Key Tips: Food as Medicine
By Nancy B. Loughlin

Published in News Press on January 19, 2016

The food you eat can be medicine and assist on the path to wellness.

marc williams

Ethnobiologist Marc Williams in Naples

Marc Williams is a North Carolina ethnobiologist who was raised in Florida.  His life and research have centered on how human cultures interface with plants and living organisms.

Williams is a proponent of the “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” philosophy when it comes to health.  Food is a part of a holistic approach to healing. Williams has picked up the torch from one of his mentors Frank Cook in envisioning an evolving “World Healing System” derived from the combined knowledge of Naturopathy, Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Homeopathy along with European, Native American and African American traditions.

He recently led a workshop entitled “Food as Medicine” sponsored by the Lifelong Learning program at the Naples Botanical Garden. He’s lectured for more than 60 organizations nationally and internationally including England, Netherlands and Costa Rica. He is also the director of Plants and Healers International.

If food is going to be your medicine, and medicine is going to be your food, know it’s an enormous subject. The novice can best approach it through Williams’ “tantalizing tidbits.”

Williams suggests three basic rules:

  1. Sustainability is key: Food should be local, fresh, organic, diverse, nutrient dense and made with love.
  2. SAD (Standard American Diet), an eating regimen comprised of salt, sugar and fat, tends to be acidic. It contains too much protein and doesn’t work.
  3. Practice due diligence. When choosing food to enhance health, be aware of possible interactions with medicines you are currently taking.

Next, begin to access the superpowers of food:

Antioxidant:  Red, blue and purple foods such peppers, corn, potatoes and berries are considered cancer-fighters because they counter cell-damaging free radicals.

Adaptogens:  Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, soothes the adrenal system and helps the body adapt to stress.

Antiinflammatory:  Try turmeric dried, the root steeped for tea or half a tablespoon added to food or smoothies to combat inflammation, the root cause of most disease.

Enzymes: The enzymes in pineapple and papaya, either fresh or dried, help your body digest nutrients

Detoxifiers:  Grab some dandelion, sauté the roots or brew them in tea and add the young leaves to salad to enhance the function of the liver and kidneys, the body’s chief detoxifying organs.

Circulation: Circulation is important for every body function, so go for small, hot, fresh peppers along with healthy shakes of dried cayenne pepper.

Mental function:  Drink passionflower tea to relieve mild anxiety and tension. Try Gotu Kola and Gingko for memory.

According to Williams, the benefits of food are best when they remain in their whole foods context. Fresher is better, so if you buy, buy direct from the farmer at the plethora of local markets. Better yet, grow some yourself.

Williams top five herbs for your garden:

  1. Holy Basil for the adrenals
  2. Hot peppers for circulation
  3. Mint to soothe digestion
  4. Cilantro to chelate heavy metals
  5. Parsley to freshen breath

“If there is one food to eat every day for health and wellness, the king is garlic,” he said.

The compounds in garlic have many benefits including boosting the immune system and lowering blood pressure.

Add garlic to sauces and sautéing vegetables, and use a garlic press to shoot fresh, raw garlic onto your salads.

The fresh parsley from your garden will help.

To learn more, visit Marc Williams’ websites: and He offers donation-based online botany classes as well as an upcoming class on fermented beverages at the Naples Botanical Garden on February 27th.