March 11, 2015
Some of the best remedies come from common weeds. I have a weed called Comfrey growing in my garden – she’s actually quite a beautiful plant – large, soft fuzzy leaves, and purple flowers that curl into a spiral. Comfrey is also called knitbone or boneset – giving away one of its therapeutic uses – helping broken bones to heal!
Comfrey is an amazing healer. It contains a chemical called allantoin which helps the body’s cells to replicate and seal over wounds and scrapes. It is so effective at doing this, that you must be careful not to use it on deep wounds, otherwise the surface will heal up and the wound will still be open below. Comfrey should only be used externally as the plant chemicals it contains can be toxic to the liver.
I’m making an ointment with comfrey specifically for minor scrapes, cuts, bumps, bruises and sprains. I thought I would do it in two parts so that you can buy some herbs and make it with me. I think its really lovely being able to make your own natural remedies from scratch to keep in your home apothecary – especially if you are able to grow your own herb to use in the preparations. It makes me feel so chilled and connected to nature doing this – it’s a little bit magical don’t you think?
Even thought I have comfrey in the garden, it is still quite a small plant so for this preparation I bought some dried comfrey leaf online and went from there. You can use both the leaf and root for this ointment – the root has much stronger alkaloids in there.
Where to get the herbs
If you are lucky enough to have your own growing, make sure you are able to correctly identify the plant before you harvest, then dry the leaves till there is no moisture left – if it isn’t completely dry, you may find your oil ferments.
Finally, to keep this simple, I’ve only used the one herb in this infusion, but two others that will go particularly well as an ointment to heal minor bumps, scratches and wounds are Calendula (Calendula officinalis) and Plantain (Plantago major). Plantain is common and grows all over the world – earning the nickname ‘white man’s footsteps’ as it spread so rapidly. Both plantain and comfrey are also really good at drawing out splinters – my Dad recently got a large, deep splinter in his finger, that we just couldn’t pick out. He was going to go to the doctors to get it removed! I picked a comfrey leaf from the garden and made it into a simple poultice – I tore it up and gave it a bit of a grind in the mortar and pestle till the juices were flowing, then popped it over the splinter and covered it with a bandaid.
We changed the poultice a couple of times but eventually it softened the skin and drew out the splinter. Clever little plant!
Comfrey (Symphyton officinale) Infused Oil
This will be your base for the Comfrey Ointment.
1x 500ml glass jar with an airtight lid
Dried comfrey leaf and/or root, enough to pack the jar with (I think I used close to 50g)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you could also use almond, or coconut – liquify the coconut oil first), enough to fill the jar (I think I used just under 2 cups)
- Pack your dried herb into the glass jar, filling it right to the top.
- Pour your oil over the top, again, right to the very, very top.
- Tap the jar on a hard surface lightly – this is just to remove any air bubbles, then screw the lid on tight.
- Clearly label the jar with the herb and date, then place in a cool dark place for 6 weeks to let it infuse.
- Every couple of days or even once a week, give the jar a good shake up to make sure the oil is getting through to all of the dried herb.
That’s it for now! There is a second, shorter method for infusion, but I’ll cover that off with Part 2 of this post. So if you’d like to follow along, order some herbs and prepare your infusion, and see you in six weeks!
March 7, 2015
It’s been one of those full on weeks and I’ve been feeling a little bit less than great lately thanks to an annoying viral infection. Oh yeah, that’s right, I’m not a superhuman… Funny how such a small critter like a virus can humble you! It’s just a signal to slow down and amp up the self-care really.
So I may not be superhuman, but Mother Nature most definitely is, and I’m going to share a potion I whipped up to kick that annoying virus’s hairy butt.
I learned this on my Herbal Apprenticeship actually, we spent the weekends in the bush, and one Saturday, our Herbal teacher had hauled an absolute mountain of dried olive tree (Olea europea) branches into the cottage. She had harvested them from a lovely clean area of lush bush out in the Waitakeres.
