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6/18/2014

At the Herbal Academy of New England, one of our greatest joys is to witness the deepening relationship between the students in our online herbalism programs and the plants and herbs already in their homes—common spices like coriander, cinnamon, thyme, cumin, and clove. Simply by opening a kitchen cabinet, a student steps into the world of herbalism through their own familiar collection of herbs and spices bursting with vibrant and fragrant medicine.

Kitchen Medicine

Humans have been pinching, dashing, and tossing herbs and spices into pots and pans since ancient times. Many culinary herbs are high in volatile oils, which aid digestion and relax our nervous systems. Others are rich in antioxidants that offer protection from DNA damage, as well as enhance the activity of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. Spices like turmeric, clove, rosemary, and ginger contain plant compounds that even in small amounts bring us health and vitality, while creating depth of flavor and preventing spoilage in our food.

A student need not venture even as far as the spice cabinet before encountering a potent herb that is often overlooked as people reach for more exotic healers. But this small, dried berry was once considered exotic, and so rare and expensive that it was kept under lock and key. In times past, it was used as currency, ransom, and sacred offerings.

Black pepper, the king of spices, has been part of Indian cooking and medicinal traditions for thousands of years, and now sits next to almost every saltshaker on countless tables across North America.

Black pepper is the fruit of Piper nigrum (Piperaceae), a vine native to South India and primarily cultivated on India’s Malabar coast, Sumatra, and in Vietnam. It is the most traded spice in the world. Piper nigrum, depending on how it is processed and prepared, produces white, red, orange, green, or black peppercorns, all of which are unique in taste and scent.

Black Pepper in HerbalismHANE Black Pepper Spice

Ayurvedic practitioners use black pepper to improve digestion and to address gastrointestinal problems and colds. Black pepper is also used as a warming herb for kapha imbalances, as well as for headaches, urinary problems, and toothache. Masala chai, a delicious traditional Indian brew, features black peppercorns as well as other common kitchen herbs high in antioxidants like clove and cardamom.

Similarly, Western herbalists use black pepper for cold and flus, as a diaphoretic to stimulate sweating, carminative to help with digestion, anti-inflammatory, and as a diuretic. It is also used to enhance circulation, and is included in preventatives like fire cider, a traditional folk formula of apple cider vinegar infused with kitchen herbs and spices.

The taste of black pepper on the tongue triggers the stomach to release hydrochloric acid, which is needed to digest protein, and stimulates digestive enzymes in the pancreas. Black pepper has been found to significantly enhance the activity of the body’s natural killer cells, and has anti-tumor and anti-mutagenic properties.

Black Pepper Health Concerns

Because not enough information is available to determine safety in pregnant and breastfeeding women, only culinary amounts of black pepper should be used by those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. Black pepper may inhibit drug metabolism so should be used with caution, if at all, by those taking pharmaceutical medications (talk with your doctor). It is not recommended to take pepper in very large amounts—fortunately culinary amounts (1/2 – 1 teaspoon) can be very effective!

There have been some concerns raised about a constituent called safrole, which is found in very small amounts in black pepper as well as other herbs like basil, star anise, nutmeg, and ginger. This constituent was given a bad rap after being isolated and injected in large amounts into rats, who then developed liver cancer. However, injecting large amounts of an isolated plant chemical into a non-human species tells us nothing about the effect on humans who eat small amounts of the whole plant. In contrast, the research data on humans and whole black pepper indicates the opposite: that black pepper is anti-carcinogenic. Regardless, safrole significantly decreases when peppercorns are cooked and dried according to traditional preparation methods.

Black Pepper as Catalyst

Perhaps the most interesting use of black pepper in herbalism is that of catalyst. Catalysts are activator plants that herbalists add in small amounts to formulas to help “direct” the other herbs, enhance their effectiveness, or help the body assimilate them. Often catalysts are strong tasting plants like ginger, cayenne, rosemary, peppermint, and lavender. On the sweeter side, licorice root is a classic catalyst, the great harmonizer of complex herbal brews in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Black pepper’s catalytic action is seen in recent research showing that compounds in black pepper enhance the bioavailability of antioxidant compounds in turmeric by up to 2,000%. Other studies have shown that piperine, a component of black pepper, improves the bioavailability of other substances in food including beta carotene, selenium, pyroxidine, and amino acids.

If the microcosm is a reflection of the macro, we can see black pepper’s strong catalytic action in world history, in the sense that this spice catalyzed Europeans to explore and “discover” new continents and lands across the globe, and led to the development of lucrative major trading ports, including New England’s own Salem, Massachusetts. Black pepper also made the fortune of Elias Haskett Derby, America’s first millionaire.

