The Teacup Chronicles

Month: March, 2011

Spectacular Seaweed

Reports have now confirmed that radiation has leaked into the waters surrounding Japan after the tsunami and earthquake tragedy that wreaked havoc on a nuclear plant there. Already this radiation has reached the coast of Southern California. While you might comfort yourself that the amount of radiation reaching our coastline is very small, there is still cause to be concerned. As John Gofman, a physician and physicist who spent a good part of his career investigating the effects of radiation on human health concluded,

“There is no safe dose of radiation since radiation is cumulative. Harm in the form of excess human cancer occurs at all doses of ionizing radiation, down to the lowest conceivable dose and dose rate.”

In other words,  most radioactive isotopes are active for a very long time (some up to 500,000 years!), so any exposure to such radioactive elements throughout your life accumulates within the body,  cumulatively damaging your cells and your DNA over time. You might feel the need to despair at this, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you, but I would also encourage you with the news that there is a rather delicious food that seems perfectly designed to protect against the harmful effects of radiation: Seaweed.

Seaweeds are protective through two mechanisms.  Radiation is often taken into the body in the form of  radioactive isotopes – ie minerals that are molecularly changed and rendered unstable through radioactive activity –  such as iodine-131, strontium-90, potassium-40, etc. One of the best ways of preventing your body from absorbing such radioactive elements is to ensure that there are so many healthy minerals available to your cells that there will be no need (or room) for the absorption of the radioactive minerals. It just so happens that seaweeds are, ounce per ounce, higher than any other food in vitamins and minerals!

Seaweed contains up to 56 minerals in all, with at least 10 times the potassium of bananas and 10 times the calcium of milk. They also contain ample levels of iodine – the mineral necessary for thyroid function, and you would need to eat up to 40 lbs of vegetables to get the iodine content in just 1 gram of seaweed.  Eating one ounce of seaweed per day will provide your body with ample amounts of vitamins, minerals and trace minerals which will saturate your cells with health minerals, and thus selectively prevent the uptake of radioactive elements.

The second strategy for protecting oneself from radioactive elements is chelation. This word refers to the process of bringing harmful elements to the digestive tract, where they can be bound to benign substances and excreted from the body. One of the best chelators of radioactive elements (as well as heavy metals, PCBs and many other environmental pollutants) is sodium alginate, a constituent found primarily, and in very high amounts, in seaweeds.  Sodium alginate was found to reduce strontium-90 (a common radioactive element released from nuclear reactors) deposition in the bone by 70-90% in one study and shown to reduce the absorption of strontium-90 from effected food by a factor of 9 in another study.

Aside from their protective effects against radiation and their amazing nutritional benefits, seaweeds offer us many other benefits to our health. They are incredibly soothing to the lungs and digestive tract – helping to heal inflammation and restore function to damaged membranes in such conditions as GERD, colitis, gastritis or chronic bronchitis. They have strong antibiotic and anti-viral properties, shown effective against penicillin resistant bacteria, HPV and Herpes simplex. They help to soften hardened masses such as fibroids, tumors and cysts. Many people assert that they are reproductive tonics and fertility aids as well – whether through their ability to mineralize and deeply nourish the body, or through their ability to bind excess sex hormones and carry them out of the body, thus balancing hormonal levels (probably both).  And, as any mermaid would tell you, they promote glowing, radiant skin and lustrous hair.

So, we know that seaweeds are a great idea to include in the diet each and every day – and especially with the added radiation load we are experiencing from this recent disaster. But the question is, how do we do this?  Seaweeds aren’t exactly first on everyone’s list of delicious foods – and I would venture that far more find them entirely disagreeable then completely delicious. There are several ways you can sneak them into the diet without hardly noticing:

  • Add them to flavoring mixes, such as this seaweed-nettle gamasio
  • Add them to soup stocks
  • Throw them in breads or crackers
  • Toast them and throw them in salads, sandwiches or nut mixes
  • Add cooked seaweeds to grain dishes, soups or casseroles

Here is one of my favorite ways to eat seaweed, adapted from the recipe in Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal. As she says, “the hundreds of people I have served [this recipe] to have loved seaweed prepared in this way.” It is so delicious you hardly notice the seaweed at all – that is if you don’t want to!

Spicy Asian Seaweed Rice with Stir-fried vegetables and cashews

You could easily add in some tempeh, tofu, chicken or pork to make this a more substantial meal if you’d like.

