It had been a while since I heard from Jess, my close friend and Vietnamese cuisine guru. It isn’t like her to go dark, so I shot a text to her honey Mike to learn that she’d been knocked out for days, super sick with something flu-like.
My first instinct was to make her a pot of soup. I’d always thought that the association between sickness and chicken soup was just mythical and meaningless, at most a comforting placebo effect. But as I learned at Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine, there’s real healing power in bone broth—it is full of glycosaminoglycans like glucosamine for achy joints, gelatin for soothing and healing the gut and protein for strength. It’s also easy and soothing on the body when you need it most.
As it just so happened, I had a big jar of homemade chicken bone broth in my fridge. I threw it in a pot on the stove and as it began to heat and become fragrant, I remembered that I’d made it with turnip, another food that I’d only just learned to be medicinal.
Turnip is good for stimulating appetite, perfect for someone who’s been suffering with the flu. It also eases digestion, helps to dispel phlegm and mucous and generally soothes the respiratory system. It almost seemed that this random batch of chicken bone broth with turnip was destined for Jess!
My mom always added orzo to my broth when I was sick, which was filling but also soft and bland enough to get down a sore throat. Once the broth began to boil, I threw in some salt and added a cup of brown rice and a cup of chick peas, which seemed similarly soft and gentle to chew. They’d add some substance too, as together they form a complete protein.
Once the rice and garbanzos were cooked and tender, I went for spice. At Wildflower, I’d learned to make a multi-purpose remedy called “fire cider,” made from soaking horseradish root, ginger root, chile peppers and garlic in raw apple cider vinegar. The applications and actions of fire cider are many, but among them, it acts as a great immune-booster and decongestant, getting your nasal cavities nice and clear with a big punch of spice.
I had about a cup of my dad’s homemade sauerkraut/kimchi hybrid in sherry vinegar left in the fridge, so I added that to the pot along with a spoonful of prepared horseradish, chopped knob of ginger, 2 thai chiles, sprinkle of cayenne pepper, and 4 cloves of garlic. As the fire cider flavors mingled in the pot, I began to feel a bit like I was brewing a magical healing potion.
Last, herbs. A nice big shake of dried basil (fever reducer, good for respiratory system and stomach), a handful of chopped fresh oregano leaves (antimicrobial and full of antioxidants, good pain reliever and cough suppressant), and—oh yes—my parsley plant, in desperate need of a pruning. Parsley is good for blood circulation and eliminating toxins. As I cut away the big, drooping mature stalks, I was struck with a smile—this parsley plant came to me by way of an organic food basket that none other than Jess had gifted me. And now it was going back to healing her. Full circle indeed.
I delivered the pot to Jess and Mike on Saturday night, and by Monday she was feeling better. It was the first time I’d truly combined my passions for cooking and natural medicine—not only creating dishes that are healthful and healing, but administering a custom-made culinary concoction to someone with a specific need.
Jess’s feel-good soup helped me to see the idea of “food as medicine” in a new way. It helped me to channel the healing powers of love and friendship and sharing and nourishment into a meal in a way that I hadn’t fully before. It helped her to kick the flu, and helped me to find the next step of my journey in the process.
Now that’s what I call holistic healing.
Originally published for PK4 Media.