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 heart

This week I am starting an new series of articles – when I wrote about the liver the response I had was very positive so I have decided to discuss each aspect of our body and how it relates to us as a whole.  This week I am discussing the heart as part of the cardiovascular system.  We are all aware of the need to have a healthy heart and how obesity, drinking and smoking can affect it.  We are also aware of its role as a ‘pump’ to circulate blood around our body.  This is quite a mechanised view of the heart and one when you look logically which has its flaws – the heart alone isn’t strong enough to pump blood throughout all of the fine capillaries of the body – yes there are other muscles in place within the cardiovascular system – arteries are lined with thick muscles, veins not so much but their circulation is greatly improved with activity.

The heart is a muscular organ which is roughly 10cm long and the size of your fist.  It lies behind the ribs more to the left than central – the tip of the heart can be detected in the 5th intercostal space.  There are three layers of tissue which make up the heart., these include the: pericardium, myocardium and endocardium.  The pericardium is the outer tissues and can be seen as two sacs enclosing the heart protecting it.  the Myocardium (my- meaning muscle) contains the specialised cardiac muscles and the endocardium is the lining of the chambers and valves within the heart.  The valves within the heart make the sound of our heart beat as they open and close.

Our heart is divided into four chambers, there are to atriums (left and right), two ventricles (left and right) and two atrioventricular valves (you guessed it…. left and right).  Deoxygenated blood (from the rest of the body) enters the right side of the heart to flow to the lungs to become oxygenated again.  The oxygenated blood from the lungs passes through the left side of the heart and flows to the body.  Every cell in our body requires oxygen in order to work effectively and every cell in our body respires so carbon dioxide is taken from cells to the lungs to be excreted from the body.

The heart has an intrinsic and independent system where the cardiac muscles are automatically stimulated without external stimulation but it can be stimulated or depressed by nerve impulses or by circulating hormones.

On a deeper level our emotions have a huge impact on our heart and blood flow – when we are embarrassed or angry we blush, shock or anxiety can cause us to go pale as blood rushed to the core of our body.  A lot of secondary high blood pressure is related to stress and our emotions.  Our heart is the heart of our humanity enabling our mind, body and soul to exist as one.  Science has explored it when we transplant organs – the body rejects the organs so doctors suppress the immune system (which recognises self) and when the transplants are successful there are numerous cases personality traits and memories of the organ donor emerge in the transplantee.

Our heart is an organ of warmth – of who we are. “I feel”, “I am”, We understand who we are because we feel it in our heart.  The heart is the basis of our inner stability.  Our skeletal muscles can be moved voluntarily and are striped in appearance, smooth muscle which is involuntarily moved (reflex actions controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System).  The heart has unique muscles called cardiac muscles which are striped – an indication that it can be affected by our mind and emotions.  There are buddhist monks who can slow and even stop their heart beat and in anxiety the palpitations which can be experienced can be affected by our thoughts improving the situation or making it seem worse.

Factors which can affect our heart rate include our gender, our ANS activity, our age, hormones, activity/exercise, temperature and our emotions (to name the main ones).  Our blood pressure is an indicator of how our heart is functioning.  The systolic reading is the strength our heart is working and is taken using a sphygmomanometer.  When our left ventricle contracts it pushes blood into the aorta (the main artery of the body) – the systolic reading is this pressure.  The diastolic reading occurs when the heart is resting following the ejection of blood.  The difference between these two readings is seen as the pulse pressure.  Blood pressure varies by numerous factors including the time of day, posture, gender, age, emotions, medications etc.  The pulse that we feel is a wave of elongation and distention of an artery wall due to the contraction of the heart.

Taking exercise, eating a healthy diet, encouraging children to be heart healthy and being aware of dangers such as smoking, drinking, high blood pressure, and stress are all important for your long term heart health, whether you currently have heart disease or not.

1. Eating healthily
A healthy diet helps to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, or if you’ve already got heart problems it will help to protect your heart.

2. Being active
People of all ages who are physically active are less likely to get cardiovascular disease as those that are inactive.

3. Getting the right support
Having friends and family around you who are supportive of your goals is very important. We are lucky living in the UK to have a choice of health care providers that we want to support our health and wellbeing including the MHS, herbalists (such as myself), homeopaths, chiropodists, aromatherapists, acupuncturists etc.

When I look at supporting someones heart health I spend at least an hour with them to look at all aspects of their life and their health, there are numerous herbs which can have a beneficial effect on the heart, there are herbs to reduce cholesterol levels, reduce stress and even improve circulation.  Herbs are just part of my support though as I also give personalised dietary and lifestyle advice which is tailored to the needs of the individual.