  • olive or sesame oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2 cups carrots, thinly sliced into half moons
  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped roughly into florets
  • 1 cup white cabbage or thinly sliced collard greens
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice (or other grain of choice)
  • 2 cups toasted cashews
  • 2 cups hijiki or arame seaweed, soaked in a bowl of water
  • 1/3 cup tamari
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons miso
  • 1 chopped red chili, or 1 teaspoon chili flakes

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok and add the onions. Cook until the are golden brown, and then add the garlic and ginger. Cook for a few minutes, then add the carrots. Cover the pan and let steam over low heat for 8-10 minutes, or until the carrots are somewhat softened, but still have a nice bite.

2. Drain the seaweed, add it the pan and stir well.

3. In another pan, combine the soy sauce, honey, toasted sesame oil, miso and chile and heat until the honey and miso are just dissolved.

4. Add the broccoli and cabbage to the vegetable mix, and cook just until the broccoli turns bright green. Turn of the heat, add the rice and pour over the dressing, mixing well to evenly incorporate it through.

5. Serve in bowls with a good handful of toasted cashews.

March Blog Party: My top secret project revealed

The theme of this months blog party, hosted by Lucinda over at Whispering Earth, is “Herbal Creativity.” She has given much leniency to what we might choose to fall into this category, saying we should select something which, “inspires us or encourages our creative side.” So, after much pondering, it occurred to me that it might be the perfect opportunity to reveal a top secret project I’ve been working on – something which involves creativity and inspiration both. Are you ready? Drum role, please….

Over the past few years, I’ve had this thought milling around in my head of starting a tea company (which I also dream, may someday lead to the opening of a tea house with delicious cakes and lots of beautiful China teacups, but more on that some other day…). I have always delighted more than anything else in the process of blending a tea – feeling the herbs in my hands, seeing their vibrant colors and smelling their fragrances. It is a magical blend of  instinct and knowledge, aesthetics and the art of flavor that shape the development of a tea. The process has always bewitched me, and touched something very primal and ancient within me.

Anyhow, a handful of basic formulas have been shaping themselves for years in my kitchen, apothecary and mind. As these teas have shifted and shaped themselves they have developed a sort of inertia of their own – and have each become some little offering or sacrament to those aspects of living I consider so fundamental to health. And thus, Teacup & Co was finally born – a collection of 7 teas that each celebrates/strengthens/tones all those things so imperative to our sense of well-being.

There is Love of course (the aphrodisiac tea to share with a sweetheart), and Celebrate (to uplift the senses and honor the joy of living). There is Root (to honor and nourish those vitality imparting roots of ours), Digest (to soothe and support that activity most central to our health), Nourish (to nourish the body with minerals and vitamins) and Dream (a tea for soothing us into that healing dream state of sleep), and there is Breathe (to support our respiratory tracts during cold and flu season).

What has really surprised me with this project is that aside from giving me a chance to work in a strictly creative and hands on way with the herbs, it has also re-infused my life with artistic creativity – designing labels and graphics and all of that. I hadn’t realized how much I’d been missing that aspect of art in my-nose-to- the-books herbal life these past few years. So I’ve had lots of fun recently  (if you call fun tearing your hair out at midnight after moving a word half a centimeter back and forth for 4 hours) developing labels and graphics for the company. I must admit that I’ve had all my supplies for nearly a year now, and I have worked on my labels for THAT long. At least. It is called being a neurotic perfectionist – but I hope also – that it also has some semblance of  wanting to get something just right.

So there is my big projected unveiled. I’m nearly (hold my breath) done with the labels – and they should be off to the printer by the end of the week. Then, I’ll be setting up shop on Etsy and selling around town here in Vermont. It’s all very unbelievable and quite terrifying that this little dream of mine is soon to happen.

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to share some of my labels and the process of my design with you, as a tribute that wonderful creative process that has blessed my days this past year or so. It is a strange thing to look back and see how an idea and a glimmer of something materializes into something real, takes shape of its own and develops its own personality.

My first step was looking at LOTS of packages. I spent hours at the grocery store looking at boxes and canisters. I spent countless hours researching packages, fonts, images – anything that took my fancy, really – and collecting them. It made me look at the world in such a different way – I have a new-found appreciation for labels that I never could have before fathomed. I will never go to the store and look at the shelves in the same way again!

