Thursday, February 10, 2011

Eat for Free: Urban foraging part 1

I suppose im on a roll with the idea of changing the perception of "worthless" scraps with the Boil Your Garbage post, so I'm going to take it a step further and bring you outside with the same logic. What I'm going to tell you is pretty mind blowing, especially after you realize how often you've seen and quite possibly unleashed a mighty vengeance on these plants for sullying your flowerbed, lawn, or garden. Note** Only harvest from known areas and wild areas of no contamination from car exhaust, pesticides/fertilizers, landfills, spill sites, or industrial areas. Basically use common sense!

Public enemy #1: Dandelions

Almost every part of this remarkable and resilient plant is useful culinarily or medically. The leaves contain iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, along with copious amounts of vitamins A, C, and K2. Delicious in salads or cooked greens, these leaves are a nutritional powerhouse.

The flowers, in addition to wine making, are very versatile, and the petals can be eaten (will be posting a dandelion petal cookie recipe for spring) and can also be steeped in oil to make a massage oil that has been used to treat joint inflammation and rheumatism.

The roots of the plant are a long documented liver detoxifier, and is typically prepared as a tea though it can be bought in capsule form as well as tincture.

Public Enemy #2: Garlic mustard

As the same suggests, this plant tastes like a cross between mustard greens and garlic. Only the leaves are harvested, and for best flavor harvest before plant goes into blossom ( i have eaten it after, but it is quite a bit more bitter that way). Considered to be an invasive weed in most of the Northeast US (and i know i waged a personal war against it for 3 years before i realized the ultimate revenge was in eating it!) these plants once established can have underground seed banks lasting 5 years or more even when removed by the roots. Best eaten cooked, they have a similar texture to spinach with a bitterness of escarole or endive. Its a great plant to have your kids harvest, i send mine around the yard with sand pails and if they all come back with a full pail theres enough for a side dish. If the bitterness if a bit much for you, it also works well in soups and mixed with less aggressive greens. It contains all the same nutritional benefits of dandelion greens (in varying amounts, but vitamin and mineral composition are similar).

Public Enemy #3: Lambsquarters

These things grow everywhere in my garden, and just like my war with Garlic mustard, my attempts to eradicate my potato plot of these was futile at best. However, they are incredibly nutritious, and are making a bit of a comeback in the culinary realm and are showing up at some farmers markets even! Imagine cashing in on your weeds! They tend to be found naturally in wastelands and weak soils that have been depleted (found them in my potato patch post harvest, thank you) as well as taking over any well drained disturbed soil (a must for lambsquarters, they wont germinate in undisturbed soil).  They contain protein, vitamins A, Bs, and C, and are high in calcium.  One thing about foraging for lambsquarters is that you want to make sure you harvest in uninhabited areas or in areas known to be free of contamination or waste, as lambsquarters tend to thrive in areas and can contain high levels of toxins if found in these areas. Don't be discouraged though, if you find them around your home and you don't use pesticides or chemical fertilizers, go ahead and try them! Far less bitter than the last two mentioned, lambsquarters taste much like spinach, without the finicky growing conditions or fear of bolting!

Public Enemy #4: Purslane
Fresh leaves contain surprisingly more Omega 3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable plant. 100 grams of fresh purslane leaves provides about 350 mg of α-linolenic acid, which is more than some fish oils! Also purslane has the highest amounts of Vit A of any leafy green vegetable, as well as considerable amounts of iron, magnesium, vit C, B vitamins, potassium and copper (a vital element which can be depleted if taking a zinc supplement as zinc inhibits copper absorption!) Cooking purslane depletes much of its antioxidant benefits, so eat it raw when possible.

Public Enemy #5: Japanese Knotweed
Known to strike fear in the heart of gardeners everywhere is the last on today's list of edible garden bullies: Japanese knotweed.