If you have any questions about supporting your health please contact me I am happy to help – http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/contactus

Brassicaceae – the cabbage family

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

Love your food

Love your food

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

cabbage family examples

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

brassicaceae breeding

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

Plant Identification

Brassicaceae

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

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

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

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

Key medicinal theme: Pungency and stimulation

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

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

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

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

shepherds purse

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

broccoli

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

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Broccoli Casserole

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Nourishing Broccoli Salad

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

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

Dressing

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Crocodile Nuggets

Serves 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

Broccoli and Potato Frittata

Serve 2-4

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Gluten-Free Broccoli Cheese Soup

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Forget-me-not, for I am the borage family Boraginaceae :)

The boraginaceae family is commonly known as the borage family or the forget me not family.  Both are members of this plant family and both grow wild around Grimsby and can be seen on the regular herb walks I give around Bradley Woods.  This family are mainly herbaceous plants (which die back to the ground after each growing season).  There are roughly 100 genera within this family and 2000 species.

boragiaceae flower

Boraginaceae was initially classified as Lamiales because they shared (with Lamiaceae and Verbenaceae) ovaries with four deeply divided partitions, a style attached to the base of the ovary, and fruits that break apart into four nutlets. These similarities appear to have evolved independently, however, and borages differ in having alternate leaves, round stems, different secondary metabolites (no iridoid alkaloids), regular flowers, the same number of stamens and petals, and flower clusters.

The virginia bluebell is no relative to our British bluebells which are currently carpeting woodlands :)

The virginia bluebell is no relative to our British bluebells which are currently carpeting woodlands 🙂

The family includes a number of garden ornamentals, such as heliotrope and Virginia bluebell.  There are also several toxic members of this family due to the secondary metabolites that they possess. Medicinally members of this family include Pulmonaria (lungwort), Myosotis (forget-me-not), Borago officinalis (borage) and Symphytum officinale (comfrey).  There is also Echium vulgare (Viper’s Bugloss), Lithospermum officinale (Gromwell) and Cynoglossum officinale (Hound’s-tongue).

Symphytum officinale - comfrey in flower (the bees love it!)

Symphytum officinale – comfrey in flower (the bees love it!)

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are found in most, if not all, of the plants of the Boraginaceae family. Some of these alkaloids are hepatotoxic (toxic to the liver), causing veno-occlusive disease of the liver, which can progress to fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver. There is also some suspicion of carcinogenicity. The development of veno-occlusive disease in adults has only so far been observed after long-term intake of high doses. However, infants and children seem to be more susceptible, with some case reports of hepatotoxic responses after minimal exposure – therefore herbs in this family should only be used under the guidance and supervision of professionals such as herbalists and doctors.

borage (4)

Members of the Boraginaceae family are often covered with bristly hairs. The flowers have a radial symmetry, often borne along one side of branches or at the tip of the stem, in a spirally coiled inflorescence that unwinds as the flowers mature (some are similar to a scorpions tail uncurling).  There are 5 sepals, united at the base into a calyx, 5 petals, united into a corolla.  The flowers have 5 stamens and 1 style.  There are often small appendages (fornices) on the insides of the petals near the point where the tube and limb join.  All these parts are attached near the base of the ovary.  The leaves are simple, usually alternate and bristly-hairy.  The fruit is usually a dry capsule that separates into 4 hard, seed-like sections (nutlets). In a few species the fruit is a berry.

In discussion of the Doctrine of Signatures, “Large leaves stand for surface area and gas exchanges or breathing, hence the lungs and skin……..Hairy or hirsute leaves and stems are a signature for ..hairs of the mucosa” (Wood, 1997)

It is hard to draw clear themes for this family. Demulcent properties are widespread, but usually just form a minor part of the indications for any one herb in this family.   Medicinally, these plants are astringent, good internally as tea or externally as poultices for pretty much any wounds or excretions that need an astringent to tighten up the tissues. A few members of the family are mucilaginous, useful for their emollient properties. Some contain volatile oils and may serve as an antidote to poisons by functioning as diaphoretics. Many members of this family have irritating hairs that may cause dermatitis on some individuals. Also, several plants contain minute amounts of poisonous alkaloids (as mentioned above), making them toxic when used long term or in high doses.