After all that research, I had some clear ideas of what I wanted to create. The next step was to create a color palette to work from. I wanted something vibrant and pastel with a sense of groundedness to it, with each tea complementing the other as to emphasize their concept as a “set.”  I  wanted the psychological/symbolic associations of the colors to pertain to the concept of each tea also (ie red for love, yellow for digest and the crown chakra, etc), because I am just like that. This took far longer to get right than you would ever believe. Here is the final result:

After toying with many ideas; too many fonts to mention and too many text boxes, highlights and dots to count, the first basic format materialized (note that the descriptions aren’t quite right yet – digest would not make a very sexy name for an aphrodisiac tea, would it!):

And then – a new font, a few little snazzy slants and details, and I said what I (nor my husband who has been so patient in helping me) ever thought I would. “I’m happy!” and with trembling hand, put down my virtual paintbrush.

And some photos of the teas:

So there is a small taste of my creative endeavor. I’ll be sure to keep you all posted as to when I get my Etsy page up and running. Here’s to unexpected creativity, and to dreams blossoming into things you can hold!

Preparing for spring allergies

Spring is just round the bend, or at least we must hope. Soon the landscape will be etched in palest green and the air will be heavy with the scent of flowers and the songs of happy birds. And all through the air, like a great heap of glittering confetti thrown up in a display of spring merriment, will float millions of tiny specks of pollen, that bittersweet object that so taints the enjoyment of spring’s splendors with the curse of itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing.

There is good news though. There is time yet to prepare your body for this yearly assault! For indeed the fault lies not with the pollen – but with the body’s being in a state of over-reactivity. Pollen is in fact a completely benign substance, offering no insult or injury to our bodies. But to the imbalanced immune system – it is labeled as an intruder of the worst kind, triggering all manner of defense mechanisms (sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes) designed to rid the body of it. As the pollen is harmless to us, however, all this effort and great strain on our sanity and nerves – is for naught.

So what to do? While you cannot change the pollen, you can change your body. There are several strategies that can be taken in order to balance the immune system and render it less over-reactive. Here are some suggestions:

Soothe your gut:

Those who study plants from a purely chemical prospective have often been baffled as to how plants whose constituents could not possibly reach the lungs are able to exert a therapeutic effect there.   But herbalists have long viewed the body as a holistic entity, and understand that the state of one area of the body is deeply connected to – and thus profoundly effects – the state of all the others. Thus, a plant that soothes the gut may soothe the urinary tract, the lungs or even the skin. Now, a branch known as neurogastroenterology has begun to uncover this very connection, asserting  that all of our mucous membranes (the mucous secreting linings throughout our body) are interconnected via the nervous system – and that the state of one is indeed heavily impacted by the state of another through neural connections. Thus, a plant who offers a soothing impact on the digestive tract might soothe membranes in another area of the body even though it’s constituents never actually contact that tissue directly.

In terms of allergies, this means that the gut must not be forgotten when considering the root of an inflamed, over-reactive respiratory tract. IE, if the lining of your gut is chronically irritated, it is more than likely your respiratory tract will follow suit and become highly reactive as well.  To soothe and tonify your gut, try:

  • Removing common dietary irritants such as dairy products, wheat and refined carbohydrates several weeks before allergy season begins to reduce the reactivity of mucous membranes throughout the body.
  • Taking a bitter herb such as dandelion or gentian root before meals to enhance digestive function, ensure optimal breakdown and assimilation of food, and tonify and heal the cells lining the digestive tract.
  • A multi-strain probiotic (optimally containing at least 10 strains of Bifido and Lactobaccili bacterium in a time released form) can also help to strengthen the membranes of the digestive tract and may play a role in balancing immune function. Look for one that supplies at least 3 billion micro-organisms.

Balance your immune system:

Allergies are the result of an over-active immune system. Certain types of cells become overly active, while those that usually counter-balance allergic activity become deficient. There are, however, many herbs that help to remedy this balance – reducing hypersensitivity and promoting a balanced, healthy immune system. Reishi mushroom, licorice root and echinacea root are all quite helpful for these effects.