Black Pepper Ethical Issues

Farmers who cultivate spices like black pepper face increasing challenges from fluctuating market prices, world demand, competition, and irregular weather patterns, all of which create hardship in earning a livable income. Unfortunately, black pepper’s trading price is now lower than it was over 20 years ago and does not meet the cost of production for struggling farmers.

We recommend seeking out black pepper and other spices that are associated with a fair trade cooperative that guarantees minimum premiums for growers. In addition, look for companies that adhere to environmental and cultural standards such as no forced labor, commitment to sustainability practices, and restricted chemical use.

Choosing and Using Black Pepper

To preserve black pepper’s volatile oils, use whole peppercorns and store away from light until you are ready to freshly grind them. Look for peppercorns that are uniform and rich in color, with a strong aroma.

The versatility of black pepper makes it a fine accompaniment for dishes both savory and sweet (strawberries or peaches with black pepper are surprisingly spectacular combinations) and can be added in small amounts to tea, chai, and sprinkled on sandwiches and popcorn. Or try it in Golden Milk, a delicious traditional Indian drink combing turmeric and black pepper.

Taste will vary depending on where the pepper was grown and how it was prepared. My personal favorite is Tellicherry black pepper, grown near Kerala on the Malabar coast of India. Tellicherry peppercorns have a slight sweetness and exotic fruitiness that balances out deeper warmth and pungency.

Marlene Adelmann, our director at the Herbal Academy of New England says that “learning about the medicinal properties of plants is like a gift within a gift, and like turning on a light you didn’t know existed.” We encourage students in our online Intermediate Herbalism Course to turn this light on through a meditative experiential exercise, in which we ask students to experience their kitchen spices as if they are tasting and smelling them for the very first time.

This exercise can present a challenge for students tasting black pepper, a spice so commonly used it is often no longer consciously tasted or experienced. But when approached mindfully and with a curious beginner’s mind, black pepper’s exotic perfume calls to mind distant lands and tropical vines, and its pungent and fruity warmth dazzles the taste buds like no other. Black pepper is truly a gift within a gift, offering us taste and health with every pinch.

References

Farag, SE, Abo-Zeid, M. Degradation of the natural mutagenic compound safrole in spices by cooking and irradiation. Nahrung. 1997 Dec;41(6):359-61.

Percival, SS, Heuvel, JPV, Nieves, CJ, Montero, C, Migliaccio, AJ, Meadors, J. Bioavailability of Herbs and Spices in Humans as Determined by ex vivo Inflammatory Suppression and DNA Strand Breaks. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012 31(4):288 - 294.

Singh A, Duggal S. Piperine-Review of Advances in Pharmacology. Int J Pharm Sci Nanotechnol 2009; 2:615-20. 

Spices and Herbs. Fair Trade International. Web accessed January 31, 2014 from

Srinivasan, K. Black pepper and its pungent principle-piperine: A review of diverse physiological effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 47(8):735-748, 2007.

Annie Hall is the Assistant Director at the Herbal Academy of New England, the home of the the Online Introductory Herbal Course and the Online Intermediate Herbal Course, and meeting place for Boston area herbalists.


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6/20/2014

As an editor for Mother Earth News, I’m constantly surrounded by inspiring recipes and DIY projects.  It can be a serious challenge to narrow down which ones to try, and which ones to simply accept as fodder for my Pinterest board. One of our natural health recipes, however, caught my attention from the first time I saw it. I craved the day I could throw down my red pen and replace it with a bag of fresh herbs — I simply had to test the Homemade Horehound Cough Drops Recipe before my eyes.

The stars aligned last spring when our Editor-in-Chief, Cheryl, developed a nagging cough. She casually mentioned that the horehound in her garden was doing well, and before I knew it I had volunteered to test the Horehound Cough Drops Recipe that had caught my eye. The very next morning a GIANT bag of fresh horehound appeared on my desk. I didn’t have much experience with horehound at the time, and I was surprised to see that the leaves are fuzzy and they feel super soft, kind of like sage. In the picture above, marshmallow is on the left and horehound is on the right.

I’m lucky enough to be an apprentice in an intensive local program that teaches how to grow herbs and process them for medicine. A few days after receiving the horehound, I was at my teacher’s home and she recommended that I add some marshmallow leaves to the cough drops; this is because marshmallow leaves help reduce inflammation in the mucus membranes and they also thin the mucus for easy expulsion from the body (more on that, here).  This is a great benefit for someone with a nagging cough and deeply lodged phlegm. I plucked fresh marshmallow leaves from my teacher’s expansive herbal medicine garden, and I had all the fresh ingredients I needed to make the cough drops.

