The thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland held in the throat. This little gland affects energy generation, protein production and acts as our internal temperature control. Overactive, thyroid can increase metabolic rate by up to 100% and when underactive it can decrease it by as much as 50%.
Any change, no matter how small, can have major consequences.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the Metabolic rate is in overdrive,
Skin: warm, moist, pink
Intolerance to heat, irritable and anxiouness are associated.
Raised heart rate
Hypothyroidism symptoms are the following
People may feel cold, and tired with no energy.
Skin thickens, dries and become puffy
Muscles may be slow and achey.
Low blood sugar can be a problem.
This last one can send adrenalin levels really high leading to cortisol production and the feeling of being hyper. Sometimes be confused with hyperthyroidism and many a patient has gone through surgery for hyperthyroidism only to find out that they were actually becoming hypothyroid during menopause but the adrenal glands made them present as hyperthyroid.
Most people with a thyroid complaint are aware that Iodine contains one of the ingredients critical for thyroid hormones. The famous nutrient is, of course, Bladderwrack but many, many sea veg are full of iodine.
The thyroid converts Iodine into (T4) or (T3), where they are stored and released on demand. To do this we need to have sufficient selenium and zinc in the diet.
T4 can also be converted into Reverse T3 (rT3). This is done to allow the bodies organs to make T3 independantly but it is acellerated if the thryoid is struggling. A GP will normally only measure T4 and TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) leaving some important details missing.
Both these hormones are excreted by the liver but may be reabsorbed in the digestive tract disguising the fact that the thyroid isn't producing it in the right quantity. If the liver isn't function properly then the levels will be affected.
If a person is stressed, then a higher cortisol level will down regulate the system and impair the thyroids function. Other important factors to consider might include glucocorticoids, cytokines, oestrogen and pregnancy but I'll be merciful and leave that for another day!
So, if the bloodwork is unreliable how, may you ask, do we figure out the truth?
Basal metabolic Rate (BMR) is the most accurate means of assessing thyroid activity in our cells. This can be done by taking your temperature, pulse, noting your symptoms and response to treatment. There is also a very handy reflex test on the achilles tendon that can point to hypothyroidism.
Measure your core temperature (mouth or armpit) in the morning before you get up, once after breakfast and again in the afternoon for 4 consecutive days. At the same time check your pulse. Finally at the same time as doing this compare your core temperature by placing your hands on your stomach and measuring the temperature difference of between 1 & 5. A consistent low temperature and high difference in core to peripheral temperatures along with a slower pulse would all be indicative of hypothryoid.
Thyroxine is the usual treatment given today which is okay for men but for some women it is possible to feel more and more hypothyroid even as the doses are put up.
So, you have an underactive thyroid, the doctor doesn't seem to wish to prescribe anything other than thyroxine.... Where to next?
First up: The wonderful Peninsula Kelp comany offer a wide range of goodies that will help increase your iodine intake. Its a wonderful local family run company lead by Andrea and Greame. Its well worth investing in some sensitively harvested seaweed products. Big thanks to them for the wonderful photos also.
Consider ordering yourself some organic, pasture-fed dessicated thyroid consisting of T3 & T4. There a a few suppliers online and whilst its expensive don't make the mistake of going for a non-organic version.
Make sure you are consuming selenium and zinc. Dairy and eggs are really good nutritional foods.
Herbalists like myself may also suggest herbs such as Black walnut hull, bladderwrack or alfalfa as means of supporting iodine and iodine absorption. We would of course be doing so in conjuction with other herbs that best support your needs.
Regardless as to how you progess - I hope that this has been helpful on this all too common dis-ease.
There has been much talk about Coronavirus (Co-vid 19) and how to prevent the spread. Clearly prevention is important. Less has been said about what to do to support the body should a person become infected not about preventative medicine. This is unfortunate. A healthy body is much less likely to suffer in the same way as someone chronically ill. There is much we can do to treat symptoms and prevent an infection getting serious enough to require hospitalization.
So, what is one to do?
It is imperative to understand how the virus works. That provides indicators of what herbs may be of most use. Herbs historically have been used as medicine for 1000’s of years. Western medicine, with a history of perhaps 200 years struggles to make headway in treating viruses. The main pharmaceuticals available are vaccines. These take about a year to develop and are only partially effective. The complexity of a plant’s constituents can make them more suitable for treating unknown illnesses. These synergistic properties have been scientifically proven, again and again, to be effective. Modern science has encouraged Medical Herbalists to evidence base the reasons for their choice of herbs providing reassurance and professional riggor.
With that in mind - Back to Coronavirus….
The symptoms of fever, coughing and difficulty breathing are well known. The virus can sit on surfaces for 72 hours and can cling to our clothing or be passed on by stealth in people unaware they are infected. Its relatives, the SARS and MARS virus have given us further insight into how it works. We know that Co-Vid 19 attacks the cilia of the lung epithelial cells. These cilia are responsible for creating a wave like pattern that allows the lungs to excrete and remove toxins or waste from the lung tissue. Killing off these cilia allows debris and fluid to build up. As the mucus can no longer be removed, the immune system triggers a coughing response to excrete the now multiplying virus out of the lungs and on to infect others. The toilet roll frenzy associated with this outbreak is connected to what we know of SARS and MARS. Both were capable of penetrating the digestive tract, causing diarrhea. The virus has been identified in both faeces and urine.
Inside the body, the immune system starts releasing cytokines in response to the arrival of this virus. Co-vid 19 is adept at hijacking the cytokines and using them to their own ends. If these cytokines can’t beat the virus more are released in a bid to fight the virus. This results in inflammation. It is a positive feedback loop that continues until the body finds a way to deal with the virus or gives up due to overwhelm.
