The Lymphatic System and the role it plays in our immunity

Wow, I can’t believe that this is my 100th blog article!!  I thoroughly enjoy writing these and sharing knowledge about health and wellbeing to those of you who read it.  Today’s article explains about the lymphatic system which involves all of the extra fluids within our body which are not in the blood (cardiovascular system).  This system in the body has three primary functions, which is:

1.  Draining excess fluid from the spaces in our tissues (interstitial fluid) and returning it to the blood.

lymphatic and cvs system

Our blood contains different cells which have different actions such as transporting oxygen (red blood cells), immune response (white blood cells), repairing damage (plasma) etc.  Our blood plasma can actually filter freely through the capillaries in our cardiovascular system into the spaces between our tissues forming interstitial fluid.  Some of this is reabsorbed back into the blood stream but more of the plasma filters out than in.  Therefore our lymphatic system comes into play otherwise we would be in trouble as roughly 3 litres of blood plasma is filtered out of capillaries every day (and we only have roughly 5 and a half litres of blood).  A lot of the plasma proteins are too large to return to the blood without the help of our lymphatic system, which contains a series of capillaries and ducts (which only allow fluid to transport one way) returning the interstitial fluid back into our blood stream.

The same methods of returning blood from our veins back to the heart works on maintaining the flow of the lymph within our lymphatic system.  There are two ‘pump’ mechanisms which are our skeletal muscles and our breathing.  By being active regularly you are supporting a healthy cardiovascular system and supporting your lymphatic system.  When we exercise our muscle contractions force lymph (and blood in our veins) upwards to complete their circuit of the body.  Both our veins and our lymphatic system contain valves which prevent the fluid from going backwards.

Our breathing (respirations) also benefits the flow of lymph and venous blood.  The pressure changes that occur when we inhale and exhale moving the fluids to where they need to be.  Another great reason to incorporate regular activity into your lifestyle, meditation and deep breathing can benefit your physical health, as well as lower stress levels and help you to relax.

2.  Transporting dietary fats (lipids) such as our fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K which we access from our digestive system.

lymphatic system

When we eat healthy food which is rich in vitamins and minerals it is the responsibility of our digestive system to break them down so that our body can access the nutrients – giving our body the tools to stay healthy.  In our small intestine there are specialised lymphatic capillaries which are called lacteals which carry the dietary fats into the lymphatic system so that they can enter our blood stream and circulate to where they are needed.  Lymph within the system is usually a clear, pale yellow liquid, but in lacteals it is referred to as chyle as is appears creamy white (due to the dietary fats).  Fat/Lipid-soluble vitamins are essential to our health and wellbeing, but excess fatty foods in our diet and high levels of processed and refined foods can contribute to cardiovascular and lymphatic health issues.  What I am saying is that we need fat to be healthy but it should be the right fats.  I inform most people that I see that vegetable based oils (although high in mono and polyunsaturated fats are high in omega 6 with is pro-inflammatory, I recommend swapping these for olive oil and coconut oil, I also recommend butter but stress that portion size is essential.  The portion size for fat is typically the size of a dice – so lathering butter on hot toast can greatly exceed the portion size of fats which are important to our health and wellbeing.

3.  Supporting our immunity

lymphatic system quote

 

The lymphatic system aids the immune system in removing and destroying waste, debris, dead blood cells, pathogens, toxins, and cancer cells.  In a previous article I discussed how red bone marrow creates immune cells – this is part of the lymphatic system.  This system works closely with our immune system and there are numerous lymphatic organs within the body which help to create the immune cells which mount an active defence within our body. The red bone marrow creates B cells and pre-T cells (not fully activated these pre-T cells migrate to the thymus where they become immunocompetent).  These cells are lymphocytes which are part of our adaptive immunity.

Lymphoid stem cells produce T lymphocytes and B lymphocytes.  T lymphocytes. T lymphocytes, also commonly known as T cells, are cells involved in fighting specific pathogens in the body. T cells may act as helpers of other immune cells or attack pathogens directly. After an infection, memory T cells persist in the body to provide a faster reaction to subsequent infection by pathogens expressing the same antigen.

b and t cells

B lymphocytes. B lymphocytes, also commonly known as B cells, are also cells involved in fighting specific pathogens in the body. Once B cells have been activated by contact with a pathogen, they form plasma cells that produce antibodies. Antibodies then neutralize the pathogens until other immune cells can destroy them. After an infection, memory B cells persist in the body to quickly produce antibodies to subsequent infection by pathogens expressing the same antigen.

T- and B-cells are highly specialised defender cells – different groups of cells are tailored to different germs. When your body is infected with a particular germ, only the T- and B-cells that recognise it will respond. These selected cells then quickly multiply, creating an army of identical cells to fight the infection. Special types of T- and B-cells ‘remember’ the invader, making you immune to a second attack.

We have roughly 600 lymph nodes throughout the body, B cells hang out here and mount an attack on any invaders.  Natural killer cells, also known as NK cells, are lymphocytes that are able to respond to a wide range of pathogens and cancerous cells. NK cells travel within the blood and are found in the lymph nodes, spleen, and red bone marrow where they fight most types of infection.  As well as nodes there are nodules (you will recognise the tonsils and include the thymus and spleen), these also work to protect the body from pathogens.  A healthy lymphatic system also helps purify the blood through the largest mass of lymph tissue in the body, the spleen. The spleen fights infection and destroys worn-out red blood cells in the body. By cleansing your lymphatic system, your spleen will be better able to handle the retired red blood cells.

Self massage

                   Self massage

Damage to the lymphatic system disturbs the flow. When lymphatic tissues or lymph nodes have been damaged, destroyed or removed, lymph cannot drain normally from the affected area. When this happens excess lymph accumulates and results in the swelling that is characteristic of lymphedema.  The treatment of lymphedema is based on the natural structures and the flow of lymph. The affected drainage area determines the area which can be self-massaged. Although lymph does not normally cross from one area to another self massage stimulates the flow from one area to another. It also encourages the formation of new lymph drainage pathways.

The compression garments, aids, and/or bandages that are worn help control swelling by providing pressure that is needed to encourage the flow of lymph into the capillaries.

active

Exercise is important in the treatment of lymphedema because the movements of the muscles stimulate the flow of the lymph into the capillaries. Wearing a compression garment during exercise also provides resistance to further stimulate this flow.

Whether you’re suffering from aches and pains, swelling, inflammation, fatty deposits or bloating, cleansing the lymphatic system once or twice a year often can be the difference between great health and poor health.

A study by Elisabeth Dancey, M.D., author of The Cellulite Solution (St. Martin’s Press, 1997), found that women with cellulite showed lymphatic system deficiencies. Another study found that 80 percent of overweight women have sluggish lymphatic systems and that getting this system flowing smoothly is the key to easy weight loss and improved feelings of well-being.

If the lymph system is inefficient, you may see fatty deposits or cellulite or experience aches and pains. Conversely, if you improve the cleansing ability of the lymph system, it will be able to “sweep” away the toxins that are linked to pain, cellulite, fatty deposits and some autoimmune disorders.

broccoli

Foods can either help or hinder the flow of lymph in the body. To cleanse the lymphatic system, avoid “chemical foods” that contain artificial preservatives – most prepared, packaged and fast foods. The more processed a food is, the more likely it is to clog your lymphatic system.