Lungwort has gorgeous flowers and white spotted leaves

Lungwort has gorgeous flowers and white spotted leaves

Symphytum officinale and Borago officinalis are undoubtedly the two most commonly used in the UK – I know I use both regularly in my clinic.  Symphytum has a very strong tradition for promoting healing in damaged tissue, particularly after sprains, fractures and wounds, but also for internal treatment of ulcerated tissue.  Its common name is knitbone as it is an excellent herb for speeding the rate of mitosis (cell division) increasing the speed of healing.  Here is a youtube video of an American herbalist David Hoffman discussing the properties of Comfrey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szRvmxzEwbI

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There has been controversy regarding the use of comfrey internally.  The use of the root internally has stopped in mainstream herbalism although the leaf is still used internally.  The controversy is regarding the relatively high levels of hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids – there was a case where a man developed liver failure after using comfrey, but.. when you look at the case he was drinking excessive amounts of comfrey root tea internally over an extended period.  This said, even as a herbalist I allow the people who I prescribe comfrey leaf to internally a break to allow the liver to recuperate prior to re-prescribing again.  I have cooked and eaten the young comfrey shoots. They are great to harvest at this time of the year and they can be treated and eaten like asparagus or mixed in salads. Young leaves make an excellent vegetable or can be added to soups and stews.

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Borago officinalis is most often used by herbalists as an adrenal tonic, it is a great herb to increase a person’s courage, lift their mood and reduce mild depression.  An infusion (2 tsp per cup, allow to stand for 10 mins) can be taken 2 times a day for rheumatic conditions, pleurisy and affections of the mucous membranes.  Old recipes recommend a concoction of flowers soaked in wine and drunk for melancholy and depression.  Young leaves make a fine addition to salads and lend them a pleasant cucumber like flavour. They can also be treated like spinach. The flower corolla can be used to colour vinegar blue.

Lithospermum officinale was traditionally used for treatment of kidney stones. Other members of the Lithospermum genus have traditionally been used as contraceptives. Laboratory experiments have confirmed that Lithospermum ruderale has a marked contraceptive effect.  Pulmonaria officinalis, as the name suggests, was traditionally used for lung complaints, particularly tuberculosis.  Fruits of the southern African Boraginaceae species are edible, but not very tasty. Some species are browsed by game. A tea is made from the dried leaves, stalks and berries of Ehretia rigida subsp. nervifolia. Dried, ground root powder mixed with cold water is used for diarrhoea (Trichodesma angustifolia subsp. angustifolia). Leaves of Lobostemon, (with pretty bell-shaped flowers) fried in sweet oil and leaf decoctions are old Cape remedies for ringworm, sores, ulcers, burns and wounds.

Oh… and forget-me-not 🙂

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This plant is not used in current herbal medicine practice but had a strong affinity for respiratory organs, especially the left lower lung. On the continent it is sometimes made into a syrup and given for pulmonary affections. There is a tradition that a decoction or juice of the plant hardens steel. The plant has astringent properties; it has been used in lotions. In traditional herbal medicine, forget-me-nots have been used to treat eye diseases.

Five petals, flat face, a yellow eye, usually blue but can be pink to white. The blossoms are added to salads as a garnish and make excellent candied blossoms. However, the plant does contain some pyrrolizidine, a chemical not to eat a lot of so use only occasionally and not to excess.

It is said that whomever wore this flower would not be forgotten by his or her lover. There are two stories that illustrate the flower’s significance among lovers and explain the common name, although both have tragic endings. In the first story, a suitor was picking this flower for his love and saw the perfect specimen. It was close to the cliff’s edge but he reached for it anyway. Losing his balance, the man plummeted over the cliff, shouting, “Forget me not!” as he fell. The second story originates in Germany. A knight and his lovely lady were walking along a riverbank. He was picking this flower for her when he tripped and fell into the river. Before he went under he threw the small bouquet to her and shouted “verges mein nicht”, the German name of the flower.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

Wishing you all a happy easter

I am supposed to be writing about another amazing plant family today but instead I wanted to wish you all a Happy Easter – I hope that you all have an amazing weekend planned.  I will be cooking lamb for my family seasoned with rosemary and thyme.  I will also be looking after my baby nephew so my sister can attend a wedding.

I will aim to write a post about the next plant family next week (before Friday) so that I can continue the series and finish it by next Friday.

until then….

Have a fantastic weekend.

