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by Liam Donohue, Juice Bar Manager
Spirulina? Doesn’t that grow in the ocean? Wheat germ? Isn’t that something that wheat has when it gets sick? What is St. John’s Wort?
Over the last decade or so, a growing number of people have become increasingly interested in the potential uses of traditional, natural, herbal, and homeopathic nutritional supplements and remedies. However, that curiosity may swiftly diminish in the face of an overwhelming number of often unpronounceable and cumbersome names of herbs, minerals, and what-have-you.
We in the Juice Bar are always looking for ways to better meet the nutritional needs of our customers, and in so doing, began some time ago to offer a select variety of nutritional additives available for both juices and smoothies. However, we recognize that while many of them are familiar to the ear, some are not, and even those that are may not be widely understood.
In an effort to shed some light on this aspect of our menu of offerings, I’d like to take this chance to describe some of the history, uses, and nutritional benefits of these items.
This pale purple, daisy-like flower is known by a variety of names, including Black Susan, American Cone Flower, and Snakeroot (so called because of its traditional use by Native Americans to heal snake bites) and is one of the most widely popular herbal supplements in the United States. Its botanical names are Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida, or E. purpurea (depending on the variety) and it belongs to the Asteraceae (daisy) family. It is native to North America where is grows wild from the Great Plains through the Ohio River Valley.
The composition of the plant includes caffeic acid derivatives, polyacetylenes, alkylamides, and polysaccharides. It is the dried rhizomes and roots that are used for the manufacturing of dietary supplements, while a fresh juice is made from the above-
ground parts of the plant.
Echinacea is generally considered to be an immune system stimulant, reducing the duration and severity of symptoms associated with common colds and influenza. It is also used externally in the healing of wounds. In fact, the varieties E. angustifolia and E. pallida were official in the US National Formulary from 1916 to 1950. Echinacea fell out of favor in America with the discovery of antibiotics (though it continued to be used in Europe). Echinacea is now making a comeback due partly to the development of resistance to antibiotics.
Ginseng, also known as Panax quinquefolium (American ginseng) and P. ginseng (Asian Ginseng), has been in use for about 5000 years, having first been discovered in the mountains of Manchuria in China. The first American ginseng was discovered growing near Montreal in the early 18th century.
According to ancient Chinese medical doctrines, a plant that resembles a human body part will have a therapeutic value in that location. As the ginseng root resembles the entire human form, it was believed to bring the total body into harmony, which is essential to a healthy body and peaceful spirit.
While modern western medicine
evaluates this plants effectiveness
differently, the results
appear to be complementary.
The active ingredients
in ginseng are complex
carbohydrates called saponins.
Individual saponins have
differing effects on the
body; whereas one may stimulate
the central nervous system,
another may sedate it.
Others have effects ranging
from balancing of the metabolic
process to stimulating
the endocrine system and
maintaining proper hormone
levels. Research has even
shown that ginseng is effective
in maintaining and restoring
the cell’s capacity
to function and therefore
may reduce a number of
symptoms of old age.
The overall vote is yet to come, but ginseng is general held to stimulate physical and mental activity, defend the human system from the effects of prolonged physical strain, and stimulate the endocrine glands, including the sex glands.
The botanical name of this
herb, Hypericum perforatum,
is derived from the two
Greek words hyper and eikon
which translate to over
and icon, meaning “over an apparition.” It was used in ancient times, by various cultures, to repel evil spirits, resulting in another of its traditional names: Fuga Demonum, or “Devil’s
St. John’s Wort is
a member of the genus Hypericum
(consisting of 370 species),
and is an erect, many-stemmed
herbaceous perennial with
large, rounded or compact
cymes with 25-100 flowers
each. The flowers themselves
are yellow, often marked
with black spots. It is
native to all of Europe
and Asia (short of the
arctic regions) and has
been naturalized in the
United States, where it
is often considered a weed.
Regardless of its ability
to “repel evil spirits,” St. John’s
Wort has been used since
ancient times as a balm
for wounds, burns, and
bites, and has been highly
valued by many cultures.
More recently it has come
to be used as an antidepressant,
and has been shown to be
effective in treating mild
to moderate depression.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae thrives in warm, sunny climates in alkaline waters. It was traditionally a staple of the diets of Mayans and Aztecs in Central America and is used still by the Kanembu people, who live on the shores of Lake Chad.
A remarkable food, Spirulina produces twenty times as much protein as soybeans growing on an equal-sized area of land. It contains concentrations of nutrients unlike any other single grain, herb, or mineral.
