The Teacup Chronicles

Category: Therapuetics

Spicy Soup Noodles

Hello, my darling readers. Hope you’ve been well?  Here on the East coast, we’re enjoying the first of the season’s snowfall – everything dusted in white, with those last little hints of yellows and rusts peaking through. I’ve been enjoying the snugness of it all, the quiet, that blissfully cozy feeling one gets seeing the snow falling through the window. Mostly, though,  I’m just enjoying being somewhere other than in bed,  after being down all week with the most horrible flu bug known to humanity.

It all started Tuesday with a little sniffle and a scratch in my throat. I took my Echinacea, had some tea and went to bed early, like a good girl. Skip ahead to 3:30 that morning, where you find me shivering so badly that my teeth are actually chattering in my head, tossing back and forth, and moaning incoherently. This was just the beginning.  Soon after, the nausea set in, followed by the inevitable next step in this sequence. When that was over, the full on body ache began. I never got out of bed that day once, if you can believe it.

The worst thing about this flu, was that at the end of the day, I’d start to feel better. I’d think, “hey I bet tomorrow I’ll be able to go back to work.” But this flu had other things in mind. Each day, I’d awake with some horrible new affliction – completely different from what I’d suffered the day before, but just as awful. From nausea, aches and pains and chills, I went to can’t even swallow it hurts so bad sore throat. Then came the runny nose, the cough, the feeling as though my head was several hundred feet below sea level. And finally, just to really go out with a bang, I woke up on Friday with pink eye. Yes, pink eye. 

Today  I’m just happy to being sitting up, feeling mostly normal, able to see and not looking like the living dead. The snow is an added bonus to all of this, so I’m feeling pretty spoiled at the moment. Goodness,  it’s nice not to feel awful!

Anyhow, when my appetite came back this morning (and with a vengeance, I might add), I had visions of noodle soup fill my head. Back when I lived in Seattle, there was the most delicious little Asian restaurant down the street from us, The Teapot Vegetarian House. They had a dish called  “soup noodles” – which was more or less like chicken noodle soup (sans the chicken) with a spicy Asian flair to it. Soooo good. Whenever I was sick, I’d crawl out of bed and drag myself there in rain or shine, and I think this soup saved my life many a time.

So, naturally, whenever I find myself under the weather, I crave those noodles like you wouldn’t believe. But having no Teapot round the corner to go to, I’ve had to figure out how to make my own. It isn’t hard to do at all, just requires some chopping, some boiling of water, and you’re done. But I tell you, once you’ve got a little of this inside you, you know you’re on the road to recovery.

Before I share my recipe with you, however, I just want to share a few of my strategies for getting better quick – as they are so fresh in my mind!  This is just a quick summary, and if you’d like to read more  detail, or learn more tips about surviving cold and flu season, I’d suggest you visit my post on the matter: fending of winter illness. In short, here are my tips:

  • Drink as much fluid as you can, preferably hot. Hot water with lemon; a vegetable or meat stock with a little miso; your favorite cold and flu tea. The body gets dehydrated easily due to higher body temperatures, so replenishing those fluids is paramount, as is replenishing electrolytes and nutrients. The extra fluids help to remove waste products from the body as well, boosting your recovery rate. (I make a tea called Breathe which I drink gallons of this time of year.)
  • Take hot baths (or showers). Baths are nice in a variety of ways when your feeling less than great – they warm the body and facilitate the immune system; enhance circulation – helping to relax stiff, achy muscles; support lymphatic movement which helps to clean up the site of infection; and the hot steam helps to break through congestion and soothe irritation. A nice hot bath is also just the thing for promoting my next tip.
  • Sleep. Your immune system works far better when you’re asleep than when awake. So if you feel drowsy, don’t fight it. Tuck yourself in and rest away, and you’ll be going a long way towards helping your body recover.
  • Eat soup. There simply isn’t any better food for when you’re unwell. Fluid, soothing warmth and nourishment all in one. Everybody feels better after a bowl of soup. (But no cream soups here – stick to brothy soups loaded with vegetables and small amounts of protein from meat or legumes). 

 Spicy Soup Noodles

As a note, you’ll want to keep any left over noodles separate from your soup. Otherwise, they will get mushy when you reheat.  By all means, eat this also when you’re feeling well, especially on a chilly day.  Serves 2-4, depending on portion sizes. 

  • 1 package soba or udon noodles (I used buckwheat soba)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 -3 teaspoons freshly grated ginger (or to taste)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced (or to taste)
  • 1 hot red chile pepper, deseeded and minced (or 1/2 – 1 teaspoon chile flakes)
  • 1 bunch scallions, ends trimmed off and sliced on the diagonal into thin strips
  • 8 – 10 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut into thin strips
  • 1 medium or 2 small carrots, either thinly sliced or cut into matchsticks
  • 1 medium head of pok choi, sliced into thin shreds
  • 1/4 head of green cabbage, sliced into thin shreds
  • 6 oz tofu, lightly pan-fried or leftover chicken or pork, shredded (optional)
  • 1 quart of stock: vegetable, chicken or beef
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

To serve (optional):

  • Lime wedges
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • more fresh scallions or sliced red chile

Place a pot of water on high heat for the noodles. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium sauce pan and then add your garlic, ginger and chile pepper. Stir frequently to prevent sticking, for about 1 minute, then add the scallions and heat for a minute more. Add the carrots, mushrooms and stock, and bring to  a boil before reducing to a gentle simmer. Simmer for no more than 10 minutes, then add the greens and soy sauce and taste for flavor. 