How does our little viral friend do this?
All co-vid viruses are capable of latching onto Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme-2 (ACE-2). These are tightly associated with the Renin-Angiotensin System (RAS) which regulates the dilating and constricting the blood vessels. Infected cytokines travel through the organs such as the liver and kidneys. This is important; impeded to do its job properly, all organs of the body are affected. This effectively causes pneumonia in the lungs and flooding in all the other organs of the body, ultimately putting the heart and lungs under pressure. The elderly and immune compromised are more at risk because as we age, we produce less ACE 2 and therefore offer less natural resilience.
(So, what can be done?
The good news is that there are a number of herbs that protect ACE-2’s. These include: Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicanensis), Elder (Sambucca niger), Horse chestnut (Aesculus hipposcastanum), Cinnamon (Cinnamonum verum) and Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum). Yes, you read that right. Japanese Knotweed, a herb that is a pervasive weed, impossible to irradicate turns out to be an extremely potent plant against a number of viruses. It is also rich in reservatol which has been proven to be a wonderful antioxidant that lowers blood pressure, moderates insulin and protects the brain. Whilst it is available in blue berries and red wine its richest source is in this much derided weed
Cilia protective herbs include Codyceps spp, olive oil and olive leaf (Olea Europa) along with plants such as Berberis (Berberis vulgaris) or Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). Herbs that upregulate ACE-2 function for the elderly might include Kudzu (Pueria spp.), Salvia miltiorrhiza (Dan, shen) and Gingko (Gingko biloba). ACE inhibitors that indirectly increase the amount of ACE-2 include Hawthorn (Crataegus spp). Salvia miltorrhiza is an herb that is often used to normalize cytokine dysfunction. Japanese knotweed and Chinese skullcap along with Cordyceps have been shown to downregulate IL-1B which can reduce the impact of the disease and mortality. Rodiola (Rodiola) is an herb that protects the cells from oxidative damage and increases intracellular oxygen diffusion. Many of the above-mentioned herbs are also indicated to protect the lymph, spleen and in reducing autoimmunity.
(Credit to Stephen Buhner from whom much of this information is sourced).
For the foodie, there are a vast array of herbs that can help build both the immune system, respiratory system and in the fight against viruses. Elderberries have been used for millennia as an anti-viral. Whilst Elderberries and Elderflowers have historically been used in both food and medicine it is the Elder leaf and bark which is the most potent antiviral against Corona. Whilst poisoness, decocting the herb before tincturing it, ensures these toxins are denatured.
Other herbs in the kitchen or herb garden that help the respiratory system include elecampane, thyme, star anise, turmeric, echinancea, marshmallow, and yarrow to name but a few. I’ve included a couple of traditional recipes you may like to try below.
And finally, if you do catch the Coronavirus….
Guidelines are as follows: Avoid dairy and sugar as they increase the amount of mucus. Increase the amount of fruit and veg but limit foods to fruits, smoothies or juices during a fever. Stay hydrated, keep rooms ventilated and open the windows to ease breathing. Try not to lie flat as lungs clear much easier when sitting upright or leaning forward and catch any phlegm in a tissue and dispose. Diffusers can help with essential oils such as eucalyptus, rosemary, thyme or peppermint.
Failing all else – you can always contact your local herbalist for some of the herbal tinctures mentioned above. As coronavirus is a notifiable disease it is also imperative to inform your GP for further tests. If you have any questions you can contact me via www.thewildsage.co.uk for find me on facebook or Instagram as @thewildirishsage
I will have many of the herbs and tinctures stocked in preparation for people I know getting sick to coronavirus. Whilst I cannot list these blends as a cure for Coronavirus and am limited by my insurance and public liability I am happy to make these herbal tinctures availabe to people willing to purchase at their own risk. I cannot make promises about the herbs for legal reasons but if you would like to avail of them then please do not hesitate to contact me for more information.
100g dried elderberries
Cinnamon, Staranise, Black peppercorn, Cardamon, ginger can all be added to help give flavor.
Directions: Cover Elderberries and spices in water and simmer for 30-60 minutes. Add sugar in a ratio of Elderberry syrup to sugar of 2:1. This can be taken straight daily in tsp during the peak of virus season. Alternatively you can add a spoonful to a cup of hot water for a delicious drink.
Pontack: (Recipe from River Cottage).
500g elderberries (fresh or rehydrated)
500g apple cider vinegar
4 all spice berries
1 blade of mace
1Tbsp black peppercorns
15g fresh root ginger.
Place berries in a slow cooker with the vinegar and put on a low heat for 4-6 hours. Remove and strain berries crushing them to obtain the maximum amount of juice. Add the rest of the ingredients to the juice and boil for 20-25 minutes until slightly reduced. Strain. Return to pan and boild for 5 minutes and pour into warm sterilised bottles. Pontack grows better with age. Apparently tasting its best after 7 years. I’m not sure mine makes it that long. You can add this to stews, casseroles or to sauces and gravies.
6 parts elderberry
6 parts ginger
5 parts mint
3 parts tulsi
3 parts anise seeds/clove
2 parts orange zest
1.5 parts yarrow
1 part liquorice.
Add 1 dsp to a cup of hot water and infuse for 10 -15 minutes.
Alternatively for people who love black tea…
10 parts black tea
3 parts cinnamon
2 parts sage
2 parts thyme
2 parts winter savory
2 parts liquorice
2 parts rosemary.
Directions: As above.
Baby its cold out side....
