Spice Up Your Life with these Medicinal Spices

Spices take the chill out of winter; when added to food, teas and other home remedies they promote circulation and the sensation of warmth.

My favourite spices include Cinnamon, Cumin, Coriander, Clove, Cardamom, Turmeric, Ginger, Pepper, and Cayenne; which are fairly common in most kitchens. All have a long history of medicinal use.

Spices last longer when stored in their whole form versus powdered; I grind them with a coffee grinder or blender in small batches, which makes a big difference in their flavour and aroma.

Pepper, the universal spice, grows in tropical areas, notably south India and Vietnam. During the Crusades it was a highly sought-after exotic spice, so precious that it was used as currency, and now it is the most common spice, found on tabletops just about everywhere. Pepper can be used for nausea, gas and bloating, and is a folk remedy for gout, arthritic pain and hiccups. A little goes along way in a tea blend; I also use it as an infused oil for muscle aches.

Cardamom is the second most expensive spice in my cabinet (after saffron). It is the key ingredient in masala chai mix which is super tasty and eases indigestion. Cardamom helps clear respiratory congestion and is a great addition to home-made cough syrups. If you are a coffee drinker, try it Middle Eastern style, add 2-3 crushed cardamom pods per cup of coffee; for extra flavour grind both the coffee beans and cardamom together, in small batches.

Turmeric has been a top ten seller in the herb and supplement market for the past ten years due to its effectiveness in treating arthritis and other inflammation. It is loaded with antioxidants and there are many scientific papers validating its use for cancer. A daily dose of 1 tsp. of the powder is a good way to practice preventative medicine.

Turmeric absorption is enhanced when combined with a fat and black pepper, like in this recipe.

Savayda’s Super Sauce

  • 200 ml olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. honey or maple syrup
  • 4 tbsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed3 tsp. finely chopped herb, fresh or dry (oregano, sage, thyme, marjoram)

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar with lid, shake well before serving. Store in the fridge for 1 week, the sauce will become semi-solid, allow it to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to liquify.

This sauce goes well with rice, steamed/baked veggies, beans, tofu, fish, salad,
pasta and as a bread dip.

Cinnamon, in addition to being a yummy ingredient for baking, is a notable remedy for managing blood sugar for those with type 2 diabetes. Cinnamon bark is highly astringent, helpful as a tea when there is diarrhea associated with stomach flu and other causes. In folklore, it was used as an aphrodisiac and an ingredient in love potions.

Cumin and Coriander, both members of the carrot family, they are essential ingredients in my bean recipes. They can be taken as a tea after meals to ease indigestion. They, along with other culinary spices, are receiving a lot of attention as remedies for improving memory and treating Alzheimer’s.
While enjoying more time indoors during the cold dark months of winter, cooking with your favourite spices, try adding them to your teapot as well!
If you would like to learn more about the medicinal uses of popular culinary herbs and spices, join me for a two-part workshop on the subject at the Old School in Musquodoboit Harbour on February 2 and 9, 6:30-8 pm.

Life Force Energy

In admiration of the weeds on the side of the road and musings on the
meaning of life.

My road was repaved this summer, with a fresh layer of compact gravel
lining both sides. I walk my dog along this road everyday, and in late
September I started noticing weeds sprouting up through the gravel,
including my favourite weed, dandelion.  Fresh, young dandelion leaves are
about as tender as lettuce, hardly an example of strength, yet able to
sprout and push up through a dense, 10 cm layer of rock.
How is this possible?

My theory is that it is due to life force energy – the source of strength that
animates living things.  Also known as Prana in Ayurveda/Yoga, Chi in
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Vital Force; the concept of life
force has existed in various cultures and traditions, for centuries.
The weeds got me thinking about what makes things grow – whether it’s a
tree, a toddler, a baby bird or a carrot. I believe that they all share life force
energy in common – the thrust of energy that fuels growth and maintains
life.

Why does the dandelion strive so hard to push its way against the odds
towards the light?  To fulfill its life purpose, to simply be, to express
“dandelion essence”

The human toddler does not yet have career goals nor grand life plans,
they exist simply to express themselves, to be who they are, like the
dandelion.

As we age, we develop meaning in our lives, we strive to fulfill certain
goals, whether they be interpersonal, relationship, parenting, career,
artistic, health, financial, spiritual, humanitarian, political – there are so
many ways to channel our interests, to live a life of purpose.
Purpose can be expressed by the minute, hour, day, week, month, year or
lifetime. It can be as simple as breathing deeply, offering kindness,
stopping to smell the flowers, or ending the day peacefully with the sunset.
We can bring purpose to everything we do by being present.
We can also be like dandelion, simply expressing our authentic and unique
essence, stripped of all outer world goals.

