My diet consists of three major food groups: meat, dessert and alcoholic beverages.
I’ve attempted to add some fruit and vegetables to that list, but all my suggestions – maraschino cherries, cocktail olives, caramel corn – have been summarily rejected by food fascists in the secret employ of Big Broccoli, Corporate Cauliflower and Kommunist Kale.
The result has been a lifelong struggle against the insidious forces of Brussels sprouts, zucchini and turnips. I’ve offered to compromise by including a couple of pickled dilly beans in my Bloody Marys. I’ve tried to find common ground by pointing out that bourbon is made from corn, and vermouth is made from grapes, which makes a Manhattan a veritable feast of veganism. And why can’t I get a little credit for liberally sprinkling black pepper on my steak? It’s not as if they make that stuff out of musk ox or something.
It’s all to no avail. According to the overseers of nutrition, I’m guilty of dietary deficiency in the first degree. I’ve become so distressed, I can barely finish off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk in a single sitting.
Wait! Chocolate comes from a plant. Nuts are from trees. Ice cream is just grass that’s been processed through a cow. That ought to fulfill the requirement.
No dice. According to the dictatorial regulations of the nutrition police, if it doesn’t list spinach, eggplant or wax beans as one of the first ingredients on the label, it ain’t a veggie.
It appeared I was doomed to spend the dinnertimes of my declining years staring at plates heaped with stinking green piles of decaying plant matter. I’m talking about gunk that even the dogs won’t eat (I’ve tried). And my dogs have no qualms about licking grease spots off the road.
Just when all seemed lost, salvation arrived in the form of a book called “The Drunken Botanist,” by Amy Stewart. This noble tome is subtitled, “The Plants That Create The World’s Great Drinks,” and it contains scientific facts about all the healthful substances I’ve been ingesting without even realizing it.
Take, for instance, gentian. The root of this European alpine flower is an essential ingredient in many bitters, which are an essential ingredient in the aforementioned Manhattans. According to Stewart, the use of gentian for medicinal purposes dates back to what is now Albania in 1200 BC, when King Gentius (for whom the plant is named) invented happy hour.
Stewart points out that gentian contains compounds “which modern researchers have investigated for their ability to promote salivation and the production of digestive juices.” I’m a big fan of both salivating and digesting, and I’ll bet those people demanding we all eat lentils, carrots and collard greens are, too.
But that’s not all. Stewart also notes that gentians contain xanthones, which is an antioxidant and a key ingredient in Moxie, perhaps the vilest liquid ever willingly imbibed by human beings. How wonderful to know that one need never again let that foul mixture pass one’s lips so long as one keeps a bottle of bitters handy.
Stewart has discovered many other important nutritional supplements in the liquor store. Her book examines the plants used to flavor cocktails, from acacia (an ingredient in mixes and a preservative for mummies) to Zanzibar cloves (useful in both amaretto and anesthetics), including many with important nutritional benefits. For instance:
If you don’t like carrots (and I don’t), you might enjoy sweet cicely, a member of the carrot family that lends a licorice flavor to absinthe and similar spirits. Sugar beets have it all over regular beets because they’re used to propagate yeast, an essential element in the production of alcohol. Cashew apple trees may be closely related to poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac (all of which I consider more palatable than rutabaga, asparagus or chard), but they produce both cashews, which go nicely with game-time beers, and an apple-like fruit that can be distilled into an Indian booze called feni. Who knew that sloe gin is made from the berries of the blackthorn shrub. The sloe berry is actually a close relative of plums and cherries, and presumably every bit as healthful. And fenugreek belongs to the bean family and may be one of the secret ingredients in Pimm’s No. 1, without which one cannot make a Pimm’s cup. I admit fenugreek doesn’t appear to have any particular health benefits, but I included it because I like saying fenugreek.
For some reason, Stewart neglects to mention the cranberry – which doctors tell us is loaded with nutrients, and bartenders tell us that when soaked in brandy for a few weeks makes an wonderful replacement garnish for the traditional cherry in a Manhattan.
That probably explains why I’m in such good health. That and saying fenugreek a lot.
For some odd reason, Al Diamon doesn’t hate lima beans, even though everyone else does. When not dispensing dietary advice, Diamon writes the weekly column Politics & Other Mistakes for several Maine newspapers and websites, and serves as the media critic for The Bollard magazine. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Fenugreek.