Time for some Honey, Lemon and Ginger & Clove. If you are really feeling like something sinister is taking hold of your respiratory system you could add a little dram of whiskey to cheer the blues away! Don't worry. The science backs it up!
If all else fails you can try some of our Defense or Wellness Teas. They are wonderful teas designed to heat up the body. I don't like the cold. I long for some heat - and ginger is one of those wonderful little herbs that help me feel like summer is but a few sleeps away!
Herbalists talk about herbs being Warming, Cooling, Drying and Astringent - to name a few. Knowing this separates the great herbalists from the mediocre. A mediocre herbalist might have a client come to them with a disease. Thinking of that disease they remember something about a herb which is meant to be good it. This method however doesn't take into account how the herb acts nor the person it is being used to treat. Knowing the person you are treating and the symptoms expressed leads to a variety of different possibilities. A good herbalist will recognised that a warming herb may be good for a cool person and a cool herb for a cool person. They will want to bring balance to the patient they are treating.
Doing so is an artform and its something that only in practice you begin to realise its full usefulness. I've had a number of conversations with people lately that were suffering from irritating rashes and itches. Medications just were not cutting it and there was nothing really worth looking at from an allopathic perspective.
One visit to a Kineseologist for one client and another to a herbalist led to an easy diagnosis in both cases. They were too hot! They needed to be cooled down with cooling herbs and avoid herbs that were warming. That is really important when then thinking about treating the rash. There are lots of different herbs that can be taken internally and externally but choosing the right ones becomes a really interesting process. You must aim to ensure that you use cooling herbs to detox the kidneys, cleanse the liver, and bloods. Whilst also cool the skin topically. Do it this way and all of a sudden you have a multi-system approach that can be really effective. All because you understand the temperment of the person, the action of the herbs and how the bodily systems function.
Its old medicine. Humoral medicine. It can be and is extremely useful for herbal practicioners and especially when treating chronic conditions.
This may make perfect sense to you - or, you may need a little convincing... So, I wish to make the case with Ginger.
We all know Ginger. It was one of the first oriental speices to arrive in Europe and can appreciate its effect the moment we eat it. It is warming, bitter and aromatic. You can almost instantly feel the heat pulsate through your body and move out to your extremeties. It makes you sweat - but not overly so! It would be impossible to take some ginger and say that you think its cooling; just as no one could ever take a bite of cucumber and convince anyone that it is warm. The foods may have exactly the same core temperature but the action it has on the body is very different.
Some people love ginger. Some can't handle its heat. That can often tell you something about the person. Some people, myself included, need a bit of heat in our lives. I tend to be cold and struggle in the winter. Herbs such as ginger and st. Johns wort encourage me to hold on for spring! Others find taking ginger really difficult. They are hot enough without the need of consuming more heat.
Ginger is great for at helping to warm people up and increase the circulation whilst thinning the blood a little and helping in the absorption of other medicines.
Now, lots of people might know that ginger is good for morning sickness and nausea but completely forget that in the middle of summer a pregnant a women with a hot temperment might find ginger completely unsuitable. Perhaps a cooler herb could be suggested instead; peppermint, spearmint or chamomile should spring to mind instead?
Understanding a herbs actions also brings an understanding as to why that specific herb is useful in certain cases. Ginger is used in instances of osteoarthritis or methabolic syndromes and hyperglycaemia. By stimulating the blood circulation it drives oxygenated blood to the peripheries and clears out the inflammation. You can follow that logic. It makes obvious sense.
That ginger is bitter makes it an unusual combination within the herb world, but this factor aids its carminative, anti-infective and anti-inflmmatory properties; aiding digestion, circulation and assimilation.
That wonderful stinky and flavoursome herb is full of goodness to an ailing body; a fabulous defender of the realm, helping you to stay healthy and one of the most effective and powerful natural anti-biotics you could ever use to fight off infection.
Allium sativum (to give it the botanical name) is a perennial plant widely cultivated as a kitchen herb. 80% of all garlic comes from China yet it is perfectly happy in most soils and hardy to around -10oC. Frankly, nothing tastes better than home grown food and at least this way I can be sure its organic. It also does the amazing job of being a perfect companion plant to roses, carrots, beetroot and chamomile - fending off little unwanted critters.
Why do I love it so?
It is anti-biotic, anti-septic, Anthelmic (anti-parisitic), Blood cleansing, Expectorant, Diaphoretic, Hypotensive (reduced high blood pressure), anti-thrombotic, hypoglycaemic (reduces blood sugar), antispasmodic, a digestive, carminative and cholagogue. What's not to like? In fact before taking an anti-biotic for an ear infection I strongly suggest putting a clove of garlic behind the ear (finding a way to keep it there) and keep in on during the night. You will be amazed at how effective this little clove is at fighting off infection!
Garlic can be indicated for everything from a cold, bronchitis, diabetes, blood pressure, whooping cough and asthma. It can be used against fungal and bacterial infections, aids digestion; and can be used to fight of intestinal worms or as a vermifuge (its even perfectly shaped as a suppository for such purposes). It will promote detox, help skin problems, reduce cholesterol and can be used against arterioslcerosis. I've some garlic honey on hand for bites and stings which my boys regularly complain of.
There is of course much science to explain why garlic is so effective and such a potent little herb. It helps to know this to ensure you are using it effectively to support your body both stay well and help itself.