I was blessed to discover a core life purpose at a young age – to be a
herbalist. Other purposes have come and gone at different stages of my
life; in my early 20’s my purpose was to travel the world; a current purpose
of mine is to care for my aging parents.

According to the late Dr. Edward Bach, physician and founder of the Bach
Flower Remedies, one of the primary causes of illness is not honouring our
life purpose(s). This can be rephrased to say that living with intention and
presence brings meaning to life, which fuels life force energy, which
sustains health and vitality.

Life force energy seems to border biology, physics and spirituality.
I am not an expert in any of these things, I do however let my observations
of the plants and the natural world lead me into contemplation.
Now that we are deep into autumn, we can witness the life force of the
trees and plants retreat downward, into their roots where they will
overwinter in the quiet, dark stillness. The same is true of many wild
animals, birds, fish, insects – the pace of life slows down to allow for rest
and restoration.  I find great wisdom in the cycles of nature, reminding me
to carve out time and space for rest in the months ahead.

Thank you for reading this, I would love to receive your feedback on this
subject.  Drop me a line at info@bloominstitute.ca

Plant Families – Food, Medicine and Poison! Featuring the Umbelliferae (carrot family)

This article was inspired by the common occurrence of wild carrot, aka
Queen Anne’s Lace, lining roadsides at this time. It offers us food and
medicine, and is a great plant to lead us into consideration of poisonous
plants.

The system for categorizing living organisms is called Taxonomy. Living
things such as bacteria, plants, mushrooms and animals are grouped into
Kingdoms, and then further organized into smaller groups based on
similarities. Plants and animals are further divided into families, with plants
having family trees similar to ours.

There are approximately 450 plant families worldwide, made up of 385,000
different species. Of these, 17 families produce 80% of our food and
medicinal plants.

Just as members of human families share traits, so to, do the plants
belonging to a particular family. They have botanical features in common in
their appearance and growth patterns, plus they contain the same or similar
molecules, offering food, medicine and potential poisons.

The Umbelliferae family is the easiest to recognize, it includes familiar
plants such as carrots, celery, fennel, parsnips, parsley, angelica, cumin,
lovage, anise, dill, caraway and coriander. It is distinguished by the shape of
the flowers, which look like upside-down umbrellas.

Wild carrot (Daucus carota), aka Queen Anne’s Lace is the ancestor of the
common carrot, it is native to Europe and parts of Asia, it is widely
naturalized around the world, including here in Nova Scotia. It has a broad
white flower, that resembles lace, sitting on top of a tall stem, with feathery
leaves. The flower head folds in on itself in late summer in a bird’s nest
shape, where hundreds of seeds ripen by the end of summer.

The seeds and roots are edible. I like to use the seeds as a spice, with a
flavour similar to cumin. The roots are smaller than garden carrots and are
white, with a strong carrot odour and flavour. I dehydrate and grind them to
add to soup stocks, especially for carrot soup, and as a seasoning for roasted
vegetables and coleslaw.

Medicinally, the seeds can be used for similar purposes as its cousin’s
fennel, cumin and dill – for indigestion, gas, bloating and colic, I like to
chew them for this purpose. The seeds are also good for cough and urinary
disorders. The plant should be avoided during pregnancy due to its uterine
stimulant action.

There are a few famously poisonous cousins to wild carrot – water hemlock,
poison hemlock and giant hogweed. Water hemlock grows here in NS,
usually along streams or ponds. It looks almost identical to wild carrot; the
main differences can be found on the stems and in the smell of the roots.
Poison hemlock is native to Europe, it was the poison used to execute the
ancient philosopher, Socrates.

Giant hogweed shows up here in NS on a regular basis, but doesn’t usually
get a chance to spread due to eradication efforts. As the name suggests, this
plant can grow up to 10 ft tall, and spreads easily by thousands of seeds. The
sap contains compounds called furanocoumarins that are activated by
sunlight, and cause severe burns and blistering to the skin.
Most members of the Umbelliferae family contain varying amounts of
furanocoumarins, so care is needed by sensitive individuals even when
handling plants such as fennel, parsnip and carrots.
This plant family is easy to grow, and will spread through self-seeding, so
unless you want a garden take-over, be sure to trim the flowers before they
go to seed. I learned this with dill this year – now I have lots for pickling!

