Topic: The medicine

Food Plate

Working with my patients on their health, I always look at their food choices. I say that the herbs are like your dominant hand – really effective on its own at getting things done all day long – but when you bring your other hand (food!) along to the party then that’s when we really make a difference to your health. And, those differences are the ones you are empowered to continue by yourself.

What we think we eat and what we actually eat are often quite different. We also tend to think we eat pretty healthily but once we examine it, the things we’ve put in our mouths e.g. after temptation (shop tills, TV adverts), stress and comfort eating and so on have come our way, it can turn out to be quite different to the things we have intentionally put in our mouths.

5-A-DAY? It’s just not enough. And, many of us don’t even achieve that. Aim for 8-10 instead with only two of those being sweet fruits.

My favourite way of thinking about what to eat is based on rainbows! Eating a daily rainbow of fruit and vegetable colours is a great way to get a good variety of the nutrients we need. The BHF talk about it here but mostly we don’t eat 5-a-day let alone the much more ideal 8/10-a-day. If counting portions isn’t your thing, imagine your lunch and dinner plates are 50% covered by colourful veg. Then you will hit that target. It doesn’t have to be 50% steamed veg, it includes pulses, beans and a whole heap of fun, tasty and exciting ways to eat veg like in warm or cold salads.

In my opinion, the NHS eatwell plate is not the best balanced version. I much prefer the Alliance for Natural Health plate instead (there is a different one for children under 6 years old). Look at how differently it is balanced with a strong emphasis on vegetables, low emphasis on fruit and only gluten-free grains, plenty of protein and fats and a good wallop of spices and herbs thrown in for good measure.

A wobbly screen shot of the ANH food plate!

Just think of all the wonderful meals you could eat and feed your family with if you ate like this! Does your diet look like this?

HOW I DO IT: Currently, most of my fruit eating goes on my breakfast with stewed apples (sweetened with cinnamon), some berries or dates if we’ve neither of those in the house. Lunch is often a big salad with a slice of homemade brown Spelt bread with seeds and a protein – tuna & beans, smoked salmon, occasional mortadella/salami/ham etc. We have been experimenting with recipe boxes and the veg portions in our evening meals are generally too few but as I get to know the recipes better, I will be padding them out with more veg or beans.

The Spring herbalist

As the sun warms us up and the blossom cheers our spirits, we unfurl from our Winter hibernation ready to face the world again, much like the sticky buds of the Chestnut trees revealing their fresh, green new leaves.

The garden has leapt into life, the bulbs are gifting us their vibrant colours and Winter’s grey is finally starting to ebb away. What a relief. Spring has definitely started when Sunday’s dawn chorus is followed by the hum of lawnmowers!

Now is the time to think about those health changes which were too difficult as optimistic New Year’s resolutions in dark, dreary January.  When better to ‘spring clean’ yourself than with the lightening of the days?

Tips for aiding your Spring clean:  A cold infusion of fresh herbs

These wonderful can be gathered from your local park (watch out for dog toileting areas!), or if you’re really lucky, your garden!

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) leaves in Spring are less bitter than later in the year. Add a few to your salads and dose yourself with natural nutrition. Dandelions are diuretic but also a rich source of potassium. So, where a pharmaceutical diuretic leaches potassium from your body, dandelion assists in the elimination of excess water but also replaces the potassium! Clever plant. I get goosebumps when I think about how complete that is. You’ll find dandelion in most places where there is grass.  The yellow flowers are a giveaway but seek out the younger, smaller leaves.

Cleavers (Galium aparine) is a rampant, climbing weed which gest everywhere but it’s a herbalist’s dream! For your ‘spring clean’ it is a wonderful addition. It gives a light green flavour with a touch of the cucumber about it. One herbalist once said to me ‘imagine all those tiny hooks scrubbing and scouring through your lymph system’; a really great analogy and something for the post-Winter remnants. Readying you to spring into Spring.

Pick a large handful of each herb, place in a jug and cover with fresh cold water. Leave overnight and pour out a cup to drink the following morning. Feel the power of the green flowing through you. Drink in the fresh vitality of live plants from this simple and natural infusion! To make a more fragrant version, add a few leaves from a lavender plant.

