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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.

Degrees of Freshness – Or what I learned from an Alpine Meadow

July 28, 2013

Tags: food, water, air, alpine, animals, aroma, Austria, basil, bell flower, biodiversity, bulbs, burdock, bush, buttercup, cilantro, coltsfoot, cranesbill, crocus, dandelion, diversity, Earth, Europe, eyebright, farm, fresh, heal-all, garden, Germany, Good King Henry, grazing, Great Britain, Grimming Mountain, growth, Hamburg, harvest, healing power, health, hedge, herbal, humans, kitchen, limestone, lovage, meadow, meadowsweet, mowing, nutrients, ocean, oregano, parsley, plant, plantain - broad-leafed, plantain - narrow-leafed, poisonous, pollution, polyphenol, primal, processed, red clover, rosemary, Russia, scilla, silverweed, skiing, soil, species, stinging nettle, storage, Styria, sub-alpine, sun, supermarket, sweet Annie, tea, thyme, travel, tree, underground, vital, yarrow, hiking, vacation

People vacation in Austria – skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer. I never considered summer vacations in a land-locked country like Austria, because, originally from Hamburg/Germany, I am a child of the ocean – of all the oceans. But I am just back from one of the high meadows in Styria, smack in the middle of Austria. And what I found: a primal meadow.

The alpine meadows high up there, facing the Grimming Mountain, have been mowed twice a year, for hundreds of years, probably thousands of years. The plant diversity is unimaginable. In an article I read some years ago that in Great Britain the age of a hedge can be estimated by how many different tree and bush species grow there; roughly one species is added per decade. I imagine it must be similar with these ancient meadows, mowed over year after year, different plants moving in all the time, enhancing biodiversity over time. The converse is also true: If we abandon regular mowing and/or grazing – as often now is the case on the steep and hard-to-reach meadows, and in light of shortage of labor when the young people move into the cities for a “better” life – we will lose this biodiversity. And might regret it too late.

Because I was exhausted from my Europe travels through Russia, Germany, Austria, I brewed myself an herbal tea from the plants of the meadow right after arrival. The underground is limestone that let so many plants thrive: yarrow, meadowsweet, narrow-leafed plantain, stinging nettle, heal-all, broad-leafed plantain, red clover, eyebright, silverweed, Good King Henry, dandelion, sweet Annie. To which I added herbs from the kitchen garden: parsley, cilantro, rosemary, lovage, basil, oregano, thyme. Of course, other plants grew there that where not useful for my tea as they are poisonous, like cranesbill, coltsfoot, bell flower, buttercup, and a variety of spring-flowering bulbs like crocus and scilla that were now out of bloom. The tea had a gorgeous aroma, and I felt better and stronger immediately. Wish I could take such a meadow home!

My garden at home, lovely as it is, does not come close. Its plant variety is not as great, the individual plants are not as sturdy, their green is not as deep, their aroma is not as overpowering. From this exceptional plant health we can assume that their polyphenol content is higher, and that their healing power is greater. Mostly, it is the strong sun out there that enables such a lush growth. But also the absence of pollution of air, soil and water so prevalent where we live. Earth just isn’t that primal anymore as it is high in the alpine and sub-alpine meadows. I am coming home with a new yearning, namely to preserve what we have, and perhaps even return our planet to more health. Because, the life of plants, and animals, and humans are closely interwoven here on Earth, none can survive alone.

In my books, and here on the blog, I am touting fresh foods over processed foods. Fresh does not only mean harvested recently and stored for not too long, but also containing a high amount of vital nutrients. Up there, in the mountain meadow, I learned that degrees of freshness exist: Fresh from the supermarket: good. Fresh from your garden or directly from the farm: better. Fresh from an alpine meadow: best.

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!

