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


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)


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

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Serves 4-6


• 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)


  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


• 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)


  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


• 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



• 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


  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


• 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


  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.


• 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


  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


• 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


  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!!)


• 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


  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!

Increasing your fruit and vegetable intake

The new year brings forth many new resolutions to improve our lives.  A lot of these are health related.  I am drinking 2 litres of water a day in an attempt to improve my bodies hydration levels and have more energy.
Hippocrates quote

Hippocrates quote

Unfortunately a lot of us do not eat enough fruit and vegetables.  They should be what we eat the most of in our diet (not carbohydrates) and are packed full of nutrients and antioxidants.  It is best to purchase vegetables from organic local seasonal providers.  In Grimsby we are lucky to have Green Futures Grimsby, an organic farm which produces vegetable boxes which can be delivered to your door every Friday.  The vegetables taste so much better than the ones we purchase from the supermarkets.  It is a shame that as consumers we prefer fruit and vegetables which look great but without the taste instead of rough and ready fruit and veg which is packed with flavour and goodness.
Here are some great tips on increasing the fruit and vegetables in your diet 🙂
  1. You don’t have to faff about with calorie counting – instead aim for 2 handfuls of fruit a day (2 closed fists) and 2 1/2 handfuls of vegetables.
  2. Start of introducing one extra portion (a fistfull) of fruit or vegetables a day – once you have maintained this regularily, increase this.
  3. Although the government recommend 5 portions a day they were frugal as to their recommendations as they didn’t want it to seem unobtainable – for optimal health to enjoy life to the full try and build up to 8 portions a day (over time)
  4. Be sneaky – add finely grated carrot or courgette to a pasta sauce, meat loaf, chilli or stew to get extra servings.
  5. Blending up a smoothie using fruit and/or vegetables is a great way to get your portions up.
  6. Mash it and spread it – for a savoury option try advocado, for a sweet and filling option try mashed banas on toast with honey – healthy, nutritous and delicious.
  7. Try a omelette with veg added for breakfast, or if you opt for cereal add sliced fresh fruit.
  8. A glass of pure fruit juice counts as one of your portions.
  9. Try roasting vegetables – it brings out loads of different flavours – they can be a side dish to your main meal, added to salads or put in sandwiches.
  10. Don’t like prepping veg – supermarkets have done all of the hard work for you with their prepared fresh produce.
  11. Improve on nature – if it’s a bit bland, jazz it up with herbs, spices, chopped nuts, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil etc.
  12. Sweet tooth? Try melting some 70% dark chocolate and dip fruit into it such as melon, banana, strawberries etc.
  13. Dip crunchy raw vegetables into a salad dressing, mashed advocado or hummus.
  14. Add sweetcorn to salads.
  15. Spread tomato and onion salsa over grilled fish or meat.

Why not grow your own?  It is fun, rewarding and helps to connect you with nature and where our food comes from.  Plus gardening is better than therapy and FREE 🙂

There are many other ways to increase the fruit and vegetables into your diet – the key is to experiment – try unusual vegetables, look at your favourite recipes and see how they can be added there.  My daughter loves super noodles – such a adrenally depleting source of refined white carbohydrates so I add a cupful of frozen vegetables and some meat (cooked chicken, bacon, salami etc) to it to ensure that she is receiving her vitamins and minerals and not creating a nutrient deficiency.

Making your own Cordials

Good afternoon 🙂 I hope that you are all happy and well.  For those of you who read my last article about cancer and herbal support I mentioned that I would write about how to make your own cordials today.  If you didn’t read the article I was discussing that a lot of sweeteners have carcinogenic effects and it is a struggle to find ‘full fat’ cordials in the supermarkets in the UK anymore as they have all been replaced with low sugar high sweetener varieties taking away our choice of what to put in our bodies.  Therefore I will share with you how to make your own cordials.

The benefits are you know what you are putting into the recipe and therefore your own body.  You will realise how much sugar is required to make cordials which can be quite shocking initially.  They make great gifts in the lead up to Christmas and above all you can experiment with new flavours and combinations.  Every year I make elderflower and elderberry cordial, I like to make raspberry cordials as well as I usually have a glut of raspberries from the fruit canes in my garden.