Garlic contains sulphur compounds known as alliin. On crushing the cells of garlic the bulb releases two chemicals known as allicin and ajoene. Allicin is very unstable and reacts quickly. It will dissipate over the course of a day and is destroyed when cooking. So it needs added to food just after crushing it. A significant amount of alliinase and alliin can be preserved by freeze drying the garlic; hence the garlic capsules you get in health food shops. A word on this however; Alliinase is inactivated by low Ph (such as that in the stomach) enteric coated capsules are necessary for alliinase to survive in the stomach and make its way further down into the digestive tract. Whilst this isn't essential for respiratory conditions or indeed for using it as a pre-biotic it does become important to know this if using the garlic purposefully against some conditions.
It may be helpful to think of it this way. Plants have chemical properties to help them survive that go above and beyond living and growing. They were created with inbuilt mechanisms to fend of disease, resist drought, fight bacterial or fungal infections. As static organisms. They can't operate on a fight or flight mentality. They must proactively work to defend themselves against the onslaught of preditors and disease. These very self-preserving skills are the very things that herbalists (and pharmaceuticals) are able to use to the benefit of humankind. Garlic relases chemicals once crushed in the same way it would if it was bitten or eaten by an insect or microbe. It makes an excellent companion plant because certain insects recognise the smell and know to stay clear. Those that don't bite into it at their peril.
A word on the stink.... The volitile oil of garlic is excreted through the lungs. Give thought as to how it gets there. It has to be absorbed into the system to be excreted. It must travel through the body, the arteries, veins, and heart before the lungs get to breath out that garlicy aroma. This very fact makes it an excellent remedy against respiratory disorders.
If you find the after-aroma very off-putting you can always eat apples, coffee beans or parsely to diminish the smell.
Garlic has a long history as food and as medicine. It was given to labourers building the pyramids to keep them strong and healthy. According to Pliny it had a semi-divine status and was known to clear the arteries and open up the veins. Turns out he was right!
There is even a 9th century recipe containing a garlic eye salve recipe containing leek, wine and cow bile that was recently tested and found to kill 90 of the MRSA superbug. Eating a clove a day is good prophylaxis (prevention against disease).
There are a few ways to have garlic to hand for when you need it.
Infusion: Put a few cloves in 100ml of cold water for 6-8 hours or as a hot infusion with 3 cloves to a cup of boiling water (remember though that heating the garlic compromises some of its properties).
Freshly grated cloves and mixed with honey or syrup for coughs. You can just press the garlic and drink with water.
Garlic oxymel can be taken by adding 1 bulb to 150ml apple cider vinegar and 150g honey. Macerate in the fridge for a week, shake daily and strain into a clean bottle. It should keep in the fridge for about 6 months and you can take 1tsp daily.
As a hand/foot bath you can take 3 bulbs to a litre of warm water and bathe two times a day or mash fresh cloves and spread onto a thin cloth to make a compress.
Now, on to that first aid essential:
Crush the galric well with a mortar and pestle until the garlic becomes transparent adding honey little by little as you go. After the garlic becomes transparent it is ready. Store in sterilised jars.
This is a great way to take garlic. To stop a cold getting into the lungs take a teaspoon every 2 hours as soon as you notice the symptoms. To prevent a cold or cough during the winter take 2-3 tsp daily but don't do this for children - it is much better to use onion syrup for them. It can however be used on bee stings, insect bites and grazes as required.
We were out yesterday with a number of friends celebrating May Day Bank Holiday on the beach. Prepared for some sea vegetable foraging (it was just too chilly to think of swimming) I had a bucket filled with bladderwrack in a matter of minutes. Bladderwrack isn't difficult to find. It is ubiquitous to the coastline around Ireland and available all year but early summer is the best time to forage Bladderwrack if you are collecting it for medicinal use. May day offered perfect timing. For culinary use it could be arugued that early summer is the least appropriate time to eat bladderwrack due to the iodine content (but more on that in a second).
My family is no different to most in that we tend to have a "Uggh!" approach to all things sea veg which is a shame as seaweed is possibly the most abundant, most nutritious food source for those seeking to be self-sufficient. We may have used it previously as a source of fertiliser but incorporating it into our regular diet has been a little more difficult. I have manged to convince people to consume soups and stews made with a stock rich in seaweed and occasionally offered the odd portion of seaweed salted chips but beyond that has proven unfruitful.
Bladderwack (Fucus vesiculosus) is not classified as a plant, but as a seaweed and Heterocont (a large group of eukaryotic organisims many of which include algae and plankton). It features paired air-bladders on either side of the mid-rib and whilst easy to identify might be confused a little with Fucus spiralis which tends to be a bit smaller without air-bladders along the frond but swollen tips on the branches.
It can be eaten fresh or dried and used as medicine. Bladderwack is a specific herb for hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) due to its high iodine content. Taking it medicinally however should be monitored by a healthcare professional and prescriptions should be reviewed every 3-4 weeks if taking it as an iodine supplement. The iodine content is more concentrated in the new growth at the ends of the fronds in early summer - hence the reccommendation to perhaps eat less of it at this time (unless using it medicinally) as the iodine content may cause hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Its metabolic promoting activity means use of bladderwrack is often associated iwth weight loss.
This little sea veg has been been used to relieve symptoms of rheumatic complaints, both taken internally and applied externally to sore inflammed joints. It improves blood vessle walls and skin elasticity. Seaweed baths are an excellent way to tread skin problems and used internally it can help lower cholesterol and prevent strokes. Bladderwrack has also been known to stimulate the immune system in the treatement of both bacterial and fungal infections as well as reduce the growth and proliferation of oestrogen dependant cancer cells, as well as sarcoma, colon adenocarcinoma, and non-small-cell bronchopulmonary carcinoma.
