I believe in the healing power of food. A bowl of luscious ginger ice cream from Sundaes and Cones in Manhattan after the stress of too many deadlines does the trick for me. But yesterday, I toured through Kam Man, a grocery store in Chinatown, with natural health expert Letha Hadady to learn about foods that can truly restore health rather than just comfort and indulge.
“When doctors talk about ginseng, I always ask what kind,” she said as we peered at a counter full of the gnarly roots that I expected to come alive and start squealing like the magic root in the film, Pan’s Labyrinth. Chinese ginseng, sometimes known as “person root” for the little legs it has on the bottom, has an energizing effect. American ginseng, which is lighter in color than the Chinese version, can help treat ailments like fevers, dry coughs and chronic thirst (it also produces a refreshing tonic when brewed into a tea). After the ginsengs, we moved onto the medicinal mushrooms, like reishi, shiitake and enoki. A year and a half ago, we wrote about the anti-aging and disease-fighting properties of mushrooms when Dr. Andrew Weil released his mushroom-based line of beauty products at Origins. For much less money than his mega-mushroom eye serum, you can brew your own reishi mushroom drink, an elixir many Asian women attribute to their good health and long lives.
Hadady leads longer versions of the tour I took through New York’s Chinatown for $30; the schedule is available here. For people who want to go more in depth, her website is constantly updated with new articles and findings, and her first book, Asian Health Secrets, is a tome of information on natural healing. The tour I took was fascinating, but it didn’t convince me to give up my favorite comfort foods, like bacon, cheese and pasta, in exchange for seaweed and fungi. But she did teach me one way to boost my immune system while still indulging: Infuse my nightcap with ginseng. Steep slices of Chinese ginseng in a closed bottle of brandy for three weeks in a cool, dark place, then drink. I’ll take mine poured over ice cream.
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