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Lisa Martin on her favourite Caribbean superfoods

The lockdown gave me a unique opportunity to reflect on my wellbeing, health and fitness. I found in the first few weeks a new-found appreciation of food, partly due to the shortages and shocking experience of seeing shelves stripped bare in Sainsburys and having to think up new and inventive ways to make a meal for my family from the random mix of produce I managed to grab in those early days of food scarcity, insecurity and fear. As the news reports reminded us daily, Black people were at greater risk of catching and 4 times more likely to die from Covid-19. I started to think about food as fuel, how it affects my body and found pleasure in researching and exploring new ingredients and ‘superfoods’ which could improve my immune system (something we all need to do) as well as tasting good!

This led me to go back to my roots. I found there are lots of old remedies and foods which are now touted as ‘super foods’ but have long been used in the Caribbean. Here are just a few of my favourites:

Irish Moss

Sea moss (a.k.a Irish moss) is not something that you’ll find in the typical British diet, but if you are of Jamaican or of Irish descent, there’ a chance you’ve at least heard of it. 

I’m first-generation Jamaican and growing up, I was only exposed to sea moss in the form of a sugary beverage. When my family went out to a local restaurant to eat curry goat or jerk chicken, I would pick it out from the fridge in its non-branded, homemade bottle. The sweet, creamy mixture of condensed milk, moss, vanilla, and nutmeg was a real treat after some spicy delights. But as tasty as this drink was, I knew it wasn’t really healthy. So, as a child I never thought that pure Irish moss had any beneficial properties on its own. That is until I did some reading.

Sea moss is a type of red algae that grows on the Atlantic coastlines of North America, Europe, and the Caribbean Islands. Since the 1800s, the Irish have been harvesting it from their rocky shores to use as medicine. They even used it to get the nutrients they needed during times of famine. Jamaicans have also traditionally used sea moss to treat illness, and some have touted it to be the perfect elixir to increase male libido! Unfortunately, there’s no scientific proof for the latter (sorry, guys), but there’s a lot of research showing that our ancestors understood the healing potential of this plant. It’s been claimed to improve digestion, improve thyroid function, boost immunity, good source of pure protein, nourishes skin and hair to name but a few benefits. If you wish to try it, make sure you buy pure organic Irish/sea moss from a reliable source.


Turmeric is hailed for helping a host of conditions: high cholesterol, hay fever, depression, gingivitis, premenstrual syndrome and even hangovers. It is believed to act as an antiviral, antibacterial and antiparasitic, and has long been used to help with diabetes, pain, rheumatism, osteoarthritis, memory and skin conditions like eczema. I make Turmeric tea, when I need a little pick me up as follows. In a jar, (store the jar in the fridge): I mix:

·         1 inch of turmeric root (or 1-2 teaspoons of powder)

·         1 inch of ginger root

·         Juice of 1 lemon

·         2 teaspoons of honey

I then use 1 teaspoon of this mix in a cup of boiling water with 1 grind of black pepper. If you can, use the fresh root which you can buy in most shops that sell African & Caribbean foods.

My other go to is Cinnamon. Not only does it taste delicious in cakes, drinks and cornmeal porridge, it is also surprisingly beneficial for our health. Cinnamon is made by cutting the stems of cinnamon trees. The inner bark is then extracted, and the woody parts removed. When it dries, it forms strips that curl into rolls, called cinnamon sticks. These sticks can be ground to form cinnamon powder. Cinnamon is loaded with antioxidants; Antioxidants protect your body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, those baddies that cause damage to cells and lead to illnesses and aging. In fact, it is so powerful that cinnamon can be used as a natural food preservative. It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help relive arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

I add cinnamon to everything as it helps us reduce or sugar intake - hot milk, cakes, cereal, my favourite is toast with honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon, Yum! You can’t beat it.

Cayenne Pepper

I love ‘hot’ food, so I always reach for the hot pepper sauce when eating. But did you know the natural healing power of Cayenne pepper? Apparently, it may:

·         Boost metabolism

·         Lower hunger

·         Lower blood pressure

·         Boost the bodies response to colds and flu

·         Reduce joint pain

I add a pinch of cayenne pepper to hot honey and lemon mixture if I have a sore throat.

As autumn changes to winter, contagious bugs like Cold and Flu will be coming. My hand will be applying Cayenne Pepper and my other superfoods liberally. These are just a few ingredients I am now incorporating into my diet, because as the elders say ‘every mickle makes a muckle’ - meaning every little you do adds up to something big. I for one and looking forward to better health and wellbeing as we come out of lockdown. There are many more superfood discoveries - I could go on and on, but these are a good start! What are your favourites?