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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Maine Tea

September 5, 2015

Tags: herbs, order, chemicals – beneficial, biochemical pathway, cell, Chinese novel, chives, dandelion, evolution, German, goldenrod, green goodness of plants, herb walk, interconnectedness, kitchen garden, Labor Day, lady’s mantle, Maine, oregano, parsley, plantain, peppermint, pine needles, plants – poisonous, polyphenol, red clover, rosehip, sarsaparilla, scented fern, steeple flower, tea - field, forest and meadow, tea - garden, tea - wild, usnea, walking, woods, workshop

For too long I haven’t written here, being deeply immersed in my new Chinese novel (which will take some years to finish writing). But this Labor Day weekend we returned to Maine, and I want to share that today I made a wild tea:

• Goldenrod
• Steeple flower
• Usnea
• Dandelion
• Oregano
• Sarsaparilla
• Red clover
• Pine needles
• Scented fern
• Peppermint
• Rosehip
• Chives
• Lady’s mantle
• Parsley
• Plantain

I usually call it a garden tea, but today the ingredients are from whatever I found on our walk – more of a field, forest and meadow tea, as we call it in German. Some came from my neighbor’s kitchen garden (I have their permission), some from the Maine meadows and wild woods. Everything is rather dry this year, but things are growing – and if you ask me – want to be eaten and drunk.

I wonder how many different polyphenols and other beneficial chemicals I ingested with the large cup of tea I just imbibed. Hundreds – if not thousands. They all work their magic without that I have to know all the chemical names or biochemical pathways because the wisdom of my body cells will sort out what is useful, and what is not. Mind, I don’t include plants that are poisonous. Just plants that have accompanied us through millenniums of evolution, and therefore will help my body healing whatever bothers it. Long before it bothers me.

You can make your own wild tea. Don’t look for my plants – look for what is growing around you. Some plants you probably know already – like dandelion. Never use a single plant that you don’t know one hundred percent! Enroll in a workshop or herb walk and be guided by some wise person who knows the land. Don’t go through life without really knowing the world you are living in. You will grow in unexpected ways, and you will be healthier for it! Not only because we are primed to ingest the green goodness of plants, but also because you have to walk to get them. And because you will experience the interconnectedness of all and everything.

Spring Greens

March 30, 2012

Tags: order, herbs, food, bicycle, budding, chives, dandelion, delicatessen, excitement, flowers, garden, garden tea, garlic, life, liver health, skin health, smiling, spring fatigue, observing, olive oil, poisonous plants, salad, spring greens, Spring Greens, sprouting, stinging nettle, tea – herbal, vigor, winter blah, year - seasons, spring, sun, renewal, blooming, life, passion, winter - eternal

This is the time of the year to eat chives, dandelion leaves and flowers, and stinging nettle leaves from the garden. They replenish you with new vigor against the winter blah and spring fatigue. They flush your liver and bring a glow to your skin. And a smile to your face.

Stinging nettles, of course, should be stripped from the stalks (wear gloves!) and be cooked – a delicatessen with olive oil and fresh garlic! Chives you can munch right from the garden, and dandelions are good as salad, as cooked greens or as a tea. Have you ever made a glass teapot with the rich green of garden plants, sunny from the buttery-yellow flowers of dandelions? Yes, it’s time again for a garden tea! Anything that isn’t poisonous can go in.

All this is not new, of course. Just a reminder. But the essence of spring is exactly this yearly renewal! Nothing new under the sun, they say – but let’s not forget that this yearly renewal is the most wonderful thing that can happen: the blooming again of life, of passion, of being alive! Think it would NOT happen, and instead, we’d got eternal winter. That would be the end of life. So, go out every day now – perhaps on your bike, like I did today - and observe how little things sprout out of the soil or how buds burst open. Yes, it happens every year, nothing special about it – but boy-oh-boy – how it does get me excited!