Harvesting Bladderwrack couldn't be simpler. Wait for the tide to go out and harvest the fronds at low tide. Do not try to pick up decomposing seaweed unattached to the rock or the sea-bed as it will have already begun decomposing. Once picked you rinse off any grit, impurities or little critters and hand the seaweed on a line or dehydrate. The weather hasn't been kind to us this week so I've opted for the dehydrator. Once it is dry and brittle it can be stored in a sealed container, either whole, crushed or powdered.
Bladderwrack also contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphorous, sulphur, iron, manganese, chromium, zinc and copper.
Keto is all the rage in America over the last few years. The name given to followers of the Ketogenic Diet. It, and its sibling, “Paleo” are popping up everywhere on social media.
So, what are they? And, more importantly are they any good?
The premise of the paleo diet is that it follows a diet similar to one of ages past, specifically the Paleolithic era. It focusses on lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. It excludes anything that has been produced through farming traditions over the last 10,000 years, such as dairy, grains and legumes. Many will talk about the new found energy and lack of bloating etc. There will also be a number of people speaking of weight loss.
Paleo is based on fundamental premise that our bodies cannot cope with the rapid changes to our diets. People following the diet may be interested in loosing weight, tackling diabetes, or heart disease and certainly there are research studies demonstrating support for such conclusions. Crucially one of the reasons the diet is so successful hones in on the abstinence of both dairy and grains, the two of which have been directly linked to many of societies modern day chronic illnesses. Casein (in dairy) and Glutamine (in grains) are two of the pro-inflammatory big hitters in the world today.
Taking these out of your diet, irrespective of allergies or food intolerances, will have a dramatic impact on your health and with positive changes to in the gut microbiome and to mental health.
The Keto Diet is similar to Paleo in that it limits the amount of grains a person consumes. Keto goes a little further in this regard as it also banishes potatoes and any other carb you can think of, at least in the short term. The initial recommendation is to limit the amount of carbs to 30-60g a day. This makes fruit a luxury instead of a staple!
So what do you eat?
Ketogenic diets replace carbohydrates with fat. The diet, if following it properly, will suggest up to 70% fat, a relatively small amount of protein and lots of vegetables – specifically those with lots of colour. Be warned though. The temptation with Keto is to fill up with protein but that would lead you down the path of the treacherous Atkins diet which carries a number of health concerns. Keto does not recommend that. Whilst it may be the #1 diet in America at the moment, the diet itself is nothing new. In the 1970's it became a very valuable way to help treat people suffering from schizophrenia.
Keto has since emerged from the medical rooms in a number of dietary protocols specific to things as diverse as heart health, mental health, Austism, MS etc,. The question we really should be asking is, “Why?”
Keto encourages the body to move away from feeding the sugar monster within and begin metabolising fat. The medical term for this state is, “Ketosis”. A person is in ketosis when they have a slightly fruity odour to their breath. This signifies that the body has begun breaking down fat for energy and it releases Ketones which are detected in the breath. Anyone familiar with fasting will be familiar with this experience. It denotes that the body is in a state of detox. Further, it also means your body has begun fighting inflammation.
There are kits available to tell you if, and when, you are in ketosis but the breath test after a few days of starting the diet will also confirm you have reached a Ketogenic state. Other side effects that occur include; weight loss, less (but a better quality) sleep, more energy and reduction in inflammatory disorders. There will, fore the first few weeks, be food cravings for sugar as the carb monster starts screaming out for food... Resist! Resist! Resist! The Fat burner within is much kinder once its given freedom to rule the terrain.
What? Fat? Really!
We all know that Fat is bad, right? Northern Ireland has a high level of CVD (cardio-vascular disease). Suggesting that people should consider a high fat diet is surely just irresponsible. What of Health Agency’s darling food pyramid recommending a low fat, high fiber diet based on Carbs?
Without getting into the whole conspiracy factor: books have been written this very subject. Let me just say that the current advice is good for business, good for government and really, really, bad for your health!
Refined, unsaturated oils should indeed be banned from your dietary intake completely and forever. There is no merit at all to them despite any health claims to the contrary. The oil is refined, heated, extracted with all the nutrients depleted to increase shelf-life. You are, in essence, just eating rancid oil that is carcinogenic.
“What? But I thought these were the healthy fats?”
I know! So did I! I had to concede upon reading copious amounts of material that I was in error this whole time. If you want to find out more I recommend "Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill" by Udo Erasmus.
By all means drizzle olive oil, avocado oil or rapeseed over your salads but you daren’t cook with it, and even then, only use it if it is cold pressed and unfiltered. To fry anything, I’d recommend butter (ideally ghee), coconut oil or lard. Yes, that’s right, lard. Long distained by cardiologists globally, Lard is now making a comeback. It seems our elders and forefathers knew what they were doing with this prized ingredient. Buying lard from a farmer that can ensure the produce is organic and pasture fed is, without doubt, the best way to consume saturated fat for your health.
The polyunsaturated fats that are excellent for your health are the essential fatty acids that you can’t generate internally. Omega 3’s and 6’s but specifically the Omega 3’s are crucial to reduce inflammation and help restore the body to health. Fish oil with a high proportion of DHA is a highly sought-after ingredient for many people seeking to support their body in re-couperating from chronic ill-health. Flax seed oil and hemp oil are similarly rich in Omega 3’s and essential for an anti-inflammatory diet but as with any polyunsaturated oil, you really do need to pay attention to the detail as it will oxidise rapidly and go rancid. Small bottles with a short shelf-life (that are kept in the fridge) are essential. If you can buy it directly from the farmer upon pressing it, that is what I'd would recommend. Alternatively, buy the whole flax seeds (not milled) and mill them at home in the food processor and add them to your salads, or use the milled seed as thickeners in sauces – just being careful to not overheat the seed.