Join me in my herb garden in Head of Jeddore for a workshop on the
Umbelliferae family. We will harvest and sample several plants, making a
tea, and spice blend, with discussion of their many uses, plus the interesting
history of the poisons among them, with a story to illustrate how they
became poisonous. Thursday, Sept. 8.  REGISTER HERE

Mayflower

One of my hobbies is flower sniffing, and I must say, our beloved provincial flower rivals any exotic bloom when it comes to its scent. Time stands still when I have my nose buried in a bouquet of mayflowers.

It may not win the prize for showiest bloom, it is small, pale and unless you look for it, easy to miss. However, for me, part of its charm is the sweet subtlety of its appearance.

Mayflower, also known as trailing arbutus, Epigaea repens, is native to Nova Scotia, usually found along the edge of forest trails or in exposed areas of woodlands. It trails or creeps along the ground, with dark green leathery leaves that remain on the plant year-round, the stem is hairy. The small white/pink blossoms form in small clusters, often hidden under the leaves. It is not to be found in meadows, nor in the garden; it requires a certain mushroom and soil pH to thrive, like most forest plants, thus it is difficult to cultivate. By taking care of its natural habitat, we can help to ensure that it continues to flourish.

Mayflower was designated as the provincial flower of Nova Scotia in 1901. It is fairly common here on the Eastern Shore where I live, and grew up. They were my obsession for the month of May; my house backed onto a forest, I was happily occupied with picking bouquets for my mother and school teachers.

We need not wait until May to find them; they can be found by mid-April in sunnier locations; which may be a result of a climate shift towards earlier spring warmth.

I haven’t found many references for medicinal uses of mayflowers, other than for urinary ailments. Folkloric and Mi’kmaq references are readily available. According to the Mi’kmawey Debert Cultural Centre, mayflowers are wrapped in various traditions and stories; one being the spring activity of making beautiful birch bark cones lined with moss and mayflowers.  You can find a story about this practice here: Kiju – A story of netukulimk, by Melody Martin-Googoo.

http://www.mikmaweydebert.ca/home/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Kiju_A-story-of-netukulimk_MTTK.pdf.

In addition to enjoying the intoxication from their scent, I also like to pop a flower in my mouth and savour the flavour, it tastes as it smells, with a tannic finish on the tongue.  Otherwise, I highly recommend simply admiring their beauty while on your spring walks in the woods.

Side note: as is common with plants, multiple plants may share the same common name. Another native plant of Nova Scotia, false lily of the valley, Maianthemum canadense, is also called Canada mayflower. It can be found covering the forest floor, also with fragrant white blossoms, which bloom in July.

How to Love Your Liver

In March I start to gear up for my annual spring cleanse.  My article deals with our most critical organ of detoxification – the liver.

We may stand in awe of a beautiful waterfall, mountain range, waves crashing on the shore or a starry night sky, yet how often do we marvel at the human body? These bodies we inhabit are truly remarkable, with so much going on behind the scenes that we are not consciously aware of.

Think of the trillion cells functioning within organs and systems, that work non-stop to sustain us over the span of our lifetime.

Consider your liver. Located under the right rib cage, weighing in at about 5 lbs, the liver is the ultimate multi-tasker. Performing at least 500 different tasks, day and night, this busy organ deserves respect and support.
One of the primary functions of the liver is to process the biochemicals, ingested substances and wastes of the body. The liver isolates each one and alters it in some way to either make it useful, or to leave the body as waste via the kidneys or digestive tract. It does so through a series of steps that utilize the cytochrome P450 system of enzymes. The by-product of all this activity is more, potentially toxic wastes, which are dealt with in a separate phase of liver detoxification, so that the liver itself doesn’t make
us ill.

Another function of the liver is the production of bile, a yellow/green liquid that is excreted into the small intestine or the gall bladder, a storage tank for bile. Bile is the vehicle for the removal of wastes from the liver through the digestive tract. It also absorbs bowel wastes, including the die-off from the microbiome. Bile is needed for the proper break down and utilization of dietary fats and proteins, plus the conversion of certain digestive nutrients into usable forms. It also encourages bowel activity, preventing constipation.

Chronic constipation and slow transit time of food/stool through the intestinal tract can lead to the re-absorption of wastes back to the liver, making it work double time. Constipation can be prevented by consuming enough fibre in the diet (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils), getting enough fluid and exercise, and with the help of bitter herbs. I recommend eating ground flax seeds, they add fibre and bulk to the stool, and their oils lubricate the bowel. Grind them fresh, bi-weekly and store it in the refrigerator. Add 1 tbsp to yogurt, porridge, smoothies, salads, or to a cup of water.