Herb Of The Year 2011: Horseradish

May 7, 2011

Tags: herbs, food, antibacterial, apples, Armoracia rusticana, asparagus - white, Belgian endive, boiled beef, bones - strong, breakfast, bronchitis, calcium, Chinese rice soup, chives, comfort, condiment, congee, dandelion, death, decoration, diarrhea, digestive, dinner, disorientation, enzyme, fever, frosts, garden, garden pest, gastro-intestinal irritation, Germany, ginger, grape leaves, green tea, harvest, healing purposes, Herb Day, herbal tea, Herb Of The Year 2011 - Horseradish, herbs - cleansing spring, hors d’oeuvres, horseradish, horseradish root, horseradish as poison, horseradish peroxidase, hot bath, International Herb Association, International Herb Day 2011, invigorating, Japanese tea - ground, lunch, macha, magnesium, mint, Natural Medicine, nausea, neighborhood, neurobiology, olives - chopped, olive paste, overdosing on fresh horseradish, phosphorus, potassium, potatoes - mashed, potluck party, pungent, resveratrol, rice crackers, rice vinegar, robustness, sauerkraut, sesame - black, sinusitis, spring, stinging nettle, sweating, taste, taste buds, toxic compounds, urinary tract infection, volatile oils, vomiting, weakness, weed, wild garlic

This should be the International Herb Day 2011 – but it seems several organizations compete with their dates.

So, I am making it my own Herb Day. I started the day with an herbal tea from stinging nettle, dandelions, ginger, chives, mints, and a dash of green ground Japanese tea called macha - to open my eyes.

My breakfast consisted of – you know my routine by now - congee (Chinese rice soup from brown rice) with sauerkraut and pickled grape leaves. They are my own harvest from last year, just cooked in rice vinegar and frozen, high in resveratrol, and a real pest in the garden! What is more delightful to find a way to turn an annoying weed into a delicious food!

For lunch I had olive paste on black sesame rice crackers.

For dinner I am invited to a neighborhood potluck party, and I will bring hors d’oeuvres: Olive paste (can be substituted with chopped olives, on Belgian endive and/or apples slices, topped with leftover pieces of white asparagus and chives from the garden.

The uses for herbs are unlimited: as condiment, as decoration, for healing purposes, for taste in food and comfort in a hot bath. This year, the International Herb Association made horseradish the herb of 2011 – don’t try it in your bath, though!

Horseradish root, grated has the familiar pungent taste which goes well with bland fish or bland meats – in Germany we use it with boiled beef, which is a boring a dish as one can imagine. With horseradish, it suddenly is exciting for the taste buds. Serve it fresh mashed potatoes, made from scratch.

What makes Armoracia rusticana, as it is known in Latin, so pungent are its volatile oils. They also give it its healing properties: antibacterial, digestive. It certainly gives your sinuses a good blow-out. It is also used in urinary tract infections and bronchitis, and promotes sweating in a fever, which can be beneficial. And in Natural Medicine we view it – together with stinging nettle, dandelion, chives, wild garlic, and others – as one of the essential cleansing spring herbs.

Horseradish also contains potassium, and an interesting enzyme – horseradish peroxidase, now used widely in neurobiology. Magnesium, calcium, phosphorus are building strong bones. That does not mean you should gorge on it – a little goes a long way; too much would be a poison. Overdosing on fresh horseradish (cooking destroys the toxic compounds) shows in gastro-intestinal irritation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, sweating, and disorientation, and possible death.

Before I knew that it would become famous this year, namely in the winter, I planted a horseradish root in a pot. For months, it did nothing, as eagerly as I observed the phallic thing for signs of life. Then, after I had put it outside when there were still frosts expected, I noticed it had developed side-shoots. And as soon as the rain stops today I will plant it in a bigger container. It would be unwise to plant it in the garden as it is a tough customer and prone to spreading robustly. – Perhaps that was one of the reasons our forefathers recognized it as one of those invigorating plants with which we might fight dwindling health.

Today is Beltane!

April 30, 2011

Tags: Water, food, herbs, movement, order, annihilation, annuals, bacterial life, Beltane, blooming, broomstick, celebration, chemicals, cherry blossoms, children’s children, chives, daffodil, desert, Earth, fall, Gaia, gardening, gardening methods - unorthodox, global warming, green, leaves, May Dance, May First, mutations, Nature, nature religion, neo-paganism, non-turning of the soil, nourishing, novel, nuclear devastation, ozone hole, paganism, perennials, political, radiation, renewal – yearly, rite, ritual, science, Sebastian Kneipp - Water Doctor, soil, spring, spring rites, stepping stones, summer, Today Is Beltane!, tulip, walking, water tables, Wiccan, witches

Beltane is the ancient rite of greeting and revering spring, celebrated on the night that leads into the First of May. I don’t believe in witches riding on broomsticks – or, to rephrase this, modern science interprets the broomstick a bit different. But in my novel “Sebastian Kneipp, Water Doctor” the broomstick and Beltane play a major role. For that reason alone, Beltane is special for me.