Invasive Plants 2: List

October 11, 2011

Tags: herbs, food, bamboo, bittersweet, Agropyron repens, Arctium lappa, Artemisia absynthium, barberry, Berberis thunbergii, Bermuda grass, bindweed, bittersweet, blackberries, Buddleja spp., burdock, butterfly bush, Calystegia, Canada thistle, Capriola dactylon, Celastrus orbiculatus, chickweed, Cirsium arvense, Convolvulus, couch grass, crab grass, Cynodon dactylon, dandelion, Digitaria, dispersion, Elymus repens, Elytrigia repens, euonymus, Europe, gardening, Glechoma hederacea, grass, ground ivy, invasive plants, Invasive Plants 2, Johnson grass, kudzu, Ligustrum vulgare, loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, Massachusetts, miscanthus grass, Miscanthus sinensis, Morus alba, mulberry, Nepeta glechoma, Nepeta hederacea, nightshade - bittersweet, nightshade vine, Panicum dactylon, pachysandra, Pachysandra terminalis, pennisetum grass, Pennisetum spp., Phytolacca americana, Poaceae, pokeweed, Portulaca oleracea, privet, Pueraria lobata, purple loosestrife, purslane, quackgrass, raspberries, Rosa multiflora, rose, Rubus, Solanum dulcamara, Sorghum halepense, Stellaria, Taraxum officinale, Triticum repens, vine - wild, Vitis labrusca, wisteria, Wisteria floribunda, Wisteria sinensis, wormwood

My home state publishes a list on invasive species for Massachusetts, and also defines which criteria a plant has to meet to be labeled “invasive”:

1. It is not native to Massachusetts
2. Must have the “biologic potential for rapid and widespread dispersion and establishment”
3. Must have the “biologic potential for dispersing over spatial gaps away from the site of introduction”
4. Must have the “biologic potential for existing in high numbers” away from gardens
5. Must have been introduced to Massachusetts already

The real text is a bit more cumbersome and bureaucratic – but we get the idea. There are tons of species on the lists, but here are a few from the list I would add to my list (this is arbitrary and based on my very personal experiences as a gardener at a single spot in Massachusetts – you might have a different opinion; it is worthwhile finding the list of invasive plants for your state!):

1. Japanese barberry – it stayed a single beautiful bush in my garden. But of course I can’t know to which places birds dispersed its seeds
2. Bittersweet. There are two bittersweets, with orange berries. One Celastrus scandens, the "American bittersweet" is non-invasive. The Asian or Oriental bittersweet is Celastrus orbiculatus, highly invasive. And it is the plant I called euonymus which I was familiar with from Europe. It seems, celastrus and euonymus are related species, and it is really the Celastrus orbiculatus that is so overly invasive. This vine’s berries are spread by birds, and the plant can strangle even trees. One of the worst I know – I would not plant it, and I am hacking it down wherever I meet it.
3. Purple loosestrife: Years ago, I bought a “butterfly bush” by mail order. It turned out to be purple loosestrife. As much as I try to eradicate it, it comes always up somewhere.
4. Wild rose (Rosa multiflora) is pretty while in bloom. But it flowers only once, and after flowering I always cut it of so it doesn’t set seeds. The rootstock, however – I’ll never get it out of my garden again.
5. Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) – it was in my garden when I moved in. It also might be another species as they are notoriously hard to identify. As often as I cut it back, it always pops up again.
6. Pennisetum, a vertically striped grass. Beautiful white and green. It is not invasive according to the Massachusetts definition, but like wisteria, it wants to take over my garden. There is a horizontally striped grass (Miscanthus sinensis) that might also become invasive – luckily, I never planted it.
7. White mulberry (Morus alba). Twice I planted a mulberry tree in my garden – mail orders. Twice they were not what they were advertised at: black mulberries. I wanted one in my garden desperately so that for once we can harvest our cherries before the birds do. Twice I had to hack down the tree because it grew as fast as Jack’s beanstalk – and did not deliver.

Now, our alphabetical list looks like this:

1. Bamboo (more than 70 genera in the Poaceae family)
2. Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon, also: Panicum dactylon, Capriola dactylon)
3. Bindweed (many species from the Convolvulus or Calystegia families)
4. Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
5. Blackberries (Rubus spp.)
6. Burdock (Arctium lappa, and other species of Arctium)
7. Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense)
8. Chickweed (Stellaria spp.)
9. Crab grass (Digitaria spp. )
10. Dandelion (Taraxum officinale)
11. Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea, also: Nepeta glechoma, Nepeta hederacea)
12. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
13. Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense)
14. Kudzu (Pueraria lobata)
15. Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis)
16. Nightshade vine, bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)
17. Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
18. Pennisetum (Pennisetum spp.)
19. Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)
20. Privet (Ligustrum vulgare).
21. Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
22. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
23. Quackgrass, also: couch grass (Elytrigia repens, also: Triticum repens, Agropyron repens, Elymus repens)
24. Raspberries (Rubus spp. – like the blackberries)
25. White mulberry (Morus alba)
26. Wild rose (Rosa multiflora)
27. Wild wine (Vitis labrusca)
28. Wisteria (Japanese: Wisteria floribunda; Chinese: Wisteria sinensis)
29. Wormwood (Artemisia absynthium)

