Updated: Apr 27, 2022
I am of the opinion that in the traditional medicine of Madeira the most relevant knowledge is the one people share among their friends and acquaintances, as a result of their personal experiences in fighting diseases. They share herbal formulas to deal with all sorts of illnesses, from a mild flu to more serious challenges such as asthma, bronchitis, hypertension or even cancer. In a casual conversation about health, people are very willing to tell how they recovered from a disease using herbal treatments, especially when prescribed medicine failed.
This sharing was what helped me deal with a chronic gastritis that troubled me for years. Many times I had symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness and fainting, that forced me to stay in bed for several days. The antacids, prescribed by the doctor, and the diet I was told to follow, didn’t prevent these symptoms from recurring from time to time.
As these symptoms recurred, my father advised me to try an herbal tea, made with dried oregano leaves. He had a friend who cured a similar problem with this herb. At first I didn’t believe it could help me, and I paid no attention to his advice. He insisted many times, but I was determined to ignore his suggestion, until one day, in the evening, when the pain in my stomach started to bother me again. I knew, immediately, the inflammation was back.
So this time, I decided to try the herbal tea my father recommended. It certainly wouldn’t do any harm! I prepared a herbal tea with dried oregano and drank it, without any expectations. To my surprise, it took no longer than 15 minutes to feel relief from the pain. One hour later, I was pain free. From then on, the first thing I did as soon as I felt the first symptoms of a stomach pain, was to drink a cup of oregano tea, and never again I had to stay in bed, struggling with the crippling symptoms I used to feel before.
This experience opened my eyes to the world of herbal medicine, with special focus in culinary herbs and spices. Curiosity made me search for information about the medicinal properties of oregano. Luckily, the internet provides us with so much up-to-date information on the scientific research of medicinal herbs. The oil that gives oregano the characteristic sweet peppery warm flavour is carvacrol, the main chemical component of this herb, with analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. These properties are especially effective against inflammations caused by bacteria such as H. pilory a bacteria that colonizes the stomach.
Carvacrol is also the main oil found in many other plants not related to wild oregano (Origanum vulgare): Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) and Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus) are herbs used in South America for both cooking and the same medicinal uses as wild oregano.
This experience made me realize that using the right seasoning could be an important tool to relieve symptoms of a health condition and, why not, to achieve complete recovery. The more I studied herbs and spices, and how they interfere with the metabolization of food, the more convinced I got that by using the right seasonings we could cure a disease.
Having that in mind a few years later, after learning that capsaicin, the substance that gives heat to chillies, could kill the bacteria H. Pylori, I decided to give it a try. Capsaicin mimics the action of stomach acid, a necessary factor to induce the production of mucins, a mucus-like substance that protects the stomach wall from the acid and damage of bacteria. In addition, capsaicin exposes the bacteria to the immune system by inhibiting catalase, an enzyme H. pylori uses to escape the action of the immune system. Rocoto was the chilli I chose, for I had found out that in South America this chilli is used to cure stomach ulcers.
By using chilli as a seasoning in small amounts, it didn’t take long until I could digest food more easily and chilli, definitely, makes food more flavourful and stimulating. After a period of one month, I made exams for H. pylori antibodies that clearly showed that the immune system was succeeding in killing the bacteria.
Many years have passed and never again I had to deal with inflammation in my stomach. But chilli is still one of the spices I enjoy the most in my meals.