The most amazing features of Nature are that she brought us forth and nourishes us, and that she renews herself yearly.

This force of renewal is enormous – but it is not inexhaustible. We can come to a point of no return if we are not careful with old Gaia, and that point of no return could come in several scenarios, all not pretty: Nuclear devastation – and in the past we have come close to several political annihilation situations. Lowering the water tables so that wide parts of the Earth would turn into deserts until nothing green grows anymore. Biological mutations in our genome, started by chemicals we deem safe now but might find out too late they are not. Overheating of the Earth – global warming; there are still people who deny that this is happening, in the face of science. Overexposure to radiation by increasing the ozone hole (we are working mightily on that one).

In my garden I practice what I call non-turning of the soil – it’s a leisurely and useful form of gardening. I leave the leaves on the beds in the fall (the neighbors got used to my untidy garden and seem to have forgiven me because they Oh! And Ah! in spring, summer and fall at the blooming results of my unorthodox gardening methods. - If one doesn’t step on the soil, one doesn’t compact the soil, so one doesn’t have to turn the soil. Between perennials, annuals and bushes my garden the stepping stones. I never, ever step on the soil because I know it is teeming with beneficial bacterial life that will be trampled and choked if I do.

So, I don’t care if you celebrate Beltane with a Wiccan ritual (be aware that most of this nature religion is less ancient than we usually think – most comes from nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ revival of old paganism) or with a Dance into May or with a walk under cherries blossoms or along daffodils and tulips or with a salad sprinkled with the first chives from the garden. But l do care that we not trample and choke our good old Earth and preserve her for our children and children’s children.

The thought haunts me that one day nobody might be able ever to celebrate spring anymore – either because Spring has ceased to return, or nobody is left to celebrate …

Fasting After Easter

April 27, 2011

Tags: food, almonds, arthritis, brunch, butter, caviar - red, celebration, chives, dandelions, Easter, eel - smoked, eggs - naturally dyed, farmers’ cheese, fasting, Fasting After Easter, fatigue, feast, garden tea, gluten, herring - pickled, herring - red herring salad, Italian, kulitch, Lent, nettles - stinging, orange peel, pannetone, pashka, pork sausage, raisin, Russian, Russian Easter, sauna, sheika, sturgeon - smoked, vodka

Lent, the long fasting period, usually comes before Easter. But this year, it comes after the holiday for me.

You see, we organized a Russian Easter for our Russian friends – with all kinds of strange foods: Naturally dyed eggs, of course, pickled herrings, smoked sturgeon and smoked eel, red caviar, red herring salad, sheika (a pork sausage), pashka (an impossibly sweet farmers’ cheese with butter, raisin, orange peel and almonds), kulitch (a cake similar to the Italian pannetone). You get the idea: Delicious but deadly.

And I haven't even mentioned the vodka ... which I left out, it being brunch time. I also didn't cheat on gluten - it just makes me deathly sick. But the rest was enough to do me in: Fatigue and arthritis are hampering me now.

So, this week after the feast I am indulging in three cleansing modalities:

1. Sauna
2. Garden tea
3. Fasting.

Garden tea, so far, has been mostly been made with stinging nettles, chives and dandelions – not much else being available. And fasting works best with a vegetable broth, made from whatever was in the fridge (with the exception of nightshades).

In Germany, we have a saying that you have to celebrate as feasts come along – and I couldn’t agree more. But then, you have to pay the price, roll up the sleeves and clean up the mess. Especially the mess inside your body.

Freshness

July 16, 2010

Tags: food, herbs, basil, beet greens, bratwurst, cabbage - baby, carrots, cauliflower, chana dal, chives, cilantro, coconut oil, dill, dressing, fennel, fish, freezing, freshness, Freshness, garbanzo, garlic, grains, gravy - ready-made, green sauce, kitchen machine, legumes, microwave, mustard, olive oil, onions, parsley, rhubarb, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper, split peas, sugar, thyme, vegetables, zucchini

We cannot eat perfectly healthy every single time we sit down to dine. But we should at least have an idea what the ideal of a meal can be.