Sorry, compiling all this, takes longer than thought. In the next installment, we will hopefully discover the medicinal value of some of these invasive plants – the idea being, if we harvest and eat them, they will be less invasive.

The 10 Worst Garden Weeds – Really?

October 10, 2011

Tags: herbs, food, bamboo, Bermuda grass, bindweed, blackberries, burdock, Canada thistle, chickweed, crab grass, dandelion, Earth, euonymus, gardening, ground ivy, invasive plants, Invasive Plants 1, Invasive Plants In Your Garden, Johnson grass, Kneipp - Sebastian, kudzu, Mother Earth News, nightshade - deadly, pachysandra, plant policing, pokeweed, purslane, quackgrass, raspberries, stewardship of the Earth, “The original guide to living wisely”, vegetable gardener, weeds, wild wine, wisteria, wormwood

According to a survey of the “Mother Earth News” (“The original guide to living wisely”) the following are the ten weeds that make life for the nation’s vegetable gardeners miserable:

1. Crab grass
2. Dandelion
3. Bermuda grass
4. Bindweed
5. Chickweed
6. Ground ivy
7. Canada thistle
8. Burdock
9. Quackgrass
10. Johnson grass

Add to these another ten plants that I wish I had never planted in my own Massachusetts garden – or that arrived on their own out of nowhere:

1. Wisteria
2. Wild wine
3. Raspberries
4. Blackberries
5. Wormwood
6. Pachysandra
7. Euonymus
8. Deadly nightshade
9. Purslane
10. Pokeweed

I wonder why kudzu isn’t mentioned – we hear that is stealthily covers all of the South, a mile a minute. Why is kudzu not mentioned?? And bamboo??

Let’s sort them alphabetically:

1. Bamboo
2. Bermuda grass
3. Bindweed
4. Blackberries
5. Burdock
6. Canada thistle
7. Chickweed
8. Crab grass
9. Dandelion
10. Deadly nightshade
11. Euonymus
12. Ground ivy
13. Johnson grass
14. Kudzu
15. Pachysandra
16. Pokeweed
17. Purslane
18. Quackgrass
19. Raspberries
20. Wild wine
21. Wisteria
22. Wormwood

But – stop right here! Putting up lists of invasive plants and policing them – that’s not good gardening and not good stewardship of the Earth. Let’s assume for a moment that these plants all serve a purpose – or as Sebastian Kneipp put it: “God lets an herb grow for every ailment we complain about.”

Tomorrow, I will go through the list and try to divine the purpose behind each plant.

My Eyes Were Resting On Green

August 11, 2011

Tags: order, food, water, apple - Braeburn, attention, barn, barren, beef - ground, black, blue, body and soul, bog, brown, cat food, chicken liver, Chinese brush painting, coconut oil, color game, commitment, concept, cooking, cornstalk, dandelion, dealership, effort, fir, fireweed, flag - American, flower, food - wholesome, forest, garden, Gobi Desert, green, green landscape, growing, hills, house - burnt-down, human, hungry, idea, lily pad, log cabin, loosestrife - purple, mailbox, Maine - down-east, maple geraniums - hardy, meadow, My Eyes Were Resting On Green, Namib Desert, Nature, New England, New Hampshire, oats - rolled, onion, orange, Otto – cat, pepper and salt, picket fence, pickup truck, pine, pink, pond, purple, recipe, red, rose, rosy, Route 2, spruce, steeple, sumac, sunflower, tired, town, tractor, tree – touching a tree, Turk’s cap lilies, United States, valley, Vermont, white, yellow

Yesterday I drove from Vermont to down-east Maine on Route 2. During the first part, my friend Bob guided me through tiny back roads from Vermont into New Hampshire to Route 2; if you ever have to follow another car like that, it helps if it is a fire-truck red pickup truck that you can’t lose out of sight easily. That bright red truck was the beginning of the color game for me when I later sailed across gentle hills east, east, east for seven hours. Since I took up Chinese brush painting in January, my eyes are drawn by lines and colors.