Herbal ID

Dandelions and Cleavers are gentle herbs but be very sure that what you are picking is the correct thing – herbal mis-identification can be serious.  It may be natural but so are plenty of deadly plants!  To be sure, use a good ID guide or ask your local herbalist. I have written about mindful foraging

DISCLAIMER:  Before dosing yourself up with wild crafted herbs, be aware that if you suffer from long-term health conditions or are pregnant, it may not be suitable for you to follow these ideas.  Please check with a qualified medical herbalist first.

Chilli tincture

On the left is the 10-days of infusing and the right shows just as I’d put them together. That good change in colour shows that the constituents from the chillies are moving into the alcohol solution and, I’m pretty sure that were I to taste it, I would know that at least some of the properties of the chilli are in the alcohol!!! Ho-o-o-o-ot!

More fun in the kitchen with raw chillies!

Lots of chopping and really keen awareness of not rubbing eyes, noses or anything else! Last time I did this, even after washing my hands, I blew my nose and ended up with chilli burn up my nose!!!! Not to be recommended…

Many of the prescriptions I make are in the form of tinctures. These alcohol extractions are easy to blend, simple to take and quick and easy for the patient. Compliance is often better than with teas.

When I use chilli tincture in a prescription

If you think about what chilli does, it gets the blood moving, it warms you up and it clears the head. But, it’s likely that the main reason would be to create some stimulating action in the patient. There are a dozen reasons why someone might benefit from a proverbial kick up the bottom and chilli can do just that. Because of its heat, it’s moving. When things begin to move more in the body, other things can start to change.

There are physiological benefits but I’m often thinking about the energies in the body as well. If you have become really stuck in a rut of symptoms, then, especially if you really feel the cold, a dose of chilli can be just what you need to get things moving.

It’s not for everyone. Some people simply can’t tolerate the heat of it. And it would be disastrous in someone with peri-menopausal hot flushes for fairly obvious reasons – you don’t give a hot person more heat!

But, when it is right for you, it can feel like heaven and earth are moving, slowly, in the right direction. Finally!

Hawthorn – at the heart of it all

It’s September and the hawthorn berries are looking glorious. Plump and juicy. Time to get picking.

History and folklore

Hawthorn is ominous and magical, holy to Pagans and Christians. Scottish farmers traditionally harvest 13 weeks after the blossom scents the air. It’s gorgeous and heady. ‘Cast ne’er a clout til the May be out’ – refers to remaining dressed for winter until the mayflower (or hawthorn) blossoms. Rather wonderfully, if you have hawthorn in your perimeter hedging, it will ward off the bad faeries. And, who doesn’t need a bit of protection from them in their life!?

Identifying hawthorn

But what about the berries? There are a few types of hawthorn and one way to tell the difference is in the stones inside the fruit. Crataegus monogyna has a single seed, Crataegus leavigata has more and the cross between the two plants, Crataegus oxyacanthoides usually has more too. However, for once, this distinction is more important to botanists than herbalists as we can use them all. Hurrah!

The medicine

Some of the best medicine comes from mixing the flowers, leaves and berries together. In order to do that, you have to pick them at different times. So, in September, it is the time of the berries. You can allow them to dry by laying them on a sheet of paper in a very dry, warm place such as an airing cupboard or use a dehydrator.

The flowers have a distinct almondy taste to them. This indicates the presence of constituents which are known to be active on the heart. Harvest these with the new leaves in May. Herbalists generally like to make two hawthorn medicines (leaf and flower / berries) and sometimes blend them together.

Why use hawthorn?

Herbalists use hawthorn for heart conditions in order to encourage a greater flow of blood through the heart, to strengthen and slow the heart beat without raising blood pressure. It is said that sportsmen use it as it may enhance exercise duration. It has a very low incidence of side effects and has no known contraindications. Always preferable in a medicine.

Seeking help

There are many more ways to use hawthorn which are best done with a medical herbalist. Those conditions range through arteriosclerosis, atheroma, thrombosis, angina, tachycardia, atherosclerosis and intermittent claudication. If you suffer from any of these get in touch with a herbalist and see if you work well together.

Just for fun

I made a rather tasty Hawthorn vodka (as per Sloe Gin) which has the distinct notes of almonds which indicate the presence of constituents which work with your heart. However, this is purely an occasional drink, not a medicine – there’s way too much sugar which is renowned for damaging the cardiovascular system.

Notes: None of the information included here is intended as medical advice. Please seek help from a medical herbalist when using herbs for serious, life affecting conditions. Foraging is fun so don’t forget to leave plenty behind. Pick only what you will use and pick no more than 10%. Wildlife depend on wild foods to survive.