Spirulina is a ready source of vitamin B12 (needed especially by vegetarians for healthy red blood cells), protein, essential amino acids, the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, chlorophyll and phycocyanin-a blue pigment found only in blue-green algae that has demonstrated cancer-fighting properties.
Spirulina has also shown to aid the immune system, help reduce cholesterol, and aid in mineral absorption. It is high in antioxidants, and its high protein content also helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
Wheat has been cultivated since early times by the Chinese, Egyptians, and Greeks. Since most bread is made from wheat (along with pastas, cereals and a wide variety of other products as well), most of us get plenty of wheat in our diets. However, it is much less likely to get much wheat germ. Wheat germ is the heart of the wheat kernel and it contains a chemical called octacosanol, which is extracted from the wheat germ oil.
Many researchers claim that octacosanol helps improve endurance, reaction time, and general vitality, as it appears to improve oxygen utilization. It also has a mild cholesterol-lowering effect.
Wheat germ itself is high in vitamin E, most of the B vitamins and a number of other minerals, including, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and several trace elements.
There are two things to keep in mind when using wheat germ, the first being that it contains gluten. Gluten is the sticky protein that forms bonds, making ideal for use in baked goods. However, allergies to gluten are not uncommon and use can cause a variety of health problems.
The other factor to keep in mind is that wheat germ spoils easily, so when purchasing it separately from flour, make sure the product is fresh. It should be vacuum-sealed or refrigerated with a date stating how long the product will remain good.
Soy has been in use in
the Eastern world for centuries.
The bean itself is source
of such “meat analogs” as
tofu and tempeh, soymilk
and a whole host of other
products. The beans are
also eaten plain as edamame,
either steamed or fried.
Soy has been in the spotlight for a number of years now, both in a positive and a negative light. Despite criticism, soy is an excellent source of protein which lacks the additional baggage of saturated fat and high cholesterol levels. Diets rich in soy protein have been found to reduce serum levels of total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and triglycerides. A variety of other substances are associated with soy including saponins (see ginseng!), trypsin inhibitor, and bioactive peptides which may also contribute to the lipid-lowering activity of soy protein.
The products of the bee community have long been in use among humans, from Europe to Asia, and again to the Americas, they have proven themselves invaluable. Ancient bakers in the Mediterranean used honey as their sole sweetener (before the advent of sugar cane), and its antiseptic properties are well known. Native Americans in the Southwest have used bee pollen in a mixture with honey during rituals of fasting to provide extra strength and vitality.
Bee pollen is the powder-like material produced by the anthers of flowering plants and gathered by bees. It is composed of 10-15% protein and contains B-complex vitamins, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, plant sterols, and simple sugars.
Like other bee products, bee pollen has an anti-microbial effect, and has been used to combat fatigue, depression, and colon disorders.
Last, but not by any means least, we come to wheatgrass. Wheatgrass is the sprouted form of wheat seeds. Grown to an optimal height of seven inches, this is a truly nutritious food!
Dr. Ann Wigmore, founder of the Hippocrates Health Institute in Boston, responsible (among others) for popularizing wheatgrass, states that one pound of fresh wheatgrass is equal in nutritional value to 25 pounds of the choicest vegetables. There are many who would agree.
Wheatgrass is among the
best available sources
substance that allows plants
to photosynthesize. The
molecular structure of
chlorophyll closely resembles
that of hemoglobin, the
of red blood cells. It
also contains 17 amino
acids, and retains 92 of
the 102 minerals found
in the soil. It is a rich
natural source of vitamins
A, B-complex, C, E, and
Due its fibrous nature, indigestible by humans, the liquid must be extracted to receive its nutritional benefits. Although the grass can be cut and stored, it spoils quickly and is best juiced fresh. Once juiced it should be imbibed within fifteen minutes to achieve optimal quality. Drinking it at mid-morning and mid-afternoon are great times for this green pick-me-up.
Though the information stated here is by no means a complete representation of the entirety of the research done in this field, we hope it leaves the reader better equipped to begin the first wanderings into the world of natural and supplemental nutrition. The next step is to begin your research into the options available, and to examine what might meet your own health needs. However, it is of the utmost importance to consult a health care professional before beginning any course of medication or treatment using one of these or any other supplement, due to the possibility of allergenic reaction, irritation of a preexisting condition, or contraindication in conjunction with the use of another medication.
This being said, the field of natural health is one of dizzying variety and near infinite possibility, and one which provokes reactions ranging from wonder to giddy excitement to confused bewilderment-though we hope to have dispelled some of this!-and is well worth the time and research necessary to take full advantage of its benefits.