It was a wet, cool January week with a brisk wind and thick fog blanketing the town, and some family members had the sniffles. This called for a spicy soup, light but hearty, to warm up our engines and motivate our bodies to get going and be healthy. I made Mexican vegetable soup, the star ingredient being cumin powder, the aroma of the spice permeated the house as it cooked, and at dinner, it was the key taste in the broth. Other important ingredients were the onions sautéed with butter, thyme, crushed jalapenos, garlic, salt and pepper, and three types of peppers vibrantly colored and freshly diced. My favorite jar of salsa went into the crockpot, some black beans, corn, vegetable stock, and diced tomatoes. The soup garnishes gave the meal some substance; avocado, sour cream, shredded cheese, cilantro, and blue corn tortilla chips. I decorated my soup with avocado and sour cream while my husband used cheese and chips. And as every individual has differing preferences, my husband, friend and I loved the soup, but my seventeen year old son found it to have too many vegetables. I offered to heat up a large chicken breast to add to his soup.
This recipe sets the stage to understanding that with herbs and essential oils, isolating the star constituent from the plant affects the synergistic beauty of all the components and how they form an amazing recipe together. Cumin was the dominant flavor of the soup, but the onions, garlic, tomatoes, etc.. were also very significant components. Cumin alone would be too strong and is thus used in very small amounts as a spice in recipes. As an ingredient in Indian dishes, it would have a totally different flavor outcome. In summary:
Let’s now look at an analogy that compares food recipes and their ingredients to essential oils and their constituents. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolium or L. officinalis) is one of the top essential oils with scientific research to back up therapeutic actions. When Mother Nature is in here kitchen, here are a few key ingredients she uses to make lavender oil:
Looking at the scientific research, active constituents in lavender that cause therapeutic actions are sometimes identified and other times the whole plant is discussed. Further, lavender is sometimes mixed with other essential oils to create a therapeutic blend, similar to adding the avocado and sour cream to the soup. Below are some examples of research categorized by therapeutic action showing a variety of “recipe” scenarios.
To reduce anxiety
To improve attention
Pest reducing activity
This is just a short glimpse of the research available on lavender and/or its constituents. Note that some of the research discusses constituents that also happen to be found in lavender, but are isolated from a different plant and found to have a therapeutic action. Can this research also be applied to lavender; in some cases it can but not always.
On a final note, just like you can eat too much food and feel sick after, or even worse, if you ate cumin by itself you might really get nauseous, essential oils are potent and there is a small therapeutic dose that is just right to be healthy; this is called the therapeutic margin. Isolating the constituents can affect therapeutic action and also be too harsh. Blending essential oils with a carrier oil can make for a gentle and effective mix. And speaking of mixing things up, here’s the recipe for Mexican Vegetable Soup:
Mexican Vegetable Soup
By: Kathy Sadowski