Thursday, 17 March 2011

Dawn and Dusk - breakfast and dinner berries

I am planting more soft fruit bushes under the birches and along the fence lines of the field and on the boundary fences between my garden and the neighbours. If you are going to chat over something you might aswell both have something yummy to nibble on while you do it - garden canapes.
 I can't get enough soft fruit and the medicinal leaves and shoots, particularly the raspberries and blackcurrants for the dispensary.
  It reminded me of a sample piece I wrote ages ago for a friend putting together a new magazine. Seems a shame to leave it buried in my laptop files so I'm dusting it off to post here.

There is a quiet stillness in the very early morning light, filled with a sense of  magical potential, the epitome of hope for all that which the coming day may bring. It gives a sense of the old magic C.S.Lewis talked about in The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, the magic from the beginning of time that resurrected Aslan with the rising sun.
  The old stories tell of witches gathering Deadly Nightshade in the Church yard at night and modern science has explained why these wise women did this. The levels of the alkaloids found in the plant, Atropine and Hyoscyamine, fluctuate throughout the day, becoming more concentrated during the night and early hours and reducing as the day progresses.
   In the main, medicinal plants are generally gathered when the dew of the dawn had dried, in the mid morning but before the sun has become hot and evaporated the essential oils.
      An exception for me though, is in gathering berries in the early morning while the dew gives them an extra juicy appeal and it’s like finding sparkly bright coloured jewels amongst the leaves. Even the smallest bowl of them is enough to brighten any breakfast. There are many ways to preserve them to enjoy them throughout the year.
Wild Strawberries.
  All berries are rich in substances called flavonoids and Vitamin C, both which help to protect the cells of the body from the stresses and strains of life that cause damage and swelling. They are the secret of a long life, glowing blemish free skin, healthy blood vessels, resistance to infections and reducing inflammation and the risk of cells becoming cancerous. The leaves and roots of our indigenous berry plants have many other medicinal properties too.
    We have an abundance of berries that thrive in our climate. They are easy to grow even if you only have a small out door space; fruit bushes like blackcurrants and gooseberries can provide an abundant berry bounty and cane plants, like loganberries and raspberries can be trained up a wall or fence. There are also many wild berries available to forage for free. Brambles will thrive in almost any area and those that grown in the roughest ground seem to produce the juiciest fruits.
Hawthorn, blackberry, Cramp bark berries(Disgusting even with a bag of sugar) grapes, rosehips.

Pick of the crop.
  Blackcurrants are delightfully tart but the riper they become the sweeter they taste. The seeds are rich in essential fatty acids, both omega 3 and 6 and gamma linoleic acid that have anti-inflammatory effects. In herbal medicine, the leaf buds, gathered in the spring are used to treat allergy by raising cortisol levels. The leaves can also be collected and infused to make a refreshing drink, drunk hot or cold. The berries ripen during July. The leaves can be picked anytime they are green and fresh.
Raspberries until November frosts - sorry I'm too much of a electrickery ignoramus that I can't figure out how to turn this image round.
  Raspberries are delicate fruits that need to be eaten soon after picking but they can be easily preserved. There are Summer and Autumn fruiting plants. Raspberry leaves are prescribed by herbalists to tone the muscles of the womb, usually taken as a tea in the 8 weeks leading up to childbirth or to reduce bleeding and pain from problematic periods.  The tonic effects can also be used to treat diarrhoea that persists after an upset tummy or as a gargle to tighten up bleeding gums or swollen tonsils. Collect the fresh green leaves and dry them for storage before the plant flowers.
 Strawberries make wonderful ground cover, especially wild strawberries, which are quite abundant in the UK and not just something you read about in Enid Blyton books. A pulp of strawberry fruit will whiten the teeth and traditionally, when pale skin was the fashion, it was applied to the skin of the face as a face pack to fade
The leaves can also be used in the same way as raspberry leaves, to treat heavy periods and diarrhoea or loose bowels that contain mucous.

 Blackberries are so common in the UK and can be picked in huge quantities for free in the wild. You must get permission to pick anything on private land from the landowner. The fruits vary depending on the variety of blackberry bush you a picking from. Some can be small and quite hard even when they are ripe – they are more suited to making jellies, syrups or putting in wines. The bigger juicier berries are definitely worth freezing to eat as needed, either raw or cooked. The leaves and root bark of blackberry is used in the same way as raspberry and strawberry leaves for their tonic astringent action that tightens up relaxed tissues that are exuding too much fluid.