Drink plenty of water. Without adequate water, lymph fluid cannot flow properly. If you drink inadequate amounts of water daily, your lymphatic system will slow down.

Love your food

            Love your food

The enzymes and acids in raw fruit are powerful lymph cleansers, particularly when eaten on an empty stomach. Add more raw fruits, vegetables, salads and fresh juices to your diet and your lymph will have the tools it needs to do some serious deep cleansing.
Eat plenty of green vegetables to provide chlorophyll (the green color in plants) and loads of vitamins and minerals to assist in lymph cleansing.

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

Numerous herbs possess lymphagogue action (the capacity to stimulate the activity of your lymphatic system and organs), including burdock (Arctium lappa), calendula (Calendula officinalis), cleavers (Galium aparine), red clover (Trifolium pratense), and poke root (Phytolacca americana).  Other beneficial herbs for your immune system (since both systems work hand in hand) include blue flag (Iris versicolor), echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) and mullein (Verbascum thapsus).

cleavers (2)

Cleavers – Known primarily as a blood and urinary tract cleanser, cleavers also enhances the function of the lymphatic system and decreases congestion and inflammation in the tissues. I find that cleavers works best in tea form. **Avoid using cleavers if you are diabetic. For cleavers tea, use 2 to 3 teaspoons of the dried herb (stems and small leaves) per cup of water. Steep for 3 – 5 minutes, strain – drink 1 cup three times daily.

If you would like support with your health and wellbeing or would like to find out more please do not hesitate to contact me: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/how-to-contact-a-herbalist-in-grimsby.html

Brassicaceae – the cabbage family

Here is the last article in the series looking at the different plant families.  The last family which I am going to cover is the cabbage family.  This family is also known as the mustard family as well as Cruciferae (which was the old plant family name).  This older name related to a key identification feature – cruciferae means cross bearing and all of the flowers in this family have four petals which are arranged in the shape of a cross.  The family contains over 330 genera and about 3,700 species and is a medium sized family of economic importance as a lot of our food sources are from this family.  They are mainly herbaceous plants and a mixture of annuals, biennials, and perennials.  Can you think of any plants from this family that you would eat?

Love your food

Love your food

Some examples of food crops from the brassicaceae family include: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, rapeseed, mustard, radish, horseradish, cress, wasabi, and watercress.  Did you get any right?

cabbage family examples

Interestingly, six of our common vegetables–cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale–were all bred from a single species of mustard, Brassica oleracea. Plant breeders developed the starch-storage abilities of different parts of the plant to come up with each unique vegetable. Commercial mustard is usually made from the seeds of the black mustard (B. nigra) mixed with vinegar.

brassicaceae breeding

In addition to their long culinary history, these vegetables are revered because they are filled with vitamins, nutrients, and minerals essential for good health. Many of these vegetables can be eaten when very young and most are relatively easy to grow. It’s not surprising that all of these qualities have led this to be one of the most popular families in vegetable gardens.  Around 40% of all vegetables consumed in Northwest Europe are members of the Brassica family.

Plant Identification

Brassicaceae

They are a highly uniform group and so Brassicaceae are easily identified by the four petals when in flower.

  • They are usually herbaceous in habit, occasionally becoming shrubby.
  • Leaves are alternate and either simple or pinnate.
  • The distinctive flowers are yellow, white or pinkish/purplish and are usually carried in a spike.They have 2 fused carpels and 6 stamens: usually 4 long, 2 short. They are odourless.
  • The fruit is a capsule.
  • As you become more familiar with this family, you will begin to notice patterns in the taste and smell of the plants. While each species has its own unique taste and smell, you will soon discover an underlying pattern of mustardness. You will be able to recognize likely members of the family simply by crushing the leaves and smelling them.

All species of Mustard are edible, although some taste better than others. In other words, it doesn’t matter which species of mustard you find. As long as you have correctly identified it as a member of the Mustard family, then you can safely try it and see if you want it in your salad or not.  Which is a good thing as members of this family can be difficult to tell apart.  Most members of the Mustard family are weedy species with short lifecycles like the radish. Look for them in disturbed soils such as a garden or construction site, where the ground is exposed to rapid drying by the sun and wind. The Mustards sprout quickly and grow fast, flowering and setting seed early in the season before all moisture is lost from the ground.

In the Grimsby area you can see Rape escaped, Shepard’s Purse, Charlock, Garlic Mustard, Horseradish, Watercress and Hedge Mustard to name just a few.  Unfortunately in this area the council spray Glycophytes/RoundUp everywhere so please only harvest in your garden (if you don’t use chemicals) or from a designated organic area.

Key medicinal theme: Pungency and stimulation

The chemicals produced by this family are mustard-oil glycosides (glucosinolates) which defend the plants against microorganisms and animals. They can poison livestock if eaten in sufficient quantities and therefore charlock is seen as a troublesome weed on arable land and not an early source of a cabbage like vegetable (cabbages are slow growing whilst charlock is quick).

Brassica plants are particularly rich in glucosinolates (Mustard oil glycosides) and therefore a spicy mustard like taste is characteristic of the family.  The glucosinolates are probably responsible for most of the medicinal actions of the herbs of this family. They are digestive stimulants and respiratory decongestants with antibacterial and antifungal actions.

Externally, they have a rubefacient effect exploited in the use of the mustards and cabbage in poultices for anti-inflammatory effects.  If you have ever breastfed or strained your knee you may have used a cabbage leaf to ease the pain as a poultice.

Members of this family contain factors that may prevent cancers, leave are used for rheumatism and toothaches and seeds can be used for headaches and as a tonic. Mustard oils can cause skin irritation and ulcers from both external application and consumption.  Brassicas are also usually a good source of vitamin C.

shepherds purse

Capsella bursa-pastoris is one of the most useful of all herbal styptics / haemostatics. However, this is not an action often seen in other members of the family.  Brassicaceae were only rarely used in folk medicine in the UK. The most frequent uses are for scurvy and as purifying tonics (Nasturtium officinale, Scurvy-grass and Charlock); and for stopping bleeding (Capsella bursa-pastoris only)

broccoli

Here are some recipes which include broccoli a member of the brassicaceae family:

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

• 10 tablespoons of butter
• 1/2 cup tapioca flour
• 3 cups homemade chicken stock, that is hot, or 2 cups stock and 1 cup dry white wine
• 1 cup of cream, or whole milk
• 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
• 2 teaspoons sea salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons tarragon
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 1 large onion cut in half
• 3 cloves garlic, cut in half
• 6-8 cups of broccoli, florets and stalks chopped into small pieces(3-4 stalks)
• 4 cups extra sharp cheddar, plus extra to use as a garnish (or a mixture of mild and sharp cheddar)

Directions

  1. Add the butter to a large chef’s pan over medium high heat until melted.
  2. Add the flour and stir with a whisk for a few minutes. Once it’s well incorporated slowly whisk in 1 cup of hot broth at a time, adding the wine last if you are using it. Whisk until smooth and all the liquid has been added.
  3. Turn up the heat, bring to a boil. Add the onion halves and garlic pieces and cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream, Dijon, tarragon, salt and nutmeg.
  4. Meanwhile in another pot steam the broccoli until tender. While the broccoli is steaming, shred the cheese. Remove onion and garlic pieces from the soup base and add the broccoli. Take about 1/3 of the mixture and blend it in a food processor or blender. Return to the pot and add 4 cups of cheese. Stir to melt the cheese. Add extra cheese to individual bowls.

