Many ancient cultures have had the whole “food is medicine” thing nailed down for centuries. It’s really in the younger, Western countries (like the US and Australia) where the notion of using food to heal various ailments is new and hip.
Growing up with Iranian parents, I was unknowingly exposed to various healing foods simply through my parents and grandparents cooking. Here are just a few healing foods common in the Iranian diet:
Turmeric— this wonder spice is now widely embraced for its medicinal and healing properties, but Iranians have been cooking with it for a very long time. Turmeric is included in almost every meat dish, either being directly added to the meat or to the liquid that the meat is stewed in. The funniest explanation I received for the use of turmeric was from my dad’s cousin who says that Iranians believe that the turmeric tones down any sort of bad smell that comes from cooking meats. Whatever the reasoning for cooking with it may be, it’s hard to argue with the medical benefits of turmeric as research is now showing that it is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and possible cancer-prevention resource.
Nabat AKA Saffron Rock Candy (pictured above) — who would have thought that sugar could have a healing purpose? Iranian Nabat is simply pure sugar crystals infused with saffron and is used mostly to sweeten tea. When experiencing a sour tummy, my grandmother always gave us nabat with tea or plain hot water and the stomach ache was gone within 20 minutes! It can help ease cramps, calm bloating, and relieve pain associated with an upset stomach. You can’t find nabat at a standard grocery store, but with a little research I’m sure you will find an Iranian or Middle Eastern grocery store near you that sells it.
Mast-o-khiar AKA Iranian Cucumber Yogurt— Iranians understand the power of probiotic rich foods and the need to include them with many meals. A standard Iranian spread isn’t complete without a simple cucumber and dill yogurt side dish. Most Iranians eat the yogurt with their main meal- either mixing it with their rice, meat and/or stews or alternating bites of the main dishes and the yogurt. Dr. Natasha Cambpell-McBride, author of the GAPS diet/healing protocol, recommends that patients looking to heal their gut should include probiotic-rich foods with every meal, which it seems Iranians had already been doing!
Bone Stock/Bone Broth– yes, you read correctly, bone stock/broth has been around in Iranian cooking for a very long time. I only became familiar with bone broth through the GAPS diet, but I learned of its history in Iran when I started telling my mom about bone broth. At first she said that she had never heard of it, but then all of a sudden she said “wait a minute! We used to drink this in Iran when we were very sick!” Our conversation triggered her childhood memories and she started telling me about how when someone was very, very ill and weak the elders in the family would say to cook some bones and let the sick person drink the broth. They believed it gave the person life again. We now know that bone broth is chock full of easily digestible minerals (among many other benefits) so this makes perfect sense. Additionally, in Iran most stew dishes are cooked for 4-5 hours and include the meat on the bones so many of the traditional dishes are in fact naturally full of bone stock. My dad says they used to fight over the marrow at dinner time, another very healing food.