 Elderberries are a much-neglected wild fruit. They were used during the war as a valued source of Vitamin C for treating colds and fevers. What has been recently discovered is the ability of compounds found in elderberries to stop the flu virus reproducing. They also promote sweating, something herbalists use to treat high temperatures to encourage natural cooling and elimination of toxins during infection. Elderberry syrup is a wonderful winter remedy and its actions are enhanced by the addition of cloves and ginger. They are laxative in their raw state and best eaten cooked in combination with the apple that shares the season with them. They ripen in September and can be gathered by the basket load. Then sit your self comfortably and strip the berries from the stalks with a fork.


All berries make lovely syrups that can be enjoyed on their own poured over yoghurt, porridge and ice cream or diluted and drunk cool as a cordial or hot in a mug as a winter warmer drink.
To make a basic syrup.
Place the fruits into a pan with a cup of water in the bottom to prevent them burning. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 15-20mins until they are yielding all of their juice and they become very soft. Strain this through a fine mesh sieve or jelly bag into a measuring jug. For each 550ml (pint) of juice add 450g (1 lb) of sugar or an equal amount in volume of honey. Return this to the pan and heat gently, stirring all the time until the sugar dissolves. Bottle in sterilised bottles.  Store in the refrigerator once opened.
All fruits can be made into fruit leather. Heat the berries very gently for 5-10mins in a pan, until the berries burst and yield their juice. Then reduce to a smooth puree by pressing it through a fine mesh sieve, removing the skins and seeds. You can add a little lemon juice to preserve the colour if you like. A tablespoon per 100mls of puree should be fine. Sweetening is also optional, use a little honey or sugar to suit your taste, obviously they are better for you if they are sugar free but they won’t have as long a shelf life. Most households will find berry leathers are eaten very quickly because they are so delicious!
If you have a dehydrator spread the puree out on the sheet, about ¼ or an inch thick and dry in the dehydrator. They can also be done in the oven. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment and grease the paper. Spread the puree to about ¼ inch thick and place in the oven on the lowest heat setting, with the oven door ajar for 4-6 hours. The leather is ready when it can be peeled in a pliable sheet and doesn’t tear. It will remain slightly sticky to touch. Cut into strips that can be rolled up and stored in airtight containers. Dusting with cornflower, arrowroot or icing sugar will prevent them sticking together.
The best way to freeze berries is spread out on trays so they do not freeze into a big mush. You can then bag them and remove small amounts to defrost, as you need them. Gooseberry tip: the stalks and nubs can be quickly rubbed off once they are frozen rather than the time consuming top and tailing when they are fresh.
This is a Traditional method of preserving fruit from Germany. It literally means Rum Pot. It is a similar method to making sloe gin and is an edible version of the herbalists medicinal tincture but retains the whole fruits within it.
At the beginning of the season the jar is prepared with the first fruits and then stored in a dark, cool place gradually being filled as the other berries come into season. It is very simple to make.
Weigh your berries. Cover them with and equal amount of sugar or honey. Leave overnight or for a few hours until the sugar is drawing out the juice of the fruit. Pour this into your chosen pot; you can use a big-lidded crock-pot, kilner jar or even a large jam jar. Pour over Rum to cover the fruit and then weigh it down with a saucer. Each time you get a new harvest weigh the fruit and cover it this time with half the weight of sugar, leave for an hour or so and then gently add them to the jar. Top up with Rum again. Continue to do this throughout the harvest season. Leave for at least 8 weeks before eating. Rumtoff fruits are traditionally eaten at Christmas with ice cream but you could use them in cooking or as a boozy dessert with yoghurt or cream.

These little jars and bottles of bright jewel gems can be stored away in your cupboards to be enjoyed in the dark of the winter evenings when they will bring a little summer sunshine into your middle and remind you of warmer lighter days to come as well as imparting all of their stored goodness to keep you healthy and well.