We took a pair of garden scissors to it and cut the leaves, twigs, and thicker branches into small pieces, and then made a lovely rich infusion with it. We also took bundles of the herbal gold home, so lucky for me I still had some in my cupboard to use this week.
Olive leaf is one of the best natural anti-viral and immune boosting herbal remedies we have access to. It is able to prevent the virus from replicating in the body and is a general tonic to the immune system. In fact, you will most likely find it sold at the health food store as a syrup, and it can get quite expensive.
It isn’t just the leaf that has therapeutic benefits though, the branches are also therapeutic. So if you can find yourself a nice olive tree growing in an area free from pollution and any sprays, then this is what you do…
Take a sturdy pair of garden scissors and cut a few big branches off. Snip, snip, snip the olive leaves and branches into small pieces (about an inch or so) – sometimes the branches will be quite thick and strong so you need to put a little muscle in it.
From here, you’ll be making an infusion on the stove top to sip throughout the day. Fill a pot with hot water, bring it to a boil and add all of your plant material. Let it simmer for quite a while – I left mine for over an hour. A more accurate term for this would be a herbal decoction rather than an infusion – infusions are best suited to plant material that is more delicate such as petals and leaves, whereas a decoction, or, a longer infusion, is one that will allow the constituents in the harder plant material (such as the branches or root) to be extracted into the water.
I sipped on this infusion throughout the day, perhaps two to three cups’ worth. Olive leaf has a really pleasant taste – quite distinct – and preparing it as an infusion this way tastes simply like a less processed version of the store bought syrups (and free!). I guess it is perhaps just a little bitter.
One nice practice to consider when you go to harvest, is to ask the plant permission before picking it (you can just do this silently in your head), and only ever take what you need. If you like, you can take a small offering to exchange with the plant for her medicine.
If you want to harvest a larger amount and save this for later, you can dry it then store it in a paper bag. As long as it has no moisture left in it, it will be fine like this for quite some time.
So there you go, a super delicious and immune-boosting virus-busting homemade infusion that will cost you nothing to make!
Well, that was a bit of a digression, but now we’re onto the recipe for the week, Avocado and Herb stuffed Mushrooms.
In keeping with theme, mushrooms are actually incredibly valuable for the immune system also.
Many of the medicinal mushrooms in particular (reishi, chaga) nourish the immune system, and are classed as adaptogens in Herbal Medicine as they help the body to better adapt to the stressors in life. However, the humble common edibles have plenty to offer themselves. Mushrooms are a great source of minerals and B vitamins, and are perhaps the only known food source to contain vitamin D, albeit in small amounts.
This recipe is very easy to prepare and amazing served with a giant salad and a side of plant based protein – tempeh, lentils, beans.
Drop in again to check the blog later in the week, I’m sharing how to prepare another simple herbal remedy for your home apothecary. This time we’re making a comfrey ointment that is used topically for bumps, sprains, bruises and minor scrapes. The first step is to make a herbal infused oil which will become the base for the ointment/salve, and this is what I’ll be showing you first up, so we can make it together!
Avocado and Herb Stuffed Mushrooms
4 large Portobello mushrooms
½ a large avocado
2 slices gluten free bread (brown)
Large handful of fresh mixed garden herbs – rosemary, parsley, mint, oregano, sorrel, thyme
½ small red chilli
Zest of one lemon
Olive oil + balsamic vinegar
- Pre heat the oven at 180˚C.
- Slice the avocado and place two slices of each within each mushroom (as in one of the above photos).
- In a food processor, tear the bread up and blitz with the herbs and chilli to make the crumb stuffing.
- Fill each of the mushrooms with the mixture and sprinkle lemon zest over the top, drizzle with olive oil.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until done.
- When cooked, drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Great served with grilled tomatoes and rocket salad.
February 21, 2015
A few decades ago, the low fat message for heart health was born and has since been adopted as the golden rule of nutrition – but have we got it all wrong? Actually – as you may have noticed – this is a hot topic in the media at the moment and there is a lot of hotly debated research for both camps going on.
What we do know, however, is that with the message of low fat, came a whole heap of added sugars.