After the bleak, beautiful scenes of the two barren, forbidding deserts we visited this year – Namib and Gobi – I reveled in the green landscape that sustains me - body and soul. Green were the meadows, the lily pads on the ponds and the forests of maple, pines, firs, spruce and sumac. Saturated, satisfying green.

A few colors were sprinkled into the green canvas: rows of orange Turk’s cap lilies, a patch of tall yellow sunflowers, a surprising line of bright red tractors at a dealership, pink roses and big swathes of rosy fireweeds, an occasional blue mailbox and clouds of dainty pale blue flowers that might have been hardy geraniums, the subdued red of barns, brown male flowers uppermost on green cornstalks, the purple loosestrife that invades the boggier areas, the black ruins of a burnt-down house, and of course the white houses, steeples and picket fences we all expect from New England. Natural colors and man-made colors – but all insignificant against the green on the hills and in the valleys.

Many of the small towns along Route 2 were decorated with American flags red, white, blue, making a contrast to nature that seemed to say that the “United States” is a concept, and idea that deserves effort and commitment rather than growing organically out of the soil. Something that easily could be swallowed by fertile green if we don’t pay attention.

Gentle rain and creative fog formations wrapped the land, nourishing and renewing. We know, of course, that Nature can come upon us with force and destructive. Not here, not yesterday, though.

Green, of course, is our most wholesome food. When I arrived at the log cabin, tired and hungry, I began cooking a pot of fresh cat food for Otto from ground beef, chicken livers, some rolled oats and dripping wet dandelion greens from the garden. Then I thought the better of it and saved a few pieces of chicken liver for the humans: I browned two big onions in coconut oil, added a sliced Braeburn apple and a handful of green dandelion leaves, and pepper and salt. Last I added the few slivers of chicken liver. A meal for the gods!

During dinner conversation, my friend Matt said the sentence: “I make sure that most of the time I am not too far away to touch a tree.”

Weeds - Green Is Life-Giving

July 12, 2011

Tags: food, water, amaranth, arthritis, arugula, balcony, beet greens, burdock, cabbage, cancer, chard, chickweed, chlorophyll, collard greens, coumadin, dandelion, diabetes type II, dinosaur kale, dog poop, Earth, edible weeds, endive, escarole, eye health, garden, garlic, green leafy things, harvest, heart health, immune system, lamb's quarters, kale, knowledge, kohlrabi greens, lettuce, local herb walk, mâche, mizuna, mustard greens, olive oil, pesticides, plantain, pots, purslane, radicchio, rapunzel, shepherd's purse, spinach, stinging nettle, sunlight, supermarket, water cress, weed, Weeds - Green Is Life-Giving, yarrow, harvesting from the wild

With the “invention” of chlorophyll, life on Earth began to explode. Chlorophyll makes it possible to harvest the sunlight and turn it into food for animals and humans.

All greens keep you healthy – in so many ways; They fight and prevent cancer, they help the heart, the eyes, the immune system, and work against diabetes type II and arthritis – to name a few. All taste delicious simmered in little water with olive oil and garlic (fresh or dried), pepper and salt. Here are green leafy things you might find in your supermarket:

• Chard
• Spinach
• Cabbage
• Mustard greens
• Dandelion
• Collard greens
• Kale
• Escarole
• Arugula
• Beet greens
• Bok choy
• Rapunzel (mâche)
• Dinosaur greens
• Endive
• Water cress
• Kohlrabi greens
• Lettuce
• Mizuna
• Amaranth
• Radicchio

If you have a garden, or some pots on the balcony, or a stretch of land where dogs don’t poop (hard to find!), you have access to many more greens than just in your supermarket aisle – and for free!!

• Stinging nettle
• Dandelion
• Purslane
• Chickweed
• Plantain
• Burdock
• Lamb's quarters
• Shepherd's purse
• Yarrow

For harvesting from the wild, follow a few rules: If you take from your neighbor’s garden, ask for permission. Not only is dog poop a problem but pesticides and generally dirty roads. Don’t over-harvest – you wants some plants to set seeds, so that you can forage next year again. If you are taking coumadin, be aware that all greens can counteract it – take roughly an equal amount every day.