I followed this recipe for Homemade Horehound Cough Drops, which originally appeared in the 1993 issue of Mother Earth Living. Because I had so many fresh herbs, I doubled the recipe. To make the cough drops, you basically make a super-strong tea from your fresh herbs, and then strain the liquid. You add the tea, sugar (be warned, there’s a lot of sugar in this recipe) and honey to the pan, and then bring it all to a boil. Keep boiling the concoction until it reaches a hard-crack stage, which is about 330 degrees Fahrenheit.  I almost didn’t buy a candy thermometer for this project because I figured a hard-crack stage would be pretty easy to reach and recognize. Wrong! That candy thermometer was well worth the three dollar investment; make sure you have one.

When the liquid gets super hot, it starts to bubble like mad. The hotter it gets, the higher the bubbles climb. In hindsight, I definitely needed to use a bigger saucepan. Because I was nervous to turn the heat up too high, and therefore have to deal with an overflowing, bubbly mess, it took a while for the batch to reach the hard-crack stage (about two hours). I checked this time online though, and it seems abnormally high.  This is a warning to you all – use a big enough saucepan so that you can crank the heat without worrying about sticky bubbles oozing onto your stovetop.  Keep an eye on it though — you also don’t want your syrup to burn and stick to the bottom of the pan. It’s all about finding a good middle ground.

You can tell the candy has reached the hard-crack stage when you drop a glob of syrup into ice water, scoop it out, bite it, and it feels hard like actual hard candy. (Again, full directions can be found here.) I poured the finished liquid onto a well-oiled cookie sheet and let it cool for a few minutes before scoring. I was super new to the candy-making process, so I had to learn that “scoring” means tracing lines in the partly-cooled mixture so that it’s easier to break apart in neat little squares after it has hardened. I used a pizza cutter for this step and it worked really well. 

Scored Horehound Cough Drops

The finished cough drops were SUPER bitter. Cheryl really liked them though, probably because they actually worked on her cough.  There aren’t any weird processed ingredients or unrecognizable preservatives in these cough drops, which I love. The downside is that there’s a lot of sugar in these bitter bites. The sugar plays an important role in reaching that hard-candy consistency, which make these cough drops so much fun to suck on and crunch. If you’re willing to forfeit that consistency, I bet you could replace much of the sugar with honey to make a horehound cough syrup instead.

If anyone has a sugar-free cough drop recipe to share, please leave it in the comments section below. I’d love to try it out! 




7/31/2013

It's been quite a ride and it is still going at a high speed. From the moment of realization that the world ofGreenhouse Turned Drying House healing herbs was calling me, to my first herbal class, to running a small-scale herb farm that grows medicinal herbs with organic methods, to creating artisan herbal products, and finally to working with clients to help them find balance in their lives with the generous support of the plant kingdom. A ride with many joyous moments, but also doubts, insecurities, and cloudy days. 

It all started with a trip to the Peruvian Amazon and the deep, out of the blue intuition that I wanted to study the healing powers of plants.  So off I went to my first herbal training with Ursula Basch at “Herbal Bear – School of Botanical Medicine”. What I remember most about this period is how unbelievably “right” it felt to be a plant student, the sheer joy I experienced when learning to identify medicinal plants and mushrooms in the field, and the wonder I felt when I discovered that everything I ever needed to get rid of my pharmaceutical medicine cabinet was growing right in my back yard. More herbal training followed with Tieraona Low Dog and Richard Mandelbaum, amongst others, all inspiring and excellent teachers.

Botanicals Market StandAfter having lived in New York City for 15 years, it was time for a change. I decided to leave the big city behind and moved full time to Schoharie county in upstate NY. We are fortunate to own 250 acres of forested hills and rolling cow pastures, home to a wide variety of wild medicinal herbs. Little by little, I made friends with all of them.

Soon I was making my own herbal creations, showering friends and family members with homemade lotions and potions. Not long after, people started asking for refills and the overwhelming feedback inspired me to produce on a larger scale, offering my products at retreat centers and small local stores.

How do you make the transition from making home remedies in recycled jam jars on your kitchen counter to producing sufficient amounts to send products to recurring clients and fill whole display shelves and tables with herbal goods?

I am the type of person that walks away from a healthy buffet with a plate filled with a bit of everything, rather than serving myself just one or two items. I like to try it all. So I started taking on everything at once until nothing fit on my plate anymore. Then I went to get another plate.