Have you heard all the hype surrounding Resveratrol supplements? It is touted as a very potent antioxidant and antimutigen. Thank a japanese knotweed plant, as they are the leading source of wildharvested resveratrol. The bamboo like shoots can be sliced and eaten and are great in stirfry, though also add a neat crunch to salads having a celery like consistency. This plant is considered highly invasive because unlike plants like dandelion which die at the roots, knotweed is a rhizome plant meaning it sends runners underground and new plants form from any of the roots containing a rhizome. Unless you remove every part of the underground root system, new plants continue to grow, and thus earned its status as highly invasive.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

prescription free cold and flu remedies that WORK

Tis the season for snot. Lots of it. In fact its the season for body chills, fevers, sore throats, earaches, coughs and nausea too. We of course are talking about cold and flu season. It bears down on your like your WWE obsessed redneck cousin after a six pack. If you are north of Florida, you probably deal with at least one solid month where everyone around is feeling under the weather. Im going to help you break down both the symptoms and their natural treatments and let you mix and match as you see fit. Ive got a top 5 list that you probably have (or could EASILY obtain) in your pantry already.  Lets start from the top.
Colds and flus....we all dread them. Even if you arent germophobic (causing lowered resistance to germs) and practice basic sanitation measures it can still creep up on you. With 4 boys 5 and under, my house is essentially full of walking germs in footie pajamas. What you need to know is what you can do to boost your immune system so that even moderate exposure to a wayward bug wont leave you bedridden for a week spot washing yourself with a rag on a sick like those people you see in episodes of Maury. The body presents with symptoms, but rather than stifle them with an over the counter drug (which will likely prolong the illness and slow recovery) you should encourage  or support them. Dont look at me like that, ill explain the logic. Lets take a fever for example. Your body heats up in an effort to kill the virus inside you. When you take a fever reducer, you are forcing your body to stop fighting the virus and allow that virus to wreak havoc (forcing you to take MORE over the counter drugs to deal with the increased intensity).  Taking fever supportive herbs help bring your body to a sufficient internal temperature, killing the virus AND allowing your body to both recognise and create antibodies to that strain of virus ( a truly "green vaccine"). I know you are all on the edge of your seats by now so i wont tease you any longer. Here are my top 5 remedies, followed by my top 5 preventatives.
#5: Garlic- Studies have determined that taking a daily garlic supplement that contains allicin will reduce one's risk of contracting a cold by approximately 50 percent. Allicin is a purified component of garlic that is the active ingredient produced by the garlic plant. Garlic supplements that contain allicin have also been shown to be effective for fighting methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections
#4: Goldenseal-(not for use in pregnant woman)Goldenseal root contains three types of alkaloids, berberine, hydrastine and canadine, which are the main active ingredients for fighting bacteria and infections. Berberine has been proven to kill many varieties of bacteria, parasites and fungi in test-tube studies. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, berberine in goldenseal also helps to build up white blood cells to fight off infections and build up the immune system. Goldenseal is considered to be a natural antibiotic, and is sometimes combined with other herbs, like Echinacea, for a stronger immune system booster.
Goldenseal is also known for its ability to control the mucus membranes in the body to ward off infection. It works effectively in the sinuses, respiratory tract, digestive tract, urinary tract and vagina because it can alter the action of the mucus membranes. The herb seems to know when the body needs mucus buildup to protect against infection and when to dry up mucus when there is too much. This is why it is effective as a cold, flu and allergy medicine as well as for combating respiratory infections, sore throats, bronchitis, colitis, urinary tract infections and vaginitis
#3: Ginger with honey-Have you ever had ginger tea when you are down with a cold or flu? If you have, then you know how good it tastes and how it warms your whole body up. Ginger gets the blood moving to warm you up and the mucous moving to help rid your body of the virus or bacteria. Ginger has been used by many cultures to bring down fevers, get rid of chills, nausea, relieve earaches, to soothe sore throats, and it eases coughs and bronchial infections. It is also a tonic for the heart and circulatory system. Raw honey also has medicinal properties and is chock full of nutrients. It coats the throat to ease throat pain. Honey is antibacterial and also fights infections throughout the whole body. It is rich in vitamins B, C, D, and E and strengthens the immune system. Honey loves water, so when you infuse an herb in honey, it will draw out all the medicinal compounds of the herb.