Despite public health advice, scientific research confirms that fat is the preferential food source of the body – it certainly is the preferred food source of the brain and testes. Similarly butyrate (found in butter) is an energy source for the good bacteria in your gut which in turn play a critical role in your own physical and mental health. Yes, that’s right, bacteria in your gut affects your mood! Crazy, right?
Sorry, I’ve gone off on a tangent. Back to the Keto diet. Does it work?
Many doctors taking a functional approach to medicine have started using the Keto diet to start fighting inflammation. Again, the question we should be asking is, “why?” What is it that makes this such a significant diet. Why do people following a ketogenic diet, which is high in fat reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and loose weight with many adherents even being cured of diabetes. One of the fastest growing health concerns could be controlled if diet was changed as opposed to insulin administered as a drug.
Omega 3 fats support the body in releasing hormones such as resolvin which act as an anti-inflammatory. The fat and fiber in the diet, along with the absence of grains allows the gut to heal. Both diets feed the good bacteria in the digestive tract whilst also starving those sugar craving bad bacteria – thus transforming your microbiome to one that is healthier and offers you free energy in return for your kindness. Healing the gut reduces many, many auto-immune diseases. The fats help restore cell tissue fluidity, brain tissue and permits the body to start fighting real health problems such as pre-cancerous cells which feed on sugar.
The evidence is very convincing in supporting the argument that fat-based diets are BIG HITTERS in reducing inflammation and disease in the body. You can do a quick search on PubMED or science direct for connections between Ketogenic diet its use Brain & breast cancer, MS, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s, Autism, ADHD, Allergies, GERD, osteoarthritis, irritable bowel disease, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Ischaemic heart disease, coeliac and thyroid disease. Is there a danger of stroke or athlersclerosis? Well, research seems to suggest the opposite but again, it would take your doctor to be fully up to speed on the roll of HDL, LDL and VLDL within the blood. Essentially, cholesterol is critical for cell membrane life. Being without it is not good. There are numerous books to consult on this. May I suggest “The Great Cholesterol Con” as a light-hearted slightly irreverent read. Its not a scientific as some of the better books but it certainly rams the point home in an easy to understand manner. Other books include, "Brain Drain", "Wheat Belly" & "Gut & Psychology Syndrome"
With this in mind one might well begin asking another pertinent question, “Why on earth has my health practitioner not suggested I look at this?” I guess the only answer to that question is that health practitioners are busy and they work in extremely stressful environments. Certainly, drug companies don’t want the word to get out that there are anti-flammatory diets out there that might make it unnecessary to take their tablets. I don’t have any time at all for drug companies but I do have sympathy for people trained in medicine. Diet wasn’t a major part of a doctors training – think a matter of days as opposed it being part of their core training and you won’t go far wrong. Further, dieticians are required to follow Health Agency guidelines even if they are up to speed on the latest research.
That said, things are changing fast. If you have been reading health books with a publishing date before 2010 I’d recommend recycling it as the newest text books in health care provision (specifically 2014 – present) are all pointing to a more holistic approach to treating the body. Diet is no longer a side-line matter but at the root and branch of systemic chronic disease. Most books will now be published with dietary protocols and very very few will have any objections to a Ketogenic diet.
Herbalists and nutritionists look at the whole person. Assessing a clients diet is an integral factor to a patients first consultation. There is no doubt that Ketogenic and Paleo diets may have a role to play in therapeutic intervention but it must also be used in the knowledge that like all new fads there can be unforeseen consequences and it isn't a panacea for everyone.
I started Keto back in October and lost just over 2 stone in a matter of 5-6 weeks. I couldn’t believe how much more energy I had. The diet was expensive but given that I’d stopped wanting food all the time and was only eating once or twice a day I found that the cost wasn’t all that different. I’m a bread lover and I thought the transition was going to be terrible but after the first 5 days those cravings disappeared. My love affair with bread is forever changed. Within 3 months I re-introduced potatoes and rice and now eat carbs in small amounts throughout the week but easily transition in and out of ketosis without much thought. I’m amazed at how my blood pressure dropped whilst fitness levels have rose despite the lack of much exercise.
Is it right for everyone? – No. But for many people, it is an absolutely great diet to be on, at least temporarily, to get your body back into a healthy cycle. One GP recently told me that if they could suggest just two changes for every person entering her practice it would be banishing refined cooking oils from their diet completely and forever as well as abstaining from grains. That’s a big statement to make, and whilst it isn’t a cure-all by any means the implications are huge.
So, a word to the wise. Everything in moderation. Dairy and Wheat as we currently buy them are not doing our bodies any favours, but nor do we have to throw the baby out with the bath water (unless of course we are chronically sick in which case you might wish to consider it). Your body is amazing and will generally heal itself provided it is not abused. All things in moderation and once you have detoxed from sugar it becomes increasingly easy to listen to the guts need for nutrition and what the body is telling you it needs.
As for the vegetarian and vegan amongst us... It is very difficult to maintain a keto diet and remain a true vegan. Its difficult for the vegetarian but possible for a pescatarian. That said, 'healthy' vegetarians and vegans are unlike to need such an anti-inflammatory diet in the first place.
I realise it was long post. Hopefully you were able to stick with it and find it both useful and interesting.
Heal those Blisters!
Any hill-walker worth listening to will already be well aware of the vitues of plantain. There wasn't much of it today on my little forage but you can see the leaves of Plantago major L. in the top left hand corner of the basket. For botanists amongst us you might note that my basket contains Plantago lanceolata L., and not Plantago major L. There are obvious differences between the two herbs for those interested and to be honest, familiarising yourself with the two is a pretty good idea if you are out and about alot. That said the properties for the plant are the same regardless of which of the two species you use - so it really is just a matter of knowing what they both look like in case one of them isn't readily available.