Broccoli Casserole

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

• 1 – 1 1/2 pounds fresh organic broccoli, lightly steamed and chopped
• Butter
• 2 cups cultured sour cream
• 2 cups grated New Zealand Cheddar
• 2-3 pastured eggs
• 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon dried basil
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• Sea salt and black pepper to taste
• 1/2 -1 cup sautéed sliced mushrooms (optional)
• Juice of half a lemon (optional)
• Several splashes of fish sauce (optional)

Directions

  1. Butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix together the broccoli, sour cream, cheddar, eggs, garlic, paprika, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and if using the mushrooms, fish sauce and lemon juice.
  3. Place the mixture in the casserole dish. Bake 30 minutes.

Nourishing Broccoli Salad

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

• 2 heads of broccoli, stem peeled and cut into small pieces, as well as florets cut into small pieces, blanched in boiling water for 3 minutes, drained and rinsed under cold water until steam has dissipated.
• 1/2 a red onion, sliced thin
• 2-4 scallions, thinly sliced
• 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small slivers
• 8 pieces of bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled

Dressing

Ingredients

• 1 cup sour cream
• 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
• 3 Tbsp. olive oil
• 2 Tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar
• 2 garlic cloves minced
• 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
• Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. Mix all salad ingredients together and toss with the dressing. Let sit for 30 minutes for flavors to meld together.
  3. Enjoy at room temperature or chilled. This salad can be prepared up to a day in advance.
  4. Don’t forget to take this to the next picnic you are headed to this summer!!

Crocodile Nuggets

Serves 4

Ingredients

• 3 cups finely shredded, raw or cooked vegetables (I used a mixture of
• broccoli, carrot, cabbage and cauliflower)
• 4 cups finely ground, cooked chicken or turkey
• 4 cups breadcrumbs or cooked rice, or ½ cup coconut flour
• 3 Tbs nutritional yeast or 2 cups shredded cheese, if not dairy-free
• 6 eggs, beaten, egg replacer or 1½ cups leftover mashed potatoes
• 1 tsp garlic granules or powder
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
• 1/2 tsp onion powder

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat and set aside.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Add some extra breadcrumbs if the mixture is too wet, or add an extra egg if the mixture is too dry to stick together.
  3. Shape the mixture into patties. I used a 2-ounce cookie scoop to make it quick and uniform. Place on the cookie sheet.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes per side or until lightly browned. Serve with ranch dressing, carrot sticks & celery sticks.

To freeze, place the patties in a single layer on a sheet pan and freeze until solid, then transfer to a zip-top bag or container. They freeze well for up to a month.

Broccoli and Potato Frittata

Serve 2-4

Frittatas are a wonderfully quick way to prepare a hot and nutritious dish out of minimal ingredients. When I found myself with a bit of leftover broccoli and leftover fried potatoes, frittata seemed the perfect dish.

Ingredients

• Leftover fried potatoes
• Leftover steamed broccoli
• 3 or 4 eggs
• 1 cup milk, water or ½ milk, ½ water
• Optional addition: Up to 2 cups shredded cheese
• Healthy oil for cooking

Directions

  1. Turn your broiler on. In a skillet, over medium heat, warm the potatoes and broccoli in a bit of oil. Meanwhile combine the eggs and milk until the eggs are well beaten.
  2. When the potatoes and broccoli are warm add a little additional fat and then position them so they cover the bottom.
  3. Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables. Use a knife to wiggle the eggs in to allow the eggs to spread evenly.
  4. Allow to cook undisturbed for a few minutes so the bottom will begin to set up. Then using your spatula go around the edges of the egg and lift it slightly allowing the uncooked parts to run under the lifted part. Continue to do this until the egg is mostly set.
  5. Then carefully move the egg dish under the broiler. This will allow the top of the eggs to finish cooking. It only takes a few minutes so keep a close eye on it. The eggs will puff up and be a gorgeous tan when done. Remove from oven.
  6. Cut in wedges and serve. This is delicious topped with fresh sour cream.

Gluten-Free Broccoli Cheese Soup

Ingredients

• 8 TBL butter (from grassfed cows)
• 1 organic onion, diced
• 2 organic carrots, diced
• 2 ribs organic celery, diced
• 3-4 cloves garlic, smashed, diced
• 8 cups of organic broccoli florets and stalks chopped into small pieces(4-5 stalks)
• Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• ¼ tsp white pepper
• 2 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock/broth
• 1 cup dry white wine (or additional cup stock)
• 1 cup of raw cream or crème fraiche (from grass-fed cows)
• 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 3 cups extra sharp grass fed cheddar

Directions

  1. Add the butter to a large stock pot over medium high heat until melted. Add onions, carrots and celery and sauté until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add broccoli and stir to coat well with butter. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add broth and optional wine. Turn up the heat, bring to a low boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook covered (with lid on) until broccoli pieces are soft (roughly about 15 minutes).
  4. Remove from heat. With an immersion/stick blender, puree soup to desired consistency, or process in a regular blender, in batches, taking care not to burn yourself . Return to pot, off heat, stir in cream, dijon, nutmeg and cheese. Stir to combine and melt cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  5. If soup needs to be reheated, reheat slowly and do not allow it to come to a boil. Serve immediately.

On GAPS? If you use creme fraiche and cheddar cheese, this soup is GAPS friendly, as long as you tolerate dairy. Double check the ingredients on your dijon mustard to make sure it’s GAPS legal, or simply omit.
Vegetarian? Just sub veggie broth for the chicken broth.
Basic Stir Fry

Serves 2 and then some depending on how many vegetables you use (leftovers!!)

Ingredients

• 1/2 cup quality stir fry beef
• A truck load of chopped up veg Including things like:
• bok choy
• mushrooms
• peppers
• onions
• broccoli
• eggplant
• zucchini
• green beans
• baby corn
• 1 – 2 tsp gluten free tamari
• Optional: sesame seeds, unrefined sesame oil, and green onions
• Brown rice

Directions

  1. Chop up your veggies and meat
  2. Saute the meat and veggies on medium heat with a bit of virgin coconut oil.
  3. Put your serving on plate and add the tamari after cooking rather than during (because it seems like the taste gets lost in cooking and you have to add more and more and more).
  4. Serve with 1/2 cup of brown rice if you wish.
  5. Top with sesame oil, sesame seeds, and green onions if desired!

Asteraceae family – the Daisy Family

As I mentioned last week I will be exploring the different plant families and their benefits.  This week is one of my favourite family – the daisy family.  This was originally known as the composite family and contains the largest number of plants all over the world.  I am sure that there will be several members of this amazing family nearby – it is such a beautiful day why not go out and explore to see what is growing near you.