Pick which fruit you would like to be in the cordial, I love elderberries.



Wash your fruit and place them in a saucepan and cover with cold water.  You then have to simmer the fruit to extract the delicious flavours into the water.  Do not have your heat too high, you want to preserve the vitamins and minerals.  As vitamin C is water soluble it will be part of the drink as long as it isn’t over too high a heat.  For berries such as elderberries and blackberries I simmer for 20 minutes.  This would be the same for fruit such as apples, plums and apricots but fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, bananas and oranges would only need 10-15 minutes.

You can add different herbs and spices to flavour.  Elderberries taste great with lemon zest and juice, cloves, ginger, cinnamon or a mix of all of the above.

Different fruits which you can try

Different fruits which you can try

If you separate the fruit from the water and measure how much water there is you can either keep the fruit out or return it to the pan.  This depends whether you want an instant cordial or if you want to allow the flavours to infuse overnight.  Either way measure how much water there is and add a pound of sugar for every pint of fruit water you have.  I then return the water and sugar to the hob and simmer until the sugar has dissolved.

If you are allowing the flavours to infuse overnight add the fruit back to the pan and cover with a tea towel after you have dissolved the sugar.  If you want to bottle it up then allow the mixture to cool and pour into sterilised bottles.  The cordial will usually last for at least 3 months and can be kept in or out of the fridge.  I have had a bottle of cordial which has lasted for two years but it was kept in a cool and dark place (my outside shed).

If you have made a citric fruit cordial such as lime, lemon or orange then you can add citric acid – the usual ratio is 1oz to 1 pint but this will differ depending on your taste.

You can even make cordials using herbs and spices – lemon balm tastes delicious as does lemon and ginger.  Let me know what combinations you make or have tried. Have a great weekend.

Cinnamon – an overview of its health benefits

orange and cinnamonCinnamon as an evergreen tree native in South China, the Himalayas, India and Sri Lanka dependant on which species.  It has been introduced to many other countries and it is cultivated for its bark which is used in economic, culinary and medicinal applications.  It is one of the oldest spices known and has been recorded by different countries dating back to 2700BC.  There are over 250 different species of Cinnamomum spp; scientific research has mainly employed Cinnamomum cassia and C. zeylanicum.

Botanical Family: Lauraceae (laurel family)

32 genera and 2000-2500 species


Genus species         Common Name
Cinnamomum verum


True   Cinnamon,

Ceylon Cinnamon,   Cinnamon





Chinese Cinnamon, Cassia Bark,


Cinnamon is cultivated in moist well drained soil, grows happily in partial shade.  The tree can be propagated by ripe seed or cuttings from first year growth.  Bark is harvested, peeled and dried into quills ready for consumption.  Young branches are smooth and brown in appearance.  Leaves grow in opposite formation new growth is red in colour developing to green when mature, are ovate with three prominent veins and are leathery in texture.  Fruit forms as a fleshy ovoid drupe containing one fertilised seed turning dark purple to black when it is ripe, similar in size to an olive.  Flowers are bisexual, small and pale yellow and grow in the axillary or terminal panicles.

Details   about the species ↓ Species of   Cinnamon →  

Cinnamomum Cassia


Cinnamomum verum

Height and   Span Height: 12-20 metres (40-70ft)

Span: 6-12 metres (20-40ft)

Height: 10-18 metres (30-60ft)

Span: 6-10 metres (20-30ft)

Significant   descriptive information Leaves: up to 20cm

Flowers: panicles

Berries: single seeded

Native: China

Leaves: up to 18cm

Flowers: clusters

Berries: purple, ovoid

Native: S India and Sri Lanka

Hardiness Minimum temperature:


Minimum temperature: 15°C
Parts used Inner bark, Leafy twigs, fruits and oil Inner bark, leaves and oil

Humans have used cinnamon for thousands of years; the spice played an important role global economics enabling colonial expansion during the 16th Century.  Holland cultivated this spice improving its economic position in world trade.  Cinnamon has been used as a spice flavouring food and in perfumery.  It has been cultivated and imported throughout the world for its economic, culinary and medicinal uses.  Due to extensive cultivation this spice is rarely harvested from the wild.