Plantain, also known as "Ribwort" have valuable healing properties. I mentioned hill-walkers before because plantain can be a very valuable plant for those suffering from blisters due to the chaffing of their skin within the sock and walking boot. All one has to do is chew on a leaf for a few seconds to break up the cell walls and then place the plantain directly on the red skin and secure it in place with the sock. It is good at soothing inflamed and sore skin and is one of the main topical healing agents used by herbalists, whether it be in a lotion, compress, ointment or poutice for cuts or bruises. Similarly it can be used on heamorrhoids and ulcers.
Used internally Plantain will have a similar impact on internal membranes but it also acts as a gentle expectorant making it very useful for coughs or bronchitis. These same properties make it a useful addition to medicines prescribed for diarrhea, cystitis and hemorrhoids when accompanied by bleeding.
Making a tincture couldn't be easier but the ratios can vary a lot depending on what herbalist you follow. Some use a ratio of 1:5 w:v in 40% alcohol; others will use a ratio of 1:2 fresh herb. Those that do will suggest a 25% alcohol concentration. Considering Plantain is readily available throughout most of the year I'd absolutely recommend going for the fresh version with one caveat. Sometimes making ointments from fresh herbs can produce water, which molds easily. In such cases you might want to consider making an ointment with platain infused in oil and in this instance dried plantain may well be benificial if concerned about spoiling.
Today's little foraging spree brought some childhood memories to mind. I was on the hunt of everyone's favourite childhood herb. What child can ever fail to be amused by a herb known as "Sticky Willy"? What adult ever thought it appropriate to convey the name of such a herb to children? Most of us have memories of running around through parks and playgrounds throwing this plant at friends and family in the hope of getting it to stick to their clothing without them noticing, or as twist on the game, "tig". The rather bland tasting Galium Aperine (Cleavers) is a bit of a traditional wonder. It evokes childhood memories of me walking up Cavehill in Belfast with my grandfather who was rather taken with the idea of educating his grandchildren of Belfast's many weeds - be it horse-tail, cleavers (he would never have said the word "willy"!), nettle or primrose.
It is ubiquitous; typically found in hedgerows all around the country. This little wonder arrives in early spring. It grows up to 2m tall in the midst of the hedges and it is all edible but you probably want to go over it pretty well first to make sure you get the greenest and freshest parts of the plant. Things have a tendency to stick to cleavers and whilst a bit of dirt may well do your gut microbiome some good you don't want too much of a good thing to spoil your tinctures or smoothies. More about those in a minute.
It is more than just a childhood novelty herb though. Cleavers is an extremely useful herb to the herbalist. It has been used for generations to help people suffering from low grade chronic infection and as a specific for the lymphatic system. Cleavers is also a diuretic and this essentially means it is a great herb to help detoxify the body or rid the body of excess water (otherwise known as lymphatic drainage). For anyone keen on fasting or trying the 5:2 fasting currently in vogue you might particularly like cleavers. It has been used over the years as a means to allieviate that nasty headache you might get when going through detox. These same functions have an incredibly important use on skin conditons such as eczema and psoriasis by working from the inside out. Traditionally it is used as an anti-inflammatory herb to help allieviate mastitis and cystitis. More recently it has been used to support people suffering from cancer due to its anti-neoplastic properties.
Its best used when fresh. When making a tincture I tend to go for a 1:2 w:v ratio in a 25% alcohol. However cleavers can be used fresh in a tea, popularly used with nettle as a spring time detox. It can also be easily juiced into a smoothie of your choosing and is bland enough not to affect the taste. One thing to note about cleavers infusions however is that they don't last long and will quickly ferment. If you aren't going to drink it I highly suggest you freeze it and use the ice-cubes in the days to follow.
As for the other herbs in my basket today: We forgot to set out some chicken fillets from the freezer to defrost overnight so I decided to go out and gather some nettles. The result was a mish-mash of some left over pasta and chicken, some onion, garlic, olives, pepper and turkey bacon along with some nettles (instead of spinach) and herbs for a lovely little nettle stir-fry. The yellow petals going into the mix was that of gorse, adding a lovely hint of coconut to the dish. I'd offer you the recipe but its pasta - what could go wrong? Just feel free to experiment.
Wine Making Season Commences
Gorse flower is around for much of the year but between March & May when the sun shines on the gorse flowers you may be lucky enough to fill your nostrils with the pleasing aroma of coconut. Its interesting because today, when I was out picking it, the smell reminded me of those sun lotions my mum used to apply. I can't say I was much of a lover of sun lotion - I'm still not, but the smell stuck with me.
It wasn't until I went to read up on the chemical constituents of Gorse that something very interesting was discovered. Gorse flower contains carotenes which are the most important of the carotenoid vitamin A precursors. Whilst used commercially as a food colouring for fats such as margarine it is also used as a sunscreen agent to prevent the photosensitivity reaction of erythropoeitic protoporphyria (Hoffmann, D., 2003 "Medical Herbalism"). It makes me wonder if the commercial suncream had any coconut in it at all.... Perhaps the cheaper gorse-flower was a suitable and cheaper alternative. I might have to go hunt some labels in my local pharmacy next week.
I confess it wasn't for medicine I went picking some of these wondefully bright and abundant flower petals. We have some family members staying with us at present and my brother-in-law is particularly interested in my brewing history. I promised to introduce him to the wonders of country wines. Where better to start than with a delightfully sustainable and palatable Gorse Wine. It is normally the first country wine of year I tend to make, usually in conjunction with some Dandelion. Gorse is by far the preferred wine of the two and I confess I am a little late to start this year so I've religated Dandelion for another time.