#2: Turmeric- Turmeric (Curcuma longa), the distinctive yellow-orange spice that lends flavor to curries and other ethnic dishes, may do a lot more than jazz up food, research shows. The health benefits of turmeric are numerous, and since it is a natural food substance, this powdery spice can be safely ingested on food or in the form of supplements. Recent attention has been given to Turmeric's flu fighting potency. Turmeric’s active ingredients, known as circuminoids, have been shown in laboratory investigations to have powerful antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, among others. As a natural protease inhibitor, turmeric interferes with the ability of the flu virus to replicate itself. Turmeric is also not particularly bioavilable in its raw form (capsules and mixing with juice render low concentrations of availability). It is definitely a fat soluble herb, and combine well with any type of fat (coconut milk works wonderfully).
#1: Cayenne- When you eat something hot like cayenne, your nose runs, you sweat, and all your fluids get moving.. Thats a good thing when you have a cold or flu and your mucous membranes are swollen and inflamed. Breaking up stagnant and congested mucus brings some relief from cold symptoms, but even better, it brings fresh blood to the site of the infection. Fresh blood contains infection fighters from the immune system, white blood cells and leukocytes that fight viruses and other foreign invaders. It is my #1 due to its easy access and immediate relief. Its best when combined with one or more of the other treatments.
Top 5 preventatives
#5: Vit C- Unfortunately, many people fail to consume enough vitamin C to realize its vast array of health benefits. Most adults wrongly assume that the 75-90 mg of vitamin C recommended by the federal government is an optimal daily dose. In fact, this “recommended dietary allowance” is only enough to prevent vitamin-deficiency disease states such as scurvy—but not nearly enough to support optimal health. vitamin C is a critically important water-soluble antioxidant, as it protects proteins and lipids from free radical damage associated with infection, intensive exercise, and other stressors that can injure cells. These very properties make vitamin C a valuable agent for improving immune function. By suppressing oxidative stress, vitamin C increases the life span of immune cells and reduces infection-related cellular damage. This bolsters the immune system’s ability to fend off a broad range of infectious agents.
#4: Zinc- is essential to several immune-system functions. It helps with healing and reduces infection. It supports the parts of the immune system that helps the body fight infection and produce antibodies. By helping to regulate the function of white blood cells zinc can improve antibody response to vaccines and cell-mediated immunity. The important food sources of zinc include meat based products. Other products like oysters, turnips, peas, oats, peanuts, almonds, whole wheat grain, pumpkin seeds, ginger root and pecan nuts.
#3 Echinacea- Has been named the "king of blood purifiers". It is used to purify the blood and lymph system and to treat infections. Recent studies show that it can increase white blood cell counts and as a result increase our ability to fight bacteria and viruses. It also stimulates the lymphatic system to clear wastes.  Echinacea stimulates the production of T cells and interferon, which is a protein that stimulates the immune system. It also stimulates internalization of foreign bodies by immune cells to remove them from the circulation and increases the ability of immune cells to move to the site of an infection
#2 Acidophillus-This beneficial bacteria inhabits the human digestive system. It is best known for assuring the return of normal body functions after a course of antibiotics, by reintroducing friendly bacteria into the colon. It acts as a mild antibiotic, and regular use can replace the harmful bacteria in your colon (or vaginal tract in women, where acidophilus is also used to treat yeast infections).
#1 Vit D- A cold and flu prevention powerhouse, with shortened daylight hours and virtually nonexistant exposure to sunlight make Vit D supplimentation in the winter a must. Vitamin D levels in your blood fall to their lowest point during flu seasons. Unable to be protected by the body’s own antibiotics (antimicrobial peptides) that are released by vitamin D, a person with a low vitamin D blood level is more vulnerable to contracting colds, influenza, and other respiratory infections.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Creamy Nettle Kale Soup

