The spleen – our largest lymphatic organ

The spleen is another relatively misunderstood organ.  It is roughly the size of a clenched fist and sits behind our stomach on the left hand side of our abdomen behind our 11th rib.  As a foetus in our mother’s womb it helped to create new blood cells for us – something that it can start doing again in certain health issues.  It has several functions, it stores platelets – these are required to seal up a wound if we cut ourselves, the platelets stick together and enable the healing to take place, if we do accidently cut ourselves then the spleen releases the platelets that it stores in response to the situation.  The spleen also contains white blood cells called lymphocytes and works as part of our immune system filtering blood and destroying any bacteria or other pathogens which could make us ill.  These lymphocytes are found in what is known as the white pulp within the organ.  Some of the lymphocytes travel around the body to help to fight infection but the remainder stay within the white pulp and respond to any infectious agents as they are presented.

As well as white pulp within the spleen there are masses of red pulp, this is made up of high levels of arteries, veins and capillaries and also acts via a filtering process.  The role is to remove any damaged red blood cells (which transport oxygen to every cell in our body).  Red blood cells usually live for 120 days around which time they become less efficient at transporting the gases required for respiration.  It is when they are old, past their best or damaged that the spleen filters them out and breaks them down so that they can be recycled into new red blood cells.  When we actually look at our body it is highly efficient, capable of recycling, sustainability and minimum waste.  For those of you who are into permaculture and biomimicry there is a lot to be learned from looking at ourselves.

So to sum up the spleen filters and breaks down damaged red blood cells, as a lymphatic organ it helps to detect and overcome possible infections, it stores platelets in case of an emergency and as a foetus it actually produced red blood cells which in certain circumstances it can resume doing again.  Quite impressive really!

The Traditional Chinese Medicinal (TCM) view of this organ is similar but there are differences which cannot be accounted for when looking at the organ in health, its structure and its functions.  This doesn’t detract from the efficacy of TCM, it is something I highly regard – the model of complementary medicine is effective and I utilise an eclectic blend of their philosophy, diagnostic techniques and herbs.  Whereas western medicine doesn’t view the spleen as an essential organ for life – it can be removed and although people who have it removed are prone to more infections, courses of vaccinations are generally given to substitute the spleens role in our health and wellbeing.  In TCM the spleen is essential to health and vitality taking a role in enabling us to assimilate the nutrients digested from the stomach and promoting and maintaining our physical strength.  All aspects of vitality depend on the entire body receiving proper nutrition from the healthy functioning of this essential organ in TCM.

There are several health issues which are due to issues with the spleen:

An enlarged spleen (known as splenomegaly) can be caused by numerous health issues, commonly these are viral mononucleosis (“mono”), liver disease and blood cancers (lymphoma and leukemia) although this isn’t every condition that can result in an enlarged spleen.  One of the issues raised by this condition related to the fact that the spleen stores platelets.  An enlarged spleen has a greater capacity to store more platelets.  Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) can be secondary to (caused by) an enlarged spleen resulting in abnormally few platelets circulating in the bloodstream where they belong.

Ruptured spleen: The spleen is vulnerable to injury, and a ruptured spleen can cause serious life-threatening internal bleeding and is a life-threatening emergency.  A common cause of a ruptured spleen are car crashes or road traffic accidents – the impact of the collision causes the driver to slam into his or her steering wheel which can cause trauma to the spleen due to where it is positioned in the body.  Although the spleen is protected by the rib cage it is a soft and therefore tender organ.   An injured spleen may rupture immediately after an injury, or in some cases, days or weeks after an injury so I recommend that if you have experienced any forceful trauma which affects the upper left side of your abdomen to seek medical help as they have diagnostics such as CT scans which can determine if any injury such as a rupture has occurred..

Sickle cell disease and thalassemia are inherited forms of anemia (low red blood cells), in both cases abnormal red blood cells block the flow of blood through vessels and can lead to organ damage, including damage to the spleen. People with these blood conditions are treated by the medical profession with immunisations to prevent illnesses that their spleen helped fight.  In sickle cell disease the blood cells have the shape of a sickle instead of being round, in thalassemia they are smaller than the usual red blood cells.  If both parents have the genes that pass on these blood traits then the baby has the same health issues, if only one parent has them then they have a trait and care should be taken when choosing to have a baby as copulating with someone else with the same trait will mean that the baby has the full blown health issues.

