Traditional Herbal Medicine

Iran has an amazing geography. With 12 different geographical environments and 5 major climates it’s host to 7500 plants, of which 1800 possess medicinal properties. It would take forever to list them all so here are some of the few which can be easily located where ever you happen to be in the world.

KONDOR or frankincense. Use of this herb goes back to ancient Persia. The most commonly used part is the milky sap or resin which is often used as a salve for skin irritations and wounds. It’s thought to have a rejuvenating effect and is therefore excellent for acne, scars and injuries. Frankincense can also benefit the emotions and those with nervous disorders such as anxiety or generalised nervousness. It’s thought to be an aid to a poor memory and lethargy. And among its other attributes, Frankincense is good for gum disease, indigestion problems, ulcers and as an eye wash.

SANDAL or sandalwood is often thought only to be a pleasant smelling inscense but you might be surprised to know that it is also a disinfectant and helps prevent simple herpes, eg mouth ulcers. The useful part of the sandalwood plant is the oil from the woody part.  Other uses include UTI infections like cystitis, skin irritations, and digestive problems.

AZARIYUN or marigold is widely used the globe over and many countries have culinary uses for it.  It is also brilliant as a salve for skin conditions such as acne, eczema and general rashes and open wounds. It’s something we can all grow in pots or in our gardens.

To make a salve simply add 2 handfuls of Calendula leaves and flowers to 1 tbsp lanolin, 5 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp beeswax and heat gently. Mix together; take off the heat and leave to set. The following morning re-heat the mixture and pour into a sterile jar and leave to harden.

Ahura Mazda the Zoroastrian prophet advocated the beneficial use of the following herbs. Many of the herbs were incorporated into Zoroastrian rituals which can still be found on the ‘Haft sein’ table at new year.

HAOMA or Ephedra . Indigenous to Iran this is a small plant with yellow flowers. It was also found to have an intoxicating effect and then said by Ahura Mazda to be a ‘waste of time’ causing the consumer to be become irrational.

Widely used for muscular and bronchial complaints, headaches, as an antiseptic, aid to digestion and a blood purifier. It’s now thought to have properties close to penicillin and can be used for hay fever, asthma, and for colds and fevers.Interestingly enough it is thought to be very useful in loosing weight but before you rush out to find it, there is a recommended limit of 150mg per day. Generally it’s an all round healer as it’s  supposed to  promote  the bodies natural ability of the body to fight invading diseases through a natural antibiotic called interferon.

SEER or GARLIC Most people are aware of the benefits of regularly eating garlic. It’s a natural form of antioxidant and thought to be helpful in preventing general infections and fighting off free radicals.

OOUD or ALOESWOOD. This is  fairly rare and expensive so perhaps not so easy to  come by these days. although the oil available usually through chinese websites .  It used to be grown in Iran and is now generally found in  SE Asia . However it was thought to be useful in the treatment of the nervous system and was great for the treatment of anxiety and cardio vascular problems such as rapid heart beat. Yves Saint Lauren uses the oil is some of its perfumes!


CAUTION: ALL OF THE ABOVE HERBAL REMEDIES CAN HAVE SIDE EFFECTS AND SHOULD ONLY BE USED IN CONSULATION WITH YOUR DOCTOR AND A HERBALIST.

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What’s Hot and What’s Not

In Iran we fully believe in the power of hot and cold foods, much like the chinese do. In fact legend has it that  our  ancient ancestors shared this food knowledge with the chinese , but we won’t get into that here! Iranians believe that food is fuel and  either weakens or strengthens the body and these beliefs go way back to ancient times and originate from the Zoroastrian religion.

THE THINKING BEHIND THE THEORY

The description ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ doesn’t relate to the temperature of the food but rather to the effect the food has on your body. Everything we eat is broken down by enzymes in our stomachs and that has an effect on our cells and ultimately on how we function. Enzymes react to  ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ food. For example, ‘cold’ food like cucumber or Salad Olivieh slows down the digestive process, which in turn slows us down, requiring us to expend additional energy to continue digestion and will lead to feeling sluggish or tired. On the other hand, ‘hot’ food speeds up the digestive process, increases our metabolic rate and we are more alert and ready to take up our busy lives.