A friend of mine asked my opinon on a recipe she had for cream of nettles soup, and I loved the idea of it, but not necessarily the recipe she read to me. This is my take on it, and I just made a pot last night.

Recipe for Creamy Nettle Kale Soup

Serves 8 or more (I have 5 guys in my house, so i no longer have a concept of appropriate serving sizes)

2 tbsp minced garlic
1 lg bunch kale (about 8 cups)
2/3c dried nettles (if youre lucky enough to have access to fresh, its 3c)
1lb potatoes (any thin skinned will work because im too lazy to peel)
5qt stock (veggie stock from the previous post works great!)
1c heavy cream
4tbsp arrowroot powder or cornstarch
2 tbsp onion powder
1tbsp ground black pepper
salt to taste

Chop kale into manageable pieces, discarding the stems. Slice potatoes thin and place all the ingredients except cream and arrowroot into large soup pot and bring to a boil, turn down the heat and let simmer for at least a half hour. Mix arrowroot with enough water to dissolve and add to pot bringing it back up to a hard boil. Turn off the heat and add cream.

For anyone unfamiliar with eating stinging nettles, its a very healthy pot herb that has a taste similar to spinach. Its high in iron, potassium, manganese, calcium, vitamins A,C, and D, and it has anti-inflammatory properties! Its a wonderful and underused common weed.

Boil your garbage, and EAT it!

Today i want to discuss a very cool concept that i happened upon. Its not a new one by any means, in fact i revisited it about a month ago after having read an article on my facebook wall titled "Boil Your Garbage". Now for the past two years ive been a pretty avid composter , but seeing the tumbler just full of undecomposed veggie scraps made me think maybe i wasnt doing this was it that i was generating enough compost material to turn my entire back yard into a garden? I thought theres nothing left to do with this stuff though, right? Wrong. It may sound like a daunting exercise in garbage collection, but if you have the mindset and ability to store the finished product (God help me when i get a pressure canner and i can store unpickled things at room temperature) what im going to describe to you will render one of my new favorite culinary finds: super fortified stocks. The logic behind it is why compost all those vitamins and minerals? Being mid-January in the north, we've been steady in the single digits for a while and soups, stews, and other brothy dishes have been on the docket for the last few weeks. Now, to over simplify things, im going to explain precisely what goes into boiling your garbage. I use an XL freezer bag to store it in (though i typically just store it in the fridge unless i cant make it for a while) and once i accumulate a big bag or two i throw it in my 16qt stockpot. Just about anything you would otherwise compost is fair game (with the exception of fruit peels and citrus) and some stuff you wouldnt (meat bones of any kind work great!). Eggshells, carrot ends, potato peels, onion skin/root ends, broccoli stems, pepper tops, anything you trim off your veggies or even that wilty produce you wind up feeling guilty about throwing away. Remember those turnips you bought that now resemble baseballs with questionable pasts? How about that celery you bought that has the texture of a bungee cord? The one thing you want to be sure of is that you use organic produce or wash everything really well before you peel it to avoid any residue from the stuff they spray on produce (waxes, oils, growth inhibitors). Feel free to add in any fresh or dried herbs as well. Eggshells are a great addition for the calcium they contribute, and in order to maximize the amount of calcium leached out of the shells, add about 1/4c raw apple cider vinegar to the pot, you'll want to do this anytime you add bones as well and for the same reason. Top all this off with water and let it go for about 6 hours. Strain it into jars or containers and then compost the now spent remnants. What you get afterwards is a highly nutritious base for everything from soups and stews to flavorful rice. Try it! Start a bag of scraps and shells and bones this week. You'll be amazed at how great it tastes and best of all, it was free, you were just gonna throw that all out. Happy garbage collecting! 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Someone please pry these out of my weak

Smell that in the air? Well, if you're anywhere near the Northeast its the smell of sub zero temps and the bitter realization that spring is nowhere in sight. Normally this is problematic for me because for the last few weeks I've been inundated with a slew of seed and gardening supply catalogs and I'm itching for the first thaw. This year is different however since Im in the process if trying to sell our urban house (I'm sure our pet chicken Gretchen who lives int he garage this winter will be a huge hit with the overwhelmingly non-agriculture crowd around here) with its postage stamp sized backyard in favor of my dream homestead. Since I'm trying to minimize loss of money and effort on an established garden that someone will let die from weed overtake, i need to focus my green thumb efforts elsewhere. So, in an effort to put down the Johnny's catalog and send my McMurray hatchery catalog to the recycling bin where i wont be tempted to quadruple my urban flock, I give you this blog. I hope to enlighten people on both ends of the spectrum on on all things healthy. My passion is in living foods and their wonderful health supporting properties. I truly believe food to be medicine and that its never too late to let nature be your pharmacy. I will do my best to bring light to a wide range of seldom used vegetables, and medicinal/culinary herbs, offer recipes, health benefits, and buying/growing tips. I'm really excited to get this project off the ground so i hope you guys enjoy the read as much as I enjoy putting it all together for you. So take a sigh of relief as you now are following your new quintessential health blog (see? all that and pretentious too!).  Stay tuned, with all the fluctuating temperatures, my next blog will be about my top 5 illness fighting herbs you probably already have in your pantry!