About 10% of people have a small extra spleen. This causes no problems and is considered normal.

Several herbal remedies have historically been used in treating spleen problems, especially spleen enlargement. Some of the helpful herbs for the spleen include dandelion, cleavers, barberry and iris.  Dandelion is indicated to support the spleen in conditions such as anaemia and diabetes, it stimulates the portal circulation (which includes the spleen).  Cleavers is a common garden weed and is a fantastic lymphatic alterative and detoxifier.  Barberry is a tonic to the spleen and pancreas and can help to lower blood pressure.  Iris, also known as blue flag, is a herbal remedy that may be helpful in treating your spleen problems. The rhizome of the plant contains numerous medicinal ingredients including triterpenoids that have a beneficial effect.  Blue flag iris acts as an anti-inflammatory, blood and lymph purifier and a powerful alterative for passive sluggish conditions involving the liver, gallbladder, lymphatics, veins and glandular systems.

New Jersey tea has been used historically for disorders of the spleen and agrimony is a very popular ‘spleen tonic’ in TCM and has been found to be protective for the liver and spleen during chemotherapy.  If you crave sweet foods, as part of the symptom picture it could suggest that your spleen isn’t working effectively.  The following nutrients are beneficial for this organ: Vitamin A, B12, C and D, iron and zinc.

The powerful pancreas – the seat of our insulin production

Hi folks,

Today I wanted to introduce you all to the pancreas.  It is another organ which is under appreciated yet it is implicated in the massive pandemic we are experiencing globally with the rise of type 2 diabetes.  When we eat food it passed though our food pipe (oesophagus) and enters the stomach where is it broken down by hydrochloric acid into smaller bits (we call this chyme).  Digestion continues in the small and large intestines but as you learnt last week the ability to digest fats is determined by the liver and gallbladder.

pancreas

The pancreas is another essential organ for us to be able to access the nutrients in our food.  It is also a hormone gland and creates several hormones which are essential to how we metabolise food.  Insulin is now well known as a hormone because of its role in diabetes and blood sugar levels.  It also produces several enzymes which are essential to the digestion of our food.  Enzymes help to speed up the biochemical processes – your wash powder utilises enzymes to clean your clothes in the washing machine.  They work like a lock and key attaching to particles, altering them (depending on the function of the enzyme) and then releasing them and going on to the next one.  If our pancreas isn’t producing enough digestive enzymes the time it takes to digest our food slows and we may feel sluggish.

enzymes

Every day the pancreas produces roughly a litre and a half of pancreatic juice – this is a clear colourless liquid which contains water, salt, sodium bicarbonate and numerous digestive enzymes.  Yes we have bicarbonate of soda in our cooking cupboards (great for baking cakes), its use in the digestive system in as an alkaline buffer to prevent internal damage from the stomach acid in the chyme (food after it has been processed in the stomach).  The bicarb also creates the proper pH so that the digestive enzymes can work more effectively in the intestines.

Did you know that you pancreas produces this in the body?

Did you know that you pancreas produces this in the body?

It is only a small portion of the pancreas which acts as a hormonal gland, as well as insulin,the hormone glucagon (another hormone which has a role to play in sugar metabolism by keeling blood sugars high enough for us to function), somatostatin (a hormone which regulates several other hormone within the body – in the case of the pancreas it works to keep the levels of glucagon and insulin in check.  The somatostatin acts like a feedback loop in the pancreas; remember that almost all biologic processes have a built-in “off switch” like this. ) and pancreatic polypeptide (which also influences our digestive function preventing pancreatic enzymes from being secreted into the gut after a protein meal, fasting and exercise.).  Finally, a few epsilon cells contain the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates our hunger and very often causes us to eat like a bear in a stream of salmon.

insulin

It is the collaboration of all our digestive organs that enables us to access the nutrients in our food.  We may eat a healthy diet and even take supplements but our ability to access there nutrients can be affected in several different ways – the first is not having the right tools to aid digestion.  This includes bile to digest fats, having enough enzymes to complete the process of digestion and the secretion of the right levels of hormones.  If there is inflammation within the digestive tract our ability to absorb the nutrients is reduced. Not having enough ‘friendly’ bacteria in our large intestine prevents several nutrients from being digested (those which cannot be accessed in the small intestine). We rely on bacteria in our large intestine to continue to break down our food so that we can then absorb several nutrients which are essential to our health.  Fibre is essential for our digestion and so is the pH of our digestive system otherwise it will not function effectively.