There is nothing wrong with edible weeds – they are delicious – it just takes an adventurous spirit. And KNOWLEDGE of the plant! Take a local herb walk with a guide. Don’t harvest and eat if you are not 100% sure – 99% is not good enough.

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.

These Times Are Hard On Your Liver

November 30, 2010

Tags: order, food, movement, water, herbs, alcohol, apples, artichoke, artificial coloring, artificial flavors, beer, breathing, cabbages, cakes, carrots, celeriac, celery, cirrhosis, cookies, cucumber, dandelion, detoxification, elderberry, fatty liver, feast, fermented foods, festivities, food – rotten, food – spoiled, gentian root, gizzards, gut, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, herbal tea, holidays, kitchen herbs, liquor, liver, marjoram, massaging, meats, medications – over-the-counter, milk thistle, miso, oxygen, probiotic, radish, raisins, red beets, sage, sauerkraut, soy sauce, spices, stuffing - bread, stuffing - traditional, These Times Are Hard On Your Liver, walking, walnuts, wine

The liver is the heaviest organ in the body, and during the holidays, it is also the hardest working organ. Because the liver is your detoxification organ.

Too much heavy (sweet, fatty, alcoholic) foods hurt your liver – and too much even of good stuff can be hard on this most precious organ. But this is probably not the time to preach moderation. So what can you do to survive these taxing times? (I hope you hear the irony in my voice – when half of mankind is still starving).

Everything unhealthy has to be eliminated via the liver: spoiled and rotten food, modern preservatives, artificial colors and flavorings. If the liver is overloaded with rich foods and toxins, you end up with a fatty liver – a diseased liver that cannot fulfill its tasks properly. And if it gets really bad, you end up with cirrhosis, the shrinking of this valuable organ. Fatty liver is reversible with a better lifestyle; cirrhosis is not.

These are the essentials for a healthy liver:

• Drink enough water – not ice-cold. Herbal teas are helpful, especially in the winter season. Some of the herbs below come also as teas – make use of them. Enough fluid will flush out your liver.
• Elderberry juice helps regenerate the liver.
• Keep alcohol (wine, beer, liquor) at a minimum.
• After a big meal, go for a walk. A walk uses up some of the calories you have been ingesting, and it gives your whole digestive system a little boost – things in your stomach can settle, and the peristalsis gets a jumpstart. In Europe, Sundays and holidays will bring people out of their houses in droves – everybody goes for a walk after a feast.
• These herbs help to improve liver function: Most beneficial is milk thistle – you should have it at hand these days. Also helpful are bitter plants like dandelion, artichoke, sage, and gentian root. Most are available in capsules, often in combination.
• Kitchen herbs and spices also help digestion: For instance, the traditional stuffing for a goose is: grind the gizzards, add cut apples, raisins, walnuts and two hands full of fresh (or less of dried) marjoram. No bread!! Don’t know who invented the bread filling…
• A working gut relieves an overworking liver – and a probiotic helps with useful bacteria.
• Fermented foods like sauerkraut, soy sauce and miso help digestion. Traditional kitchens have very specific fermented foods – explore a Japanese or Korean store. Make sure you buy the real thing – not a modern product that still has the taste but no actual fermentation any more in the production process. Look up “fermented foods” in one of my earlier blogs.
• Make sure you eat not only meats and cakes and cookies – but also cabbages, red beets, celery and celeriac, carrots, cucumbers, radishes are famous for relieving a moaning liver.
• Take some very deep massaging breaths: Always start with exhaling. Deep breathing moves the abdominal organs, and oxygen is required in myriad detoxing chemistry processes of the liver. If you feel stuffed, do the deep breathing by lying on your back.
• Stop all unnecessary medications, especially over-the-counter drugs. They only burden your liver more.

And since we are discussing liver health: Hepatitis A can be acquired through food (especially uncooked oysters, and such), hepatitis B and C through sex, drugs and blood. There are vaccines available against A and B. Unfortunately not against C. It might be wise to get vaccinated. Talk to your doctor.

And enjoy the festivities!

