Greater Boston has gone viral — and not in a good way. We’re in the throes of cold and flu season. Before running to the doc or drug store, check your fridge or spice rack. Spices are the source of more serious body boosters than your mom’s chicken soup (sorry, Mom).
In some ways, though, mother knows best. Heat fights a cold. Hot tea and steaming miso soup made with seaweed (wakame flakes) not seafood (boniato flakes) are veg-friendly, comforting and keep you well-hydrated — very important.
Another way to get heat is by way of warming spices. Chili, garlic, ginger and turmeric all create thermogenesis — digestive combustion, so to speak, or warmth in the body. They taste good and help you feel better, too. This delicious precept comes courtesy of Ayurvedic Medicine, India’s ancient holistic healing system integrating mind, body and spirit.
These spices aren’t just Ayurvedic, they’re anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial and immunity-strengthening, with cleansing properties that help flush the yuck from your system. Fresh spices give you the whole-food advantage, but even dried, they’re ancient home remedies and modern miracles, too.
Numerous studies have linked spices to reducing respiratory misery and cancer risk, curing arthritis and asthma, for treating Alzheimer’s. And as flu fighters. Many studies and moms can attest to ginger’s stomach-soothing powers, too — nice to know if the virus hits your gut.
Citrus is another body sludge-buster and adds vitamin C, too. Paired with ginger, it can’t be beat. Before you grab that lemon-ginger scone, remember, mother knows best. Think hot liquids. Lemon ginger tea is an effortless, awesome DIY cure-all.
No lemon? Go for lemongrass. It’s so full of detoxing goodness, they call it fevergrass throughout the Caribbean. Peel away the woody exterior of the lemongrass to its tender heart, slice crosswise into thin discs, add a knob of fresh ginger about the size of your thumb, peeled and sliced thin. Drop everything in a teapot, pour boiling water over all, infuse a few minutes and drink up. It’ll clear your sinuses and lungs, lift your spirits and tastes worlds better than Nyquil.
Sure, there are garlic, ginger, turmeric and capsaicin (the healing heat in chili) supplements, but here’s proof natural healing can be delicious. Will they really help conquer your cold? Probably faster than chicken soup (sorry, Mom).
Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.”
Chili, garlic, ginger, turmeric and lemongrass all come together in a spice-rich but soothing broth that will knock out your misery. It’s Thailand’s flu cure in a cup. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
- 5 cups vegetable broth, preferably low sodium
- 2 stalks lemongrass, tough woody exterior peeled away, thinly sliced
- 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 scallions, sliced thin
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Pinch dried turmeric
- 1 teaspoon sriracha or 1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek or Thai chili sauce (see note)
- 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup light soy sauce
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 7 ounces firm tofu (1/2 of a 14-ounce package), drained, pressed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 handful watercress or spinach leaves, sliced into ribbons
- 1 handful of cilantro, chopped
Pour vegetable broth into a medium saucepan and heat over high heat. Add the lemongrass, ginger, scallions, garlic, turmeric, sriracha or chili sauce, mushrooms, soy sauce and lime juice. Do not taste at this point — flavors are sharp.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender. This is all the time the spices need to mellow and come together. Add the tofu and float in the watercress or spinach leaves. Stir for a moment or two, until greens are lightly wilted. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the chopped cilantro.
Note: Brands including Huy Fong, Thai Kitchen and Hokan are available at Asian markets, Whole Foods, Fresh Market and many supermarkets.