Botanical Herb BedsAt first, I went from using herbs from my small garden and the wild surroundings to ordering organic herbs in bulk from well known large herb operations. Which was sufficient for a short period, but I always felt that I had no influence in the quality of the herbs, except trying different vendors. I did not know at what time of the day the plants were picked. I could not verify if the certified organic chamomile from Egypt really never saw any pesticides. I had no idea how the workers in the fields were treated. And, needless to say, the shipping costs were a killer.

Out of necessity, “Raven Crest Botanicals” was born. I started adding more beds to my garden, went on a seed-shopping spree and learned greenhouse work. I purchased truckloads of organic composted cow manure. I planted as many herbs as I could fit into the available space and watched them grow to gigantic dimensions. I learned how to ask the plants for permission to harvest (which really screwed up my schedule since their sense of the right time is often very different from ours). When my drying space in the house could not keep up with what was coming from the garden, I built a solar dehydrator to process my plant harvest in the most sustainable way. We added a beehive to the garden for pollination, honey and propolis.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the generosity of my friend Jesse, who built the most beautiful earth sheltered greenhouse on earth, Jane and Verena sharing their greenhouse wisdom with me, and the constant support of my partner Yoav who patiently watched me metamorphose from a NYC actress to an upstate NY farmer in rubber boots. 

At this point, I was making about 40 different products, including salves, balms and creams, skin scrubs, aromatherapy sprays, a variety of medicinal tincture blends, elixirs, medicinal mushroom extracts (I really got into these), and culinary and medicinal tea blends. I used as many plants as possible from our own land and ordered only the ones I could not grow myself (yet) from very good quality herb farms. Forty products are a lot to take on for a single woman operation. It was challenging just to keep everything in stock and not to run out of tinctures, which take 4-6 weeks to make. My kitchen turned into a mad house and more cabinets needed to be cleared to hold all, now much larger, tincture jars.

Then the product design came into focus. I needed a logo, a business card, and new label designs. I found a lovely designer, Dana Jordan, whose keen eye and never ending patience enabled me to design what I had in mind but could not create myself. Then, after months of frustrating attempts to outsource label printing at a reasonable price, I finally found an affordable, high quality photo printer (Canon Pixma Pro 9000 II) and labels from www.onlinelabels.com that worked well together. I now print and design new labels myself – a huge advantage over having to order large amounts from a printing company at high costs and then being stuck with them if I want to change the ingredients for a tincture or other herbal product.

There were many other expenses that arose, such as an automated solar irrigation system, building myRaven Crest Botanicals Label own earth-sheltered  greenhouse, and draining the property with French drains after hurricane Irene ravaged through the North East. These were added on to more familiar costs, such as purchasing large amounts of raw material for products, packaging, and insurance costs. It is a long journey from making herbal products for your friends to supporting yourself with your passion for plants and I am still just at the beginning of a long and windy road. But the journey is a very satisfying one and I am happy to be on my way.

In addition to selling products to Food Coops and herb stores, I like to offer my creations in a way that includes a personal connection with my customers. That's when the idea of herbal CSA shares came to my mind. Typical farm CSA shares include a weekly delivery of fresh produce at a drop off location.  Most herbal products on the other hand, are non-perishable and therefore can be mailed inside the United States and beyond. A monthly CSA package of seasonal herbal products that arrives in the mail is a lovely and affordable treat and a great opportunity to get to know the benefits of herbs that one wouldn't find out about otherwise. I offer three different Raven Crest Botanicals CSA shares.

The “Tea and Comfort Package” consists of one culinary and one medicinal tea per month.

The “Green Medicine Cabinet Package” consists of a monthly treat of 3-4 artisan skin products and organic herbal medicines. The shareholder will be the proud owner of a fully stocked green medicine cabinet at the end of the season.

The “Green Medicine and Tea Package” includes all teas and products from the other two packages. A full share also includes a complimentary herbal consultation and the resulting personal plant medicine becomes part of the customized monthly package.

There are up and down sides to the herbal CSA model. The packages are mailed rather than dropped off and I can easily reach a broader audience. The monthly delivery schedule leaves ample time to design the package contents and create the seasonal products. There is less competition. At the same time, it seems that plant based medicine, artisan skin products and fine herbal teas are still regarded as luxury items rather than a necessity and finding new customers is more of a stretch.  I am offering 50 shares this year and I am looking forward to serving people who want to invite herbal medicine into their lives and enjoy non-toxic, safe and effective herbal products, made in small batches with love and intent. The tricky part is, of course, how to find these new customers.