Surrounded by friends and family, and outdoors – if possible. Even the tiniest of balconies will do; or an open window. A tablecloth would look lovely; at least a few matching plate mats, and always my best china. For whom would I keep it? My children will inherit what is not broken.

Ah, what for food? The answer is easy: vegetables. Tonight, at my home, it will be fennel – probably sautéed with onions, garlic and olive oil. And a baby cabbage, which I will steam whole with caraway. We will finish a leftover from yesterday (beet greens, cauliflower, young zucchini and green garlic). So, technically, we will have three veggies on the table – and I haven’t even mentioned meat or fish (I might do bratwurst today, in coconut oil – we still have some frozen from our May garden party, and we had fish or vegetarian for several days in a row. Served with chana dal (an Indian small garbanzo; they look like split peas, only yellow. One takes a cup of chana dal to two cups of water, brings it to a fast boil with a pinch of salt, and then simmers with a lid until all water is gone. The problem with chana dal (as with split green peas and most grains) is that they need skimming off some froth early on so that they don’t boil over.

For desert I will quick-cook rhubarb with a bit of sugar. Rhubarb is one of the few things that absolutely can’t go without sugar.

If freshness is the standard, then this is what we eat tonight: The warmed-up vegetables came from a friend’s garden– they were tender and delicious. The fennel is organic, from the supermarket; so is the cabbage. The cabbage and the rhubarb are local, the fennel came from far away. The bratwurst is organic.

Yesterday, with the fish, we had some green sauce – from the freezer. I usually make a batch for guests, and freeze the rest. I never use a microwave (not even for thawing) or use ready-made gravy or dressings, but I am not above freezing leftovers. Here is the Green Sauce recipe (you need a strong kitchen machine – a blender will not do):

Chop five cloves of garlic, a small onion and a handful of baby carrots. Add all the herbs you can put your hands on, one by one, and chop. Basil is a staple – and so are parsley, dill and cilantro. A few snippets of sage, chives, rosemary and thyme give fragrance. Add olive oil, a dab of salt and pepper. If it tastes boring (sometimes it does…), add a few teaspoons of mustard. Chop until fairly smooth. Chill and serve to fish and/or vegetables. Freeze leftover in portions.

If you live in the countryside (or if you have friends who bring you their produce) count your blessings. Otherwise make do with what you find in your supermarket. Organic is desired – but better a conventional vegetable than no vegetable at all! Local is super – but can’t always be had. I never go to the store with a recipe to follow: Number one, I am bad in following rules; number two, I go for what is fresh and what is cheap. I throw together what I think will work (olive oil and garlic rescue many of my dishes).

Brown rice or legumes (beans, peas, lentils, garbanzos) are dry. But vegetables should not be old or store-bought frozen or canned. Go for fresh, and strew on a few fresh or dried herbs. Here I say “dried” because fresh herbs can be very expansive – better dried herbs than no herbs.

No complicated cooking – just fresh produce. Enjoy!

Harvesting Little Things

June 24, 2010

Tags: food, burdock leaves, chives, butterfat, comfort foods, cumin, dairy - proteins, dandelions, dill, dinosaur kale, gardening - vegetables, garlic, ghee, greens, harvesting, Harvesting Little Things, kale, lacinato kale, lentils - red, mallows, mints, nettle - stinging, olive oil, peas, rosemary, sage, salt and pepper, wormwood

Fall is far away – but I did do my first harvesting yesterday: I got my peas off the vine, just in time before they would have been overripe and hard. Did I mention that this year I started vegetable gardening in pots on the terrace? Because I have crammed the garden so much with flowers and berries that not a speck of free soil was anywhere.

The pods yielded about a cup of peas – just enough for the two of us. I sautéed them very shortly with dill and a tad of ghee (butterfat). As you might have noticed, I usually shun dairy. Most dishes improve when you substitute with olive oil but occasionally a recipe calls for butter, and then I use ghee. In butter fat the proteins are skimmed off the melted butter. Since dairy proteins are the main culprits when it comes to inflammation, of all dairy products, ghee is the safest. I am not a purist – at times, I give in to an emotional need for comfort food. So it was yesterday, with the peas.