digestive health

When you look at each of our organs and realise their importance – the sum of each of these individual ‘parts’ far outweighs the whole!  Each of us are unique, the key to good health and wellbeing is to understand your body and listen to it.  Every part of us are made of cells – every one of them communicate, breath, eat and poop – just on a smaller scale. Just like at work when someone is slacking, the extra workload can be taken up… but not for log periods as that’s when things go wrong.  It is true that we should treat our bodies like a temple as every cell is working tirelessly to make us who we are.

body as a temple

Anyway… enough digressing, I will get back to what I wanted to share with you all. Some people have what is called type 1 diabetes, this is where their body, their pancreas doesn’t produce insulin and they are insulin dependant.  This generally occurs early on in life.  But the rise in type 2 diabetes – a disorder where our bodies are becoming resistant to the insulin that is produced generally occurs later on in life due to our actions and decisions in life when it comes down to our diet and lifestyle.  This is a condition which is dependant on the pancreas (as well as numerous other organs, tissues and cells within the body.  It is seen as a lifestyle disorder and therefore by looking after ourselves and caring for our body we can improve and even reverse this.  If you experience type 2 diabetes why not consider seeing a herbalist?  We can support you with your self care by advising on healthy dietary and lifestyle changes as well as support your health with herbal medicine.  Obesity is the major risk factor in decreasing insulin’s effectiveness, and the rise of obesity is the major reason we’ve recently seen diabetes levels skyrocket. There are many problems associated with diabetes, including frequent urination, fatigue, impotence, nerve dysfunction, accelerated arterial aging and even the development of vision problems that can cause blindness.

diabetes

Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas is inflamed, usually caused by toxins, like alcohol, a virus or a blocked duct, draining from the pancreas. The good news is that the problem is averted by avoiding the toxin that may have irritated this sensitive organ or the gallstones that block the duct—overusing caffeine and alcohol are possible culprits. The toughest part about this condition is severe pain. Pancreatitis is caused by a malfunction of the digestive process in which the digestive juices spill back into the pancreas and then into the abdominal cavity and dissolve tissue. That tissue is located right above a big set of nerve cells called the celiac plexus, so it’s an unbearable kind of back throbbing—some of the worst pain people can experience.

Look at your diet and see if you eat the following foods on a regular basis:

  • Fish, eggs, and poultry.
  • D-fortified cereals and dairy.
  • Onions (which contain special cancer-clubbing flavonoids, they are tasty, gourmet-style crunch to food, are a great addition to most sauces and also fill you up with potent nutrients thought to help thwart pancreatic cancer)
  • Foods high in flavonoids include: kale, Swiss chard, endive, raw spinach, chives and white beans. Asparagus, apples, buckwheat and tea. Fennel, blueberries, cranberries and carob flour

Be aware that if you have milk in your tea then you are rendering a lot of the flavonoids inert as the tannins in tea bind with the protein in milk.

black tea

Do you smoke? Take heart in the fact that the smokers in the study were particularly benefited by high flavonol intake, with kaempferol providing the most protection. That said, smoking still raises your risk of poor pancreatic health and it is always best to look at quitting.

When you exercise the pancreas releases the glucagon hormone, when you have burnt off the stores glucose (sugar) in your muscles and liver this hormone forces you to convert your fat reserves into glucose to be able to continue fueling the exercise that you are doing – so it helps you to break down fat when you have an active lifestyle.

You are aware that the pancreas produces insulin but are you aware of the role that this hormone has on the body?  Insulin helps the body store and use glucose, it is responsible for delivering that glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into muscle, fat, liver and most other cells so that your body can use it for fuel.  Problems happen when either the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin or various parts of the body block insulin and prevent it from delivering glucose to those cells.

If when you go to the toilet and your poo floats (called steatorrhea) then your body is having a problem digestive fat  and may be putting strain on your pancreas.

The following can be harmful to the pancreas, the foods should only be eaten in moderation and the lifestyle issues and emotions should be assessed and resolved:

  • Animal fats, especially cow’s milk and red meat are harmful to the health of the pancreas. Also refined products, sausages and fried.
  • Foods with added chemicals (such as preservatives, colorings, additives, etc.), and refined products (sugar, flour, etc.) block many vital body functions, and damage the functions of the pancreas.
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Anger, frustration and disappointment are emotions that influence the malfunction of the pancreas.