Strategies to promote Raven Crest CSA shares have been NOFA's CSA markets, local farmers markets, aBotanical Herb Spiral brand new web site, a facebook business page, blogging, and CSA info flyers distributed at local stores. Every bit helps and I have been able to slowly build momentum.

To get enthusiastic and affordable help on the farm (which seems like an impossible task by definition), Raven Crest became a host farm for WWOOF  (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, www.wwoofusa.org). I have been very lucky during my first year and found the perfect matching “WWOOFer” for my farm. The concept is brilliant as is allows people who are excited about learning a specific aspect of farming, such as organic herb growing and herbalism, to match up with a farm that teaches exactly that. The host farm offers board and lodging in exchange for work and in the ideal case, both parties learn from each other and leave a footprint in each other's life that is deep and beautiful. 

To keep up with the space needed for herb processing, I am planning to build a straw bale/earth bag building as my processing space and classroom for herbal training and retreats. The room will be built during a natural building workshop, which is a great way to get a lot of free work power during the building process in exchange for an amazing and bonding learning experience. Next year, I am going to offer plant medicine & yoga weekend retreats with a raw food menu to make it worthwhile for New Yorkers to travel upstate for a blissful weekend in nature.

I am growing close to 100 herbs this season and my product line includes over fifty items. It would certainly simplify things to grow just a few herbs on a larger scale for another buyer. It would also be more profitable if I would focus on fewer products and on selling them in many locations. It would be easier and more manageable to be just a grower, or to only create products, or to just give consultations and purchase medicinal products from different vendors.

But that would be like leaving the buffet with just a single food item on my plate. Yes, there are days when I ask myself why, oh why, am I taking on the whole process from start to finish on my own. But at the same time, I am finding it most fulfilling and exciting to take part in the complete journey. I have learned every aspect of the growing-making-selling-business. I truly know what is in the tincture bottle I give to my clients at the end of a session. I am proud to offer the finest tea blends made from hand harvested and solar dried herbs.  All my plants have been cared and prayed for from seed to harvest to final product. And the plants made me happy in return. There is nothing more satisfying to me than looking over my flourishing seedlings in the greenhouse, or enjoying the sight of lush herb beds in full bloom, or inhaling the rich aroma of drying herbs wavering though the rooms, or watching the bees return to their hive loaded with pollen and nectar, and displaying a table full of organic green medicine that I have created from beginning to end. And I would not want to miss any of it.

I am going to be a student of the healing power of medicinal plants for the rest of my life. In addition to working with North American and European herbs, I am starting to integrate TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) herbs and sacred plants from the Amazon in my practice and herbal creations. I will create more products and most likely will grow more herbs next year.

The time will soon come when I am going to need more help on the farm to do all the work. And maybe, at some point, I will have to review my business strategy and do what a lot of herbalists do: scale down, simplify, focus on one and only one aspect, and let all others go. But until then - I am going to enjoy the ride.

With gratitude,

Susanna Raeven



4/21/2014

Pesticide driftThe following article is reposted with permission from the Pesticide Action Network.

Pesticide drift can lead to serious medical consequences, so it's important to take all incidents seriously and immediately seek medical attention. In addition to affecting people, pesticide drift can damage ecosystems, pets and wildlife, and cause economic harm by contaminating crops and poisoning livestock. It is important that all drift incidents are promptly reported, even if no damage is apparent.

If pesticides drift onto you or your neighbors, you should:

  • Evacuate the area, warn your neighbors and seek medical attention.
  • If you were hit with spray drift (droplets or dust particles) that contacted your skin, shower as soon after exposure as you can.
  • If you experience any symptoms of pesticide exposure, immediately see a doctor or call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Call for help. Once you are in a safe location, notify the appropriate authorities of the incident (see below). If you feel your life is in danger, call 911.

Always Report Pesticide Drift

Regardless of whether people were directly exposed to pesticide drift or any ecological damage or economic harm is immediately visible, it’s important to promptly report every drift incident to the agency responsible for pesticide enforcement. The appropriate agency varies by state, but it is typically the office of the County Agricultural Commissioner.

You should report the incident to both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and to your state agency:

  • The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) will report pesticide incidents to the U.S. EPA. Call 1-800-858-7378 from 8:00AM - 12:00PM PST.
  • Each state has an agency for reporting pesticide. Find your state on the NPIC webpage, and call the appropriate agency to have them record a report.

In California, calling 1-877-378-5463 should connect you with the appropriate office. If you seek medical attention, be sure to tell the doctor that pesticides are involved or suspected. In addition to helping the doctor diagnose and treat you, this will ensure that the incident is counted in official tallies, since many states require doctors and veterinarians to report cases of suspected pesticide poisoning incidents to the state.