Other liver loving foods to include are garlic, broccoli, apples, lemons, dark green salads, beets, and fresh culinary herbs.

There are a number of herbs that support liver health, these are referred to as hepatics. You may have several in your spice cabinet or growing as weeds on your lawn.

Turmeric, the golden spice used in curries and other savory dishes, stimulates the detox pathways of the liver. Take 1 tsp. daily, added to milk or a fatty oil; golden milk and turmeric paste are two diet fads I fully support.

Rosemary contains antioxidants that protect the liver from damage, and other compounds, including rosmarinic acid, for the treatment of cirrhosis, hepatitis and toxicity. Rosemary wine or tincture is best.

The seeds from milk thistle contain compounds that fortify liver cells, protecting them from the multitude of toxic substances it comes in contact with, including food, water and air borne chemicals, drugs, and other poisons. It can be taken as part of a cleanse, seasonally as a liver tune up, or anytime there is excess exposure to toxins. Tincture form is best, ½ – 1 tsp, a few times daily, depending on the strength of the tincture.

Dandelion leaves and roots make a great addition to the diet, or as teas and tinctures. Dandelion, along with other bitter herbs such as yellow dock, burdock, wormwood, motherwort and horehound, activates bitter receptors in the mouth that in turn stimulate liver function and bile production and flow through the digestive tract. I look to bitters as a primary preventative approach to liver health. Our North American diet is sadly lacking in bitter flavour; a simple way to make up this deficiency is by regularly eating dark green leaf salads with the addition of endive and radicchio. Both can be found in the produce section of most grocery stores; they add yummy
complexity to salads.

If you have hyper acidity or stomach ulcers, avoid strong bitters.
Liver health is critical for general health; in my clinical practice I tend to chronic and degenerative diseases by supporting liver function, especially when there is hormone imbalance, diabetes, high cholesterol, skin disease, cancer and arthritis.

Love your liver by limiting your exposure to toxins such as alcohol, drugs, pesticides, food colourings, perfumes, gas fumes, paint and other noxious substances. Use liver supporting herbs and foods on a regular basis, and consider the occasional liver-tune up or cleanse.

Me and my liver look forward to the return of the dandelions in May!
Check out my upcoming spring cleanse workshop.

Savayda’s Comforting Winter Herbal Tea Recipes

Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what winter teas are made of.

Each season brings different flavours and medicines to my tea pot. Winter is the cozy season, for maximizing comfort with tasty food and drink. The cold and dark provide more indoor hours, thus more time to dig out my cookbooks to learn new recipes, to try new ingredients, and to play with tea blends.

Tea blending is an art and science for me, combining the desire for both therapeutic value and pleasure.  The pleasure feature of the equation is expressed through complimentary flavours, colour, texture fat from cream or butter and just the right sweetener.  Using loose herbs, instead of tea bags, allows for creativity, personalization of tea blends and freshness. Most herb shops, like mine, and healthfood stores offer many bulk herbs to work with; a selection of fifteen herbs and spices allows for many creative combinations, many of which may already be in your spice rack.

Last winter I taught an online course on the medicinal uses of the common culinary herbs and spices, and I became better acquainted with the delights of spiced teas.  In the winter I add at least one spice to my tea blends to add extra warmth to the brew – spices are inherently warming.  I use ginger, cardamom, clove, cinnamon, black pepper, fennel, star anise.  These spices offer strong flavour, and in general act as digestive stimulants.

In the winter I am attracted to eating more citrus fruits, when I do, I try to buy organic so that I can make use of the peelings for teas and medicine making.  Citrus peels, notably orange and lemon, are high in antioxidants and cancer fighting compounds.  They are also bitter, which is a good flavour addition to improve digestion.  They round out the flavour of tea blends very nicely.  They can be used fresh or dry; I have some drying in a basket by the wood stove, a dehydrator works well too.

If you are a black tea drinker like me, try combining varieties of black tea, and add herbs to the brew.  I am currently using an Irish breakfast blend with extra Assam, sometimes I add depth with a smoked tea called Russian Caravan, plus rose petals. I serve this blend with lots of blend and honey to counteract the high tannin content.

