Rice and Spice

LESSON 3: Food, health and healing


This lesson plan explores the relationships between foods and the Southeast Asian concepts of health and well-being. Students will examine the medicinal properties of commonly used ingredients in Southeast Asian cuisine such as turmeric, lemon grass, garlic, and chili, as well as the different usage of rice and spices for healing purposes, including as ritualistic offerings to appease offending spirits.

Subject History / Social Studies
Topic What is the connection between food and well-being in South-East Asia?
Key idea In many parts of Southeast Asia, health and well-being are centred on the concept of equilibrium. Foods, herbs and spices are used to achieve equilibrium, as well as in ceremonies and rituals.
Key concepts Cosmology
Culinary influence
Equilibrium and humours
Traditional knowledge
Well-being (as a holistic concept)
Level Lower secondary
No. of periods / lessons 1 period or 2 periods if a traditional birth attendant is invited (1 period is approximately 50 minutes)
Facilities needed Sources and handouts for distribution
Prerequisite knowledge No prerequisite knowledge is required.

Learning objectives
By the end of the lesson, the students will be able to:

  1. Describe the humoral systems that
    influenced Southeast Asian traditional
    knowledge of medicine.
  2. Describe the influence of these humoral
    systems in Southeast Asian diets.
  3. State some ingredients used in Southeast
    Asian cooking that possess curative
  1. Engage in the study of sources to learn
    about the humoral systems from ancient
    Greek medicine, the Indian Ayurveda
    system, and Islamic medicine to realize how
    these systems influence their diet.
  2. Engage in the study of sources to learn about
    the basic ingredients in jamu (a traditional
    Indonesian health tonic) and a recipe for
    a drink for new mothers (jamu kunyit)
    to observe how people in Southeast Asia
    rely on traditional knowledge of medicinal
    plants for healing and restorative purposes.
  1. Recognize how Southeast Asia is connected
    with other parts of the world such as
    India, China and the Middle East through
    knowledge about traditional medicine.
  2. Appreciate senior members of the
    community (elders and traditional birth
    attendants) for the wealth of knowledge
    that is the result of personal experiences,
    observation and the sharing of information
    through oral instructions.


Download the lesson plan for details on the talks and activities suggested below.

1. Hook: Discussion

The students discuss their family practices when they suffer from small ailments such as a sore throat, toothache, flatulence, etc.: going to a western doctor or a pharmacy, natural remedies with herbs, spices and other foodstuff that can be found easier in their kitchens or backyards? Do they avoid or take more of certain foods to alleviate the symptoms?

2. Teacher talk: Perspectives on the humoral system

The lecture explains the concept of humoral system and its application in Southeast Asia. Students are encourages to discussed the practices in their families.


3. Group work: Pair work

In this activity students use a Venn diagram to reflect on the types of food considered as hot, cold or neutral in their family / community.

4. Teacher Talk

The lecture presents how food is used for medicinal and ritual purposes. It emphasizes how these traditions and knowledge are transmitted within the community and are part of the local culture and heritage.

5. Interview of a traditional birth attendant

Note: This activity is optional if the lesson can be conducted over 2 periods.

Students interview a traditional birth attendant. This activity encourages students to interact with members of the community by asking questions and appreciate the wealth of knowledge they have to share.

6.  Reflection

With more knowledge from the lesson and activities, students share other forms of traditional medicine in their culture that is made from natural ingredients that is prescribed for common ailments such as colds, sore throats, fever, flatulence, etc.

Home Extension Activity 1

Students research practices related to food preparation in their family / community? They interview members of the family to find out how cooking change food properties.

Home Extension Activity 2

Students research practices related to pregnancy and birth by interviewing a traditional birth attendant in their family / community.