Sunset - The evil cows start to take on their night form!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Roseacea and other stuff

I'm not a huge fan of supplements unless there is a real clinical need.
I always look to foods rich in the substance AND what that substance needs to be absorbed. 
Here is a quick run down on what is usually going on with rosacea(give or take a few details depending on the individual)

Roseacea is a combination of:
• stress, which then causes the digestive system to stop(flight or fight response via the sympathetic nervous system -'cos your body doesn't digest when you got a sabre tooth on your tail) Chamomile is the herb of choice here.
•So there is a lack of digestive enzymes which means that the food isn't being efficiently broken down and nutrients are less bio available  and poorly absorbed 
* the sphincters controlling emptying of the stomach are real tight (flight or fight again) so the food and the little acid you are making sits for ages in contact with the stomach wall which causes it to be inflamed and then that shows up by a reflex reaction into the face(via the enteric nervous system)
* the digestive enzymes are what controls growth and numbers of gut flora. Poor quality enzymes means over growth of not so nice stuff (I imagine gut flora and the immune system like street gangs) The not so nice bugs also irritate and aggravate the immune system and inflame the gut wall. (Candida gets the finger pointed by lots of so called alternative practitioner circles - then you get a silly diets sheet to follow and a huge list of really expensive supplements to buy) Calendula is a really nice anti inflammatory and immune stimulant with anti infective properties. If you get thrush then use Calendula tincture made with 90% ethanol for the anti fungal resins it contains. Otherwise Calendula made with 25% or vodka is fine.

*Specific gut flora are found in particular areas of the gut depending on what nutrients are absorbed there. Find one area that the numbers are altered in and hey presto you see a reduction in absorption of that nutrient.
*The liver also ships out wastes and distributes nutrients and produces digestive enzymes and metabolises cholesterol. So if it is overloaded with shipping excess wastes(including stress hormones) it will get a bit slap dash with the other stuff. Cholesterol is essential for hormone production, nerve insulation, cell wall building and production of healthy sebum.(skin oil) The level of all these actions is also inhibited by stress.(flight or fight AGAIN)
*The pancreas is producing lots of digestive enzymes and insulin. Add sugar/high carb and it's busy making insulin all the time - digestive enzymes? They ain't so important as keeping sugar levels at non lethal quantities.
*The liver also gets caught up with the whole glucose thing because it makes glucagon to store excess glucose. 
*Hormones also have an effect on all of the above and the condition of the skin itself. So apply whatever is appropriate: menopause or adolescence -use red clover, consumption or absorption of excess exogenous hormones: soya, plastics, water - where do all those peed out contraceptive pill/HRT hormones go? Increase your dietary intake of phyto oestrogens(see the menopause blog for details of these)

OK that's enough of all that - I'm sure there is more that I can't think of right now.

SO what do you do to fix all of the above without silly diet sheets and expensive supplements:

*Ditch sugars and simple carbs from grains (see:
*De stress - herbs and yoga(and get buff in the meantime)
*Eat masses of veg and seasonal fruit and berries. Orange yellow stuff is rich in beta carotenes - vit A for skin.
*Lysine is absorbed by lactic acid - you can  get loads of that by fermenting foods - here is a link to a really cool guy called Sandor Katz who pretty much ferments whatever he can get his hands on. His book is brilliant. Traditionally fermentation was how humans preserved stuff. It provides LOADS of nutrients that are lacking in modern diets.  
*Lysine rich foods
*Bitter foods and herbs - get the digestive enzymes going and resolves all the above.  But  step in carefully  - if you poke the liver too hard when it is congested then you can cause more problems. Start gently with Dandelion root. Small doses of Burdock root, Oregon Grape root, Wormwood(teeny weeny doses) and gradually increase them over time. Use Yellow Dock if your constipated. Or Barberry instead of the endangered Goldenseal. Milk Thistle if you have been boozing lots or taking recreational drugs.

My take on hormones and 'The Menopause'

So this is the talk I gave at Circle Health Hospital last night. My delivery was pretty piss poor as the time I had was very short and I had to rush and then got nervous and had a dreadful dry mouth and I had to miss loads out.
I think they got the gist though.
It starts with my usual rant about understanding why your body does stuff. I always do this to try and reassure people that their bodies aren't going wrong or letting them down.

I'm sure it's full of typos and grammatical errors but hey ho the plants don't mind my complete inability to spell and sentence structure correctly.

The body is constantly adapting to environment it finds itself in. It monitors everything going on around it and being put in it and then it changes it’s function in response to that – it’s primary goal is to stay alive.

The nervous system is the primary sensor – and you can simplify the understanding of the way the nervous sytem works by thinking about what its initial role was in our evolving ancestors- basically to look out for sabre tooth tigers and then activate all the tools it has to enable you to run away or fight as hard as possible. So your heart beats faster, the breathing increases, blood and the oxygen it carries gets pumped around to the running muscles, the pupils dilate so you see better and everything that isn’t essential for saving your life at that moment is stopped;  like digestion=dry mouth.
Needle Felted Tiger - good relaxation therapy

When the saber tooth has gone away the body sets about repairing and restoring everything that was worn or damaged. It needs to consume, digest, absorb and distribute all the materials it needs to do that and it also deals the elimination of waste products or rubbish created by all this activity. So the appetite returns, digestion commences, urine production resumes, the bowels open and pertinent to this discussion, the ability to reproduce itself commences. Everything is balanced out and is deliberately intended by the body.