The tea recipes below reflect some basic, universal health needs for those of us living in our northern climate, plus they are rich in flavour to enhance the pleasure aspect of tea drinking

Breath of Life Tea

Mix equal parts:

  • Balsam fir needles
  • Mullein
  • Peppermint
  • Hyssop
  • Cardamom seeds

Mullein is a lung tonic and is helpful in cases of lung congestion and cough, hyssop is also helpful for coughs and asthma.  Balsam fir must be harvested during a forest walk, which is also good for our lungs : -)

Sunshine in My Cup of Tea

  • Calendula 2 parts
  • Holy basil 3 parts
  • Rosemary 1 part
  • Orange or lemon peel 2 parts
  • Ginger root or powder 1 part

The bright orange and yellow blossoms of calendula remind me of the sun. Holy basil is very tasty and is very sustaining to the nervous system, rosemary clears the mind and helps chase away the winter blues. Citrus peel reminds me of sunshine, and the heat of ginger feels like sun rays in the tummy.

 February 14th

  • 2 tsp. Damiana
  • 2 tsp. Rose petals
  • 1 Tbsp. orange peel
  • a pinch of cayenne powder
  • 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup milk of any kind – dairy, soy, almond, rice, oat

Simmer the damiana, rose and orange peel in the water for five minutes.  Strain.  Add the cayenne, cocoa and milk and return to the boil, stir and watch that it doesn’t boil over.  Sweeten to taste with honey.  This one is best shared with the special person in your life, all winter-long and especially on February 14th.  Damiana is a relaxant that stimulates certain desires.

Spicy Chai

  • 6 parts cardamom
  • 4 parts cinnamon
  • 2 parts fennel
  • 1 part clove
  • 1 part black peppercorns

The secret to making good chai is to grind the whole spices in small batches in a coffee grinder – this will triple the aroma and flavour.  To make chai, simmer 1 tsp. of the spice mix per cup of water, covered, for five minutes, include 1 tsp. black tea or rooibos tea (caffeine free) in the pot.  Strain.  Return to the pot and add an equal amount of milk of any kind and return to the boil.  Sweeten to taste with honey.

This tasty traditional tea of India makes an excellent after dinner tea, or for after coming in from the cold.

Immune Power Blend

  • Elderberries 3 parts
  • Hibiscus 1 part
  • Star anise 2 parts
  • Orange peel 1 part
  • Juniper berries 1 part

Simmer ingredients in water for 15 minutes (1 tbsp of the mixture per cup of water), Strain. I like to sweeten this one with pomegranate syrup, available at Middle Eastern and Indian grocery stores. This one has a very strong flavour, drink ½ cup as needed if you feel a cold or flu coming on.

A tasty, hot tea provides an opportunity for a break during a work or study session, and it can be a great excuse to have a friend over for a visit.  Elevate the tea experience by using your special tea set, maybe pick up some cookies, and make tea part of your winter rituals.

I wish you all the comfort and joys of winter.

 

How to Dry Herbs

 

At this time of year my access to fresh herbs (and food) dwindles with the change of seasons and I have to switch from remedies utilizing freshly picked herbs to processing and preserving for fall and winter. Like gardeners preparing fruits and veggies for storage by canning, pickling, jams, and dehydrating, we herbalists do the same by making tinctures, infused oils, syrups, vinegars and drying.  

 

Since the onset of the pandemic, folks are intuitively placing greater emphasis on home gardening and self reliance, plus it has been an enjoyable pastime during lockdowns. With the enthusiasm for gardening comes the happy task of dealing with the inevitability of abundance.

Just like anyone can learn to preserve food, so too can folks learn herbal preservation and home remedy making.

 

The most basic preservation method is drying.  Drying methods vary, depending on the growth form of the plant and the part used.  I have outlined various examples below:

 

Tall stems, leaf and flower – goldenrod, yarrow, vervain, mugwort, fireweed, mint, motherwort, St. John’s wort, nettle, meadowsweet

These can be tied in bundles of 2-3, at the base of the stems.  Fewer stems allow better air flow and less chance of mold.  Hang upside down in a well-ventilated room. Once dry, run fingers along the stem to slide off the leaf and flower.

 

Short stems, leaf and flower – violet, self-heal, thyme, sage

Like with tall stems, or use drying racks.  Simple drying racks can be made with window screens, or mesh stretched between two chairs. Turn the plant every few days for even air flow.

 

Flowers or leaves – calendula, red clover, rose, plantain, lady’s mantle, dandelion, marshmallow, Labrador tea, sweet fern

Drying racks or baskets, single layer, turn every few days.

