Text: Nicole Schnackenberg | Illustration: Ingrid Sanchez
There is a beautiful synchronicity about the natural world, an innate intelligence that Western culture often loses sight of in all its busyness. The Doctrine of Signatures is a part of many traditions and states that plants have clues or signatures in their shape and form as to what their purposes are. It is an ancient European philosophy, for example, that plants which resemble human body parts have useful relevancy to these particular elements of the anatomy.
Many people have noticed the relationship between the physical appearance of plant foods and their benefits to certain parts of the human body. Outlandish as this might initially sound, delving a little further into these observations yields surprising facts. Walnuts, for example, are shaped like the brain and contain both antioxidants and omega-three fatty acids which boost brain power and improve cognitive function. Avocados, beautiful little replicas of the womb, balance hormones and are an excellent source of folic acid, which is a vital vitamin in the development of a healthy foetus. And guess how long they take to grow from blossom to ripened fruit. That’s right. Nine months!
We could go on forever with such examples. Slice a carrot and you will notice its uncanny resemblance to the human eye. There are even subtle lines radiating out from the centre which mimic the lines in the iris. Carrots are packed with vitamins and antioxidants such as beta-carotene, which decrease the chance of macular degeneration and subsequent vision loss. Then there is the humble celery, a fantastic source of silicon which is known to strengthen bones. Interestingly, bones are 23 percent sodium…and so is celery! We could also talk about beetroot and the way it cleanses the blood, tomatoes (with their four chambers) and their benefits to the heart, ginger and its anti-nausea properties and calming effects on the stomach …the list is endless. Where though, I have often wondered, does this leave my very favourite vegetable, our friend the broccoli? Surely they look more like little trees than anything in the human body itself.
Well, yes and no. There is no disputing the quite beautiful resemblance between this green cruciferous vegetable and those majestic forest giants. Yet if we allow our imaginations to meander a little further, we may begin to get an image of the dendrites (from the Greek, meaning ‘tree’), those branched projections of a neuron that act to conduct electrical stimulation. Amazingly, although by now perhaps unsurprisingly, scientists have found that sulforaphane in broccoli can reverse decline in cellular immune function and that , in particular, the effectiveness of dendritic cells in restoring immune function can be improved through the ingestion of sulforaphane. Clever stuff!
So, not only does broccoli taste fantastic, have alkalising effects on the body, help to regulate heart rhythm, optimise brain function, reduce stress and build bones, to name but a few, it can also help to restore immune system function and improve the effectiveness of the nervous system as a whole. Long hailed as a super-food, we may do well to add another helping of those delicious little trees to our plate.
Personally, I love my broccoli lightly steamed with a sprinkling of sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. I always slice up and steam the stalk. Many people tend to throw this away, though I love the crunchiness and slightly bitter taste. Broccoli is also delicious as crudités and is of course often the preferred way of eating for raw foodists. Many raw foods supersede cooked foods in that they contain biophoton light energy and enzymes that are destroyed in cooking. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, however, benefit from a light steaming in order to remove unwanted goitrogenic substances and make their nutrients more bio-available to the body.
Take a look at the shape of your favourite plant foods and see if you can make any correlations with the parts of the body they are benefiting. Let us know what you notice in your comments below.