domingo, 20 de abril de 2014


Brassica oleraceae

As I was growing up, paying a visit to the doctor was not a routine as common as it is today. Ailments like the flu, fever, ear aches and stomach pain were treated at home with the care of our mothers. Home remedies in those times were shared by relatives, neighbors and friends who always had a good piece of advice. For certain health problems, we would pay a visit to the local “curandeira” (healer) who had the right procedure for all sorts of diseases. These treatments were most of the time accompanied by some praying to speed the healing.

I remember once, my mother took me to the local “curandeira”, Mrs. Baptista, to treat me from “bucho virado”. The symptoms of this disease are sudden loss of appetite and vomiting. When children play, jumping can cause spasms in the diaphragm, which exert some pressure in the stomach and compromises digestion. The “curandeira” made me lay on a bed, she massaged my belly with olive oil and then placed a cabbage leaf on it and covered with a sheet. I don’t know for how long I had to stay still but I never forgot the memory of this mysterious environment.
The effectiveness of these treatments is today being reconfirmed by science. It is my goal to let people know why home medicine works and to make them realize that choosing the right food can make a big difference.

A smell of sulphur in the garden

The characteristic smell of garlic and cabbage is due to sulphur produced by plants in the cabbage and onion family. Many people dislike the smell of cooked cabbage because it reminds them of rotten eggs. When cooked, the sulphur in cabbage produces a gas called hydrogen sulfide which is responsible for the characteristic smell.

Vegetables from the brassica family have in common the presence of glucosinolates, which protect them against predators. Glucosinolates are essentially composed of sulphur and nitrogen. When animals chew the leaves, the glucosinolates are transformed into isothiocynates with a strong pungency to deter animals and insects. When we chew mustard seeds, we feel the pungency of mustard coming up through the nose and we can’t avoid sneezing. In Portugal we have a saying: “mustard got into my nose”. It means we are getting angry.

Brassica species produce more than 50 different isothiocyanates. Cabbage is the most common brassica used in our diet. The original cabbage didn’t form a head. It had loose leaves. Today, there are many varieties of cabbage, from ‘savoy’ with frilled leaves, to brussel sprouts and coli-flower. The glucosinolates produced by cabbages are called glucobrassicins. ‘Savoy’, mustard and coli-flower are some of the richest sources of glucobrassin. Indole-3 carbinol is the end product of glucobrassicin and it is well known as an effective treatment against diseases like lupus erythomatosus, breast, uterine and prostrate cancers. The white cabbage butterfly is particularly attracted to cabbages with glucobrassin which compels them to lay eggs on the leaves. 

Brussels sprouts’ glucosinolates produce PTC (Phenylthiocarbamine) which are particularly bitter. Different people have different perception of bitter tastes. About 30% (the super tasters) consider Brussels sprouts disgustingly bitter while the other 70% consider it a mild bitter.

Cabbage is considered a goitrogen herb and for that reason it is usually avoided by people suffering from goiter or hypothyroidism. Goitrin is a chemical produced by cabbages that reduces the use of iodine by the thyroid gland. This action happens only when big amounts of cabbage are eaten for a prolonged period of time. Otherwise, cabbage is safe and a very good source of many nutrients, minerals, amino acids and vitamins.

Cabbage juice is a very powerful cure for gastric ulcers, esophagitis and inflammations in the digestive system. This vegetable is a rich source of the amino acid glutamine that has been used with good results to cure this sort of ailments. Glutamine in old times was called the U vitamin because of its efficacy to cure ulcers.

A few years ago I had a very painful experience: an esophagitis that didn’t improve with the antacids and proton pump inhibitors prescribed by the doctor. For more than a year I had pain, acid reflux and tiredness. In despair, and reluctantly, I decided to drink cabbage juice as a last resort. To disguise the bitterness I mixed some apple juice to make it more palatable. I drunk it in small sips during the day and I felt a quick relief. It didn’t take long for the wound to heal.

To prepare the juice, choose a big dark green cabbage leave, discard the rib, add half an apple and a glass of water and mix in the blender. Sieve and drink in small sips during the day. This treatment should not last for more than 8 to 10 days. 

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