Helpful herbal remedies in strengthening and stimulating your pancreatic function include gentian, goldenseal, echinacea and cedar berries. Dandelion and olive leaf may also help treat your pancreatitis or improve your pancreatic health. Licorice root has been used to support all glandular functions, including the functions of your pancreas.  Turmeric is an excellent anti-inflammatory herbal medicine which can be easily added to your diet and will benefit the pancreas.

turmeric

Dandelion root may be a helpful adjunct therapy in the treatment of your pancreatic problems and may support the health and function of your pancreas. Dandelion root may help stimulate bile production and helps cleanse your blood and liver, which in turn decreases the burden on your pancreas. Other organs that may benefit from the use of this herbal medicine include your kidneys, spleen and stomach. Why not dig up the roots, when they are dried and roasted they may an excellent substitute to coffee with no caffeine and all of the health benefits?

dandelion root

Our Gallbladder – do you know what it does?

The gallbladder is a pear shaped organ that is tucked away in your abdomen next to your liver and is around 7-10cm long.  The prefix gall translated means bile which is what this small organ stores after bile is produced from specialist cells within the liver.  Although a small organ it has a huge role to play when it comes to us digesting our food.  Without bile we could not digest fats.  Before you say that it would be a good thing if we couldn’t digest fats, you have to realise that they are essential to our health and wellbeing.

Different organs within our body have different prefered sources of energy.  Our heart prefers fatty acids and poorly accesses carbohydrates as fuel, our kidneys use a blend of fats and carbohydrates,  our liver wouldn’t function without fats and when we eat fat in our diet the liver gets first pick of the fats to enable its important functions within the body and although the brain cannot access energy from fats the metabolic activities of the liver are essential for providing fuel to brain, muscles and other peripheral organs which rely on carbs (glucose).  Also any of you who love to exercise or who are active, our body has stores of glucose within the liver and muscles but when these have been used up (whether this is running, canoeing or whatever your passion) then our fat deposits are then accessed to get the energy required.

The gallbladder acts as a storage vessel for bile produced by the liver. Bile is produced by hepatocytes cells in the liver and passes through the bile ducts to the cystic duct. From the cystic duct, bile is pushed into the gallbladder by peristalsis (muscle contractions that occur in orderly waves). Bile is then slowly concentrated by absorption of water through the walls of the gallbladder. The gallbladder stores this concentrated bile until it is needed to digest the next meal.

Foods rich in proteins or fats are more difficult for the body to digest when compared to carbohydrate-rich foods. The walls of our stomach contain sensory receptors that monitor the chemical makeup of the food which we eat. When these cells detect fats, they respond by producing the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK). CCK enters the bloodstream and travels to the gallbladder where it stimulates the smooth muscle tissue in the walls of the gallbladder.  The contraction of smooth muscle forces bile out of the gallbladder and into further ducts within the digestive system where it breaks the fats into smaller masses for easier digestion.

Gallstones occur when bile, which is normally fluid, forms stones. Gallstones commonly contain lumps of fatty (cholesterol-like) material that has solidified and hardened. Sometimes bile pigments or calcium deposits form gallstones. Sometimes just a few small stones are formed; sometimes a great many. Occasionally, just one large stone is formed.  This condition is excruciatingly painful and symptoms include: extreme tenderness in the upper right abdomen, dyspepsia, flatulence, vomiting, sweating, thirst and constipation.  Prolonged obstruction of the bile ducts can cause jaundice (where the skin turns yellow).  Pain should be evaluated by a competent authority such as a GP or hospital as large stones may require surgery.

About one in three women, and one in six men, form gallstones at some stage in their life. Gallstones become more common with increasing age. The risk of forming gallstones increases with pregnancy, obesity, rapid weight loss, having a close relative with gallstones, diabetes and if you take certain medicines such as the contraceptive pill. Being vegetarian and drinking a moderate amount of alcohol may reduce the risk of forming gallstones.

Herbal medicine is used therapeutically in this condition to increase the flow of bile, disperse wind and reduce the painful spasms experienced.  Herbal medicine can also be used to prevent infection and gallstone formation.