cinnamon8In Ayurvedic medicine cinnamon is used for hyperacidity, asthma, constipation-predominant IBS (stimulating digestive enzymes), dysentery-predominant IBS (to clear kapha and stimulate digestive enzymes), conjunctivitis, bronchitis, colds, congestion, water retention, hiccups, nausea, muscle tension and vomiting.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) cinnamon is used as a warming remedy indicated for ‘exterior cold’ or ‘wind-cold’.  It is contained in several TCM formulas including Ma Huang Tang – Ephedra Decoction and Gui Zhi Tang – Cinnamon Twig Decoction, both formulas are diaphoretic enabling interior cold to be released through sweating. It has been known to the Chinese since 2700BC and given to patients who are deficient in Heart Qi and Yang.

Western Herbal Medicine uses cinnamon as a warming remedy for patients with a common cold or influenza.  It supports patients with anorexia or who have suffered weight loss, stimulating appetite.  Its antispasmodic and carminative actions are employed for people who experience colic, diarrhoea and indigestion.  Cinnamon has also been used historically to ease toothache, arthritis and menstrual disorders and clear up urinary tract infections.

Cinnamon – Constituents

  • Volatile oils composed of aromatic benzene derivatives and terpenes including:
  • Cinnamaldehyde 60-75%
  • Phenols – Eugenol (In C. zeylanicum 4-10%)
  • Methyl eugenol
  • Eugenol acetate
  • Cinnamyl acetate
  • Cinnamyl alcohol
  • Salicylaldehyde
  • Methylsalicylaldehyde
  • Benzaldehyde
  • Benzyl benzoate
  • Linalool
  • Hydrocarbons: pinene, phyllandrene, caryophyllene, safrole, cymene and cineol
  • Ketones
  • Alcohols
  • Esters
  • Cuminaldehyde
  • Piperitone
  • Condensed Tannins (proanthocyanidins)
  • Catechins
  • Phlobatannins
  • Resins
  • Gum
  • Diterpenoids
  • Mucilage
  • Calcium oxalate
  • Coumarin (Higher in C. cassia)
  • Starch/Sugars
  • Phenylalanine
  • Insecticidal compounds: cinnezalin and cinnzelanol

Cinnamon contains up to 4% volatile oils.  Cinnamyl acetate is contained in high proportions and may be converted into aldehyde.  Phenylalanine is a precursor of cinnamic aldehyde and eugenol.  Cinnamon’s sweet taste is due to the cinnamaldehyde content.  An alcoholic solution yields a blue colour when mixed with ferric chloride.  C. cassia is more astringent than C. zeylanicum.

Medicinal Actions of Cinnamon

  • Carminative
  • Anti-infective (volatile oils)
  • Anti-spasmodic
  • Anti-emetic
  • Anti-diarrhoeal
  • Anti-microbial
  • Anti-fungal
  • Anti-mutagenic
  • Anti-viral
  • Stimulant
  • Astringent
  • Anthelmintic/Vermifuge (dispels parasites such as worms)
  • Antiseptic
  • Haemostatic
  • Anti-diabetic
  • Mild analgesic
  • Febrifuge

cinnamon2Research into cinnamons effects on sugar and fat metabolism has achieved significant results in animal studies.  Cinnamon’s FBG reducing potential can be understood through its polyphenol content which is antioxidant in effect.  Cinnamon is recognised as a functional food source of antioxidants which help to decrease oxidative stress by inhibiting the enzyme 5-lipooxygenase improving insulin sensitivity.

Antioxidant effects can be measured by oxidative stress markers enabling researchers to analyse the links between cinnamon and changes in glucose or lipid profiles.  Plants are known sources of antioxidants which neutralise free radicals, endogenous or from external sources.  Free radicals cause the body stress damaging cells and tissues within the body e.g. lipid peroxidation.  Cooking and digestion of cinnamon has minimal impact on the levels and action of antioxidants and polyphenols.

Cinnamon may affect glucose metabolism through its coumarin content.  Coumarins can cause photosensitive reactions which may produce allergic reactions; one patient taking cinnamon did develop a rash which resolved after discontinuing supplementation.  Coumarins are forms of flavonoids which occur as glycosides; they have a role in plant metabolism and immunology; medical actions include: hypotensive and oestrogenic effects.  Oestrogen has a physiological effect on metabolism and reduced blood pressure can improve risk factors of NIDDM.  Aqueous extracts of cinnamon have produced biologically active insulin like action through in vitro research.

