Throughout a lifetime of searching continuously for holistic alternatives to modern pharmaceutical medicines, and struggling with morbid thoughts of damaging side effects, I embarked on a journey of exploration, seeking various alternatives that provide nutrition and sustenance with each and every mouthful.
So through this process I discovered, albeit naively, that modern pharmaceuticals used in western medicine are mostly derived from plants through identification of the bioactive compounds which are screened and then manufactured commercially. Recent studies suggest that bacteria contained within the stomach directly impact the brain, further research notes the psychological differences which correlate to the levels of good bacteria in the stomach and consequently identified the emotional impact this has. These finding indicate a shift in perceptions of how our stomach and the food we eat have a significant impact on our mood and psychological welfare.
One solution is to take probiotic supplements, Philip WJ Burnet, associate professor at the psychiatry department at the University of Oxford, suggests that rather than ‘proliferating the growth of single species as in taking a probiotic, if you eat these fibres you grow lots of species of good bacteria, so you’re more likely to get a hit.’ One such avenue of increasing the fibres and probiotics which beneficial bacteria feed on, is to introduce them through a healthy and varied diet. This brings us to barley, the benefits of this grain are acknowledged in modern medicine, whist also being recognised in the English Herbal traditions described as a ‘nutritive and demulcent drink’ for treating chest conditions and alleviating respiratory and urinary complains. The Victorian opinion to barley mirrors the Middle Eastern approach to the grain.
The close relationship between the stomach and the brain reminded me of the Prophetic solution recorded in The Medicine of the Prophet ﷺ which says, ‘Ibn Maja narrated that Aishah رضي الله عنها said; “When a member of the family of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ would fall sick, he would order that barley soup is made and then the ill person would be commanded to have some of it. He used to say, ‘It strengthens the heart of the sad person and relieves the heart of the ill person, just as one of you would wash the dirt off her face with water.’ Several benefits of barley are recorded in the book, and a description of how to cook the grain in order to receive the maximum benefits is described, ‘boiled barley water which is more nutritious than its flour…This remedy entails preparing a portion of good type of barley and five times as much water, placing them in a clean pot and cooking them under moderate temperature until only two fifths of the mixture remains.’ In addition it is noted the how the soup of barley helps with chest complains and stomach problems. This work, dated from the 1300s and complied by Al-Jawziyya was one of the most influential works about prophetic medicine in his 277-chapter book, Al-Tibb al-Nabawiyy, dealing with a diversity of treatments as recommended by Muhammadﷺ but also engages with ethical concerns, discussing malpractice and the hallmarks of the competent doctor.
This traditional approach to recognising the medicinal properties of food developed in the Middle East, with a contribution of the inquiring scholar Abu Baker al-Razi, who attemped to coalesce Hippocratic methodology with Prophetic Sunnah. However, his efforts didn’t go without controversy, with criticism from theologians and philosophers due to his secular approach to medicine. In addition, his legacy was held in contempt in later years by Ibn Sinan (980-1037CE) who complied the Canon, or Kitab al-Qanum, following Aristotelian logic the book aimed to clearly denote rules and methodology in healing and this would form the base of Unani Tibb.
Research indicates that barley reduces cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, maintains bone structure and strength, reduces chronic inflammation, is beneficial for weight management due to its fibre content as it functions as a bulking agent in the digestive system, and most notably, is possibly effective in reducing the risk of stomach cancer, because of the mineral Selenium present in barley, it contributes to liver enzyme function by helping to detoxify some cancer causing compounds found in the body, in addition to acting as an anti inflammatory, perhaps decreasing tumour growth rates, and improved immune responses. There are little disadvantages for introducing barley into the diet, although as it contains gluten it could worsen symptoms of Celiac disease, and as it lowers blood sugar it can effect diabetes medications.
Introducing barley into soup is an effective way to benefit from this versatile and healing ingredient, whilst also reviving a sunnah of the Prophet Muhammed ﷺ. The saying we are what we eat is so important to remember in our often physically draining lifestyles, when dominating duties result in a general neglect of our food considerations. Perhaps some simple ajustments and increased conscientiousness towards our delicate stomach could have a profound effect on how we percieve our own environments, and individual healthiness, and even a small change to our diet could have a significantly positive effect, for such an affordable ingredient there are so many advantages.
Al-Jauziyah, I. (2010). Healing with the Medicine of the Prophet ﷺ. Riyadh: Darussalam, p.344.
Kathleen Hefferon, Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine: Plants and Modern Medicine (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 23
Sheldon Watts, Disease and Medicine in World History (New York: Routledge, 2003), 43
Cyril Elgood (1962) The Medicine Of the Prophet. PubMed Central, 146-153.
Grieve, M. (1998). A Modern Herbal. Kent: Mackays of Chatham, pp.84, 85.