  • Reishi is good for those with a hot, irritable constitution with some degree of dampness or stagnation. In this constitution, allergies tend to be boggy (ie lots of congestion) and highly inflammatory – with redness, itching and irritability.  Try taking up to 1000 mg of freeze dried reishi per day, add 1-3 teaspoons powdered reishi to food or take 1 teaspoon tincture twice daily. As reishi is quite drying, it needs to be balanced with something moist like marshmallow or licorice root when used for those of a dryer constitution, where dry inflamed membranes with scanty, thin mucous and discharge are predominant.
  • Licorice is an immune modulator, adrenal tonic and demulcent (or moistening herb), which I find useful for those who have a dry, depleted constitution where inflammation arises from faulty adrenal function and dryness. If you tend towards itchy, dry eyes and frequent sneezing with irritation of the nose and throat, but little or thin discharge, licorice is quite nice – especially if your symptoms worsen with stress. Try taking 1/4 teaspoon of solid extract 2-3 times per day (if you have high blood pressure, be sure to purchase DGL licorice or consult your herbalist).
  • Echinacea is wonderful as an immune balancer and lymphatic. I tend to gravitate towards this herb when lymph nodes become tender and enlarged during allergy season, and the person becomes more susceptible to infection. Try taking 1-2 ml of tincture three times daily.

Reduce inflammatory/allergic response:

Allergies are characterized by red, itchy, weepy membranes throughout the respiratory tract. These changes are brought about biochemical changes that cause tiny blood vessels to swell and leak fluid. Fortunately for us, a class of plant compounds called flavanoids, found in many foods and medicinal herbs, help to reverse and even prevent these changes by tonifying our blood vessels and reducing their leakiness as well as decreasing the chemical signals (aka histamine) that cause these inflammatory changes.

  • Ensure you get a good serving of flavanoids each day by eating 1/2 – 1 cup of blueberries, eating 1-2 cups of dark leafy greens2-4 oz dark chocolate and/or drinking 1-3 cups of green tea.
  • A freeze dried nettle extract may also be helpful (take up to 1500 mg daily in divided doses) by supplying a pletheroa of anti-histmanic flavanoids.
  • The herbs eyebright, elderflower and  goldenrod are also great plant cocktails of flavanoids that soothe the respiratory tract and reduce allergic response. Goldenrod and elderflower both make a nice tea to sip throughout the day, and eyebright can be taken in tincture form.
  • Some also find relief from taking a concentrated quercetin extract (a flavanoid with strong anti-histamine activity) in combination with other bioflavanoids, vitamin C, and herbal extracts.
  • Creating a more anti-inflammatory fatty acid balance in the body is also quite helpful to reducing over-all reactivity. Add in anti-inflammatory and omega-3 rich foods such as fresh ground flax, walnuts, and cold water fish such as salmon and pasture raised meats and eggs, while reducing pro-inflammatory foods high in arachidnoic acid such as refined flours, vegetable oils, conventional meats, and dairy.

Eat local honey:

By presenting a very small amount of the pollens found in your local ecosystem, the theory is that honey de-sensitizes your body to these pollens so that it no longer reacts to them as “foreign” or “intruders.” While there are no clinical studies to support this, one study did find that pollen collected by bees reduced allergic response by inhibiting IgE mediated mast cell degranulation. If nothing else, this age old remedy certainly won’t hurt (indeed what could be more pleasant!).

Now, if this all sounds like an overwhelming lot of things to do, let me make it easier for you. You can incorporate all of these strategies into your day in just one delicious smoothie. Just throw it all in a blender, whiz for a minute, and drink!

Blues and Greens Smoothie

Serves 2

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2-3 leaves of kale or collard greens, chopped roughly
  • 2 kiwis or 1 large apple, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 2 tablespoons powdered nettles, or 1/2 cup fresh nettle tops
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, grated
  • 1 tablespoon reishi powder
  • 1 tablespoon raw, local honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon licorice root powder

Blend everything until smooth, pour into glasses and drink! In one dose, you get flavanoid rich anti-inflammatory blueberries, dark leafy greens, kiwis and nettles; immune balancing reishi and licorice; omega 3 rich flax;  digestive stimulating and soothing ginger and a nice homeopathic dose of local pollen through delicious raw local honey. Try to drink one serving each day 1 month prior to, and throughout allergy season.

Here’s to a happy, blissful spring spent strolling through that fresh pollen filled air with nary a sniffle or sneeze to distract you!