 

Fleshy (high moisture content) leaves and all roots, fruits and barks – mullein, comfrey, rosehips, hawthorn, rowan, elderberry. (Root medicine article to follow in my next newsletter)

Dehydrator, sometimes a basket next to a heat source such as a wood stove or radiator.

 

Seeds – Queen Anne’s lace, dill, fennel, any seed for future planting

Let the seeds mature and dry on the stem, you can delay harvest until fall, or when the seeds turn from green to brown. After harvest, hang the plant by the stem, upside down, with a paper bag secured around the flower head containing the seeds.  The seeds will completely dry and fall into the bag, give the flower a shake, seeds will fall when ready.

 

These are general guidelines, there are always exceptions for individual herbs, i.e., some tree barks dry well in baskets. Always harvest herbs for drying when they are dry, free from dew and rain. Dry all herbs out of direct sunlight, in a well-ventilated area.  Drying times will depend on the inherent moisture content of the plant and humidity levels, roughly 2-4 weeks.

 

Storage – Herbs must be 100% dry before storage to prevent mold and spoilage, they should crumble and snap.  Store in paper bags or glass jars, air tight and out of direct light.  Be sure to write the name and date on storage containers.

Shelf life – Leaves and flowers can be kept for one year, roots, fruits, barks and seeds for two years. Some herbs have a shorter shelf life, such as echinacea, valerian, eyebright, chickweed, shepherds’ purse, and should be processed in some other way such as tinctures, vinegars and oils; I don’t use these herbs in dry form in my practice.  There are other herbs I prefer to use only fresh, in teas and tinctures, such as St. John’s Wort.

 

Dried herbs are versatile in that they can be used in cooking, as teas, or transformed into many other preparations.  In some cases, it is advantageous to use dry herbs instead of fresh, notably infused oils and vinegars where the introduction of water from fresh plants can increase chances of spoilage.

 

I am looking ahead to my fall and winter herbal needs, especially cold and flu remedies and herbs to support my nervous system.  I have a good supply of dry thyme, sage, marshmallow leaves, yarrow, skullcap and holy basil for teas and other preparations.  What herbal needs might you be preparing for?

 

The Benefits of Kale & Chlorophyll

Part 1 – In Praise of Kale

 

Isn’t kale the best! What vegetable do we know here in our North Eastern climate that is so hardy, generous and nourishing? Kale deserves an award for its tenacity, nutritional and medicinal value, and quiet beauty in the garden. It, and other members of the Brassicaceae family such as collards, cabbage, broccoli, turnip and Brussels sprouts are easy to grow in our region, and they store well after the fall harvest.

 

Last year I planted more kale than we could possibly eat. I left the plants in the ground after they stopped producing leaves around December, they overwintered and now they are producing tender, sweet new leaves.  Kale is a biennial, it has a two year life cycle; in the first year it produces only leaves, the flowers and seeds appear in year two. My kale stems are growing quickly and are beginning to form flowers, which I will let fulfill their purpose – to produce seeds. I will harvest these seeds, dry them and plant them next spring. Let your kale overwinter this year and enjoy its full potential.

 

In the meantime, I am enjoying the leaves in salads and stir fries; I also made a vinegar extract using apple cider vinegar by simply chopping the leaves and steeping them in apple cider vinegar for 2 weeks.  Kale, like many other green leafy vegetables (and herbs), is rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, manganese and other minerals, which can be drawn from the leaves by the acetic acid in vinegar.

 

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

 

Kale is considered a “superfood” because in addition to its nutritional value, kale has medicinal properties due to the presence of various secondary metabolites. Research has revealed it to be therapeutic for managing blood sugar, anti-inflammatory, balancing to the gut microbiome, and cancer prevention.

 

“…kale has beneficial effects on the gut microbiome by increasing the bacterial diversity and proliferation of specific beneficial bacteria, such as Coriobacteriaceae. Furthermore, glycan degradation and vitamin B1 metabolism are enhanced by kale and these have been shown to play an important role in attenuating inflammation.”