The Asteraceae family contains mainly herbs and is the most evolutionary advanced plant family.  A lot of the species within this family can be used as medicine, several species are cultivated for food such as chicory, lettuce and artichoke and sunflowers (for their nutritious seeds), plants are used economically too – did you know that the oil from marigolds is used in the cola making industry? and to top of their amazing versatility a lot of the species produce high quantities of nectar which benefit bees, various pollinators and wildlife in general

The name Asteraceae is derived from the type genus: “Aster”, though this family was also known as “Composite” which refers to the this family’s characteristic flowers.  The flower heads contain numerous individual sessile flowers which we see as a whole.  Examples of medicinal herbs in this family include:                    

Dandelion in full bloom. A great digestive herb to be avoided if you suffer from gallstones.

Dandelion in full bloom. A great digestive herb to be avoided if you suffer from gallstones.

 

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

Marigolds, seem as sunshine herbs are great for boosting both mind and body

Other examples include chamomile, echinacea, wormwood, mugwort, sunflower, goldenrod, yarrow, burdock and milk thistle.

The constituents of the Asteraceae Family

Prominent common active constituents include sesquiterpene lactones.  There are over 3000 sesquiterpene lactones which we know of so far and a large majority are from this plant family.  These constituents have anti inflammatory and anti microbial actions and they tend to concentrate in leaves and flowers.  The down side of sesquiterpene lactones is that they can cause contact dermatitis in humans and the most common plant allergen in contact dermatitis is plants within this family although scientific research is looking into their use as anti-cancer agents.

Other common constituents include the volatile oils – these are monoterpenes or sesquiterpenes and are commonly known as essential oil.  Fragrant flowers in the asteraceae family will contain these – chamomile is a great example of this.

Chamomile grows wild in Grimsby but can be commonly misidentified with pineapple weed - this is from the same family but has no scent.

Chamomile grows wild in Grimsby but can be commonly misidentified with pineapple weed – this is from the same family but has no scent.

Here are some recipes which utilise plants from this family:

Dandelion Burdock Early Spring Cleanser

You will need:

2 heaped dessert spoons of dandelion root

2 heaped dessert spoons of burdock root

2 large slices of lemon, chopped into strips

1 teaspoon of honey

1 pint of water

Just put all the ingredients except the honey into a pan and simmer for ten minutes, adding the sugar once you’ve taken the mixture off the hob.  You can drink this mixture hot or cold – its a really pleasant drink either way, but is certainly more refreshing drunk cold.  I’m going to try this with slices of fresh root ginger in the next batch, as well as some dandelion leaf!   The nice thing about this mix is that you can boil the ingredients back up with another pint of water for a slightly less punchy but just as refreshing mixture, then compost the remaining herbs.

The daisy has medicinal and culinary uses

The daisy has medicinal and culinary uses

The common daisy is considered to have astringent, demulcent, expectorant, digestive and tonic properties. Used internally, Daisy can be an effective herbal remedy against cold, cough and digestive complaints. In form of an infusion, Common Daisy is beneficial in cases of arthritis, catarrh, hepatic and renal disorders, diarrhoea and rheumatism. Its external use, as a poultice or addition to bath, can help in cases of wound healing, rashes, wounds and skin inflammations.

Use young daisy leaves raw in spring salads.  The leaves are excellent as a cooked spring vegetable, and in soups and sauces and as flavouring or seasoning.

Some countries use daisy leaves as a pot herb – a vegetable used to flavour dishes.

DAISY GREENS

Pick young daisy leaves and wash then quickly in slightly salted water.  Put a little water in a pan and add a pinch of salt.  When boiling put in the greens.  Cover and cook for about 7-10 minutes.  Serve with a dab of butter and freshly ground black pepper.

I hope that you are enjoying this series 🙂

Solanaceae family – Deadly Nightshade Family

Over the next few weeks I am going to look at the different plant families and their medicinal and culinary value.

This family of plants is known as the nightshade family and has been a source of food or spice, medicine, poison and pleasure to man throughout the ages.  The family includes herbs, shrubs, trees, vines and creepers – although this is commonly named the deadly nightshade family there are several family members which you may eat on a regular basis!!.  

Understanding the botany can help to identify members of the family when out and about.  If you have ever grown the edible ones you will have a good image of their common characteristics.  They have been described botanically having alternate leaves that are usually stalked, without stipules.  The flowers have five petals, shaped like a bell or a wheel with five stamens projecting in a column.  The fruits of the Solanaceae family have been described as berries or capsules with either two or four cells.  Family members of this family are very concentrated in Central and South America suggesting they may have originated from this continent.

Europe and Africa contain around 85 different genera within the family and 2,800 species.  As I mentioned earlier there are several which are edible and you may grow or have in your kitchen… Can you think of any?

Of the poisonous side of the family – well high in alkaloids so can be toxic… there is Mandrake (featured in the Harry Potter films, ironically I grew this in my garden and it was eaten by slugs… but not flesh eating slugs lol), Deadly Nightshade, Henbane, Tobacco, Thorn Apple/datura/jimsonweed, Bittersweet, and boxthorn.

And from the edible side of the family there is the humble potato, the delicious tomato, aubergines/eggplants, the spice paprika and the delicious superfood goji berry or Duke or Argyll’s Tea Plant 🙂

Did you guess any?  Do you have any of these in your kitchen or garden?

Phytochemically the Solanaceae family are characterized by the numerous alkaloids found in its constituents.  Modern medicine is highly interested in alkaloids because of the effect they have on the body.

The constituents of the Solanaceae family

Nicotina spp. contain alkaloids which are formed on the same biosynthetic pathway as the tropane alkaloids detailed in the table below.  The alkaloids are found in the leaves of the nicotine plant and in concentrated amounts can be fatal to a human being; the lethal dose is around 40-60mg!!  The alkaloid has a pharmacological effect on the human body within minutes of being inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin, stimulating blood pressure and the gastro intestinal organs or blocking the bodies functions causing respiratory paralysis or convulsions.  These herbs are dangerous and there are restrictions on their sale and use.  As a herbalist I am authorised to use them as medicine as I have been trained on the correct use and dose.  As you are aware the tobacco trade is highly regulated too!!

Name of Alkaloid Species containing Alkaloid Actions on the body

Ester Alkaloids of the Tropane Group

L-hyosoyamine Atropa

Datura

Hyosoyamus

Parasympathetic properties:

Restricts salivary, sweat and bronchiol glands.  Inhibits gastro intestinal motility.  Relaxes the gall-bladder, urinary blagger and uterus.  High doses stimulates the cerebral cortex.

L-scopolamine Mandragora

Duboisia

Scopolia

Parasympathetic properties:

Restricts salivary, sweat and bronchiol glands.  Inhibits gastro intestinal motility.  Relaxes the gall-bladder, urinary blagger and uterus.  In small doses acts as a motor depressant.  High doses cause twilight sleep.

 

This data has been extracted from: Frohne, D. Jürgen Pfander, H. (2005) Poisonous Plants Second Edition. Manson Publishing Limited.

“Knowledge of a plants botanical relationships can increase general awareness of the plant, its potential chemical profile, and possible similarities of pharmacological actions.”

I need to stress that the toxic member of this family are only for use by a qualified practitioner such as myself due to the small therapeutic window – the difference between it being a medicine or a poison!!

