Brain food

Their plant sig­na­ture seems ... nutty but they’re packed with good­ness

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - ANNABEL LANGBEIN

Have you ever no­ticed when you slice a car­rot that it looks like a hu­man eye? Or that the deep red juice from a beetroot re­sem­bles hu­man blood? Or when you crack open a wal­nut it looks just like a brain? In our early folk­lore, with re­mark­able fre­quency in cul­tures all over the world, the idea grew that the sig­na­ture of a plant – be it the shape, colour, form or even taste – could be used to di­vine its medic­i­nal prop­er­ties.

North Amer­i­can In­di­ans used black co­hosh and wild indigo as snake medicines be­cause the seeds in the seed­pod pro­duce a rat­tling sound. They also thought that the stalks of com­mon purslane, which re­sem­ble worms, could be used to treat worms in hu­mans. In an­cient In­dia, plants with a yel­low flower were rec­om­mended for the treat­ment of jaun­dice.

Dioscorides, who practiced and wrote about medicine in an­cient Rome, was one of the first to de­scribe a plant sig­na­ture in the year 65: “The Herb Scor­pius re­sem­bles the tail of the Scor­pion, and is good against his bit­ing.”

The idea took hold and was penned dur­ing the Re­nais­sance as the Doc­trine of Sig­na­tures, based in the idea that the fea­tures of plants re­sem­ble, in some way, the con­di­tion or body part that the plant can treat. So, blood­root’s scar­let roots could treat dis­eases of the cir­cu­la­tory sys­tem, while the bud of a peony, which looks like a hu­man skull, was used as a rem­edy for epilepsy and brain in­juries.

We now know it’s ob­so­lete as a med­i­cal the­ory, if not down­right danger­ous — mushrooms, for ex­am­ple, may look like an ear and so might have been as­sumed to treat ear­ache, but choose the wrong mush­room and it may well be your last meal.

The cur­rent think­ing around the Doc­trine of Sig­na­tures is that it was a good way to re­mem­ber cures, and in that way was use­ful for early peo­ples who did not have a writ­ten lan­guage. Yes, eat­ing car­rots will help your eye­sight, as they are a good source of the carotenoids that sup­port eye health. And beetroot juice, a pow­er­house of an­tiox­i­dants and phy­to­chem­i­cals, is con­sid­ered a blood cleanser.

The botanist Wil­liam Coles wrote that wal­nuts were good for cur­ing head ail­ments be­cause, in his opin­ion, “they have the per­fect Sig­na­tures of the Head”. A re­cent study pub­lished in The Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Nutri­tion, Health and Ag­ing found that wal­nut-eaters scored sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter on a se­ries of cog­ni­tive tests, var­i­ously mea­sur­ing ev­ery­thing from re­ac­tion time to story re­call. It is thought that this may be re­lated to the wal­nut’s high con­tent of an­tiox­i­dants and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s a no-brainer re­ally!

LEAFY SALAD WITH WAL­NUTS AND BLUE CHEESE

Es­sen­tial Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Me­dia, $65) is a beau­ti­ful com­pen­dium of Annabel’s best-ever savoury recipes and cook­ing tips and it’s on sale now at Pa­per Plus, Whit­coulls, The Ware­house and all good book­stores. Find out more at annabel-langbein.com or fol­low Annabel on Face­book or In­sta­gram.

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