Diet is the number one reason for a poorly functioning gallbladder. Don’t let anyone tell you that diet has no relationship to the gallbladder. Ample research tells us that our diet not only affects every cell in our body but obviously those of digestion. Even before the insulin link to the gallbladder was discovered just a few years ago  many physicians recognized the importance of diet on metabolism:

1) Bad fats – these include the obvious partially hydrogenated “trans” fats but also those refined polyunsaturated vegetable oils that so many think are good to eat – corn, soy, canola, safflower, sunflower, peanut, cottonseed, and grapeseed.  Deep fried foods are especially terrible for your gallbladder. Stick with the good fats please – coconut, eggs, extra virgin oil, fish and flax, butter and heavy cream (moderation) and raw nuts and seeds.

2) Refined carbohydrates – these, along with the bad fats, are where the oxidation (free radical damage) and the inflammation comes from, and it can take its toll on the gallbladder because its effect on cholesterol.  Refined carbohydrates include white pasta, white rice, supernoodles (which are deep fried and therefore 20% fat!!!), white breads etc.  Carbohydrates break down to sugar and therefore sugars should be included in this category – high fructose corn syrup – it’s one of the worst!

3) Smoking – Unhealthy for your entire body and really takes its toll on the gallbladder too.

4) Excess caffeine – yeah too much caffeine can stress out the gallbladder. How much is too much? That depends on the individual. For some it may be three cups of espresso and for another it may be one ounce of chocolate per day. If you’re having gallbladder problems stop all caffeine until it’s better.  People can experience caffeine withdrawals including painful headaches.  If you feel that you need to cut out caffeine do so gradually by eliminating one cup/source each week so that your body becomes accustomed to the accessible levels.

5) Alcohol – again this is individualized but obviously too much alcohol is not healthy for your liver, gallbladder, or the rest of your body, what is more is that alcohol is high in sugar and can increase weight gain as well as impacting on the health of your liver.

6) Apartame (Nutrasweet) and other sweeteners (all of which are neurotoxic and possibly cancer causing) – this one is huge and there seems to be a clinical correlation between people who intake a high amount of diet products and have their gallbladder removed.

7) NSAIDS – and other anti-inflammatories can take their toll on the liver and gallbladder. Other meds can too but NSAIDS more often, especially for chronic users.

8) Birth control pills (BCP), hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and yes even the intrauterine device (IUD) – hormonal regulation and metabolism is a major factor when it comes to the liver and even the gallbladder – that’s why the females who are still fertile are part of the medical risk factor. Oestrogen dominance has a huge impact on the health of the gallbladder. Considering that oestrogen and the mineral copper closely parallel one another, many women have copper toxicity problems due to estrogen dominance and then gallbladder problems because some of those bile salts are copper salts – that’s where the bile gets its green color from – copper! You don’t have to be on The Pill or taking hormones to have a gallbladder problem related to your hormones – it can be from inefficient hormonal detoxification. Guys too – you can have testosterone and oestrogen problems.

If you’re having gallbladder problems and it’s not an emergency situation, (let’s all use common sense here), then the first thing to do is to change your diet and lifestyle and assess your risk factors.

Lemons and beets are great foods for your liver and gallbladder – they help to keep bile healthy and non-viscous. So eating these foods regularly can be beneficial.

During an uncomfortable, “attack” you can try sipping some lemon juice. Take one-half of a fresh squeezed lemon and mix it with about 6oz of water and sip it (don’t gulp it down) over the next 30 minutes. If it works, keep doing it until you’ve received full relief. Ginger works well too for some people, but more for nausea. Try to use real ginger root not those rolled in a lot of sugar. You can add it to a smoothie or juiced drink.

You can also try a cold pack over the area of your gallbladder – the upper right quadrant of your abdomen. Place the cold pack about half way over your ribs and half over the abdomen. Don’t put ice directly on your skin or you may burn – but wrap in a paper towel or put over your clothing. Leave the ice on long enough to get a “numb” feeling and depending on the relief you get from it. If any area of your skin in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen feels warm to the touch, that is exactly where you should try to cool it down.

Obviously with the recommendations here if you keep having to do the same things over and over (ice or lemon juice) then you’re not figuring out the problem and just getting by with temporary relief. If the pain gets worse and worse – either that same day or with each subsequent attack – you should seek medical attention.

