Spring has well and truly arrived in Ibiza, bringing with it a vibrant wash of new colours to the already lush landscape. For me it’s a timely reminder of just how abundant this small island is with such an amazing variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs growing all around you. The end of winter is heralded by the famous pink and white blossoms that burst into life across this rich, fertile land, drawing our attentions to a very special Ibiza food – the mighty almond. Rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, with the ability to help reduce the risk of heart attacks and Alzheimer’s, almonds certainly are a ‘wonder nut’! I’m a firm believer that nature has already taken care to provide the cures, or at least the means for prevention, to many common diseases. We simply need to look around us again. This is the way it always used to be, natural foods and herbs were our only medicines for thousands of years. Most people don’t realise that pharmaceutical companies have been clever in producing drugs that simply mimic the actions of natural substances and botanicals that were used traditionally.
So, with this in mind and a new season of growth unfolding, I thought I’d explore some of our very own medicinal foods so that you and your family can enjoy and appreciate them more than ever before. Ibiza is now your very own natural dispensary.
A delicate but fragrant form of garlic grows in abundance in Ibiza, first appearing in spring with its small pink and white flowers growing atop of long thin green stalks. Wild garlic has a very similar taste to its domestic counterpart but is notably milder, however unlike regular garlic it is generally the leaves and stalks that are used more commonly in cooking than the bulbs. That said, the bulbs still offer all of the unique health giving properties that garlic is renowned for. Garlic (Allium sativum) is perhaps the oldest natural medicine of them all, favoured by many ancient cultures including the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. A sulphur compound called allicin gives it powerful antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. So it’s a good idea to pack plenty of it into your diet if you’re fighting off a flu or cold. You can even rub a little crushed garlic onto verruca’s with some tea tree oil at night to help blast them away naturally. Allicin is also known for its positive impact on heart health and amazingly wild garlic is even more effective than domestic garlic in lowering blood pressure.
If all of that wasn’t enough, garlic is a natural anti-inflammatory and painkiller, so much so that it was used as a quick fix treatment for wounded soldiers during the First World War. Given all of these amazing health benefits, it would be wise to sniff some out and put it to good use. Use it in soups, stir-fries and salads or as a garnish for savoury dishes. You could even try using it for a mellower version of Ibiza’s famous and much loved aioli.
Something is always going to taste that little bit better if there’s an element of danger in getting it to your plate first. These wonderful cactus fruits are no exception and can be found in abundance across Ibiza. Their distinctive bright red, pink and orange fleshy skin easily identifies them, indicating good levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Beware, as you’ll not only need to avoid the spikes of the cactus plants but the tiny fine hairs on the fruit itself so I would suggest looking up some practical tips for picking and preparing them first. But don’t let all that put you off because this fruit comes packed with goodness and several health benefits.
The main reason why I love this fruit is due to it being surprisingly rich in several essential minerals like magnesium, calcium and potassium. Magnesium is crucial for energy production as well as supporting healthy muscle and nerve function – it is what allows your muscles to relax. It can be significantly depleted by several things our modern lives throw at us – stress, physical exercise, surgery, fizzy drinks, caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar. Deficiency symptoms include muscle pains or cramps, anxiety and poor sleep. Magnesium seems to be the one mineral I speak to my patients about most often since unsurprisingly many of us are deficient in varying degrees. The good news however is that a one-cup serving of fresh prickly pears will deliver around 30% of your daily requirement alone.
Prickly pears are also high in fibre, essential to maintaining a healthy weight and keeping cholesterol down. They’re also great for your teeth and bones with good levels of calcium. Their seeds are rich in the essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6, so
you’ll be getting a handy boost to your brain function with the ultimate added benefit of glowing skin and hair.
These wonderful cactus fruits are best enjoyed on their own after being chilled for some time but they can be put through a juicer, used to make jelly, preserves or even prickly pear wine!
Dark brown carob pods can easily be found all over the Ibizan countryside. Traditionally used as feed for livestock, they’re now increasingly harvested for human consumption since their numerous health benefits have come to light.
After removing the hard seeds, the pods are typically roasted and then ground down into a light brown coloured carob flour (or powder) that is similar in appearance to cocoa or cacao powder. Indeed it is often used as a chocolate substitute in cakes and can also be enjoyed as carob chocolate. It is even used to make an aromatic carob liqueur here in Ibiza, with its manufacturers claiming it aids digestion after a meal. So what else is it good for? Well, just like the popular raw cacao powder, it is rich in minerals like magnesium and also offers an excellent source of antioxidants that protect your body from damage from free radicals and environmental toxins.
Carob contains polyphenols that help to reduce blood cholesterol levels and since it is caffeine free it is also recommended for people with high blood pressure.