Scientific Research on Cinnamon 

Research on cinnamon has focused on several of the actions and applications of the spice and its essential oils including its antimicrobial, antifungal, antioxidant and antibacterial effects.  Areas of research include cancer, diabetes, hypertension and digestion.  Nishida et al reported that cinnamon is effective in inducing apoptosis (cell death) to HL-60 cells which are involved in cancer (2003).  Cinnamon’s anti-tumour action was statistically significant in this in vitro primary research.  In TCM cinnamon is a component in a formula called Minjin Yoei To (NYT) which is prescribed to patients with lung cancer, evidence shows positive results in tumour marker levels and symptoms in patients with a lung carcinoma taking NYT for seven weeks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALipid and glucose metabolism, antioxidant, insulin sensitizing and insulin mimetic have been investigated in order to explore and discover the effects cinnamon has on diabetics.  The majority of research conducted regarding cinnamon and diabetes have concluded that cinnamon is beneficial its prevention and control although there are conflicting studies.  Analysis of cinnamon and lipid metabolism discovered that animal studies were more effective that human trials.

Disorders of lipid metabolism can lead to health conditions such as hyperlipidaemia, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases which increase the risk of further health implications.  Cinnamon has been used traditionally for digestive conditions of the gastrointestinal tract-GIT which has a major role in lipid metabolism as it synthesises apolipoproteins required to transport lipids around the body and resynthesizes triglycerides.  When levels of cholesterol and triglycerides are high health risks ensue including atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke and hypertension although lipids are necessary for health with roles in energy homeostasis, reproductive and organ physiology. The use of statins to manage and reduce high levels of cholesterol is current procedure in orthodox medical professions once lifestyle factors have been explored.  There is conflicting viewpoints on the use of statins in lowering lipid levels.  Several metabolic disorders occur due to insulin resistance and research into cinnamon discusses its potential insulin mimetic properties.  Research has looking into cinnamons effect on fat metabolism with mixed results.

It has been over four decades since the discovery of plasma lipoprotein transport systems in the body which have identified that fat production actually occurs in the liver and gastro-intestinal tract.  The link between high lipid levels and cardiovascular disease (CVD) – hypertension, atherosclerosis and hypercholesterolemia has been explored and researched and the results are used by modern medicine to predict, prevent and treat people with lipid disorders.  Further research is being done to determine how to lower lipid profiles and prevent cardiovascular diseases from occurring.

Cinnamon has the potential to activate lipid metabolism, further primary research should include human factors such as exercise levels, the state of a person’s endocrine and nervous system, diet and gender into account as current research has shown that these have an effect on fat metabolism.cinnamon

Future research has been highlighted in to cinnamon’s potential to protect nerve cells from damage highlighting possible preventative strategies in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Chemical Composition of Cinnamon

  • Moisture 9.9%
  • Protein 4.65%
  • Fat (ether extract) 2.2%
  • Fibre 20.3%
  • Carbohydrates 59.55%
  • Total ash 3.55%
  • Calcium 1.6%
  • Phosphorus 0.05%
  • Iron 0.004%
  • Sodium 0.01%
  • Potassium 0.4%
  • Vitamins (mg/100g) B1 0.14; B2 0.21; C 39.8; niacin 1.9; A 175 I.U.

Clinical Applications of Cinnamon

Cinnamon has an anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial action helping to combat infections such as the common cold and influenza.  It supports the body’s removal of toxins and act as a pain reliever.  Clinical applications include flatulent dyspepsia, colic, diarrhoea, common cold, dyspepsia, abdominal distension from flatulence and nausea.  The volatile oils in cinnamon have lipolytic properties supporting the body in the metabolism and digestion of fats suggesting a potential role in the treatment of diabetes.

