“All Wholesome Herbs”
“And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
“Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.” (D&C 89:10–11.)
What are herbs? A definition current in Joseph Smith’s day was “plants of which the leaves or stem and leaves, are used for food or medicine, or in some way for their scent or flavor.” 1 In one sense, at least, herbs are simply edible plants. The same dictionary cites an 1833 usage of “fruits” as “vegetable products in general which are fit to be used by men and animals.” We usually group fruits and vegetables together because their nutritive value is similar.
What nutrients do these foods provide? Vitamin C, for one; and many of these foods also contain carotene, an orange pigment our bodies convert to vitamin A. In addition, fruits and vegetables supply some iron, calcium, and trace minerals, as well as small amounts of other vitamins.
Citrus fruits are the best sources of vitamin C, but potatoes, tomatoes, and some other vegetables are also good sources. (Potatoes helped cure scurvy among the miners who streamed west with the Gold Rush.) In addition, several popular drinks in the U.S. now are fortified with vitamin C, though usually not with the other vitamins available in fruits and vegetables. However, even if people don’t use citrus fruits or vitamin C fortified drinks, other fruits and vegetables may provide enough.
One caution: prolonged, high heat destroys vitamin C, so it’s best to cook vegetables at a moderate temperature for a short time.
Vitamin A, or carotene, is found primarily in deep orange fruits and vegetables, or in dark green, leafy vegetables where chlorophyll masks the orange color. Cantaloupes, papaya, yams, carrots, winter squash, broccoli, spinach, chard—all of these are rich in vitamin A. Not everyone likes these fruits and vegetables—how often do you make a salad out of spinach?—and we may need to pay attention to get enough vitamin A. Unfortunately, per capita consumption of these vegetables in the United States dropped from fourteen pounds in 1945 to four pounds in 1968. 2 Recent interest in home gardens should help us reverse this trend.
What happens if you don’t get enough? Vitamin A deficiency is a worldwide problem. An extreme deficiency causes increased susceptibility to infections—in vitamin-A-deficient children, a case of measles often is fatal, and the eye infections associated with this deficiency at any age often result in irreversible blindness. The irony is that the blindness from vitamin A deficiency is totally preventable by eating the leafy greens rich in this nutrient that grow in every region of the world. Iron-deficiency anemia is another widespread nutritional problem. Although the body does not absorb iron from plants as efficiently as iron from meat, many of us could increase our iron intake by eating many of those same dark green, leafy vegetables.
The Lord instructs us to use these foods “in the season thereof,” when they are at their peak nutritionally and in flavor, texture, and color. With our increased knowledge, we can extend the “season” to last throughout the entire year by canning, drying, freezing, and cold temperature storage, as well as pickling, salting, and preserving. Of course, any kind of processing, including cooking, causes an initial decline in nutritional value of about 20 percent, although this amount varies some depending on the nutrient and cooking conditions. After the initial drop due to processing, nutritional value and appeal continue to decline slowly, depending on storage conditions. (Don’t conclude that we should eat everything raw: cooking helps us digest and absorb some nutrients; it makes some foods palatable and others safe to eat!)
Herbs also add variety to our meals through spices such as onions, garlic, peppers, sage, parsley, bay leaves, etc. Some herbs have medicinal properties as well. However, one should use extreme care in treating illnesses with herbs, since most have not been subjected to the careful testing required for other drugs and some contain powerful chemicals. Some people enjoy herbal teas, but even these should not replace more nutritious drinks in the diet. Always tell your physician if you are taking any herbal teas and know what the tea contains if possible. Recently an association has been identified between herbal teas and cancer of the esophagus, but further research is needed. 3 In Utah, in the summer of 1976, three deaths were attributed to the overuse of herbs. 4 When dealing with severe or chronic illnesses, be especially wary of herbal treatments or remedies that have not been proven effective through scientific studies. Priesthood blessings and competent medical care, not home remedies, should be obtained for treating serious disease.
But if we focus only on the nutritional and medicinal values of fruits, herbs, and vegetables we miss an important point. Fruits and vegetables are to be used with thanksgiving—in other words, for our enjoyment! Have you ever heard comments like: “Eat your peas now, then you can have dessert” or “You can go out and play after you finish your carrots.” Somehow statements like these associate vegetables with punishments, not with pleasure! I really enjoy Doctrine and Covenants 59:16–20, [D&C 59:16–20] especially verses 18 and 19, where the Lord emphasizes:
“Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
“Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.”
It’s nice to know that between the extremes of eating-as-duty and eating-as-self-indulgence lies the Lord’s view—that eating is a pleasant necessity and an occasion for joy and thanksgiving.