If you practice preventative health for yourself and your family, you have probably heard terms such as “Traditional Chinese Medicine” or “Ayurveda,” the 5,000-year-old system of medicine from India. And you may even be taking turmeric, an Indian spice, or adaptogenic mushrooms from Asia for everything from helping to reduce stress to calming the common cold.
But did you know that we in the West borrow potential healing protocols, practices, and substances from all over the world, not just India and China? Here is just a sampling of the health wisdom that Americans have adapted, as well as one practice we absolutely need to adapt, from the four corners of the world.
Fermented Foods: From Eastern Europe to the United States
Fermented foods are catching on in the United States, in the form of everything from probiotic-rich raw sauerkraut (found in the refrigerated aisle only) to the now $300 million dollar a year kombucha drink industry.
In ancient times, Europeans drank beer and wine, which are also created through fermentation. This was during periods when water was unsafe to drink, so it wasn’t a far stretch to incorporate the cultured vegetable later known as sauerkraut into their culinary pantheon.
About 1,000 years ago, sauerkraut was brought to Europe (by Genghis Kahn, as the story goes), where the German people added their signature touch.
In place of rice wine, they cultured their veggies with salt and this is the kind of nutrient and probiotic-rich fermented vegetable that we are most familiar with today. A growing number of proactive Americans are making this version at home or buying it prepared from their local health food store. Fermentation can also add potency to high-quality vitamin supplements.
Kombucha is another trending probiotic substance with somewhat Eastern European roots. Like sauerkraut, kombucha was brought to Europe from Asia, but much later. This drink became popular in European countries in the mid-1800s, as the price of both black tea and sugar decreased for the average person.
In the Northern part of Europe, especially in the Ukraine, populations had been drinking another fermented beverage called kvass (meaning “sour beverage”) for centuries. Instead of turning to beer or wine to avoid getting sick from water contamination, they drank kvass. Kvass was originally made form sourdough or rye bread and was sold from tiny stands on practically every street corner. Later, kvass was made into an even more powerful drink for overall health by replacing the yeast from bread with beets to create “beet kvass.”
Beet kvass is now making headway in the United States and can be made from lemons, currants, raspberries, cherries, and other fruits and vegetables as well as beets.
South America: Herbal Healing Started in the Amazon
For thousands of years, the native inhabitants of the rain forest areas of Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana have used the thousands of healing substances found in their jungle region for their health and well-being.
Many of these substances, of course, found their way west and have become the basis of pharmaceutical drugs. In fact, 25% of the ingredients in modern chemotherapy drugs come from the Amazon rain forest!
Many have discovered, of course, that rainforest plants and herbs in their natural state can prove to be both potentially healing and safe.
Here is just a partial list of healing substances that come from this part of the world:
- Chanca Piedra: said to help with kidney stones and gallstones;
- Stevia: a great natural substitute for sugar and a blood sugar balancer;
- Pau d’arco: coming mainly from Brazil, pau d’arco helps boost the immune system. Studies show it can increase the number of white blood cells in the body;
- Cat’s Claw: an Australian study found that cat’s claw slashed the swelling, pain, and stiffness of arthritis patients by half and gave them more energy;
- Camu camu: one of the highest concentrations of Vitamin C of any plant or herb!
- Sodo: said to help curb addictions;
- Cola de raton (Rat’s Tail): helps with digestion;
- Brazilian Ginseng (Suma): is an overall healing tonic and natural energy-booster;
- Shapumvilla: acts as a coagulant.
…And that is just the tip of the iceberg! The Amazon jungle area produces about 20% of the world’s oxygen and contains roughly 40,000 different named types of plants. To be sure, there are hundreds, and likely thousands, of plant species living there that we don’t even know about.
Sadly, about 17% of the Amazon rainforest – and who knows how many more plant species that may have been beneficial to healing – has been lost to clearcutting over the last 50 years.
The Middle East Leads the Way in Essential Oil Research
The Middle East is the literal birthplace of essential oils. It is said that King Tutankhamun was entombed with about 350 liters of aromatic oils around him.
Indeed, some of the essential oils that helped usher King Tut into the afterlife are the same ones that are referred to in the bible for their healing and purifying properties.
These include frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, cedarwood, and turmeric.These same substances are also the most studied by science. A quick search on pubmed.com reveals over 500 articles on frankincense, about the same number on myrrh, and a whopping 4,200 studies that have been completed and registered with the U.S. National Institutes of Health to date on turmeric from which turmeric essential oil is derived.
Today, the outdoor markets of countries such as Iran, Egypt, Israel, and the straddling country of Turkey still abound with aromatic herbs and spices — and so do the research labs in these countries as well.
As early as the 1980s, scientists at Cairo University in Egypt were investigating the antimicrobial properties of diffused “olibanum,” another name for frankincense. The very latest studies on the healing effects of curcumin, found in turmeric, are coming out of Middle Eastern universities such as Iran University of Medical Sciences in Tehran. Researchers there are currently studying how turmeric protects the brain against neurotoxins.
And we cannot forget the fact that Israel is now the world’s leader in medical research around cannabis. Medical cannabis and hemp is not usually associated with essential oils. The potency of all essential oils, however, comes in part from the aromatic terpenes that are found in plants.
Today, dozens of top cannabis scientists in Israel and elsewhere follow on the ground-breaking research conducted in the 1990s by chemist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University. Mechoulam and his team discovered the healing potential of terpenes found in marijuana (of which there are hundreds) and other plants and put them in the spotlight worldwide. His research and others are helping form the foundation for how terpenes and other phytonutrients in aromatic plants like cannabis can help with healing.
The European Union: Setting the Standard for Chemical Regulation
Rounding out our healing tour around the globe, we circle back to Europe and a contribution that the European Union as a whole has made that other governments can do well to adapt – the United States in particular. This contribution to worldwide health that doesn’t really have to do with what the EU has given, but rather the standard they have set for what they will not allow in their countries.
We are talking, of course, about laws passed in certain EU countries that stand up for healthy food and personal care choices. Over the last 10 years or so, many EU countries have led the way in banning thousands of harmful chemicals in cosmetics and body care products as well as pesticides and GMOs found in food.
To highlight just one case amongst hundreds, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes formaldehyde found in housing materials as well as cosmetics as a “potential human carcinogen” and dozens of studies have linked it to a laundry list of conditions, including leukemia.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, does not place a restriction on the use of formaldehyde in cosmetics and other sundry products. In contrast, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing agents are currently banned in Sweden and restricted in the European Union as a whole.
In 2015, France further restricted its ban on Genetically Modified Foods. Although not a part of the EU, during that same year, Russia announced its plan to remove all sources of GMOs in food, based largely on their review of French studies into the matter.
To the contrary, GMO foods and other processed “Frankenfoods” are increasingly being incorporated into the U.S. food supply, despite a growing number of outspoken voices who are gathering clear evidence about its dangers to human health. As a consumer be sure to look for organic or Non-GMO certification on the products you purchase. Eating locally and with the seasons are also beneficial practices.
Now that we have been around the world and back, it should be clear that the pursuit of health and wellness really is an international quest that is as old as human culture itself!
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