooking it with carminative herbs (as in the recipe below) can help reduce this. And just as importantly, eating only smaller amounts can really help as well.

The amount of sunchokes a person can tolerate seems to be pretty individualized. My husband can eat these as a sidedish with no problems. For myself I find that three spoonfuls is a better amount. And I have to tell you that those three spoonfuls are mouthwateringly delicious, creamy and rich. Yum!

Sunchokes are very versatile! Bake ‘em, grill ‘em, saute ‘em, boil ‘em. Anyway you like ‘em. Eating them frequently while they are in season (fall to spring) helps support your digestive function, making this a tasty way to make food your medicine.

We often saute them with plenty of butter and garlic. But lately since I’ve been consciously choosing new foods and more varieties, we’ve been trying all sorts of different methods.

So far, the recipe below is one of our favorite dishes to come out of the test kitchen. It combines the earthy rich taste of sunchokes with the aromatic fennel.

Don’t forget the fennel!
If you’ve ever been to an Indian restaurant then you’ve probably seen and eaten fennel seeds at the end of your meal. Fennel is wonderfully aromatic. It is a carminative, meaning that is moves stagnant digestion and improves digestibility. Fennel can be taken when there is bloating and gas or it can be taken preemptively to promote good digestion.

We keep a small bowl of fennel seeds on our table and enjoy a small pinch after meals. Not only does it promote digestion but is also sweetens the breath.

Many people are familiar with using fennel seeds, but just as valuable are the bulbs, stalks and feathery leaves. These have a more discreet taste than the seeds and are very crispy and sweet. It tastes slightly like licorice or anise.

Fennel is also high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants and is showing promising results in stopping the reoccurrence of cancer.

These two wonderful foods combine and turn into this mouth-watering dish.

So, let food be your medicine! Enjoy!

Roasted sunchokes and fennel
For this recipe you’ll need…

  • Sunchokes
  • Fresh fennel
  • Butter or coconut oil
  • Salt

The amounts used are completely variable on how much you’d like to make. We usually make up a big batch and then eat a small amount with several meals.
Begin by washing the sunchokes thoroughly. Break apart the knobs and clean out any dirt hiding in the cracks.

Dice the washed tubers into bite-sized chunks.
Likewise, wash the fennel and slice the bulb and stalk and then mince the leaves.

Combine these together along with some butter and salt in a roasting pan.

Roast at 350 for about 40 minutes or until the sunchokes are completely soft and browned.

Remember to start with smaller amounts and avoid them before first dates or important business meetings until you get the hang of them.

Bon appetit!

~Rosalee