If you would like herbal support for your gallbladder health do not hesitate to contact me: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk where you can have a full consultation, receive an individualised prescription tailored to your needs and personalised dietary and lifestyle advice.

The figwort family – Scrophulariaceae

Yes I know… plant families have the hardest names to pronounce and this one is no exception.  As promised here is the article on the Scrophulariaceae family or the figwort family.  This Friday I will write about the borage family and I will finish the series writing about the cabbage family before returning to other aspects of herbal medicine.

figwort

The name for this plant family was derived from the European species of Scrophularia – the common figwort. The plants were used to treat haemorrhoids, which were known as “figs” in the past.  Figworts were also used to treat scrofula, a form of tuberculosis carried in the milk of infected cows.

foxglove (10)

The figwort family used to contain plants such as eyebright (which is an amazing medicinal herb – a semi-parasitic plant which lives on grass and which is an effective anti-inflammatory and anti-catarrhal herb) and also foxglove (a herb which isn’t used by herbalists but is by the pharmaceutical companies in order to make the cardiac medicines digitalin and digitoxin).  These plants have ‘left’ this plant family because as botany has advanced using modern technology looking at plant genetics it turned out that they were were not related and in fact belonged to different plant families.

mullien (2)

The Scrophulariaceae are mostly herbs and contains roughly 65 genera and 2000 species growing predominately in temperate climates.  Plants which are significant to myself in this family include Mullein (Verbascum thapsus), of course Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa) and Rehmannia (Rehmannia glutinosa).  I give regular herbal walks where I come across the Speedwells (Veronica spp.) these are also members of the figwort family and has medicinal uses as well as a fascinating history.  If you live in the UK or have visited you will notice that the butterfly bush (Buddleia) has become a common feature of railways and waste ground – this is also a member of the figwort family, as are snap dragons which regularly pop up in gardens with their amazing (and very typical) flowers.

rehmannia

The figwort family have the following common characteristics:

  • Leaves are simple, without stipules.  They are arranged in either an alternate, opposite, or whorled pattern.
  • Their flowers are zygomorphic (this describes the fact that flowers have two or more planes of symmetry), they are often 2-lipped, and can look very like Lamiaceae, usually arranged in spikes or clusters.  Flowers are bisexual and sometimes have brightly coloured and conspicuous associated bracts (a modified leaf associated with flowers).
  • The calyx is the green outer whorl of a flower and in the figwort family these are commonly deeply 4-5 lobed or cleft.
  • The corolla (basically the petals) are usually 4-5-lobed, sometimes 2-lipped, and sometimes forms a nectary spur or sac.
  • The fruit type is usually a capsule.

Medicinally there is an anti-inflammatory, blood cleansing and skin restoring theme regarding medicinal herbs from this plant family.  Scrophularia and Leptandra are both used as detoxifying herbs, e.g. for skin complaints. Rehmannia has a long history of use in Chinese medicine as a liver and kidney tonic, for a wide range of problems, including skin disease and Verbascum thapsus is an expectorant herb, used for bronchitis and catarrh.

Interestingly, both Scrophularia and Verbascum were particularly important in Irish folk medicine: Verbascum being used mainly for pulmonary tuberculosis; Figwort for piles and skin complaints.

097

Speedwell is used in homeopathy for chronic skin ailments and cal also be taken as herbal medicine for skin problems, stomach upset and rheumatic conditions.  It makes an excellent strengthening medicine good for affections of the brain including headaches and drowsiness.  This herb is also taken as a spring tonic to purify the blood.  It was valued in Europe as an universal substitute for ordinary tea so much that it was known as the “de l’europe”.  It also has a special place in Christian history as it was named after the saint (Veronica) who wiped away the blood from Jesus’ face as he was being crucified. Therefore the herb is associated with miracles and special powers are attributed to it.  Speedwell is one of those herbs which loses its petals with such as speed that it fits with its name too!!  Why not try it!

