Why would you wash in milk, dig for dandelion roots, whizz up a mix of conkers and vodka in your blender or rub strawberries on your face?
Fiann Ó Nualláin advocates all of it. He's been studying ethnobotany, or how people use plants for many years – and is full of fascinating information about the properties of our humblest, most familiar, fruit and veg.
A horticultural therapist, functional foodie and well-known TV presenter, he explores what he calls the two-pronged 'functionality of food' – nutrition/health and beauty – through horticultural therapy. Such information would have been a familiar part of daily life for our ancestral hunter-gatherers, and later, is believed to have formed the basis of what many of us dismissed as 'old wives' tales.'
However, nowadays much of this lore has been lost, but as Fiann shows, modern science is proving that there's plenty of substance to validate the claims that certain foods can not only keep you nutritionally healthy but can help balance your moods and treat physical ailments such as varicose veins as well as helping with skin, hair and appearance.
Some of his secrets have already been aired on RTE's 'Dermot's Secret Garden' (Fiann co-presented the current series), while the topic will be discussed at the largest ever GIY (grow it yourself) gathering which is part of the Waterford Harvest Festival which begins today.
So believe it or not, science proves that washing your face in milk really works – the lactic acid deeply cleanses the skin and pores of dirt and bacteria, and on top of that, milk has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties which give a superb all-over cleanse.
It's all about getting the benefits from our common fruits and veg by eating them in season says Fiann:
"The human system evolved to eat what was in season, and we should still try to get the most benefit from food by eating it in season and as fresh as possible. If you eat too much processed food, you put your body out of kilter," he explains.
So therefore, eating leafy greens in springtime sets you up for summer – the Vitamin K helps to ready your skin for sunshine – while consuming local honey can help cure your hay-fever because when you eat it, you consume minute traces of the local pollen that makes you sneeze, thus gradually building up immunity.
The berries that come out at harvest-time are full of anti-oxidants that boost you, help prepare you for winter and, when rubbed on the legs a tincture made of conkers contains aescin, which helps shrink varicose veins.
"Generations ago, we automatically ate the right foods at the right time and people knew about their properties and took the benefits naturally into their bodies," says Fiann, but a lot of these secrets have been forgotten over the years.
However, he says, modern science is now rediscovering the value of these humble plants:
"Take bio-flavinoids for example – these colour fruit and vegetables but they also strengthen the heart, capillaries and veins, clean the blood and mop up free radicals."
We are now exploring the real science behind the healing properties of our fruit and vegetables," he says – and finally realising that they're not old wives' tales.
"It was thought that the custom of taking a warm glass of milk for insomnia was just an old wives' tale, but now they have discovered, for example, that milk has natural sedative properties."
* Drinking a coffee-type beverage made from the roots of dandelions is a centuries-old detox trick.
Doing it on a regular basis (even a few weeks before the debs or a big social event) assists our bodies to dispose of both toxins and excess hormones that trigger acne and other eruptive skin conditions.
* Strawberries are great for exfoliation – they contain Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs), a lifting agent that gently encourages exfoliation but also speeds up the healing process.
Raspberries, blackberries or strawberries can all be pounded or blitzed to make a cheap AHA facial peel which, within days, improves skin tone and complexion, stabilises oily or acne-prone skin within weeks, and gently re-textures the skin over a period of a few months.
Strawberries also act as a teeth-whitener – these succulent berries naturally whiten teeth because their fruit acids lift stains. A single mashed strawberry with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda keeps well in the fridge and is the best natural toothpaste around – and, by the way, it's paraben-free.
* Worried about your cholesterol level? The soluble fibre, carotenoids and flavonoids in beetroot all help prevent LDL or 'bad' cholesterol from being oxidised and deposited in the arteries.
On top of all that, the betacyanin pigment that gives beetroot its colour is a powerful antioxidant promoting health and boosting a radiant complexion and brighter eyes. Best of all, it's great for boosting stamina and making muscles work harder.
* When applied as a face mask, dairy products such as natural yoghurt from cow or goats' milk will improve the elasticity and balance the PH of older skin, keeping it youthful and healthy.
* Squashes, particularly butternut and orange squashes, are bursting with beta-carotene and lutein, two agents very beneficial to women who may be at particular risk of breast cancer or for men worried about prostate cancer.
"They contain phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants which scavenge the free radicals which can lead to cancer," explains Fiann, adding that the seeds of pumpkins (a squash itself) contain L-tryptophan which the body converts into serotonin and niacin – two agents that lessen the edges of anxiety, fight depression and promote a good night's sleep.
* A natural skin toner can be produced by making a tea of lime tree flowers or elderflowers, both common in parks, or by picking from the garden fennel, honeysuckle, lady's mantle, marshmallow or poppy flowers
* For men of shaving age, a home-made balm using coconut oil, apple cider vinegar and few drops of rosemary essential oil will give a smooth glide, prevent breakouts and tone the skin post-shave.
* Looking for a good face-mask? Try a potato! Potatoes contain 5-htp, a natural anti-depressant as well as Vitamin C , B-complex, potassium, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus, all of which promote excellent skin health. A grated raw potato mixed with a little honey is an excellent face mask that naturally tightens the skin and encourages cellular regeneration – a natural facelift.
* Apples not only keep the doctor away but can be used in beauty care. Crammed with those fab alpha-hydroxy fruit acids to exfoliate the skin, they also have pectin which tightens and firms saggy skin, while the juice is a great hair treatment, promoting lustre and bounce and preventing dandruff.
* The humble blueberry, actually better known as an antioxidant superfood, contains phytoflavinoids that lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. But they are also anti-inflammatory and will fight all chronic health conditions plus everyday aches and pains.
* Tomatoes contain lycopene natural to the fruit, but when introduced to the human bloodstream is the most efficient scavenger of the free radicals that age you, mutate to cancer and slow your life expectancy.
A unique property of lycopene is its ability to raise the sun protection factor (SPF) of the skin is another big benefit.
* Garlic is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, protecting against heart disease, reducing blood pressure and lowering cholesterol levels. It contains the vitamins C and B6, manganese, and selenium. It cleanses the blood and so promotes internal health and an external glow.