Next on the agenda for my brother-in-law will be an introduction to Nettle Beer. With a two week turnaround - he might still be here to enjoy the end result. Gorse, I'm afraid, may just have to be enjoyed by myself as it takes a year to mature. Oh, what a shame!
At the end of the week strain off must into a demi-john and fit an air-lock and wait 2-3 months. Rack off the wine into a second demi-john when it stops bubbling and bottle when clear for a nice dry wine. I'm not a lover of sweet wines; if you like it sweeter you may need to add more sugar after opening.
Its a bit of a waiting game, I'm afraid. It will need bottled for another 9-10 months before enjoying this one. The only up-side is that next year when you go out foraging for gorse you will be able to come home and open up a bottle to treat yourself for all that hard work.
If you are not that patient I refer you to the wonderful John Wrigth of River Cottage fame. He suggests a gorse rum infusion. That should be ready in just 2 days. Add a handful of gorse, a tsp sugar and half a litre of white rum, wait two days and you blessed with a lovely infusion. Personally, I preferred the pommegranate rum much better than the gorse rum - but that's not to say I have any left of the gorse rum to share! Not that my bar is particularly high!.
Spring is in the air... Let the foraging commence
One of our children, who affectionately calls me "Plant Man", asked what my favourite herb was the other day. It didn't take long to reply with this wonderful little plant, Nettle (Urtica Dioica). It brings tears and some swelling to children everywhere, perhaps a few profanities from adults and is generally regarded as a nusience weed. It is amazingly overlooked as a food-source that grows in abundance to many during that all too important period in the year when there is little else to use on the veg patch.
Nettle is full of vitamins, cholorphyll, proteins and minerals, can be used as a food staple, used to make dyes, make the most wonderful tonics to support good health and even be converted into fabric as an alternative to hemp or linen. For those into brewing you can also endulge in some nettle beer. It is a perfect spring time beverage, light and fresh yet full of goodness. Nettle's use has perhaps fallen to the wayside since the war-time yet there is much to be said about this free, abundant and local food source. Lady birds and aphids understand this and perhaps we would do well to listen. Ask any organic gardener worthy of such a title and they will all say nettle is one of the most important organic fertilizers to them.
Nettle works on the kidneys and mucous membranes, helping to remove excess and bring about balance. It is a diuretic, anti-inflammatory and a galactagogue. It is full of flavanoids (which are anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative), carotenes, Vitamins C, B & K. There are traces of calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus and potassium, making this a much cheaper alternative to things such as spirulina. Nettle also has one of those unusual reputations as a blood cleanser, making it a wonderful herb to use for people with skin problems.
Those treacherous stingy trichomes contain Acetyl choline & histamines and serotonin. This is why people with Arthritis can be seen running their hands over some nettles. The temporary pain of the sting brings with it anti-inflammatory properties and the feel-good factor of the seratonin. Sting yourself too much though and you will be unable to sleep!
Nettles are a boost to the system to help us get up and going on those cold mornings but they are more than that. They are also an important part of many herbalists medicine cabinet as Hay-fever season approaches. Nettle has been used for hundreds of years for its anti-allergy effect. How does it work? Well nettles inhibit both the action and production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (such as TNF) which are released by cells and influence immune system response. The impact of nettle however is mild and it is usually used in conjunction with other herbs such as eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) and Elder (Sambucus Niger). It should also be taken for a few weeks before allergy season commences for best effect.
Nettle seeds have recently been studied as a means of restoring the kidney's and adrenal glands whilst the roots appear to be useful as hair tonics and prostatic problems.
If you would like to find out more about some of the research into nettle you can check it out here.
That's enough of the why... onto the how I use nettle.
Truthfully, our nettles could have been harvested last month but as we were launching the business and completing exams it got pushed back a bit. Still, in just a few short minutes I managed to harvest some well fertilised nettles (thank you ducks!) to fill a carrier bag - enough to make a big pot of soup and fill the dehydrator for some of our anti-histamine teas. Actually Nettle features quite a lot in most of our spring teas as it is such a wonderful nutritional tonic for this time of year. You will find it in our following tea blends: Strength, Revival, Tov, Awete,
To make Nettle Soup you will need.
Directions couldn't be simpler. Melt the butter and saute onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes. Add a potato and carrot for another few minutes. Add the veg stock and simmer for 10 mins before adding the nettle. I add the nettles quite late as over-cooking them will break down some of the nutrients. Simmer for a further 5 minutes and then blend.
For variations you could add some wild mushrooms, add some spices or a dollop of creme fraiche. Non Shaw and Christopher Headley recommend using mallow leaves in nettle soup as the nettles themselves can be a little drying. I confess I haven't yet tried this.
The photo of the soup below is of a Keto Bread Carla is currently working on. Details of it to follow shortly.
Nettle & Cleavers De-tox
The best way to consume Nettle at this time of year is fresh. That way you get to preserve all the nutrients from the plant. An easy de-tox recipe is to blend fresh nettle leaves and fresh cleavers into a smoothie. A wonderful tonic and immune booster for this time of year. The use of cleavers is a wonderful way to clear toxins from the body quickly and especially useful when fasting as it helps prevent the headache.
Crush enough fresh nettle and cleavers to fill a pan and cover with cold water. Allow to steep overnight. Strain and drink over the next few days.
And for those of you who like the idea of fermenting. I can do no better than the wonderful John Wright of River Cottage.