What happens in modern day living is that there is a fairly perpetual sabre tooth on all our tails – got to earn money, to buy food, to feed the kids, pay the bills, keep a clean house, washing, school time, holiday time, depressing media reports, eat this don’t eat that, lists lists lists information overload.
This means that our bodies are in a constant state of burning energy, running away and the rest and restore never has a proper chance to readdress the balance required to keep us alive.

You might notice that you can’t sleep properly – your brain is going round like a broken record or that you sleep for a few hours and then startle awake, your heart is pounding –especially when you finally sit down or go to bed, you can’t open your bowels( “cos you can’t poo when there’s a sabre tooth on your tail – ‘scuse me mr Sabre tooth would you mind just waiting there for a minute while I pop behind this bush)
You might get woken to wee in the night- because your body is using the rest time to make urine rather than during the day or first thing in the morning, your periods become very quick and heavy flow – can’t be bleeding for long when there is a sabre tooth around he might sniff you out.
You crave sugar and carbohydrate because it’s quick energy for running muscles and when there is a constant high blood sugar because of all the carbs the body sense that and thinks I’ll store that as fat around your middle because there might be a famine soon. A clue to what your hormones are doing is to know that fat distributed above the umbilicus indicates high cortisol levels(Treat the liver and adrenals). Fat below the umbilicus and on the hips shows high oestrogen(Treat the liver)

So everything that the body is doing is deliberate and for a reason. It is just doing the best it can in the situation it finds itself in. Everyones body adapts in its own unique way, which is why different people have slighty different dis’eases.
Pilewort roots - Ranunculus ficaria
As a herbalist I am looking for the root of the problem – and there is often more than one because the body can cope admirably with no symptoms, a few long term inbalances.
 I then advise on strategies to enable the body to regain balance again – using lifestyle changes, nutrition and herbs which I see as good sharp sticks to fight off sabre tooths or they can provide the body with the materials it needs to help it rest and restore when life throw you those curved balls that you cannot avoid and sometimes have soldier on through for a bit.
They also help the body adapt when it is going through natural progressive age changes until it gets used to the new status quo, like in menopause.
Herbalists generally don’t see menopause as a disease or something to be cured, they see it as a natural transition into a new phase of life.
 Ladies Mantle - Alchemilla vulgaris
What is menopause?
Menopause literally means cessation of menstruation. But unless the ovaries are surgically or chemically removed, the natural decline of the reproductive capabilities of the body often begins years before the periods actually stop.

Once the periods start to become irregular or ceased then on average most womens symptoms should have ceased within 2 years.
The hormones that control menstruation are all released on feedback systems that either turn production of each other up or down.

As simply as I can describe it the monthly cycle goes like this:
An egg matures in the ovary each month stimulated by follical stimulating hormone sent from the brain.
The little egg sac produces oestrogen that makes the lining of the womb build up so there is a nice bed for a fertilized egg to nest down into.
When the oestrogen level gets high enough it messages back to the brain to produce lutenizing hormone to make the egg pop out and travel down the fallopian tube where it hopes to meet it’s boyfriend, the sperm, coming the other way.
 The left over empty sac then produces progesterone as well as oestrogen that keeps the womb lining in place . It only does this for 10 or so days when it finally shrivels up and ceases production.
 If the egg got busy with it’s boyfriend and has nested down nicely in the lining of the womb then the placenta takes over the progesterone job. If ithere has been no fertilization then the womb lining sheds as a period because there are no hormones keeping there.