 

 

Papavaraceae family – the lovely poppies :)

The wonderful poppy family is a delightful family but one which does not occur in most places – growing everywhere but the tropical areas.  Well known in the UK as the flower of remembrance for those who gave their lives during the World Wars, I was please to hear that one of our local villages Tetney will be planting numerous poppies around the village in commemoration of the soldiers from the first world war 🙂

rememberance poppy

They are 44 genera and 760 species; mainly herbaceous perennials but can be annuals and there are even a few trees in the family.  A herbaceous perennial grows during the growing season and then all of the aerial parts die back leaving nothing to show until the next growing season.  I have strong memories of harvesting poppy seeds whilst in my junior school as they were cultivated along the borders that were outside the vicarage (which was where the school offices where).  It was a joy to find a plant which has such sensory qualities like a tiny maraca.

poppy seed heads

The poppy family is medicinally and economically important.  Only two species are of economic importance for the production of opium and its derivatives for pharmaceutical use: Papaver somniferum (the opium poppy) is cultivated legally in order to obtain morphine and other opiates, and Papaver bracteatum (Iranian poppy), for thebaine. Papaver somniferum is also the source of the poppy seeds used in cooking and baking, and poppy seed oil. The illegal cultivation of poppies in Asia for the production of opium and heroine is virtually equal to the legal production in the rest of the world.

The stunning field poppy - a wild flower around the UK countryside

The stunning field poppy – a wild flower around the UK countryside

Species with medicinal value as a herbalist include the beautiful field poppy – Papaver rhoeas, the stunning yellow/orange Californian poppy – Eschscholzia californica, Yan Hu Suo – Corydalis yanhusuo, fumitory – Fumaria officinalis, bloodroot – Sanguinaria canadensis and greater celandine – Chelidonium majus.  Greater celandine should not be mistake for lesser celandine which is a member of the buttercup family.  There are also a lot of ornamental poppies – I have the oriental poppy in my garden for its stunning flowers and sculptural leaves and the popular ‘bleeding hearts’ also comes from this plant family.

The Oriental poppy

The Oriental poppy

Identifying factors of the poppy family

  • The plants all contain latex, which will ooze out of split stems – it should be noted that numerous other plants from different families also have a milky latex including the spurges (milkweed) and dandelions.
  • The leaves are are arranged in an alternate pattern along the stems, they are simple in shape and usually lobed or finely divided. They are often a greyish green.
  • Flowers are often attractive. In the Poppies these are large and there is usually only one flower per stem; this isn’t the same throughout the plant family though as fumitory has smaller, irregular, tubular and occur in clusters.
  • Poppy flowers have many stamens (these are the pokey out bits of the flowers and are part of the sex organs required for pollination), although Fumitories may have as few as two. The flowers have a calyx of 2 sepals, but these tend to fall off early so may appear to be absent. They are odourless.
  • The fruit (the ovary of a plant which then contains the seeds) is a capsule containing numerous small seeds.

Medicinally the poppy family is seen as pain relieving.  The cultivation of the opium poppy for medicinal drugs such as morphine is a great example of this.  Recent studies have found that compounds in the poppy family may be the key to relieving arthritic pain too. The californian poppy also has analgesic effects.  The reason why poppies have such a physiological effect on the body is because they generally contain alkaloids.

The stunning Californian poppy

The stunning Californian poppy

The poppy family also has sedative properties, the opium poppy is again a good example of this as it is extensively cultivated for extraction of isoquinone alkaloids, both legally for their use in medicine and illegally for the production of heroin. Eschscholzia californica and Papaver rhoeas contain related alkaloids with a much gentler action. Papaver rhoeas was a major herb in UK folk medicine, particularly used to induce sleep, to calm babies and as pain relief for rheumatism, toothache, earache and neuralgia. Eschscholzia is used similarly for insomnia, restlessness and cough in children.

Members of the poppy family also have an effect on the liver and gallbladder. Both Fumaria officinalis and Chelidonium majus are used for cholecystitis and gallstones.  Both are also used as alterative cleansers for skin disorders, particularly Psoriasis. Chelidonium should only be used by qualified practitioners as it is a schedule III herb meaning that it has a very small therapeutic window and is potentially toxic in the wrong dose.

Malvaceae family – the mallows :)

The mallow family may not have as many medicinal species as other plant families which I have discussed in my blog but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a relevant plant family.  The word ‘Mallow’ comes from the Greek ‘Malakos’ and means ‘soft or soothing’.  I am lucky enough to have common mallow appearing wild in my garden and I cultivate marshmallow.  The Malvaceae, or the mallows, are a family of flowering plants containing over 200 genera with close to 2,300 species, the largest concentration being found in South America.