Bitter Medicines

May 26, 2010

Tags: Herbs, food, angelica, angostura bark, artichoke, Bitter Medicines, bitters, cassia, cinchona bark, dandelion, digestive problems, gentian, goldenseal, indigestion, orange peel, quinine, roots, sugar, sweeteners, vegetables, yarrow

Life was never supposed to be sweet. We ate bitters all the time, from prehistoric times, plucking green leaves right and left as we roamed the savannah, until only a few generations ago when the home-made herbal bitter (an alcoholic extraction of bitter herbs) was always brought out after a big meal.

But in our modern times, we think we deserve better than bitter – we like sweet above all other tastes - and consequently, digestive problems are increasing.

Bitters stimulate the appetite (not that we really need it – I always wonder why a hundred years ago loss of appetite was a major problem, and nowadays my patients rarely ever complain about it). Bitters increase digestive juices, thus helping to digest heavy meals. By digesting faster, we feel earlier relief in our overstuffed stomachs (for the same reason - to get relief after a too-big feast - a family walk after the big Sunday midday meal is a beloved practice in Europe).

Bitters shorten bowel transit time, alleviating constipation.

What goes into bitters? The recipes are often family, factory or monastery secret, but there are some staples like artichoke, dandelion, yarrow, cinchona bark (quinine), ginger, orange peel, cassia, angostura bark, and lots of bitter roots like angelica, gentian, goldenseal. The recipes are legion, and every country has their specialties.

It helps to have Swedish Bitters (or any bitter) at hand when indigestion strikes (beware – they all contain around forty percent of alcohol – some even more). However, incorporating more dark greens and roots into you food is equally - or more - important. And so is eliminating the sweet taste from our foods so predominant now. Don’t use sugar, don’t even use sweeteners – come back to the healthy bitters! Let your taste buds rediscover the real world of tastes.

In the long run, your life will be sweeter with bitters: more health, more joy, more sweet life.

Teenage Hell On Earth: Acne

May 16, 2010

Tags: food, water, herbs, movement, order, acne, antibiotics, bacteria, blackheads, bowels, breathing exercises, cold shower, cold wash, comedones, dairy, dandelion, eliminary organs, face cloth, fish oil, guts, hamamelis, Hildegard von Bingen, hormonal imbalance, hormones, horseradish, intestines, lungs, kidneys, milk, mud, nettle - stinging, pimples, probiotic, rubbing alcohol, salt water, sauna, shower - cold, skin, sleep, smoking, soap, steam bath, sun exposure, tea tree oil, teenage, Teenage Hell On Earth: Acne, vegetables, witch hazel

In Natural Medicine, the skin is one of the four elimination organs. The other three are the lungs, the kidney/bladder and the bowel. If one of these is diseased or overloaded with toxins, the excess has to be dealt with by the skin. And it often comes out as acne, especially in young people when hormones totter from childhood to adulthood. Imbalances in hormones during puberty might trigger acne but are usually not the whole problem. And acne is not solely a teenage problem.

In acne – as in many skin diseases – the gut is ailing. The main culprit in the SAD diet (Standard American Diet) is dairy – cheese, milk, and so on.

Besides giving your inflamed bowel a respite from inflammatory food, here is what else you can do against acne:

• Take a probiotic to re-establish gut flora. Add fish oil against inflammation.

• Do not touch face or other areas with your fingers because bacteria – fed by unhealthy fare – bring a pimple to bloom.

• Use a face cloth only once. Everyone should at least have two dozen face cloths. Buy them in bulk, cheap.

• Do not squeeze pimples as this can leave scars. You can squeeze blackheads (comedones) after a bath or shower when they are soft. Always disinfect with rubbing alcohol, hamamelis water (witch hazel) or tea tree oil.

• Take a cold shower always after a hot one or a bath.

• Wash your face frequently with cold water during the day.

• Do not use soap, detergents, make-up, creams in your face. Cold water is all it needs. With very oily skin, a once or twice per week facial scrub (ground almonds, apricot kernels, rolled oats – the simpler, the better) is recommended. Avoid soapy additions. Keep hair grease away from your face.

• Sauna supports the skin in its elimination functions.

• Daily short exposure to sun is essential for healing.