Source

 

“The preliminary results suggested that intake of kale reduced postprandial plasma glucose levels (16).”  Source

 

“Sulforaphane, another compound found in kale,17 was proven by studies to deliver a protective effect against certain cancers,18,19,20 and may help enhance the health of your liver21 and gastrointestinal tract.22 “  Source

 

Kale, like other greens, is rich in chlorophyll, which has many known medicinal benefits, which leads me to part two of this article…

 

Part 2 – The Power of Green – Chlorophyll – “stored sunshine”

 

Spring is all about the greens – leafy plants and trees emerge from their winter slumber, appearing and unfurling in a succession of shapes and shades.  As a herbalist, I get very excited by the return of my familiar friends, the early medicinal leaves of spring – dandelions, ground ivy, nettle, comfrey, horsetail, violet, chickweed and false lily of the valley (to name a few). Most of these are edible as well, offering a variety of vitamins, minerals and other compounds that nourish.  

 

The nutritive herbs and leafy food plants such as kale, collards, spinach, and lettuces, are rich in chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants their green colour. As you may recall from high school biology, chlorophyll allows plants to absorb the energy from sunlight, which they use through the process of photosynthesis to create carbohydrates, which fuels their growth and development.  A byproduct of photosynthesis is the release of oxygen, which enriches our atmosphere, and is essential for our existence – the breath of life. In return, we breathe out carbon dioxide, essential for plant life. It is a true marvel to contemplate this exchange between plants and animals, the exquisite balance of life on Earth.

 

Chlorophyll is nearly identical in molecular structure to haemoglobin, the red blood cell of animal blood. The only difference is the molecule held at the center of the ring structure, as shown in the diagram below:

 

https://patch.com/img/cdn/users/1730190/2012/08/raw/8a9f5f8f1aae9c8a5283c9fe581751de.jpg?width=695

Due to this similarity, chlorophyll has a high bioavailability when ingested, especially when combined with iron rich foods. Plants rich in chlorophyll help to build the blood and remedy anemia and deficiency.  

According to nutritionist, Paul Pitchford,

 

“chlorophyll supports bone mass by directing calcium to deposit in the bone; it can also, like vitamin D, help with cellular renewal because chlorophyll foods all contain “growth regulating factors” that spark proper cell differentiation, growth and development. This healthy cell patterning stands in contrast to the unchecked, undifferentiated, malignant growth of cancer.”

http://healingwithwholefoods.com/author/wpaul1/

I recommend eating green leafy vegetables and herbs daily, either raw, sauteed, or steamed.  Kale and other Brassicaceae family plants should not be consumed raw by those with thyroid disorders.  

The increasing abundance of locally grown vegetables available at our farmer’s markets, in the wild and in our gardens, is all the encouragement we need to load up on greens.

The Herbalist’s Spring

Nothing was more wonderful than waiting for a happiness you could be sure of.

~ Barbara Kingsolver

 

Wonder-full is how I experience spring here in Nova Scotia, Nature’s great regeneration. Although still a week away on the calendar, the seasonal shift is already palpable. I sometimes hear complaints about our spring being “non-existent”, which I assume is in reference to the linger of winter rather than the arrival of spring. Yet, when we shift our sensibilities into subtle mode, we can experience a long, drawn-out spring transition.

Beginning in April with coltsfoot, followed by dandelion, plantain, chickweed, lady’s mantle, nettle, comfrey, mayflower, birch tips, mint, lemon balm, ground ivy, violet, hawthorn, and horsetail, to name a few, spring offers us a three-month parade of medicinal plants. This is more than enough to keep a wildcrafter/ herb grower busy; harvesting, drying and making medicinal preparations.

Even before the plants emerge from the soil, we can study the growth pattern of tree buds; it is fun to learn to identify local tree species by their buds and early growth.  Many of our local trees are medicinal, their buds and sap collected in spring, leaf, flower and barks in summer and fall – maple, birch, oak, linden, mountain ash, alder, fir, spruce.

I have a process for welcoming the approaching harvest seasons, it is both practical and ritual. First, I take stock of my home and clinic apothecaries – what did I run out of, what will I need for the year ahead?  What remains – and how should they be dealt with?  Dry leaves and flowers lose their potency after a year, roots, barks and fruits are good for two years. I make the extra effort to use the remaining herbs, often in teas, or to give away.  The left overs I include in the ritual I will explain later.

Then I refer to my harvest calendar from the year before as a reminder of when I can expect each herb to appear.  Each plant has a particular window in which it is most medicinally potent or valuable. Most of the spring harvest is of leaves, which are best collected early, before stem and flower begin to form.  

If you are a regular herb harvester, I recommend keeping a harvest journal each year in which you record the onset and completion of each plant’s phase of optimal harvest. This may vary slightly from year to year and in the different regions of the province or across the country, but it gives guidance for planning your busy harvest seasons. You can download a sample of a harvest journal here

And then come the seeds! I order my herb seeds from Richter’s Seeds in Ontario, they specialize in medicinal herb, with over 1000 to choose from.  Local seed companies carry some medicinal herb seeds – Annapolis Seeds, Hope Seeds, Yonder Hill Farm, Revival Seeds.  I start my seeds indoors in April.