Many of these species are found in rather dry habitats, often near the sea – I live close to the seaside and the common mallow which grows wild in my garden has taken up residence in between the paving slabs which make up the paths in my garden, as well as next to my alley way door and the wall in my front garden – all areas where the rain doesn’t get too as much!. The mallow family generally have a high mucilage content which may be a way in which they can conserve their fluids.

You may be thinking about marshmallows – which grow in marsh land.  That isn’t a dry habitat!! But when you think about it marshes tend to have high concentrations of salt which can have a dehydrating effect.

mallow family

  • Mallows usually have soft, velvety hairs covering stems and leaves.
  • They tend to be greyish, rather than bright green.
  • Leaves are petiolate, alternate, simple, and usually palmately veined.
  • The flowers are almost always bisexual and actinomorphic (radially symmetrical). In the UK species, there are 5 petals, usually in pink or purple (occasionally white). There are many stamens and at least 2 fused carpels.

marshmallow

Did you know that marshmallows were originally formulated as a form of medicine?  Mucilage is edible. It is used in medicine for its demulcent properties. Traditionally marshmallows were made from the extract of the mucilaginous root of the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis); due to the demulcent nature of the extract, it served as a cough suppressant.  Also did you know that the vegetable okra is part of this family?  If you are on facebook or go online you may have seen the numerous posts and articles about the health benefits of this green vegetable 🙂

hibiscus

Hibiscus is another member of this family and is another herb which I use medicinally – it makes a delicious tea which can support the reduction of high blood pressure.  Gossypium spp. also comes from this delightful plant family whose long silky hairs (characteristic of Malvaceae) are harvested commercially  to produce cotton.

cotton

The key medicinal theme of this plant family is their demulcent (internal) and vulnerary (external) effects on the body.  Demulcent herbs are rich in mucilage and can soothe and protect irritated or inflamed tissue within the body and vulnerary herbs are applied externally and support the body in the healing of wounds and cuts.  Mucilage can be used in gastrointestinal inflammatory processes; associated to topical irritation agents. The mechanism of action is that mucilages cover the mucous membranes and prevent irritation of the nerve endings.

The UK species are all demulcents, used for their soothing effects on the digestion, respiratory and urinary systems.  The family as a whole rarely contains toxic constituents. However cotton have been found to reduce male fertility. This is due to the presence of the sesquiterpene gossypol, which prevents spermatogenesis. However, this effect may be irreversible if high doses are taken over a long period of time.

real marshmallows

How to make Rose & Marshmallow Root Marshmallows

If you do not have rose hydrosol or rose water then you can substitute them for water (or experiment with different herbal teas such as chamomile, chamomile honey and vanilla or even cacao.

Ingredients

120 ml rose hydrosol/rose water
120 ml water
1 tablespoon marshmallow root powder
1-2 tablespoons of hibiscus flowers (these make the marshmallows pink!)
235 ml honey
1 packet of unflavored gelatin
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Bring the water and rose hydrosol to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the marshmallow root and hibiscus flower and stir with a whisk. Simmer for five minutes and then place in the fridge until cool.
  2. Strain the marshmallow and hibiscus decoction through a fine mesh sieve. Add enough water to equal a full cup.
  3. Take half of the marshmallow mixture and place in a medium sized bowl and add gelatin to it. Set aside.
  4. Take the other half of the mixture in a small saucepan along with the honey, vanilla extract and the salt.
  5. Bring to a simmer. Place the candy thermometer in the mixture until it reaches 2400 (soft ball) then remove from heat.
  6. Using a hand mixer begin to mix the marshmallow and gelatin mixture on low. Slowly add the hot marshmallow and honey mixture while continuing to mix.
  7. Once the two mixtures have been combined continue to whip on high for another 5-10 minutes.
  8. Pour the mixture onto an 8×8 pan lined with natural parchment paper that has been oiled.
  9. Let these sit for a few hours until they are set up and firm.
  10. Slice with a knife. These were a little sticky.
  11. You could roll them in rose petal powder or powdered sugar if you wanted them less sticky.
  12. Enjoy these marshmallows any way you would enjoy the store-bought variety – they make a great treat for children, especially if they are prone to respiratory tract infections.

If you would like to purchase the marshmallow root and hibiscus please check out my website as I am planning to set up an online shop for dried herbs over the next few weeks: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk

 

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.