Take a look down your supermarket isle, and I’m sure you’ll see many a product proudly labeled ‘low-fat’ and ‘fat-free’.
The makers of these products were faced with a dilemma when these new guidelines came out – fat tastes good – and if they removed most or all of the fat from their products – what were they to put in its place? The answer of course, is sugar. Cheap, readily available, and highly refined. This rise in added sugars is perhaps the single biggest health trap we have fallen down, and with serious consequence.
Sugars are thus hidden in many processed foods (cereals, snack bars, yoghurts, ice creams, frozen meals, pizzas…), and today I’m using flavoured milks as just one example. Typically, a small carton of chocolate milk can contain as much sugar as a can of soft drink! Sneaky!
A small can of coke (355ml) contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar (38g) and a smaller 250ml carton of Nippy’s flavoured milk contains around 7 teaspoons (28g).
The World Health Organisation currently recommends that not more than 10% of your daily calories come from free sugars (added sugars) – this would equal about 12 level teaspoons for an average adult, though they have recently been reviewing this and pushing for a new limit of just half that amount – to below 5%.
Whilst we need quality carbohydrates in our diets (think whole grains), we don’t actually need any free sugar, and excess consumption is linked to a range of health problems such as obesity, Type-2 Diabetes and tooth decay. Tooth decay by the way is the most prevalent non-communicable disease (non-infectious or not spread from person to person) globally – and it is preventable. Finally sugar is also incredibly inflammatory and just outright bad news for any of us with auto-immune conditions.
In general – if you are going to buy something in a packet – and it says ‘low-fat’ – think to yourself – so what’s in its place? Turn it over and read the label. Look at the sugars listed under the carbohydrates. If its under 5g per 100g then it is considered low sugar, but if its low fat or fat free, this is where all added sugar is revealed. Out sneak them. Make it at home from scratch, or choose products with no added sweeteners.
In all honesty, there is not a single product or recipe out there that you can’t recreate at home using whole foods and natural sweeteners that come packaged up with other goodies like vitamins, minerals and fibre (will this statement come back to bite me?! I’m up for the healthy food make over challenge!).
So have a read of all these super easy alternatives to making yummy flavoured milks at home (also note, you may have noticed I’m not a fan of dairy, so I’ve firstly included a basic nut milk recipe):
First, make a yummy nut milk:
- Soak 1 cup of nuts or seeds (cashews, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds – if you use sesame or hemp seeds however they don’t need soaking).
- Add to a blender with 1 cup of shredded coconut (optional, but this makes it far creamier) and 4 cups of water, blend well.
- Drain the milk through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth, discard the pulp.
- Blend again with a small pinch of pink Himalayan Rock Salt and a little vanilla.
Boom. Dairy free milk.
To sweeten, use a little of any of these:
- Medjool date
- Maple syrup / honey (small amounts)
- Coconut nectar
- A dash of rice malt syrup
- A teaspoon of xylitol (totally sugar free sweetener derived from the Birch tree)
Then flavour it naturally with these:
- Fresh or frozen berries
- Pomegranate seeds
- A whole vanilla bean
- Raw cacao powder
- Carob powder
- A teaspoon of mesquite powder
- A teaspoon of lucuma powder
- Medjool date as the sweetener (they naturally have a caramel-esque taste – yummo)
- Pinch of turmeric (just for colour)
- Half a banana
- Teaspoon of lucuma powder
- Teaspoon of bee pollen
- A whole vanilla bean
- Raw cacao powder
- Carob powder
- A teaspoon of instant coffee dissolved in hot water, or, if you are avoiding caffeine (yes! Go you!), try using a dandelion / chicory based herbal coffee instead
- A teaspoon of cinnamon powder
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Tiny pinch of cardamom
- A whole vanilla bean
- Tiny pinch of Himalayan sea salt
- Bonus – try making the milk with pistachios
- A handful of freshly picked mint
- Half a teaspoon of spirulina or barley grass powder (for extra added colour)
February 13, 2015
Ok lovers, a little something special for Valentine’s Day. This is a pretty simple bliss ball recipe that has some special aphrodisiac and tonic herbs added to the mix. They may be nice to enjoy after dinner and before bed, wink wink.