Contra-indications, Adverse Effects and Drug Interactions

There is a potential for an allergic or irritant adverse reaction to cinnamon use due to the content of cinnamaldehyde in volatile oil.  The German E Commission has approved both C. cassia and C. zeylanicum as safe herbs with medicinal properties.  The bark is the approved part of cinnamon for use as a spice or for its medical properties and is generally regarded as safe even during pregnancy.  Cinnamomum cassia contains coumarins which can damage the liver in high quantities which are not present in negligible quantities in C. zeylanicum.  A study conducted for the Food Standards Agency assessed the dietary intake of cinnamon in multi-ethnic populations within the UK determined that there is no risk regarding coumarin levels when ingested as part of the diet.  In the Handbook of Herbs and Spices it states that ingestion may cause nausea, vomiting and possible kidney damage and recommends that it isn’t used in pregnancy.


Dried bark: 0.5-1g(x3) daily

Oil: 0.05-0.2ml(x3) daily

Powder: 0.5-1g(x3) daily

Fluid Extract: 0.5-1ml(x3) daily

The maximum dosage of coumarins to ensure safety is 1.0mg/kg for coumarin in foods and 2.0mg/kg for coumarin in spices, pregnant women are recommended not to exceed a daily intake of 0.7mg/kg.




Medicinal Mushrooms

Mushrooms photographed in Grimsby near Grimsby Golf Club

Mushrooms photographed in Grimsby near Grimsby Golf Club

Thanks to Diane on Twitter (@Accounts4_UK) for suggesting this topic.  She wanted to know about medicinal and culinary mushrooms as she hasn’t had the courage to forage for mushrooms.  She has been wise.

Mushrooms come in different shapes and sizes and different varieties, it takes a trained eye to identify a particular mushroom with precision. Even experts get it wrong – I remember being told about some Japanese mushroom experts who went to America and harvested some mushrooms which were identical to the ones they had at home, they returned, cooked them up and ate them only to discover that they were fatal!!  This is how difficult the identification of mushrooms can be!!

While some common mushrooms are safe to eat, some others are extremely toxic and can be fatal to eat. I will mention some edible British mushrooms but please ensure you are 100%  on ID before eating them.  I am a committee member for the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust (Grimsby and Cleethorpes Group) and I have been informed by our mushroom expert that even he doesn’t dare to eat them!!

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust - Please support your local Wildlife Trust to ensure that animals and plants and their ecology are protected

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust – Please support your local Wildlife Trust to ensure that animals and plants and their ecology are protected

Therefore the task of picking mushroom for consumption should be left to the experienced or those trained in the agrarian field. It is otherwise an impossible task for an ordinary person to tell what type of mushroom a particular piece is.  Considering the possible repercussions of eating a poisonous piece of mushroom, it is wise to cook only mushrooms sourced from an expert.  Don’t experiment with mushrooms–the price may be your life. The lethal effects of some mushrooms may not manifest itself  for several weeks. You may feel good weeks after ingestion to find that your kidneys have failed and you will die without hope of a remedy.

Although I am a herbalist, my specialism has been plants.  I was taught about several medicinal mushrooms but wasn’t taught about identification as the ones I was taught about are not native to Britain but to China, Japan and the USA.  Although we may not think of mushrooms as herbs, over 38,000 species of mushrooms have been discovered to have medicinal uses and they have been valued as both food and medicine for thousands of years.

In Japan, street vendors still sell medicinal mushrooms to maintain health and promote longevity and mushroom experts have been known to travel hundreds of miles in order to collect mushrooms as they are renown for resolving cancer and many other degenerative diseases.  They are especially seen as tonics to our immune system.

Edible Mushrooms Poster

Edible Mushrooms Poster

There is a misconception that mushrooms contain little nutritional value!! They are a low calorie food source but they are surprisingly high in nutrients.  Five little button mushrooms contain more potassium than an orange!  Mushrooms contain antioxidants and are high in polysaccharides which have been found to contribute to their anti-cancer activities.  When you think about tree bracket fungi they are effectively concentrating the unique elements that the tree has absorbed over the years.  Most edible and medicinal mushrooms help to rejuvenate our immunity and improve the condition of our blood, skin and joints.

I would recommend that mushrooms are purchased from supermarkets, health food stores or in capsulated form to ensure safety.  When they are introduced to the diet on a regular basis then they can help to support your health and wellbeing.  Once they have been taken for a few months that your immunity will improve, your will find yourself able to concentrate more, your memory will improve and also the condition of your skin, hair and nails.