From the store, we also had dinosaur kale (also called lacinato kale, Tuscan kale) which is a swell way to introduce kids to greens. The kale has this puckered surface which really looks like dinosaur skin - just don’t tell them yet that researchers now discuss if dinosaurs had feathers. A friend had brought me a first bulb of garlic including greens from her garden, and I threw this, cut, into the kale, and added olive oil, some more garlic, pepper, salt.

Served this with red lentils with cumin, and fish with a bit of left-over green sauce from the freezer.

With it, we drank our garden tea, made from stinging nettles, dandelions, mallow, mints, rosemary, sage, chives, a bit of a young burdock leaf, and just a snippet of wormwood (it is toxic in greater amounts).

A simple, everyday meal – but oh, how sumptuous!

A Tea From Your Garden

April 30, 2010

Tags: herbs, A Tea From Your Garden, basil, broccoli, burdock, chives, cilantro, dandelion, feverfew, garden, health, hemlock, lettuce, nettle - stinging, parsley, phyto-nutrients, pine needles, raspberry leaves, rose leaves, rosemary, sage, thyme, yew

Green is the color of life, and green herbs keep us healthy.

From April to November, I find things growing in my garden that go into my daily garden tea. Only one question asked of that green thing: Is it edible? If it is not, forget it! If you don’t know, don’t even touch it – what you don’t know can kill you when you put it into your tea!

Today, this is what I gathered: Dandelion leaves and flowers, stinging nettle leaves, feverfew leaves, young burdock shoots. Pine needles (make sure you can identify them because hemlock and yew would be deadly!), rose leaves, raspberry leaves. And from my herb garden: rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, chives (including their fat purple buds), sage, cilantro. I also started a vegetable garden in big pots on the terrace and I snipped off a few leaves off lettuce and broccoli.

These green things contain small molecules - phyto-nutrients - which we are not getting easily from our modern food. But our ancient bodies need them to function.

Nature gives me these green gifts every morning, and I breathe in the beauty of my garden (which is, admittedly, an unkempt jungle – but never touched by pesticides, herbicides, and the like!). When I come into the kitchen I feel as if I have meditated (I have meditated!). I throw my big handful of greens into a cup, pour boiling water over it and start my day in beauty, contemplation – and health.

And it tastes good, too.

Spring Fatigue - Undiagnosed

April 19, 2010

Tags: herbs, food, chives, dandelion, fatigue, fruit, greens, health, nettle - stinging, spring fatigue, Spring Fatigue - Undiagnosed, spring onions, tonic, Urtica dioica, vegetables

A disease exists in Europe that is never diagnosed here: Spring fatigue. Around February, March, April everybody complains about it - and suffers.

Spring fatigue happens when the body is depleted of essential nutrients at the end of the winter, after not enough fresh fruit and vegetables in the cold months.

Do American people not have it? I think they do have spring fatigue - they are just not told about it. Because there is no pill against it. And the rather like to think they have spring fever...

Yet the remedy is easy: Eat about as many fresh greens you can put your hands on: chives (around this time I put handfuls of chives on and in about everything), dandelions, spring onions, stinging nettles, kale, chard, spinach. Many might be weeds in your garden.

Stinging nettles? Yes! It is a weed, but I planted it in my garden on purpose (in a raised bed). Yesterday, I made my first nettle soup of the season. The recipe is easy: Boil one or two cut potatoes (including skin) with a little bit of water and salt. When half soft, add stinging nettle leaves (the stems are tough; you need gloves to handle nettle because they sting), olive oil and pepper. Boil until soft - only a few more minutes. You can puree it - I did. But one can also just eat it like a green vegetable. Never forget the olive oil - without fat, your body cannot assimilate vitamin A from the greens.

Europeans think the stinging nettle is the most valuable herb, period. They use it for a tonic, strengthening the body overall. It is also good against hay fever, but you better buy it as phyto-caps for that purpose. The nettle root is used against prostatitis.

Make sure you know your herbs and harvest your herbs from a clean place - not where dogs pee on them. Go for a local herb walk to learn about herbs.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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