Our bodies need a balance of both ‘hot and ‘cold’ food to function at their best. So for  example when I make salad Olivieh, I decorate it with a ‘hot’ food, like walnuts or add carrots . Another example is Khoresht e Feseenjun where the two main ingredients are pomegranate ( cold) and walnuts (hot). Salad is made more balanced by adding herbs, which are hot. Rice is ‘cold’ which is why we eat our khoreshts or stews spiced with saffron and turmeric, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, salt and pepper.  And you thought it was just to make it taste delicious! Rose-water is ‘hot’ and sugar is cold, which is why our sweet dishes like Nan e Berenji use rose-water. Yoghurt is cold which is why we add mint!  Lamb and chicken kebab with rice …. Get the idea! It’s about creating a balance, or making what we eat neutral.

There are times when we need to eat ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ food like when we have colds and illness.  I’ll save that for another post.

WHAT’S HOT

  • All herbs except coriander
  • All spices except sumac
  • Chicken and lamb
  • Dairy is generally cold, except goats cheese which is neutral, Kashk which is hot and ghee.
  • Eggs
  • Most nuts
  • Vinegar
  • Wheat flour
  • chick peas, yellow split peas.
  • Honey

WHATS COLD

  • Most vegetables except: carrots, radish, okra, onions, garlic, red and green peppers,
  • Most fruit except apples, dates, quince.
  • Fish
  • Coffee
  • sugar
  • Rice
  • Barley
  • kidney beans, lentils

WHAT’S NUETRAL

  • Pears
  • Tea
  • Goats cheese

Love life, eat well and cook Persian!

Countdown to Norooz The Persian New Year

It’s that time of year again. The start of  spring,  March 21st,  Norooz the Persian New Year is nearly with us and it’s time to start preparing for the ‘haft seen’ table.  I love this time of year when we know it marks the end of the dark winter months and the coming of light and life again.  The time of rebirth and good things to come. Norooz literally translated means ‘new day’.

The traditions of Norooz have their roots in the ancient  times of  the Zoroastrian religion when people would offer the god Ahura Mazda trays of  symbolic gifts representing the principles of their faith: good thoughts, truth, justice, virtue, prosperity, good deeds and generosity.  Today this tradition continues through the setting of the ‘haft seen’ table.

The ‘Haft seen’ table is both a tradition and spiritual. I’m always surprised when I hear that so many Iranians in diaspora no longer carry on with this tradition. It’s like christmas without the tree or Easter without chocolate. It’s made up of seven ‘S’s.  These are the most popular in these modern times and there are many other things people add. The items in red are the most traditional of the ‘S’s’ and each has a special meaning.

  • Sabzeh. Wheat, barley or oats sprouts grown in a small dish to symbolise growth, new beginnings.
  • Sir or garlic one of the worlds most natural medicines.
  • Sib or an apple  which represents beauty
  • Sanjed is the dry fruit from the lotus tree which symbolises love.
  • samaq or sumac, dried berries powder red in colour to represent the warmth of the sun
  • serkeh or vinegar symbolises age, patience and wisdom.
  • Sonbol or a hyacinth a sign of spring
  • sekanjabin a sweet mint syrup
  • sekkeh or coins reflecting wealth
  • A mirror to smile into and wish for a happy year ahead.
  • 2 Candles to represent fire
  • decorated eggs, one for each member of the family to represent fertility
  • Goldfish in a bowl to symbolise life itself
  • A bowl of rose-water for it’s cleansing properties.
  • samanu a sweet desert to symbolise affluence.

TO GROW SABZEH

You will need some wheat grass  seeds and about a week to 10 days to grow the seeds. You can buy the seeds from almost any nursery, garden centre, health food shops and even sometimes from your local supermarket. They usually cost around £1.50 per packet.

1. Place the seeds in a flat bottomed bowl or dish.  Soak in water for about 2 days to soften them.  They absorb water pretty quickly so you need to keep them moist  by spraying water them regularly. After 2 days you should begin to see little white sprouts emerging. If you want to force the seeds on, cover with damp kitchen towel / paper and place in a warm dark environment, an airing cupboard is perfect. You will see results within 24 hours. Small white shoots will begin to emerge.