It’s important to notify authorities as soon as possible, and to ask for a formal investigation and pesticide sampling on affected properties. This is because pesticide residue can degrade quickly, and samples should be taken as soon as possible if they are yield conclusive results. Write down all of the details of the exposure before you forget anything, including the time and date of the incident, what happened that led to the exposure, and the location of the application site and neighboring buildings.

Resources :

The Drift Catcher

In our work with communities on the ground, PAN leases or sells Drift Catchers to select groups. For advice on alternative ways to detect drift, read Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass. You can also contact us or check out a list of pesticides the Drift Catcher can detect.

There is a commitment involved in conducting a Drift Catching study as a PAN community partner:

Driftcatching Takes People, Time and Money

While the Drift Catcher is simple to use, there is a time investment involved with taking samples and running the study, so it is best to have a group from your community working together. Anyone participating in Drift Catching studies must attend a training so that they can be certified in using the Drift Catcher. Group members must also be available to take samples when pesticide applications are occurring in the area.

The Drift Catcher is leased on a yearly basis to community groups. PAN selects these groups based on our current campaign goals. Leasing costs for the Drift Catcher are $200 per year. Sample analysis costs are high, typically ranging from $125 to $255 per sample. PAN may be able to help you find funding, or provide some support.

PAN often works with communities in the Midwest and California, but has partnered with groups from other areas in the past. Examples of previous Drift Catching projects include:

  • Communities in Illinois
  • Communities in Iowa
  • Communities in Minnesota
  • Hastings, FL
  • Hawai'i SEED
  • Philippines
  • Sisquoc, CA
  • Tehama, CA


Photo by Fotolia



3/25/2014

In theory, bread should be a healthy, whole-grain food. But the process that transforms healthy whole grains into the white bread found on most grocery store shelves destroys their nutrients and adds a variety of dangerous chemicals.

The Terrible Truth About White Bread Most breads are produced from flour; they are not natural forms of whole-grain wheat. They require yeast cells to expand them with gas, gluten to bind them together, and preservatives to slow the inevitable growth of mold. Most common brands also add high fructose corn syrup, molasses, and dextrose to enhance flavor.

The Refinement of White Flour Removes Nutrients

Wheat is a seed like any other. It consists of an outer covering (the bran), an embryo (the germ), and a fuel supply (the endosperm). In the case of white bread, the bran and germ are removed and only the soft endosperm is milled into flour. As the initial food supply for the growing seed, the endosperm contains mostly simple carbohydrates. These simple carbohydrates break down into single units of sugar almost immediately, causing hazardous spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.

Wheat’s vitamins, minerals, fiber, tocopherols, antioxidants, and proteins are found predominantly in the germ or bran.[1] The removal of these nutrients is the reason why white breads and pastas must be “enriched” after processing. Unfortunately, these added vitamins typically constitute an extremely small percentage of the recommended daily values.

The Bleaching Process Adds Toxins to the Flour

The flour that is made into white bread is bleached with benzoyl peroxide. The bleaching process does nothing to clean the flour. It has no purpose other than to make the product more visually appealing, so that consumers will be more likely to purchase it. This agent oxidizes the yellow flour to make it appear whiter. In the process, benzoyl peroxide creates free radicals and benzoic acid.[2] Free radical species are well known to contribute to DNA damage and aging, and benzoic acid can cause contact irritation, discomfort, weakness, and malaise.[3] When ingested, the agent can cause headache, nervousness, nausea, and vomiting.[4]

In addition to the health effects mentioned above, benzoic acid also contributes to the destruction of beneficial intestinal bacteria.[5] In fact, this antibiotic action is what makes benzoic acid useful as a preservative. Any disturbance to the body’s natural balance of intestinal flora can lead to an overgrowth of parasites or pathogenic bacteria.

Further hazards can occur if any of the benzoyl peroxide makes it into the final product. Exposure to this agent has been found to cause a significant decrease in the liver’s production of superoxide dismutase (SOD).[6] This enzyme is one of the body’s most powerful antioxidants and its destruction can lead to rapid aging and DNA damage.

White Flour Products Contribute to High Levels of Blood Sugar

The glycemic index (GI) for white bread is 70.3.[7] Technically, this means that it raises blood sugar 70.3 percent as much as pure glucose sugar, which is extremely high. To compare this to a few nutritious foods, the GI for broccoli is about 10; cherries, 22; and tomatoes, 38. Even extremely low-quality foods such as milk chocolate and potato chips only reach a GI of about 43. This makes white bread very dangerous, especially to diabetics.[8] It is also a poor source of energy, as the high level of blood sugar that it causes will plummet nearly as quickly as that caused by a soft drink or candy bar.

