Long before man achieved literacy and began recording history, aromatic plants, herbs and spices were used to cure diseases, treat infections, stave off pathogens and boost overall health. By the time written manuscripts on the topic of medicine were created, early herbalists and doctors had identified hundreds of plants which contained therapeutic properties.
Herbal medicine remains a strong tradition in many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries, and the knowledge borne from this practice has carried over to the modern pharmaceutical industry, which manufactures a large number of drugs based on the chemical composition found in natural plants.
Natural Medicine in Islam
The Holy Qur’an and Prophetic ahadith provide Muslims ample reason to consider the merits of natural medicine in their own lives. In these texts, as well as in Ibn ul-Qayyim’s ‘Natural Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet’, we find mention of many plants, fruits, meats and other foods which are notable not only for their apparent culinary value, but also for their positive effects on our health. Here, however, we’ll take just a quick glance at some of the more powerful herbal plants which have been sent as a blessing from Allah (SWT).
Black Seed – Black seed or nigella seed (Nigella sativa) is perhaps the single most important herbal plant for Muslims, due to its being famously noted by the Prophet (SAW) as a cure for all diseases in a hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari. Both the seeds and the extracted oil may be taken as a medicine, while the lightly fragrant seeds may be used to impart flavour to sweet and savoury dishes, breads and pastries.
Fenugreek – The leaves, sprouts, greens and seeds of the fenugreek plant (Trigonella foenum-graecum) are all used in cooking, but it is the seeds and leaves which are most appreciated for their medicinal value. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) stated, “If my nation knew what good is in fenugreek, they would buy it for gold.” Fenugreek is valuable in treating an array of women’s conditions involving fertility, childbirth, lactation, menstruation and libido; it is also used to alleviate headaches, digestive problems, constipation, headaches, fevers and more.
Cress – The most common cress plants are watercress (Nasturtium officiale) and garden cress (Lepidium sativum). The sprouts, leaves and seeds of this peppery, leafy herb are edible and contain a plethora of health benefits alluded to in a hadith quoted in Ibn Qayyim’s Natural Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet: “What a cure do the two bitter remedies carry: the Thuffaa (cress) and aloe.” Cress is rich in calcium, iron, vitamins and antioxidants, and, among other things, it is used to treat stomach, spleen and gallbladder problems, increase metabolism, purify the blood, rid the body of parasites and increase appetite.
Garlic – Any herb receiving mention in the Qur’an (Al Baqarah:61) and ahadith is worthy of our attention, and therefore garlic, no matter how commonplace, should not be overlooked. Garlic is a powerful antifungal, antiparasitic, antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant. It can be used to treat ailments such as colds, respiratory infections and herpes, and has the potential to lower blood sugar and cholesterol, strengthen the immune system and inhibit cancer. A word of caution, however: due to the herb’s pungent aroma, it is Islamic etiquette to avoid consuming garlic prior to visiting people or praying in the mosque.
Basil – Al-reyhan, which may be translated as “fragrant plant” or “scented herb”, appears twice in the Holy Qur’an (Ar-Rahman:12 and Al Waqi’ah:89) and is widely believed to be a reference to sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum). Basil is both an aromatic culinary herb and a medicinal plant used internally to ease tension, stress and headaches; reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels; and act as an antioxidant and blood cleanser. Externally it can be used to treat acne, skin infections, wounds, insect bites and stings.
Four Spices to Boost Your Health
If you rarely meet up with these spices in your home cooking, it’s time to incorporate them into your diet. Try adding them as seasoning to meat, vegetable and bean dishes, or simply steep them in tea or hot milk to make a therapeutic beverage.
Cinnamon – This sweet, fragrant spice has the ability to fight off H. pylori bacteria, reduce the pain of arthritis and menstruation, regulate blood sugar and decrease inflammation associated with a number of neurological disorders.
Turmeric – Curcumin (another name for this spice) not only lends palatable colour and flavour to food, but it’s also a powerful antioxidant which protects against Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, fatty deposits in the arteries and possibly cancer. As an anti-inflammatory, it’s capable of reducing the symptoms of painful conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Ginger – Sweet, pungent ginger is an effective treatment for a wide array of ailments, including headaches, colds, respiratory infections, digestive complaints, menstrual cramps, muscular inflammation, morning sickness and motion sickness. It’s also said to improve the memory, increase sex drive, reduce cholesterol levels and prevent blood clots.
Coriander seeds – Whole or ground coriander can help protect against salmonella bacterial infections and urinary tract infections, and can stave off nausea, flatulence and other intestinal complaints. It also helps maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Coriander leaves (cilantro) may also be consumed and are a common ingredient in many cuisines.
Christine (Amina) Benlafquih writes on varied topics including religion, food, health and culture. You can find more of her writing on the web at Moroccan Food at About.com (http://moroccanfood.about.com).
To find out more about the ingredients mentioned here, read Ibn ul-Qayyim’s ‘Natural Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet’ and ‘Treasures of the Sunnah’ by Zaghlul El-Naggar.