• Incorporate breathing exercises in your routine. For a starter take three deep breaths (always start with exhalation) every hour on the hour (or as often as you think about it; don’t hold your breath; let it flow).

• The salty water of the ocean has healing properties that can be used during vacation times. At home, salt baths (with or without herbal additions) or mud compresses can simulate the real thing.

• Get involved in sports. All movement will help to eliminate your bowels faster – and the bowel is at the root of most cases of acne.

• Drink plenty of water – at least seven cups per day, more with exercise, from a beautiful cup. No purpose, though, running around all day with a bottle of water in your hand. One does not dehydrate that fast!

• Facial steam baths with chamomile are soothing.

• A Hildegard of Bingen recipe: Store grated horseradish in apple vinegar; clean skin with the solution (I have not tried it yet - let me know if you have!).

• Herbs for internal cleansing: dandelion root and stinging nettle (as a mix or single ingredients), together or singly. As capsules or tea.

• Beyond dairy: Eat fruit and vegetables as much as possible. Rule out gluten intolerance). Reduce animal fats and meats. No dairy and milk chocolate. Avoid all sugars and white starches.

• Quit smoking.

• Get enough sleep.

• Move! Walk and do yoga. The more you move, the better your body gets rid of ugly toxins.

• Against scarring acne get the help of a dermatologist – but avoid long-term antibiotics for minor acne because they only will confound the underlying problems in your bowels.

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.

One-Day Fast

April 26, 2010

Tags: order, food, water, health, herbs, balance, broth, cabbages, cleansing, dandelion, detoxifying, eggplant, fasting, garden, garlic, grains, herbal tea, juice fasting, legumes, mushrooms, nettle - stinging, One-Day Fast, onions, peppers - bell and hot, phyto-nutrients, potato, sweet potato, tomato, vegetables, weight

No, it’s not what you think - one-day fast is not for losing weight. It is for cleansing and giving your gastro-intestinal tract a day of vacation. Spring cleaning for your body, so to speak. One day - and you will feel terrific about yourself as you feel the lightness in your body.

A one-day fast is best done on a weekend. You prepare for the fast on Friday evening, fast all Saturday, and slowly resume (healthier) eating on Sunday. Team up with a friend because if you share your experience, you are more likely to stick with it.

For Friday dinner, you keep it light: no meat or fish, nothing fried, no dairy. Prepare a big pot of vegetable broth: Anything vegetal can go into it, except for plants from the nightshade family (tomato, potato, eggplant, bell and hot peppers) or starchy ones (grains, legumes, sweet potato, etc.). Onions, garlic and cabbages are the back bone of this broth. I put in handfuls of herbs from my herb garden, and right now I definitely would splurge on stinging nettle and dandelions. Use rests of lettuce and whatever vegetables are wilting in your fridge. Mushrooms are perfect.

You boil the vegetables with plenty of water. No salt or pepper, though.

Next day, you are only allowed the broth (don’t actually eat the vegetables!) whenever you feel hungry. Vegetable-broth fasting is much better tolerated than fruit juice fasting because the broth is alkaline, not acidic – much gentler on your stomach and your whole system. For years I was the laughing stock of my family because I once had tried a juice fast – and lasted all of three hours before I caved in to my overwhelming hunger! This never happens on the vegetable broth fast.

If you want, you can drink water and/or herbal teas. Nothing else is allowed - not even chewing gum! - Whenever the fluid level in the pot gets low, just pour more water in. The strength of vegetables is good enough for several “steepings.”

Take your Saturday easy: Go twice a day for a walk, rest a lot. Experienced fasters can work during this kind of gentle fast. But for your first time, concentrate on how you feel. Write a diary, listen to music, meet friends.

On Sunday morning you restart eating with a light breakfast: Again no meats or fish - stay vegetarian all Sunday. On Monday you resume normal eating – hopefully a bit more mindful.

Besides restocking you with valuable phyto-nutrients, the main effect of the one-day fast is a thorough cleansing and detoxifying – without harsh herbs or laxatives. Once you feel the new lightness in your body, you might want to repeat the experience. A healthy person should do this probably once a month. A sick or overweight person once a week. No, you don’t lose weight from the fast – but you might lose weight from re-setting your hunger stat: After the fast, you get more appreciative of food, you chew longer, you eat slower and less, and you go for the healthier choice.

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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