Did you know that mushrooms are environmentally friendly?  Without fungi our woodlands would be piled high with leaf litter!!  They make their food from the decay of other plant matter and without them our world would be full of health hazards.  Did you also know that the largest organism in the planet is a mushroom?  What we see popping up from the ground is only the reproductive body of the mushroom – the rest of its body is called a mycelium tract and is either underground or inside decaying matter.

largest organism in the world





















A total of 126 medicinal functions are thought to be produced by medicinal mushrooms including: anti-tumor/anti-cancer, immuno-modulating, antioxidant, radical scavenging (antioxidants), cardiovascular (supporting the heart and blood vessels), anti-hypercholesterolemia (lowering cholesterol levels), anti-viral,
anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, antifungal, detoxification, hepatoprotective (supporting the liver) and anti-diabetic effects.  When it comes to modern scientific research several mushroom polysaccharides have proceeded to further clinical trials and are used extensively and successfully as drugs in Asia to resolve various cancer and other diseases.

Reishi Mushroom

reishi mushroom

This mushroom is seen as a longevity tonic within Traditional Chinese Medicine.  It is also used in cancer treatment.  It helps to improve vitality, strength and stamina and to prolong life.  Reishi enhances immune response, alleviates chemotherapy side effects such as nausea and kidney damage and protects cellular DNA by raising antioxidant capacity.  Scientific studies have shown that the Reishi mushroom has properties that contribute to the healing of tumours, lowering of blood sugar and cholesterol levels.  When tested on an animals (boo hiss to animal research), Reishi was found to work just like the Shiitake mushroom in preventing cancer cells from multiplying.  It is though that the mushroom inhibits the formation of a blood supply to the tumour essentially cutting the tumours food supply and preventing it from growing further.  Reishi is also considered an important, natural, anti-viral agent which also helps to regulate the cardiovascular system helping people with chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.

Maitake Mushroom


This is used in TCM to enhance the immune system and is a major part of Japanese cooking.  It helps to boost the innate immune response as well as the adaptive immune response within the body.  It is high in antioxidants which protects cells within the body and is deemed as an anti-inflammatory agent.  Inflammation is seen in most cancers.  The Maitake mushroom is rich in polysaccharides which improves immunity.  Trials have found that this mushroom also helps to reduce blood pressure, regulate blood sugar and also cholesterol levels.  Maitake can increase insulin sensitivity and also reduce insulin resistance making it great for people with Type 2 diabetes.  It is also seen as an effective weight loss agent when consumed regularly.

British Mushrooms

There are 3000 species of mushroom within the British Isles and roughly 20 are poisonous – that isn’t to say that there are more which contain toxin elements which won’t make you feel ill.  Diarrhoea and sickness are common symptoms of mushroom toxicity.  Each poisonous species resembles up to 6 edible species, so the key is to get a good field guide and only harvest one if it fits with all of the characteristics including season, colour, spores, etc.  Only gather young mushrooms but ensure that they have all of their characteristics, when harvesting twist the mushroom gently to ensure that it can crop again next year and do not harvest when it is raining as mushrooms can soak up a lot of water.

The only edible mushroom which I am happy identifying is the puffball.

Puffball Mushrooms

puffball mushroom

It looks a lot like an egg and can vary from the size of a large turnip to a large 30cm ruler.  It is white and spherical, its outer layer is smooth and white when young turning to a greenish yellow and breaking up when mature.  The inner layer is white when young and is firm to the touch like cheese.  They should only be eaten when they are white all the way through.  When the are fully mature they live up to their name and puff out spores when touched by a passing animal or curious child.  My daughter loved to do this when we were out on autumn walks.  They are delicious eaten when young and should only be harvested in this way.  They can be sliced and fried in butter or covered in egg and breaded.

There are numerous other delicious edible mushrooms: anise caps, blewits, ceps, chanterelles, common mushrooms, honey fungus, Jew’s ear, morels, oyster mushrooms, beefsteak fungus, parasol mushroom, saffron milk cap and St George’s mushroom to name but a few.  If you are a mushroom expert and live in the Grimsby or Cleethorpes area would you like to meet up some time and discuss correct identification?