The low levels of progesterone and oestrogen then stimulate the brain to start producing more follicle stimulating hormone to get another egg ready and the cycle begins again.
As you age the number and quality of eggs starts to decline and the normal levels of FSH might not stimulate one to mature, so the level of oestrogen doesn’t begin to rise.
 The brain senses this and releases more FSH to try and stimulate an egg. It also increases LH but more slowly. These hormones are released on 60-90 minute surges. These surges co incide with hot flushes(think about the sabre tooth again – heart pumping, blood surging around, nerves on high alert, sweaty palms etc the mechanisms are the same as the emergency adrenaline system)
And so the periods cease.
However many problems can start to emerge before this point. Women in the perimenopausal years often suffer with symptoms that are more often associated with high oestrogen – breast tenderness, heavy periods, fibroid growth, mood swings, bloating, digestive problems, headaches  Etc

What is though to happen in perimenopause is that the ovaries are already tiring and they sort of go to sleep on the job at the beginning of the cycle.
 The oestrogen levels are low so the brain senses that and stimulates them with lots of FSH– they then startle awake, late to work and suddenly produce lots of oestrogen in response to the extra stimulation from the brain
– then the womb lining builds up more than usual. When the rest of the cycle catches up the period is late and heavy because of the excess oestrogen. High oestrogen also stimulates fibroid growth, breast tenderness and all the other symptoms.
 So in perimenopause sometimes your estrogen levels are high and your progesterone is low, and you might get symptoms of PMS. At other times, your estrogen levels remain low and you get hot flashes. Then for several months you're back to normal. Your symptoms are actually caused by fluctuations of high and low estrogen.
The symptoms of menopause can include:
Hot flushes or night sweats
Skin and vaginal dryness
Mood swings
Poor Libido
Poor memory and slow thinking
Depression and anxiety

The role of the liver

 I see the liver as the central shipping unit in the body. It takes nutrients in and manipulates them into usable forms and it gathers up wastes and breaks them up into less toxic units and ships them out via various routes.
Its roles are so vast and complex it doesn’t take a huge amount of extra work load to become overwhelmed and begin to neglect some jobs in favour of others that is sees as more important.
Every bodies liver prioritises jobs in different ways.

At menopause it has extra hormones to deal with. It has to process and make the cholesterol that is the building block for those hormones. It then has to break down the hormones and eliminate them. If you pour a bit of stress into the mix and the large chardonnay or chocolate bar/cake/packet of biscuits/junk food then the liver becomes overloaded and you get worse symptoms of hormone inbalance and symptoms from all the other jobs that are getting neglected – like IBS because the digestion is neglected and effected by the hormones or joint inflammation because irritating wastes are being dumped there rather than being flushed out. If you are having heavy bleeding then it has to use its iron stores to replenish the blood.
Vitamin B6 and magnesium are necessary for the liver to neutralize estrogen. Increased sugar intake will also use up magnesium and interfere with its ability to breakdown estrogen.  Alcohol and caffeine will significantly aggravate hot flushes and slow up liver function.

Why diet and lifestyle are essential

Stress – if menopausal hot flushes, night sweats or insomnia have been going on for more than 2 years and are particulary frequent or debilitating then there is usually a high level of chronic stress going on.
The mechanisms of chronic stress and the symptoms are very similar to the effects of the natural hormone changes at menopause. In most people experiencing real difficulties with menopause then there is likely to be stress increasing the severity of the hormone fluctuations.
It is really important to reduce stress levels as much as possible in whatever way works best for you – but not by reaching for that glass of pinot or the carb fix but by doing some kind of relaxing activity and finding some space for you.

Yoga is particularly good it increases flexibility and bone strength but also relaxes the nervous system – you get to lay down a lot between postures, which works for me.

A daily walk in nature, breathing gently in and out through the nose will also reduce stress hormones. Getting out into the fresh air and natural surroundings is well documented to promote feelings of well being.

Meditation and breath work has been show to reduce anxiety and stress. If you breath in and out of the nose. A particularly useful breathing exercise is to count in breath for 7 and the out breath for 11. You can actually feel the calming effects in a few minutes and they are measurable with heart and oxygen monitors. 7:11 breathing can stop a panic attack. It is also useful during the night if you suffer with insomnia- everytime the mind wanders off onto it’s busy work pull it back to the breath again and again and you will fall back to sleep much quicker. The more you practice the quicker it works.