“Pharmacological interests in the automatic nervous system (ANS) revolves around the effects certain drugs have on the chemical receptors found at different synapses (nerve centres in the brain) in sympathetic and parasympathetic systems.  So that you can understand the ANS is a controlling factor of our body and depending which way it is ‘switched on’ (sympathetic=stress response and parasympathetic=relax response) determines how our organs are functioning.  This family is researched by modern medicine because of the effects it can have on the ANS.

Both systems (stress and relax) use the nicotine sensitive acetylcholine receptors at their first stage and thus nicotine has the effect of increasing general automatic activity – which is why most smokers say that their bowels are stimulated when they have a cigarette and why although nicotine is stimulating smokers state that they smoke to relax themselves.

The parasympathetic system (relax response) is mediated at its target sites by acetylcholine receptors that are stimulated by caffeine like noradrenaline (and) blocked by the atropine alkaloids from solanaceous plants like deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and datura (Datura stramonium)…

The fact that these influences originate from the plant world is a result of the widespread use of these powerful herbs. (For example)  Therapeutically the bronco-spasm (tightening of the lungs) in asthma could be resolved by the therapeutic use datura or henbane.

 As a lot of these family members are restricted – for major health and safety reasons but alot are edible and have health benefits – food is medicine 🙂

Capsicum – Chilli: Helps to reduce Pain, Good for constipation (and tomatoes), May help with a heart attack and stimulates circulation

Tomatoes: A tomato a day may keep cancer at bay, Common trigger of allergies, especially eczema and mouth ulcers, Green tomatoes may cause migraine in some people, Red tomatoes have 3 times as much vitamin c than yellow tomatoes

Potatoes: The potato is a good for minor burns or sunburn.  If you have a minor burn, make sure you get cold running water on it immediately. If it is not clean, make sure you clean out the burn with cold running water. THEN, peel and slice or peel and grate a potato. Apply the potato onto the affected area. Keep replacing it as needed. At some point, you may need to hold it on with a bandage or gauze. Potato is excellent for drawing out the heat. Other uses for potatoes: Itch relief,(Bartrams mentions potato water is good for chicken pox) a poultice for sties.  Also potato water good for spasmodic pain of a peptic ulcer (but watch out for the atropine poisoning effect of enlargement of the pupils and dryness of the throat – taken in large amounts would result in flickering of the eyelids and poor vision)

Aubergines: In African folk medicine the aubergine has been used for epilepsy and convulsions, In south east Asia it is used for measles and stomach cancer

Here are some recipes of members of the deadly nightshade family which are safe to eat 🙂

Cherry tomato and wild rocket salad with mozzarella

 

Ingredients

1 x 50g/2oz bag wild rocket
250g/9oz cherry tomatoes, halved
125g/4oz boccinini (little mozzarellas) or one large 150g/5oz ball mozzarella
3 tbsp good quality olive oil
½ lemon, juice only (1 tbsp)
salt and black pepper
warm ciabatta, to serve

Method

1. Divide the rocket, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella between six serving plates.
2. Drizzle with olive oil, a little lemon juice and season with salt and black pepper. Serve with warm ciabatta.

Vodka-soaked cherry tomatoes

 

Ingredients

1 punnet cherry tomatoes
¼ pint/150ml chilli-flavoured vodka
½ lemon, juice of
1 tbsp dry sherry
6 drops Tabasco sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
celery salt, to taste

Method

1. Prick the tomatoes all over with a cocktail stick. Soak the tomatoes in a mixture of the next seven ingredients.
2. Chill until ready to eat. When eating, sprinkle with celery salt. The remaining liquid can be drunk as shots – or used as a base for an excellent Bloody Mary.Fresh tomato soup

Ingredients

900g/2lb vine-grown tomatoes with their stalks (but not the stems)
55ml/2fl oz extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
6 cloves of garlic, chopped very finely
¼ tsp chilli flakes
salt
basil, freshly shredded, to garnish

Method

Make the soup: coarsely chop the tomatoes and, for extra flavour, their little star-like stalks. Put the olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes into a large saucepan and set over a low heat for a few seconds until the garlic begins to sizzle. Add the tomatoes and turn over for just 2 minutes until the juices from the tomatoes begin to run.
Tip the mixture into a food processor and add 2 tbsp of the tapenade. Blitz until finely chopped but not completely smooth. Pass through a conical sieve into a clean pan, pressing out as much liquid as you can with the back of a small ladle.
Heat gently until warm but not hot – you want to retain the fresh flavour of the tomatoes. Season the soup to taste with some salt. Ladle into warmed bowls and serve garnished with a little more oil and the shredded basil.

Simple tomato and bacon sauce with penne

 

Ingredients

150ml/5fl oz extra virgin olive oil
100g/3½oz pancetta or smoked bacon cut into strips
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
a good pinch of chilli flakes, optional
a good pinch of sea salt
a good pinch of sugar
1 x 400g/14oz can tomatoes or 6 vine-ripened tomatoes
grated parmesan

Note: This recipe originally uses Australian measurements. Equivalent measurements are as accurate as possible.

Method

1. In a heavy based saucepan heat the oil and add the garlic, pancetta strips, chilli flakes, salt and sugar. Cook until soft but not coloured, approximately 3 minutes.
2. If using canned tomatoes put a knife into the open can and chop the tomatoes roughly. If using fresh tomatoes, blanch, peel and chop them. Add the tomatoes to the pan and simmer slowly for 15 minutes.

To serve
Serve with a quality durum wheat penne or other pasta, cooked al dente and shaved parmesan.Headache Herbal Recipe You can also use the roots and leaves of an herb called ashwagandha to get instant relief from the headache. Here is an herbal recipe prepared from ashwagandha that can act as an effective remedy for curing headaches:·                                 Pick up the entire plants of a ripe ashwagandha,·                                 Extract the juice by crushing the plant using a grinder,·                                 Boil 2 cups of juice, 1 cup of castor oil and three cups of water, till only the oil is left in the container. ·                                 Apply the resulting oil externally and massage every night for 10 days

Spanish-style tortilla

 

Ingredients

25g/1oz butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, finely sliced
750g/1½lb Pink Fir Apple potatoes, peeled, parboiled and sliced into 1cm/½in pieces
250g/8oz handful fresh spinach, cooked and roughly chopped
10 free-range eggs, lightly beaten
salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

1. In a large, heavy-based frying pan, heat the butter and oil. Cook the onions slowly until transparent and soft.
2. Add the potato slices and fry gently for two minutes.
3. Stir in the spinach.
4. Season the eggs with salt and freshly ground black pepper and pour onto the contents of the frying pan.
5. Cook over a low to medium heat: it may take up to ten minutes until the egg is set enough to turn the tortilla over, and if the heat is too high, the bottom will burn before the middle is set.
6. Once the bottom is nicely browned and the centre has set, it is time to turn it over. This is done with a double flip: place a plate (or the bottom of a tart tin) over the pan and flip it over once, so that the cooked surface of the tortilla is on the bottom. Take another plate, and flip it again so the cooked surface is on the top. Then place the frying pan back over the tortilla plate and flip one more time, so the uncooked bit is now in contact with the base of the pan.
7. Replace the pan over low heat until the tortilla is cooked through.
8. Serve hot, warm or cold, cut into slices or cubes.