If You Eat Bread

Pumpernickel, whole rye, and whole wheat breads are much healthier alternatives to white. But you still need to be careful. Bread manufacturers use a variety of tricks to make their products appear to be healthy. For example, a bread can be called “whole wheat” even if it only contains a small fraction of whole-wheat flour. Make sure that the label instead reads “100 percent whole wheat.” If the word “enriched” is anywhere in the list of ingredients, the product is not 100 percent whole wheat.

Stay away from high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, molasses, other refined sugars, and preservatives such as benzoate. It’s also a good idea to become familiar with the potential dangers of gluten. The best bread to eat is known as Ezekiel or Genesis bread. These breads are made from sprouted grains and usually do not contain milled flour or preservatives.

Remember: Always ignore the promises on bread labels and instead read the list of ingredients to know what you’re putting in your body.

References

[1] Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2012 Mar;63 Suppl 1:71-4.
[2] J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Jan;49(1):98-102.
[3] CAS Registry Number: 123-77-3 Toxicity Effects.
[4] CAS Registry Number: 65-85-0 Toxicity Effects.
[5] J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2006 Aug;90(7-8):316-24.
[6] Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2011 May;31(3):479-84.
[7] Biomed Pap Med Fac Univ Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub. 2004 Jul;148(1):17-25.
[8] Eur J Clin Nutr. 1991 Feb;45(2):97-103.



6/27/2013

Adrenal fatigue treatment using natural herbal remedies is a wonderful way to take advantage of the healing power of nature. In our first blog Why Am I Tired All the Time?, we revealed the reason behind the profound connection between stress and fatigue, and how a simple at-home saliva laboratory test can be used to help you discover whether stress is the true underlying source of your persistent fatigue. Your body’s cortisol levels, measured in your saliva at different times during the day and night, can indicate whether your HPA-axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) is functioning normally or not. This HPA axis is your stress-response system, and when it becomes dysfunctional you have “adrenal fatigue” and begin to feel drained, burned out, and chronically fatigued. You may also have other symptoms such as sleep disturbances, unrefreshing sleep, depression, anxiety, irritability, or difficulty concentrating. If this sounds familiar, some natural adrenal fatigue treatment is in order!

Adrenal fatigue treatment helps you recover from stress-related fatigue

The good news is stress-related fatigue can be healed! While there’s no quick fix, it is possible to get your body’s stress-response system back in balance and regain your energy, even when stress has rendered you exhausted, and even if an adrenal fatigue test shows that you have a dysfunctional HPA-axis marked by abnormal cortisol secretion. The key to effective adrenal fatigue treatment is to consistently provide your body with the raw materials it needs to re-balance its HPA-axis. Much to the surprise of mainstream, conventional medical practitioners, clinical trials have validated the effectiveness of many natural fatigue remedies.

Herbs known as adaptogens are nature’s perfect adrenal fatigue treatment. Adaptogens are medicinal plants that have been shown to normalize body functions, strengthen systems compromised by stress, and increase attention and endurance in fatigue. They do this by re-balancing the HPA-axis; that is, by getting your brain, nervous system, and adrenal glands working in harmony again so that you can properly “adapt” to stressors. 

Rhodiola and Ashwagandha: two excellent herbal remedies for stress-related fatigue

Two well-researched adaptogens that are effective for adrenal fatigue treatment are Rhodiola and Ashwagandha.

• Rhodiola. The roots of this powerful little plant, known as Arctic Root, are fabled to be responsible for the extraordinary strength andRhodiola endurance of the ancient Vikings. Recent research has confirmed Rhodiola’s ability to act as a natural adaptogen, reducing physical and mental fatigue related to chronic stress. A study in individuals diagnosed with stress-related fatigue syndrome found that 288 mg Rhodiola extract twice a day for 28 days significantly reduced fatigue compared to placebo [1]. The rhodiola treatment also corrected the subjects’ morning cortisol levels and significantly improved their scores on tests of attention and memory. Other clinical trials using Rhodiola have also found statistically significant reductions in fatigue and improvements in many fatigue-related areas, such as physical fitness, concentration, mental performance, sleep patterns, motivation, mood, and general well-being [2]. Rhodiola is safe; it does not interact with other drugs or cause adverse effects. Look for a standardized extract containing rosavins and salidrosides in a 3 to 1 ratio, the same concentration in which these constituents naturally occur in the plant’s roots. Take your Rhodiola extract twice a day for a total daily dose of at least 576 mg.