Exogenous oestrogens and diet
Plant oestrogens which are often called phyto oestrogens are interesting – they have an effect of hormone receptors in the body but are thought to be about 10,000 times weaker than those your body produces. They still have an effect on your hormone levels tho because they fit in the receptor sites and make your body think the oestrogen levels are normal. If you have too much oestrogen they compete for receptor spaces – elbowing out your own excess ones. If you have low levels they fit in and replace what you are lacking. It is well observed in cultures where high levels of phyto oestrogens are consumed in the diet the level of menstrual and menopausal problems is very
There are three types of phyto-oestrogens: Isoflavones, Lignans and Coumestans.
Phyto-oestrogen rich foods:
Soya: Have traditional style fermented soy products. Avoid soy if you have low thyroid function as it inhibits thyroid hormone.
Soya yoghurt can be easily made with Soya milk and a dessert spoon of a starter culture. I reuse my old yoghurt pots and fill them with Soya milk and a dessertspoon of Soya yoghurt (yofu) Put in a box or freezer bag with a jar of boiling water for warmth, leave overnight and it should have set by morning. Refresh the starter culture every 4-6 weeks with a new pot of yofu.
           Tofu is Soya bean curd, try smoked or marinated for better flavour. It's great in stir-fries or on salad or roasted with vegetables.
            Miso paste is fermented Soya beans and can be used as stock for soups and casseroles.
90g of soya a day has been shown to alleviate menopausal symptoms – I think that is quite a lot but a cup of miso soup and a dollop of soya yoghurt on your breakfast everyday goes a good way plus add in a few other things and you will notice the difference.
Linseeds: A very cheap, rich source of essential fatty acids and lignans. Buy them in bulk and grind them in a coffee grinder. Store in a plastic bag in the freezer to prevent the oils from going rancid. Sprinkle one dessert spoon on breakfast and dinner.
Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds: These are all rich in essential fatty acids and Isoflavones.
Lentils and Chickpeas are rich in isoflavones as well as canellini, kidney, flageolet and butter beans.
Grains: Rice, oats, barley, cous cous, polenta and buckwheat are high in lignans. I encourage people to vary their carbohydrate intake from wheat, wheat, and wheat to include other sources like these.
Mung beans and alf alfa sprouts are rich in comestans and good in salads and sandwiches.

Calcium and Vitamin D Sources: Cheese, kale, almonds, brewers yeast, dandelion greens, brazils, watercress, sardines, pilchards, mackerel, tofu and an apparently very rich source of vitamin D, according to the Rheumatologist who was also at the talk - wine gums!
High in blood vessel protective bioflavonoids: Cranberries, blackberries, red and blackcurrants, blueberries and red grapes. (Including juice and red wine) All citrus, melon, cherries and plums, red onions, beetroot, greenbeans, sweet peppers, garlic, broccoli, tomatoes.

Try to eat all your food as close to natural as possible and avoid additives and artificial flavourings as much as possible to prevent putting strain on the liver.
                                          PHYTO OESTROGEN CAKE.
4oz/100gm Soya flour
4oz/100gm wholemeal flour
4oz/100gm rolled oats
4oz/100gm  ground linseeds
2oz/50gm sunflower seeds (grind if preferred)
2oz/50gm pumpkin seeds (grind if preferred)
2oz/50gm sesame seeds (grind if preferred)
2oz/50gm flaked almonds
2 pieces stem ginger finely chopped
8oz/200gm raisins
Half tsp. each of nutmeg, cinnamon and ground ginger.
15 fl oz/425mls Soya milk
1tbsp malt extract
Mix all the dry ingredients well, add the Soya milk and malt extract and soak for 30 mins.
Line and grease a small loaf tin. The mixture should be a dropping consistency, add more Soya milk if needed. Bake at 190c 375f gas mark 5 for 90mins. A slice a day keeps the flushes at bay!

 A usuful tip to know now is that it won’t hurt your husband or partner to have a slice a day either. Phyto oestrogens have been shown to protect against prostate problems!

Limeflowers - Tilia spp 
There are lots of herbs and herbal pills that are touted about for being good for menopause. As a herbalist my persective is that herbs treat people not ailments. So as you understand how uniquely different we all are and how our bodies all function and adapt in slightly different ways you can see that one herb doesn’t fit all. There is also a lot of misinformation out there about herbal and natural fixes for menopause.
Lots of the products that are sold are untested and unfounded in their claims. Taking a herbal pill or potion might not be enough to address all of the changes your body is going through and help it adapt to a new phase of life. Especially if there has been lots of adaptations happening to help your body survive in the lead up to the menopause. 
 Severe symptoms are your body waving a great big red flag at you say “there’s something wrong here in my environment and I can’t cope anymore without this happening” You cannot take a pill to put that right. You need to identify the problems and then put into place supportive measures.
 It might seem really difficult to leave the lid on the bottle of wine, or not eat the sweet fix or drag yourself out after a long day to yoga or a walk. It is a matter of reframing the situation – you aren’t denying yourself, you are doing it to make yourself feel better – it doesn’t take too long of feeling better to impliment the changes keenly rather than feeling like you are denying yourself something!