Oh, the irony of me making these – with a long-distance love! Anyway, I’m sure you will enjoy them for me.
Damiana (Turnera diffusa), a small shrub with yellow star shaped flowers, from Central America, is a lovely herb with a well known and ancient reputation as an aphrodisiac, despite it actually not been scientifically proven. It is perhaps best known more as a male tonic, though it enhances libido (and stamina) for both men and women, and in fact, is often found in various supplements sold in sex stores.
Damiana has also traditionally been used as a muscle relaxant and as a tonic for the nervous and endocrine systems. This means a herbalist may use it in treating conditions such as nervousness, anxiety, depression and menstrual irregularities.
I found damiana quite easily in a natural foods store, as the whole dried herb. A spice or coffee grinder will easily turn it into a fine powder (this is how it is used for this recipe), although I used a high powered blender and that worked fine too.
You can of course also enjoy it as a tea – I find it has a slightly stimulating effect so it makes it a little harder to fall asleep!
I’ve used maca powder in lots of my recipes – it is one of my personal favourites. A root vegetable that grows high in the Andes, it is well known as an adaptogen (a term used to describe how a plant will help a person better adapt to stress). Maca is great for balancing out your hormones (actually – this is why I love it so much – it definitely takes the edge off PMS), gives you energy, stamina, endurance, and boosts libido. I take a tablespoon in my smoothies for breakfast, but its earthy taste works great in baking (and un-baking!) too.
Ok – so not an aphrodisiac at all – but these nutrient dense, protein packed seeds will give you lasting energy and endurance, not a bad thing to add to an Aphrodisiac Bliss Ball, no?
One last fun tid bit – vanilla beans come from a special variety of the orchid flower, and were believed by the Ancient Mayans to have powerful aphrodisiac qualities.
I’d say we have one pretty potent recipe right here! Hope you enjoy them,
Aphrodisiac Bliss Balls
Makes about 14
1 cup coconut, desiccated
1 ½ cups almond meal
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon coconut nectar
½ banana (about 62g)
¼ cup chia seeds (I used white)
½ teaspoon beet powder (optional – for a pink colour)
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 tablespoon Damiana, powdered
2 tablespoons maca powder
1 teaspoon orange zest
½ cup coconut flakes
+ extra orange zest and shredded coconut to roll in
- Add all ingredients except the orange zest and coconut flakes, to a food processor and blitz to combine.
- Add the zest and larger coconut flakes for a quick pulse.
- Roll into equal sized balls.
- Cover a small plate with shredded coconut and extra orange zest, and roll the balls to coat them.
- These are best kept in the fridge as they have fresh banana in them.
February 6, 2015
This plant powered meal is easy to prepare and super satisfying. If you are cooking for guests, adding toasted nuts and seeds and freshly cut micro greens will dress it up perfectly.
I love how these beautiful gluten free grains (or pseudo-grains) are alkalizing to the body and provide such a vast array of nutrients.
Quinoa, the ‘Mother Grain’, is a good source of calcium and iron. It also contains phosphorus for healthy bones, the antioxidant vitamin E, and B vitamins.
One cup of cooked quinoa gives you about 8g of quality protein, providing all the essential amino acids.
Green Quinoa Salad
1 cup quinoa
Half an avocado
Handful of coriander
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
One zucchini, grated
Large handful of fresh herbs: mint, parsley, oregano
One stalk of celery, finely chopped
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup pine nuts
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pop the quinoa in a sieve and rinse well, then add to 2 cups of cold water in a pot, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
- In a hand held stick blender, blitz the avocado, coriander, olive oil and salt to make a green sauce.
- Fold this through the cooked quinoa with the zucchini, fresh herbs and celery.
- Gently toast the sunflower seeds and pine nuts, then sprinkle over the quinoa salad.
- Top with freshly picked micro greens and fresh herbs, season with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.