Ashwagandha

• Ashwagandha. If you’re constantly “tired but wired,” Ashwagandha may be the natural adrenal fatigue treatment for you. Compared to Rhodiola and other adaptogens, such as Panax Ginseng, Ashwagandha is the most calming and the best for treating stress-related fatigue accompanied by symptoms of anxiety. In a recent clinical study, people complaining of high amounts of mental stress were given 300 mg Ashwagandha root extract twice a day for 60 days [3]. Test scores for physical-related stress symptoms (like fatigue) dropped by 76 percent, compared to only a 4.9 percent reduction in those taking the placebo. In the Ashwagandha group there was also a 70 percent reduction in anxiety and insomnia scores, a 69 percent reduction in social dysfunction scores, and a 79 percent reduction in depression scores, compared to reductions of only 11.6 percent, 3.7 percent and 10.6 percent, respectively, in the placebo group. Ashwagandha is botanically known as Withania somnifera and is commonly known as Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry. The roots of the Ashwagandha plant contain a broad range of medicinally important constituents like withanolides and sitoindosides that on the body’s nervous, immune, energy-production, and endocrine systems.

Comprehensive adrenal fatigue treatment using herbs, vitamins, and diet will help you get your energy back.

Making sure you’re getting plenty B vitamins and vitamin C is also critical for optimal adrenal function. To enhance the effects of natural fatigue-fighting adaptogens like Ashwagandha and Rhodiola, take a B-complex supplement and 500 mg of vitamin C twice a day, and include plenty of nutrient dense fruits and vegetables in your diet. For comprehensive adrenal fatigue treatment, it is also important to eat in a way that stabilizes your blood sugar levels as much as possible since adrenal fatigue taxes your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. So, skip the high glycemic foods like sugar and white flour and eat frequently, always including fiber, protein, and healthy fats in your meals and snacks. It doesn’t hurt to take some nice, deep breaths and spend time outdoors, either. Stress-related fatigue doesn’t improve overnight, but after a couple of weeks on an adaptogen, you should start feeling a difference in your energy levels.

References:

1. Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-12.

2. Phytomedicine. 2010 Jun;17(7):481-93.

3. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.

Contributing editor Kathleen Jade, ND is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in the Seattle area where she conducts natural health research and writes for Natural Health Advisory Institute.  Contact Dr. Kathleen by commenting on one of her blogs. She has written a recently released e-Book Fatigue Causes and Relief: Natural Remedies for Excessive Tiredness and Chronic Fatigue.

Photos by Dreamstime



2/18/2014

I recently spent a weekend at the Oregon coast. If you have ever been there yourself, you know that you do not go to the Oregon coast for sunshine and warm sand. You go for the magnificent views including striking rock formations and rhythmic waves. Each time I am at the Oregon coast, I awavesm reminded of how similar those rolling waves are to the contractions experienced by women in labor.

By design waves naturally rise from the vast ocean behind them, hug the edges of the shore and quietly retreat. Then, they do this once more and once more. At times, the white foam of the waves reaches the shore quickly and rhythmically, at other times slowly and idiosyncratically. And while waves aren’t always symmetrical, they are constant. I have yet been to the coast and wondered what happened to the waves. It is in their consistency that there is assurance. As the waves roll by no man’s command, their rhythm reflects the order of the universe, the closing of one day and the beginning of another.

Like the ocean waves they mimic, the contractions of childbirth also build slowly and crescendo through a mother’s body until they crash and rescind back into a relaxed uterus, giving momma a few moments to rest. As the next contraction flows in and through and over the mother, her baby wiggles it’s way through the birth canal, closer to the open, cervical shore. If momma senses fear or feels a lack of control, the contractions may follow the asymmetry of the waves, slowing and even stopping before completing the predestined cycle. However, when momma feels loved, supported and relaxed, the contractions will continue and fall into their prehistoric rhythm. Left to nature’s intricate design and timing, these contractions will mirror the waves in closing the day of life in the womb and awaken mother and baby to a new life full of joy and beauty.  

It is awe inspiring to see the many synergies in nature. As we breathe in and out, the world breathes in and out with us. As we grunt and groan through the pains of labor, the earth shifts and quakes and brings forth new life with us. As the earth tilts on its axis causing the ocean’s waves to roll in and out, so will the mother tilt her pelvis and let the power of birth roll through her body until her precious child is born.

Have you experienced a labor which fell in synch with the waves of the ocean? Please share.

Photo: Pacific City, Oregon by JoAnn Swanson



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