There are some simple herbal remedies that grow locally and commonly in gardens you can try yourself at home along side the diet stuff to help with particular symptoms:
Sage herb is a drying herb that has good levels of phytooestrogens in it. You can make a cup of it with 6-10 fresh  leaves. Put them in a mug, cover them with boiling water and cover the mug. Leave to infuse and cool. Drink up to 3 times a day. Or  an hour before retiring if night sweats are a problem. Leave a mug by the bedside to drink in the night if you wake.
There are lots of herbs that reduce stress and promote sleep.
 Chamomile, lemon balm and limeflower are all pleasant simple herb teas. Lavender is particularly good at reducing the flight or fight response of stress – diluted essential oil in the bath, or in a moisturizing oil or a few drops on the pillow at bedtime. You can drink lavender herb as a tea.
St Johns Wort is a popular herb which has particular benefits in menopause because it also supports the liver function. You shouldn’t take it if you are using prescribed medication however as it helps the liver metabolise drugs and eliminate them. It works particularly well together with lavender.
A simple for this is raspberry leaf or Ladies Mantle herb as a tea. Add nettles in for their ability to stop bleeding and for the vitamins and minerals they contain – including iron.

Anything that tastes bitter encourages and supports liver function.
Dandelion root coffee
Bitter salad leaves, endive, chicory.

OK - that's it. I know it needs work but you know what - I'm off for a relaxing walk instead. You can figure it out.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Country file

So I have been feeling like a one trick pony for quite a while now, blabbing on and on to patients and friends alike about how grain free is the way to go.
I'm feeling SO relived that one of the reasons I give, was given main-steam viewing on country file tonight and it helps to make me feel a little less black sheepy and trust the inner voice that is screaming at me to "stop eating so much grain based carbohydrate and start eating more self sufficiently veg and healthy naturally reared or wild meat and fish"
Not just for financial reasons (£150 minimum for a family of four weekly shop) but for health reasons too(too much carb=too much blood glucose=increased fat storage plus a whole cascade of metabolic adaptations/inflammations that cause an ever increasingly realised range of modern health problems)

My weekly shop at the farmers market costs me about £30 for 2 of us at the moment. I probably spend about another £20 in the coop on coffee, oddments and regretably pet food although I'm working on that one.(and I don't mean I'm going to eat my dog or my cat. The ducks however are another matter)

It makes so much sense to me to grow as much veg and fruit as you can squeeze into any patch for growing that you have access to. It makes you really consider the meals that you cook each day using what you have grown yourself and you waste no food at all. I quite often make 3 different types of vegetables and then have a small amount of protein to go with them. They will usually be cooked in butter or pork lard/bacon fat so the energy supply is good as fat burns for a long time. If you are keeping your blood sugars low by limiting your carbohydrate intake to vegetable and fruit sources to about 150g(max) a day then your body will burn fat first for energy. You will loose weight.

I am lucky that I was reared in a thrifty family. My parents were vegetarian, so even though I eat meat now, I am quite happy with an offensively large pile of vegetables as a meal.
My favourite stall in the farmers market these days is the non certified organic but more importantly, free range, wild diet, reared meat stall. They have such a huge range of meat for sale from the choicest cuts to the oddments that are really affordably priced - like a huge Ox heart for £1.50 or ribs/shin for £2.50. Then there's the box full of bones for stewing - a regular purchase for me is 2 duck carcasses for the princely sum of £1. I take these home and simmer them in the pressure cooker, just covered with water, on a low heat for 12+ hours with a little home made cider apple vinegar, bay leaves and rosemary. First thing the next day I strain the liquid through a sieve and pick the fat (for the dog) and meat(for breakfast fried with onions, garlic and fried duck eggs for us)off. The stock goes into the fridge in a large bowl until the fat sets on the top and can be skimmed off and put aside for cooking and the lovely jelly, vitamin and mineral rich liquid gets used for cooking every meal for the remainder of the week: soups, stews, steaming stock for  stir fries, vegetable cooking liquid and so on. Here is a wonderful piece about the benefits of bone broths from Weston Price:

What you find when your body stops being used to depending on grain carbs for energy and starts getting use to a status quo of lower blood sugars is that your energy is sustained for much longer, moods are more stable, appetite is level and many general health nags gradually fade.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Tree work