Purple potato gratin

 

Ingredients

1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 garlic clove
225ml/7fl oz double cream
freshly grated nutmeg
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
700g/1½lb purple potatoes (also known as Shetland black vintage)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 220C/400F/Gas6.
2. With the flat side of a heavy knife lightly crush the garlic and rub over the bottom and sides of a gratin dish. Brush the bottom and sides of the dish generously with butter.
3. In a small bowl stir together the cream, nutmeg, sea salt and pepper to taste.
4. Peel the potatoes and slice thinly with a mandolin or food processor. Arrange the sliced potatoes in the gratin dish and pour the cream evenly over. Press gently on top of the potatoes to briefly submerge them in the cream.
5. Bake the gratin, covered with foil, in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes (15 minutes if fan-assisted). Remove the foil and bake the gratin until the potatoes are tender and lightly browned, about 25 minutes more (20 minutes if fan-assisted).

Warm potato salad with red wine sauce

 

Ingredients

For the potato salad
6 pink fir apple potatoes, cut into three and blanched for one minute in boiling water
2 tsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
25g/1oz fresh flatleaf parsley
25g/1oz fresh basil, chopped
15g/½oz fresh chives, chopped
1 lemon, juice only
1 tsp Dijon mustard
100ml/3½fl oz olive oil
pinch sugar
For the red wine sauce
50ml/2fl oz red wine
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp tepid water

Method

1.      Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
2. To make the potato salad, place the blanched potatoes with the olive oil into a large bowl. Toss to coat the potatoes in oil and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place the potatoes onto a hot baking tray and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through and golden.
3. Place the herbs, lemon juice, mustard, oil and sugar into a food processor and blend to a paste. Spoon the mixture into a large bowl, add the roasted potatoes and toss together to coat well.
4. To make the red wine sauce, heat the red wine and sugar in a large frying pan over a medium heat.
5. Mix the tepid water with the cornflour in a small bowl then add this mixture to the wine, whisking well. Increase the heat and reduce the liquid by half.
6. To serve. place the potato salad onto a warm plate and drizzle some of the wine sauce around.Aubergine and Tomato Gratiningredientsserves 4 1 lb (450 g) medium aubergines
1 lb (450g) large ripe tomatoes
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh shredded oregano
2 tablespoons fresh shredded basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

h2>For the Sauce 1/2 pint (285ml) skimmed milk
1 small onion
6 black peppercorns
1 clove
2 sprigs fresh thyme or parsley
1 oz (25 g) butter
1 oz (25 g) plain flour
1 egg yolk and 2 egg whites
1/2 oz (15 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheesemethod1. Thinly slice the aubergines and tomatoes, peel and thinly slice both onions and peel and crush the garlic. Spread 1/2 tablespoon of the oil and the garlic around the inside of a gratin or baking dish.

2. Arrange two layers of alternating aubergine and tomato slices over the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with half the oregano and basil and top with a layer of large onion slices. Season with salt and black pepper, then sprinkle with 1/2 tablespoon of the oil. Repeat with the remaining vegetables, herbs and oil.

3. The dish may seem rather full, but the vegetables shrink during cooking. Cover the dish tightly with foil and cook for 1 1/2 hours.

4. Meanwhile, to prepare the sauce, pour the milk into a saucepan with the small onion, peppercorns, clove, thyme or parsley. Bring to the boil, remove from the heat, then cover and leave to stand.

5. At the end of the Cooking time, take the dish out of the Oven and remove the foil. Increase the Oven temperature to 220‚°C (425‚°F, gas mark 7).

6. Melt the butter for the sauce in a clean saucepan and slowly stir in the flour. Strain the infused milk into the pan a little at a time, stirring continuously, and bring to the boil until thickened.

7. Remove from the heat, beat in the egg yolk and season lightly with salt. Whisk the egg whites separately until stiff, then fold them slowly into the sauce.

8. Pour the sauce over the top of the vegetables, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is golden-brown. Sicilian Ratatouilleingredientsserves 4 – 6 2 aubergines
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium red or yellow onion
1/2 green pepper
2 sticks celery
4 oz (115 g) mushrooms
1 -2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
14 oz (400 g) tin plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
2 oz (50 g) green olives
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
2 teaspoons caster sugar
2 oz (50 g) pine nutsmethod1. Peel and dice the aubergines into 1 in (25 mm) cubes. To extract any bitter juices, place the cubes in a colander, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and allow to drain for 20 minutes. Slice the onion, pepper, celery and mushrooms and finely chop the garlic. Rinse the drained aubergines and pat dry.

2. Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a casserole or frying pan. Saute the aubergines over medium heat. Stir constantly until softened and slightly coloured. Remove the aubergines and put to one side, then add the onions, garlic, pepper and celery. Cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until quite soft.

3. Chop and peel the tomatoes and add to the pan along with the mushrooms and capers. Turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until the tomato sauce has reduced and thickened. Stir in all the aubergines, oregano, olives, vinegar and sugar.

4. Simmer for another 15 minutes, adding a little water if it is too thick. Season with salt and black pepper, sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week 19th – 25th January 2014

It is shocking to realise that over 65% of cancers are preventable and down to lifestyle factors.  What is even more shocking is that there isn’t much money being invested in preventable medicines and millions invested in cancer research and treatment.

As a herbalist my view and treatment of cancer is different to modern medicine, although herbalism can be used alongside orthodox treatment to support people.  The key is that everyone is different – their lifestyle, signs, symptoms and reasons.  Therefore when I support people with their health and wellbeing it takes into account the individual – we are all unique at the end of the day.

This week is cervical cancer prevention week.  This is a European wide initiative lead by the European Cervical Cancer Association (ECCA).  Several charities take part in raising awareness.  This is something I am also happy to do to share information about natural ways we can prevent cervical cancer and information about how herbalists support those of us who are affected by it.

Orthodox medicine are aware that cervical cancer is preventable.  Despite the modern advances in medicine 20% of women do not attend their cervical screenings and at present 50% of school age girls don’t take the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination.

Smoking is a serious contributing factor to cervical cancer – being a smoker can increase the risk of getting cervical cancer four-fold!!  This is because the carcinogens (cancer causing molecules) from cigarette smoke are concentrated in the cervical lining – this may be a protective mechanism as levels in the cervical mucus can be 10-20 times higher than levels in the bloodstream.

Unfortunately in western society our diets are lacking in nutrition.  If our body doesn’t get the nutrition that it needs then it cannot work effectively.  Our bodies are complex, but many people like to liken the body to a machine – this is a way of looking at the body using only a physical perspective (and not our mental and emotional aspects) but we wouldn’t allow our cars to run low on petrol, let the radiators run low on water causing the car to overheat, or not top up the oil to ensure the engine runs smoothly.  We are so much more complex than an engine but for those of us who are not mechanically minded then an engine is very complex.

When we do not nourish our body our body has to cope without the necessary nutrients to compete thousands of different actions required within our body.  New research is discovering that most health issues are linked to our digestion and yet our western diet is high in calories and low in nutrition.  Folic acid can protect against abnormal changes in the cervix.  Folic acid is usually prescribed during pregnancy to support the development of the foetus.  This is because folic acid is required as an essential ingredient for making DNA.