Next, I take delight in getting my harvest tools from storage; my gathering baskets and snippers.  I make an altar in honour of spring, on which I place these, and other images and symbols of the season.  On the Spring Equinox I light a candle and give thanks for herbs of harvests past, for winter medicines and for the herbs coming in the seasons ahead.  I then take some of my left-over herbs to a special spot on my property and return them back to the earth, again with expressions of gratitude.

There are spring harvest festivals held all over the world; in India it is called Baisakhi, Jewish people celebrate Shavuot, in Pagan Europe the Spring equinox or Ostara in March and Beltane on May 1, in Madagascar the Santabary festival is celebrated in late April, another name for Chinese New Year is Spring Festival, they acknowledge the start of spring between January 21 and February 20.  The Ute Indians of Colorado celebrate Spring with the Ute Bear Dance.

Symbols of spring appear in popular culture; Kokopelli is recognized in Native American cultures as a bringer of fertility to the land with the spring rains. Pagan symbols include eggs, bunnies, lambs, flowers, and baby chicks, most of which were eventually incorporated into Christian symbology. Animal symbols of spring include Canada Geese, groundhogs, robins, bears, storks and caterpillars, to name a few.  In our part of the world, we celebrate spring with mayflowers, crocuses, daffodils and tulips.

What are your spring rituals?  What ever they may be, may you find much hope and joy in anticipation of spring and all the blessings of the season.

 

Pomegranate

I wrote about cranberries in December given their prevalence during the holiday feasting season. Another fruit that appears in supermarkets at this time of the year is pomegranate. Unlike cranberry, pomegranate does not grow in our region; it is native to Iran and India and is largely cultivated throughout Asia, Africa, the US and the Mediterranean. 

Have you ever wondered why it is featured so prominently at this time of year? It is a popular fruit among many cultures, widely cultivated and currently in season.  It is an ancient and celebrated tree; the fruit is included in spiritual/religious ceremonies in many cultures. 

I was recently chatting with a woman from Iran, Nozhat, who lives and works in Halifax as an acupuncturist; she shared that pomegranate is greatly celebrated in her native land, it is among the fruits included in their winter solstice celebrations.The following is her description of it: First of all, there are two types of pomegranate in Iran, sweet and sour, the sour is wild and you can find it in the woods of the northern part of the country. The sweet pomegranate is the main one used for the winter solstice celebration. The juice is used in many traditional stews. The paste/ molasses is the main ingredient in a side dish made with olive oil, chicken stuffing and special stews. Pomegranate soup is also very popular in winter, especially for winter solstice night. The seeds are a beautiful decoration for many kinds of salads, stews, cooked rice and other dishes.

She also shared some of the medicinal uses: antipyretic for fever, anti inflammatory, fungal infection, boosting immunity, anti cancer: especially recommended for men to prevent prostate cancer, treating worm parasite, the skin is used to treat diarrhea, high blood pressure (especially the sweet pomegranate juice), improves cardiovascular function. Different preparations are available in herbal shops.

Overall, when it is the season of this fruit, it is highly recommended to use it. In the Persian cuisine the pomegranate products are mostly used to balance the taste and temperature of the ingredients. 

Nozhat Momtaz works at Coral Shared-Care Health Center, for acupuncture appointments you can call (902) 420-0033

I am most familiar with the Ayurvedic use of pomegranate; the white inner rind is highly astringent, used to treat diarrhea, sore throat and fever. Try chewing on a piece of the rind to experience the drying sensation of astringency in the mouth, it would be helpful for mouth sores. The seeds are demulcent, used to sooth dryness and irritation in the GIT. 

The part we most often seek is the red, juicy seed lining, called the sarcotesta. The juice is now widely popular, considered a “superfood” due to its high anti-oxidant content. A highlight of my travels in India 20 years ago was fresh pressed pomegranate juice for 0.25 cents a glass.

Most grocery stores seem to be selling pomegranates at half price right now, so stock up and enjoy this ancient medicinal fruit.  My favorite dish is Fesenjan – Persian Pomegranate Chicken stew with walnuts. Pomegranate molasses can be purchased at the Mid East Food Centre in Halifax, I use it as a base for sauces and on porridge.