2. Monitor the seeds, spray when needed and keep them warm.

3. After 2 days or 3 days when the seeds have  some growth, remove the damp cover and place into the light. A kitchen windowsill is perfect.  Somewhere warm and sunny. Continue to keep them moist but don’t drown them.

4. Within a week your seeds should be getting stronger and darker in colour. To have a really impressive display for norooz, prepare about 10 days in advance and remember to water regularly.

5. Before placing the sabzeh on the Haft seen table, take a sharp pair of scissors and trim, tie a ribbon around the grass seeds. It’s traditional to use a red, white or green ribbon.

After the 13 days of Seezdah  Bedar  (the 13 days celebration of norooz)   the sabzeh is said to have collected all the illness and bad luck of the previous year is now thrown into running water which it is believed will help rid the house and family of evil or bad luck. Another old custom would be for single women in the family to tie the sabzeh into knots in the hope that they will find marriage before the new year is out.

EGG DECORATING

Egg painting is a traditional norooz activity. The eggs represent fertility and usually you would have one egg for each member of the family. Children love to take part and decorate their own eggs. 

First boil the eggs and allow them to cool off and then be as creative as you are in the mood for.

TRADITIONAL NOROOZ FOOD

Sabzi Polou ba mahi or Herb rice with fish and Reshteh polou or Persian Noodle Rice .

Reshteh polou:

Ingredients:

  • Basmati rice 1 cup per serving
  • 1 handful of reshteh per three servings For coeliacs use rice noodles or gluten-free spaghetti.
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 1 small onion

Method:

  1. Follow the recipe for making Persian rice to step 3 and then place to one side.
  2. Break the noodles into pieces. It doesn’t matter what size
  3. Chop and gently fry the onion in the butter and oil and add the noodles until golden
  4. Combine the rice and noodles in one pan as from step 4 and continue  through the rest of the instructions to step 14.
  5. Some people like to add cinnamon and raisins which is delicious and you can sprinkle these on just before serving.

Sabzi polou

Ingredients :

  • Sabzi for polou is usually shivid or dill and tareh or leek chives. You can use fresh herbs or dried.
  • 1 cup of rice per serving

Method:

  1. Follow the recipe for making Persian Rice
  2. If you use dried herbs add them at step 5 or if you are using fresh herbs add them about 20 minutes before serving and mix in gently.
  3. Follow the rest of the instructions to step 14.

Other Norooz Traditions

Khane tekani:

In preparation for Norooz it’s traditional to thoroughly ‘shake’ the house clean, ”Khane tekani’ . The walls are freshly painted, floors, furniture, curtains and other soft furnishings are all cleaned and scented with rose-water. Flowers are brought in from the garden and decorate the tables. This is a very symbolic ritual which comes from the Zoroastrian’s and is about purification and ridding the house of negativity.


Tips for shiny, sweet smelling houses:

  • White vinegar . It’s cheap and goes a long way. Pour a little on some kitchen towel and clean your windows and mirrors squeaky clean. The great thing about this is there are no smears! Pour into toilets, in bathtubs,  hand basins and use on the kitchen work surfaces.  Great for cleaning tiled floors and walls and even laminate flooring.
  • Lemon juice is great for cleaning soap scum, fantastic for brass and copper. Mix with baking soda to make an abrasive  paste and use for more ground in stains.
  • Also put lemon peel in the garbage bin, it will help neutralise those nasty smells. You can also use orange or lime peel in the same way.
  • If you can’t repaint walls, wash them down in a solution of  vinegar and lemon juice to wash the walls down. Place in a spray bottle and it’s easy.
  • Pour some rose water into a spray bottle and spray your furniture, curtains, beds etc for a lovely sweet smelling home.  Keep it nearby and spray just before  guests arrive.
  • In keeping with old traditions, place some Rose water in a small dish or jug and invite arriving guests to rinse their hands. This is a Zoroastrian Norooz tradition and is thought to wash away any illness.
  • If you can find some scented rose petals place in small  pots around the house.