Mid January and the weather is finally agreeable to get on with some work on the land I bought in the Autumn.
 I have been incredibly blessed by this 2.3 acres. Divided into 3 fields with stock proof fencing and solid gates. There is a small entrance field with a fallen but productive cats head apple tree and overgrown at the edges with blackthorn and brambles. There are also huge nettle patches from old manure piles. The adjacent field contains 3 poly tunnels, vegetable beds, fan trained cherries and a tree line of birches, hawthorn, hazel and something else I haven't ID'd yet - it is being overgrown with brambles.
The land slopes upwards to the South from these fields into a small meadow with a small orchard of 10 year old fruit trees to the East.
There are 11 ancient apple trees scattered over the site, lasting from the days when the entire valley was orchard. Tree number one ominously fell down during the week onto the table I had been serving mulled cider from the Wassail 5 days previously. I don't think it liked the cider offering or our wassail song It had been dying for a few years though and the roots were rotted through. We planted a Coxes Pippin in it's place.

This week I am working my way round the field margins cutting back brambles and doing gentle tree pruning to open the ground area up ready for underplanting with medicinal and edible ground cover.
I am planning to put in wintergreen, Nepalese raspberries, ground ivy, wild garlic, hedge mustard, crow garlic, wild leeks and golden seal.
There were the most enormous delicious blackberries on a huge bramble growing over about 10 meters and drowning a mystery apple that looks like a strawberry with a delicate scent of cinammon spice and tinged pink stripes through it's flesh. The "experts" at the apple days were unable to ID it so I will send a sample to Brogdale in the Autumn. and cough up the £12 to find out what it is.

Today is day 2 and my hands look like they are covered with a rash of red spots where I have been picked a thousand times by the vengeful brambles. My scalp is sore in a few places from spiking it with thorns while crawling around under branches. My hair is infused with scent of bonfire  - I could smell it all night and I'm sure everyone at yoga could smell it too last evening! I had help to prune out a large silver  birch trunk to use for Shitake mushrooms and I will tap the others for birch sap come April.

Little Owl in an old apple tree.

The aim is to prune and clear gently and sensitively, clearing what is impinging on the fences, maintaining areas for wildlife but with a view to clearing space for more useful permanent growth. The robin at least is grateful for the soil and leaf mould I am churning under foot and I know I will return this morning to see the leaves tossed about by the blackbirds. The little owl retreats up the meadow to a distant perch and looks on disapprovingly.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

It's gonna be Heaven in 2011

So here I go with writing a blog. Finally I feel like I can find a daily 20 minutes spare to write some of the stuff I read, write and run about doing everyday....well at the moment anyway.

I will make some records of what I eat and recipes. Hmm.....not so interesting you think but I don't eat grains and I need to make a record of how it is so I don't keep having to refer people to other blogs about the benefits of a grain free life. I'm mainly eating a primal diet these days, I think about what types of foods we would have had available to us as hunter gatherers and stick fairly rigidly to that about 90:10 of the time. I have come to this from a variety of different reasons.
1. We evolved for about 150,000 years eating leafy greens, nuts, seeds, shellfish, fish, wild free ranging meat that ate a natural diet, eggs, roots that we worked hard to dig up, berries and seasonal fruits(smaller and sharper than todays fruit). Grains would have been scarce and only available for a short season.
2.We only started farming grains about 8000 years ago - roughly 200 generations. Not long in evolutionary terms.
3. Carbohydrate from grain is eventually sugar and the longer I study medicine and health and the more research reveals how high blood glucose causes a cascade of metabolic adaptations that cause all kinds of diseases.
4. Grains now are highly genetically bred to contain much higher levels of gluten and starch than traditional varieties. The way that we prepare them is also very different so the bio-availablity of nutrients is reduced and there is a higher content of potentially irritant substances.
5. I cannot grow grain in large quantities. I would like to be as self sufficient and low carbon in my needs as possible. Grains require HUGE quantities of petro chemicals for their production. Ploughing, sowing, ferilizer, herbasides and pestisides, harvesting, processing, transport etc etc It's already rising rapidly in price because of oil prices and climate problems in Russia and America the 2&3rd biggest global producers and it isn't going to get any better.

I'm sure there are more reasons that I will come back to and elucidate on another time but for the moment if you want to read more about Grains in general here is a link to a brilliant article looking at it all much more in depth.

Today I ate and drank:
1st thing
Hot water and lemon
Black real coffee
Handful of nuts(walnuts, almonds and brazils) and an apple

Mid morning post walk
Left over beef rib and vegetable stew made with stock from duck carcass.
Hot water and lemon
Baked mushrooms with garlic butter and herbs
Stewed Leeks
Mushroom and onion duck egg Omelette
Half glass homemade elderflower wine.