Although we may be fully grown we still require our DNA daily to make new cells and repair damaged ones, therefore without healthy levels of folic acid in our diet abnormal cell production can occur (cancer is seen as an abnormal cell growth).  Scientific studies have found that 5-10mg of folic acid can reverse mildly abnormal pap smears and that a deficiency of folic acid contributes to the start of cervical cancer especially if the HPV virus is present.  Folic acid is a type of B vitamin and healthy dietary sources include: spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, oranges and orange juice, poultry, pork, shellfish and liver.

Foods that kill cancer

Foods that kill cancer

Folic acid deficiency isn’t the only nutritional contribution, if our body is low in beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B6, selenium or iron then it can increase cervical cancer risk.  If you are a lady who is taking the contraceptive pill it may be worth ensuring that you are eating a nutritious diet.  Taking the pill helps to reduce breast cancer.  There is research that shows that abnormal changes in the cervix are increased in women on the pill, this may be because it is more natural to have children or because the contraceptive pill impacts the absorption of nutrients (our hormones have an impact on our digestion).  Most nutrients can be accessed by eating a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Hippocrates quote

Hippocrates quote

There is also an emotional connection with our cervix.  Low self-esteem and a disconnection with our bodies can impact our health.  When we are emotionally conflicted the risk of cervical abnormalities can increase.  Symbolically the cervix can represent the potential for change, growth and transformation.  When we are in unhappy relationships, do not stand up for ourselves, have a negative outlook or have recently lost a loved one our risk will increase.  Our emotions are who we are, they are linked to our physical self and can impact on them.  The key is to look after ourselves.  To give us the time we need, not to beat ourselves up when we have a lot on our plate or something goes wrong and to look on the bright side of life.  There is research that has shown again and again that positive people have less health issues, both mental and physical than the more pessimistic people.

I will discuss several herbs which are appropriate for the prevention and treatment of cervical cancer, but want to state that herbal treatment depends on the individual.  There may be ten women who have experienced cervical cancer but each one will be supported differently.  One women may have had five kids and be happily married.  One may have been on the pill all her life.  Another may have experienced trauma such as rape.  Women who have low self-esteem will be supported differently from those who are over-confident.  A herbal consultation looks at all aspects of a person’s health and wellbeing.  This includes past history, family history, diet, a deep investigation into the health issue, any other health issues, emotions, social/lifestyle impacts and much more.  This creates a full picture of a person; I can then work out which herbs to offer to support.

Health benefits of Turmeric

Health benefits of Turmeric

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an excellent herb which is utilised in many cancer support formulas in Western Medicinal Herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda.  Curcumin is an active constituent in this spice which has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour effects.  Studies have also found that turmeric can enhance chemotherapy drugs and aid the support of the body.  You can add it to meals to support your health and wellbeing.

The green tea is loose and cut.  The supplier ensures that it reaches a certain standard with regards to the active constituents too.

The green tea is loose and cut. The supplier ensures that it reaches a certain standard with regards to the active constituents too.

Green tea (Camelia sinensis) is a fantastic anti-oxidant herb which contains phyto-phenols and flavonoids.  It has many benefits including reducing mutations, improving cholesterol levels and regulating fat metabolism.  It has been shown that drinking this regularly can reduce many cancer risks including cervical cancer.  You can even add the leaves to stews and soups.

Different fruits which you can try

Different fruits which you can try

When we visit loved ones it normally includes bringing some fresh grapes.  It turns out that grape skins are rich in flavonoids which have anti-oxidant effects which help to reduce the risk of cancers.

ginger tea

Ginger is a spice which I use regularly in my practice (and my cooking).  It helps to reduce inflammation which is linked to cancer, and characteristic of cervical cancer.  You can make a delicious tea using the ginger root and add it to your diet.

I hope that you have found this information helpful.  If you have any questions I am more than happy to answer them.  Also if you would like support with your health and wellbeing and live in the Grimsby area I am available for consultations at The Achilles Centre which is an accredited health care centre based on Dudley Street.

Magical Mistletoe – Viscum album

“I lived my life between the worlds
Neither earth nor sky would call me child
The birds were my companions
The wind and rain my mentors
Daily I grew in power and strength
Till snatched out of time by the trickster”

mistletoe

Mistletoe is a native plant to England and grows abundantly down south.  It even grows in North East Lincolnshire at four sites around the county.  This makes it a rare herb for our region.  I use mistletoe in my practice and recently purchased some fresh berries to grow on my apple tree in my garden.  It is this recent planting of Mistletoe which inspired me to write about this mystical herb.

Mistletoe is also known as Churchman’s Greeting, Kiss-and-go, Masslin, Misle and Mislin-bush.  It is a semi-parasitic plant as it roots itself under the bark of tree branches but can produce enough energy from photosynthesis from its leaves to sustain itself.

The scientific name – Viscum album gives an indication into the plant (which we all know from Yule traditions) Viscum can be translated as sticky and album – white.  Sticky white is a perfect description of the berries – especially if you have ever squashed one of them 🙂  Also Mistletoe can be translated using the Anglo-Saxon language –  mistel, meaning dung, and tan, meaning twig.  Mistletoe has a narcotic effect on birds.  Birds who eat the berries off the twigs do have a psychedelic experience. The sticky white sap covering the berry doesn’t get digested easily so when it is passed from the bird (hopefully on the branch of a rose family tree) it can then stick to the branch and hopefully take root – dung on a twig!!

mistletoe2

As a herb please NEVER self-medicate with Mistletoe – all parts of the plants contain toxins and the plant is considered unsafe with use restricted to qualified professionals such as myself.  Mistletoe poisoning can occur when someone eats this plant. Poisoning can also occur if you drink tea created from the plant or its berries.  Raw, unprocessed mistletoe is poisonous. Eating raw, unprocessed European mistletoe or American mistletoe can cause vomiting, seizures, a slowing of the heart rate, and even death.

Despite this I do use this herb as I have been trained, I understand how to use it, who it would benefit and how much to give.   I have found it to be a great herb to help with insomnia, epilepsy and arterial hypertension (high blood pressure). Mistletoe is antispasmodic and reduced blood pressure which makes it beneficial for someone with epilepsy.  At university we were taught that it was a bit like Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole.  We can hide from our emotions and repress certain things with a negative outcome on our health and wellbeing.  Mistletoe is a nervine and a narcotic which has a profound effect on our nervous system.  Mistletoe can help us to reconnect with the emotions and situations that we repressed and then we can work on them, resolve them and feel a hell of a lot better.  This herb is also undergoing several scientific trials for its use as an anti-cancer herb.  Juice of the berries have been applied to external cancers since the time of the druids but research is looking at internal use.  There has been some success with this and it kinda follows the principle of like cures like (which is more homeopathic than herbalism) – the mistletoe is a semi-parasitic host and therefore would it not cure an unwanted growth?

Mistletoe was sacred to many people including the Druids.  It was seen as even more magical when it grew from an Oak tree.  Iron was never used when harvesting Mistletoe (or any other herb) and sacred rituals for harvest could include using a gold sickle and not allowing the herb to touch the ground once cut.  It was collected under a waxing moon and fed to livestock to ensure fertility.  It is seen as a plant which enhances fertility.  When you hold a branch it does resemble a male and when you squeeze the berries it can look like something which represented the sperm of the Gods.  Kissing under the mistletoe was meant to help aid conception –  it was seen as an aphrodisiac plant and in the past a girl that was getting kissed under the mistletoe maybe wanted something more…

The tradition of hanging it during Christmas was to ward off evil spirits and ensure a good new year ahead.  Myth and folklore also state that the herb is associated with peace and love, something we all want around Yule time.