If you’ve never tried carob, I recommend making a start by trying the ‘Exquisite’ dark chocolate, made with carob and toasted almonds from the island.
Those who are here in Ibiza to witness the fortnight of almond blossom in February will appreciate just how many almond trees there are growing all over the island. Unfortunately Ibiza does not have its own processing plant to remove the outer shells from the nuts, making harvesting them for sale pretty unattractive to local farmers.
Almonds pack a good punch of protein, the key building block for the body with just one handful providing your daily requirement. They have significant benefits for cardiovascular health, reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Once again a high calcium content means they’re great for bone health whilst high levels of vitamin E make them a must for glowing skin and reducing the signs of ageing. I see too many people put off consuming nuts due to their fat content but almonds are full of good fats and studies have shown that frequent nut eaters are slimmer on average than those who almost never consume them.
For the maximum health benefits almonds are best enjoyed in their raw form, with the skin still on. My favourite way to enjoy almonds is almond butter, an amazingly tasty and healthier option than peanut butter that is also fairly simple to make yourself. You could also try making an indulgent breakfast smoothie with a glass of almond milk, a tablespoon of almond butter, one banana (tastes even better if the banana is pre-frozen), a tablespoon of carob powder, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and a few drops of vanilla essence. Warning… you’ll be hooked!
Pomegranates just so happen to be one of the oldest known fruits, emerging from the cradle of civilization in Persia and subsequently venerated by the early Hebrews, Christians and ancient Greeks. Its deep red exterior that can be cut open to spill glistening crimson seeds meant that it was often associated with themes of blood and death. But it has equally been revered as a symbol of fertility, good health and eternal life.
Bright red rounded bulbs begin to appear on the pomegranate trees in Ibiza at the end of the summer, typically from September when these fruits can be picked and taken back to the kitchen to be enjoyed in various ways. Removing the seeds can seem a little laborious, however it is well worth the effort as pomegranates are a very nutrient dense food. Firstly it is the most powerful antioxidant of all fruits, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancers. Its juice is top of the leader board for antioxidant content, beating red wine, green tea, cranberries or blueberries. Interestingly this ancient produce contains a unique compound called punicalgin that is not found in any other fruit. Researchers believe it is this that affords the pomegranate such powerful antioxidant and health giving properties. Studies have highlighted its effectiveness in reducing blood pressure and preventing unhealthy blood clots that can otherwise lead to heart attacks or strokes. It has potent immune supporting effects as well as the ability to stimulate serotonin receptors meaning it may be effective in relieving depression.
Why not start your day including this wonder fruit in your breakfast by putting those glistening ruby seeds into your porridge or yoghurt along with some almonds. Those seeds make a great addition to any salad simply sprinkled over the top or you can even make a delicious colourful pomegranate dip. Simply blend together the seeds with some roasted red peppers, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil and a little sea salt and ground black pepper to season. Thank me later!
I could have chosen several health giving herbs that can easily be found all over Ibiza but we’re going with fennel since it’s the most common plant here and is the key ingredient in perhaps the islands most iconic home made product, the much loved Hierbas liqueur. The wild fennel found mostly alongside the roadsides in Ibiza has tiny but bright yellow flowers that grow on top of tall thin stems, making it distinctly different from the domesticated bulb shaped fennel you will be used to seeing in greengrocers. The flowers are actually immature seeds that have a sweet anise like flavour and can be used to make fennel pollen, which in turn can make truly incredible fennel pesto. Both the stalks and seeds can be used in combination with some orange rind, red peppers and garlic as part of the marinade for green olives. You can also pick the feathery green leaves to use in salads or as a garnish for fish dishes. If you want to pick some its best to find some away from the roadside that hasn’t been exposed to exhaust fumes.
The most obvious way to use this fennel in a more medicinal way is to crush some of the seeds in a pestle and mortar before steeping them in boiling water to make a refreshing tea. Both the ancient Egyptians and Romans recognised fennel as a powerful digestive aid and this has been backed up by modern studies that show it can relieve abdominal cramps, gas and bloating.
There is also evidence to suggest it helps lower blood pressure and can calm infants suffering with colic. Traditionally fennel has also been used for its calming effects on the nervous system, helping to treat bronchitis and chronic coughs, menstrual pains, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Michael is Ibiza’s only Naturopathically trained nutritional therapist. Nutritional therapy is all about helping to heal the body from disease by working with it rather than against it, as many modern pharmaceutical drugs tend to do. This is done mainly by using natural unprocessed foods and may also involve the use of supplements and herbal remedies
You can reach Michael to arrange a consultation via his website www.nurrish.me
He also regularly posts recipes, discusses health news stories and shares his blogs via his social media platforms
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