The Qualities of Flavour – Introducing the Five Tastes

Hello there.  I hope that you are all enjoying the weather.  Over the last few weeks I have been introducing you to several different methods of preparing herbal medicines.  This is something which I enjoy, there is nothing more satisfying than making medicines for those who come to me for support with their health and wellbeing.  I often prescribe herbal tinctures in synergistic formulations which have been created with the person in mind which I am treating.  This can be blending relevant tinctures together or creating a herbal cream with herbs to suit the patient.  I have also made teas, toners, capsules, hair conditioners, lotions, facial scrubs, syrups and even elixirs using quality natural and benefiting ingredients.

Cleethorpes Beach

Cleethorpes Beach

The preparations which I have shared with you in previous blogs include, teas (infusions or tisanes), decoctions, tinctures and creams.  The first three are remedies which are taken internally.  When deciding what to use when making medicine for internal use the qualities of flavour is a factor which should be considered.

Therapeutically I have been taught to understand the five tastes.  The different nutrients in the food and drinks which we consume have different tastes to us which are easily recognisable using our sense of taste and smell.

What categories spring to mind when you think about what you have eaten or drunk?

Can you come up with five?  I can imagine that you can come up with more.

Love your food

Love your food

Did you get any of these: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent salty, bland, aromatic, hot and cold?  (I bet you got spicy, creamy and many more too!)

The five tastes which have been used therapeutically are Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Pungent and Salty.  There are many layers – different combinations which produce different tastes.  Next time you eat or drink something consider which of the five tastes it can be classified in.  Sugar and honey are obvious sweet tasting foods.  Fruits also have a natural and nutritious sweetness, vinegars are sour, coffee (without sugar) is bitter, chilli and ginger are examples of pungent herbs and celery, seaweed and salt are obviously salty.

Chopped fresh vegetables

Chopped fresh vegetables

Reflection on the food that you are eating helps to develop your mindfulness and enables you to live in the present.  This is beneficial for your digestion as well as giving you an ability to relax, lower tension and stress.  Try eating without any distractions such as the TV or music.  Sit down without your phone, tablet or computer.  Focus on how you are feeling, start from the toes and work up making a note of how you feel.  Enjoy your food or your drink.  How does it taste? Which category (or categories) do you think it fits into? How does it make you feel?  What we consume is our nourishment, a necessity so that we can have the energy to do what we do.  By developing this activity you can understand yourself and your body better as well as understand what you eat better. Our relationship with our food would also change – generally for the better (without substituting happiness, healthy food isn’t all boring).  It you found this beneficial you can also extend the practice of mindfulness to your cooking too.

Herbs, food and drink all have an action on our body – our body digests them, breaking them down to access nutrients.  They have an action on our body – have a function to play in our health and wellbeing.  Everything is moderation is an important factor in our wellbeing, anything in excess can have a negative effect on us.  Certain tastes, because of the active constituents it contains have an affinity with different organs in our bodies too.  I would like to share my understanding of these with you.  Many people say that “You know if it is good for you if it tastes horrible!”.  When you look at our diets today compared to what they were when we were hunter-gatherers or even lived off the land (farming) there is a steep increase in the amount of sugar and carbohydrates that we were consuming.  And although it has been a long time (thousands and thousands of years) this is only a blink in the evolutionary scale of things.

Which foods would class as healthy? Which ones an unhealthy? Are there any which you think are neither?  Are there foods which are healthy up to a point?  Is this because of eating them in excess?  I thought of brain freeze (lol – it’s a hot day) but it is proven that excess salt has a negative effect on our health.  That too much sweet is bad for us.  In my next blog I will discuss the therapeutics of taste and how you can use it when deciding what herbal medicine to use or make.  Until then, try to think about your food.  You learn about your self in doing so, are you sat at your desk working? Or whilst travelling? Do you watch TV or listen to music whilst eating?  Do you sit around a table? Do you eat with your family? It is lovely to get the family sat around the dinner table with no distractions.  You get to enjoy your food and also catch up with those who you love most.  Sometimes people live together but be distant.  Eating together is a great way to bond (children or teens get used to it once it becomes routine), research found that in families who eat together at a table had children who were less likely to get into trouble or commit a crime.


Till then.  Have a happy and enlightening week.