Mistletoe prefers to grow on members of the Rosaceae family preferring cultivated apple trees, lime, hawthorn and populars.  They were seen as more sacred when growing on Oaks.

mistletoe3

To grow, squeeze a fresh berry and wipe the seed and glue on the side or underside of a branch which is at least 20cm in diameter.  It is worth tieing some wool loosely where you have ‘planted’ the seed, this will also prevent them from falling off.  It is worth ‘planting’ around a dozen a time although I only put two on my apple tree as I didn’t want it to be overrun.  It will take a year before the seeds produce leaves and start to grow into a recognisable young plant. Each year, individual shoots produce just two new branches with one pair of leaves at the tip of each; so progress is slow taking four years before berries are formed.  But I feel that it is worth it.

mistletoe4

On Imbolc in February I will be going around Lincolnshire and ‘planting’ the rest of the fresh berries which I have.  In order to keep them fresh I have placed them in water.  Hopefully this will replicate being in a birds gut as Pliny stated “Whenever Mistletoe is sown, it fails to sprout, which it will only do when it is passed through birds – particularly through pigeons and thrushes.  That is its nature: if it is to grow, it first must be ripened in the guts of a bird”

 

 

Magnesium – the fourth most abundant nutrient in the body!!

Did you know the importance of magnesium regarding our health and wellbeing? Magnesium is used in over 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation, energy levels and much more!!

A Dr. Norman Shealy said “Every known illness is associated with a magnesium deficiency… magnesium is the most critical mineral required for electrical stability of every cell in the body. Magnesium deficiency may be responsible for more diseases than any other nutrient.”

Here are the Recommended daily allowances for Magnesium:

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Magnesium
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 30 mg 30 mg    
7–12 months 75 mg 75 mg    
1–3 years 80 mg 80 mg    
4–8 years 130 mg 130 mg    
9–13 years 240 mg 240 mg    
14–18 years 410 mg 360 mg 400 mg 360 mg
19–30 years 400 mg 310 mg 350 mg 310 mg
31–50 years 420 mg 320 mg 360 mg 320 mg
51+ years 420 mg 320 mg    

A lot of people are not getting enough magnesium, a nutrient which is required daily. Magnesium deficiency is hard to diagnose as it isn’t usually tested for in blood tests. This is because only 1% of the body’s magnesium is stored in the blood.  Most of the magnesium in the body is stored in bones or in cells making it difficult to determine what the levels really are.  Estimates regarding magnesium deficiency seen to relate to half of the population!!

Dr. Sidney Baker is quoted saying: “Magnesium deficiency can affect virtually every organ system of the body. With regard to skeletal muscle, one may experience twitches, cramps, muscle tension, muscle soreness, including back aches, neck pain, tension headaches and jaw joint (or TMJ) dysfunction. Also, one may experience chest tightness or a peculiar sensation that he can’t take a deep breath. Sometimes a person may sigh a lot.”

“Symptoms involving impaired contraction of smooth muscles include constipation; urinary spasms; menstrual cramps; difficulty swallowing or a lump in the throat especially provoked by eating sugar; photophobia, especially difficulty adjusting to oncoming bright headlights in the absence of eye disease; and loud noise sensitivity from stapedius muscle tension in the ear.”

“Other symptoms and signs of magnesium deficiency and discuss laboratory testing for this common condition. Continuing with the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, the central nervous system is markedly affected. Symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, hyperactivity and restlessness with constant movement, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and premenstrual irritability. Magnesium deficiency symptoms involving the peripheral nervous system include numbness, tingling, and other abnormal sensations, such as zips, zaps and vibratory sensations.”

“Symptoms or signs of the cardiovascular system include palpitations, heart arrhythmias, and angina due to spasms of the coronary arteries, high blood pressure and mitral valve prolapse. Be aware that not all of the symptoms need to be present to presume magnesium deficiency; but, many of them often occur together. For example, people with mitral valve prolapse frequently have palpitations, anxiety, panic attacks and premenstrual symptoms. People with magnesium deficiency often seem to be “uptight.” Other general symptoms include a salt craving, both carbohydrate craving and carbohydrate intolerance, especially of chocolate, and breast tenderness.”

Here are more signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency:

  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Persistent under-eye twitch
  • Tension in the upper back, shoulders and neck
  • Headaches
  • Pre-menstrual fluid retention and/or breast tenderness
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiousness
  • Irritability
  • Seizures (and tantrums)
  • Poor digestion
  • PMS and hormonal imbalances
  • Inability to sleep
  • Muscle tension, spasm and cramps
  • Calcification of organs
  • Weakening of the bones
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Extreme thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Frequent urination
  • Sores or bruises that heal slowly
  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blurry vision that changes from day to day
  • Unusual tiredness or drowsiness
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Frequent or recurring skin, gum, bladder or vaginal yeast infections

The causes of a lack of magnesium can include dietary choices, availability of foods high in magnesium, as well as illness, use of certain pharmaceuticals, and genetic factors.

Here is a list of specific orthodox medications that are known to increase excretion of magnesium and/or increase the body’s magnesium requirements:

  • Certain antibiotics such as Garamycin, tobramycin (Nebcin), carbenicillin, ticaricillin, amphotericin B and antibiotics of the tetracycline class
  • The anti-fungal drug Pentamidine, used to prevent and treat pneumonia
  • Oestrogen, found in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy
  • Corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone
  • Diuretics such as Edercrin, Lasix, mannitol, and thiazides (with names commonly ending in -zide)
  • Certain heart failure medications including digitalis, digoxin (Lanoxin), Qunidex, and Cordarone
  • Medications used to treat irregular heartbeat, such as Cordarone (amiodarone), bretylium, quinidine (Cardioquin) and sotalol (Betapace)
  • The anti-cancer drug Platinol, and other immunosuppressant drugs such as Neoral and Sandimmune
  • Antineoplastics, used in chemotherapy, and radiation
  • Asthma medications such as epinephrine, isoproterenol and aminophylline
  • The antipsychotic and antischizophrenic drugs Pimozide (Orap), Mellaril and Stelazine4

Getting adequate levels of this nutrient can help to improve digestive problems, regulate blood sugar levels, support and maintain a healthy heart, nurture healthy bones, detoxify the body and decrease the risk of cancer!  Magnesium also helps to reduce inflammation in the body.  Magnesium is also great for reducing pre-menstrual tension, reducing breast tenderness and painful/heavy periods.  It is also essential for the health of our thyroid which controls our metabolism.

Healthy sources of magnesium include:

  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Green vegetables
  • Raw broccoli
  • Black beans
  • Peas
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Cashews
  • Squash
  • Sesame seeds
  • Okra
  • Spinach
  • Bananas
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Carrots
  • Cherries
  • Coconut milk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Molasses
  • Papaya
  • Radishes
  • Seaweed
  • Tahini
  • Wheatgerm