Ranunculaceae family – beautiful buttercups and other relatives

The series that I am writing on the different plant families is continuing – that is because of the vast variety of plant families out there.  Over the next three weeks I will be finishing with this subject and looking more directly at health issues, herbs and herbal preparations.  But until then I really wanted to introduce you all to the buttercup family.  The word ‘ranunculacae’ can be translated to mean ‘little frog’. This can relate to the diminutive size of the plants in this family and to the fact that the buttercup family prefer damp conditions and may be used as shelter for the frogs themselves 🙂

There are around 60 genera of plants in this family with thousands of different species.  The are mainly herbaceous plants – whose aerial parts die off at the end of the growing season.  Clematis is an ornamental member of this plant family and it is a climbing shrub and popular with gardener for its beautiful flowers.  Did you know that clematis is used in homeopathy though?

clematis

The Buttercup family is like a window back in time. None of today’s species were around “100 million years ago, but the Buttercups and other primitive groups like the Magnolias have retained the most ancestral characteristics over time.”

The Pasque flower - Pulsatilla vulgaris member of the buttercup family

The Pasque flower – Pulsatilla vulgaris member of the buttercup family

This is a rather variable family, but most have the following features:

  • The leaves are alternate and often palmately lobed or divided.
  • The flowers are generally showy, actinomorphic with free petals. The petals usually occur in multiples of 5.
  • Stamens and carpels are both numerous.

“The Buttercups are considered very “simple” because the floral parts-the petals, sepals, stamens and pistils-are all of an indefinite number and separate from one another. Also, the stamens and pistils are spirally inserted in a cone-like receptacle, although it is often very small to see.  More advanced plant families have reduced, more specific numbers of floral parts, and the parts are often fused together.”  (You can see examples of this easily on buttercups, anemones and clematis flowers).

buttercup

The presence of toxins is a common feature of the buttercup family.  This can include alkaloids (which are deemed medically significant) and also compounds such as protoanemonin which is found in several species of anemone including the stunning wood anemone which is currently in flower arounds woodlands at this time of year.  Protoanemonin can cause gastrointestinal irritation, a bitter taste and burning sensation in the mouth and throat, mouth ulcers, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and even coughing up blood (hematemesis).  Only 20% of plant species contains alkaloids which have been highly researched by humans for their medicinal and poisonous effects.

Because of the dangerous side effects of the buttercup family this article should only be used as a reference point.  I do not advise that anyone utilise the medicinal plants discussed here unless under the supervision of a medical professional such as a doctor or a herbalist.  Even those species safe for medicinal use are generally treated with caution and used at fairly low dosage.

monkshood

 

Species used by medical herbalists include Aconitum napellus (Monkshood, Aconite), Cimicifuga racemosa (Black Cohosh), Anemone pulsatilla (Pasqueflower), Hydrastis canadensis (Golden Seal), and Ranunculus ficaria (Figwort, Pilewort).  Monkshood can causes central nervous system paralysis, is often considered to be one of the most dangerous of all plants as it has an extremely low therapeutic window (this is the difference between the medicinal effect and toxic effect and is taught to us herbalists in university. Both monkshood and pilewort is used by UK herbalists for external treatment only.  Monkshood is only used in severe neuralgia and on unbroken skin (I have been treating people for four years now and I haven’t needed to use this!!).  All parts of lesser celandine are deemed poisonous and therefore should not be taken internally.  The toxins in the plant are unstable and therefore this herb is only used externally to help relieve hemorrhoids.

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Lesser celandine was known as ‘Scurvywort’ in Germany as the leaves do contain Vitamin C, while in Russia it was seen to have benefits for skin problems and was used in baths for dermatological complaints.  In the past this herb was boiled with white wine and the drink sweetened with honey to induce pleasant dreams.  Please do not eat this plant.

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Wood anemone has fallen out of use of modern herbal medicine because of the irritant toxins that it contains.  It was used in the past for headaches and rheumatic gout.  In France a vinegar was made out of the leaves which extracts the more acrid properties of the plant.  This preparation was used externally to bring the blood to the surface (rubefacient) in the same way that mustard is used today.

Greek mythology says that these stunning flowers sprung up from the tears of the Goddess Venus as she grieved the death of Adonis. “Where streams his blood there blushing springs a rose, And where a tear has dropped, a wind-flower blows.”

black seed

The other plants used medicinally have a diverse range of actions, focused in a variety of body systems, but many have reputations within different traditions as being particularly powerful. For example, Nigella sativa, (Black Seed), is one of the most important of Unani Tibb herbs. It is used as a warming carminative and general stimulant. Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal) was known to physio-medicalists as ‘the king of tonics for the mucous membranes’, used for any atonic condition of mucosa and Cimicifuga racemosa (Black cohosh) is considered by herbalists to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and effective hormonal regulator.

Please remember this is for information only – do not try this at home.  See you next week