Cook the noodles according to package instructions, then drain and rinse under cool water.  Place a heap of noodles into each bowl, top with a good ladleful of soup, making sure you get plenty of broth and veg, and serve with whatever toppings you choose. 

Jewelweed for your bites, stings and rashes

In winter when I dream of  summer days, I’m quite sure those dreams don’t contain biting insects, rash inducing plants or sunburns.  It’s the nature of memory, isn’t it, to just edit out all the little unpleasantries that might detract from the expectation of future bliss.  But despite what my memory tells me about the lovely summer days to come –  insects there are, sunburns there are, and occasionally – even a most unfortunate outbreak of poison ivy or poison oak  – to keep our summer revelry in some sort of check.

Thankfully, however, nature, while providing things to irritate, has also provided things to soothe, and one of my most recently discovered tools for dealing with all manner of summer induced skin irritations is the beautiful and much under-appreciated jewelweed.

Jewelweed is a member of the Impatiens family, and grows as a common weed in most Northern temperate regions of the world, preferring moist, rich soils. The common name derives from the way that water droplets bead on the water-repellent leaves into brilliant, silvery jewels that shimmer in the light:

The flowers, much beloved of hummingbirds, are yellow or spotted with orange and have long spurs, which make the entire flower look like a delicate fairy slipper. It gains its latin name Impatiens, and common name, “touch-me-not”, from the explosive manner in which the dried out seed pods disperse their seeds at just the lightest touch.

Jewelweed was used extensively by Native American for treating various skin irritations, from burns and hives to poison ivy, either as a poultice made from fresh aerial parts, or a wash made from a decoction of the leaves and stems.  While most European herbalists don’t make much mention of this herb,  Maude Grieve does state that the tannin rich leaves have been used for piles and the fresh herb, “relieves cutaneous irritation of various kinds, especially that due to Rhus poisoning (poison ivy).”

Many people assert that jewelweed not only treats poison ivy, but can actually prevent the rash from occurring when used immediately upon exposure.  As jewelweed often grows in the same area as poison ivy, applying a bit of crushed up herb is often possible, and Native Americans viewed this as a direct act of the Great Spirit to set the remedy next to the poison.  One study conducted in the 1950s (Lipton, RA)  demonstrated that of 115 patients treated with jewelweed, 108 showed dramatic response to an application of jewelweed aqueous extract and were relieved of their symptoms of poison ivy within 2-3 days. However, research since then has been fairly consistent in demonstrating that jewelweed is ineffective in reducing the actual rash, though several studies have demonstrated its effectiveness for reducing itchiness and irritation.

Say what research will, my own experience with Jewelweed and that of others must testify to its usefulness. The aerial parts contain a variety of medicinally active constituents. Flavanoids such as apigenin, quercitin and kaempferol may contribute to the anti-inflammatory property and anti-allergic qualities demonstrated by the plant, while molecules known as napthoquinones, especially lawsone, may help to prevent poison ivy by competing with the chemical urushiol (the molecule responsible for triggering the poison ivy rash) for receptor sites on the skin (Duke, J).  Lawsone is also the active ingredient of Preperation-H and has demonstrated anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory activities by inhibiting the enzyme COX-2, as well as anti-tumor action on certain human cancer cell lines.   Compounds known as balasaminones have also been found in animal studies to demonstrate anti-pruritic action.

Jewelweed can be prepared in various ways, though most attest that it works best applied directly to the skin as a fresh plant poultice.  When exposed to poison ivy, one should apply the plant immediately to the effected area, and thus may prevent the development of the rash from ever occurring. It can also be used for pre-existing outbreaks of poison ivy, bug bites, stings, hives and other skin irritations, by placing a poultice of mashed up plant material directly onto the affected area several times daily to reduce irritation and speed healing (note: for poison ivy, fresh plant material should be used for each new application to prevent spread.) The aerial parts of the plant can also be made into a tea which one can soak a cloth in to use as a compress, or use as a wash for irritated skin.

Since fresh plant material isn’t always available to us when it should be, jewelweed can also be prepared in various other ways to have on hand for when we need it.  One of my favorite preparations is to freeze the tea into ice cube trays. An ice-cube can then be used as needed on bites, stings or rashes to cool irritation and provide quick relief.  Jewelweed can also be extracted into witch-hazel extract, whose astringent properties synergize quite well with Jewelweed for swollen, weeping rashes and skin irritations.

Jewelweed juice has also been a favorite traditional preparation for topical use, but as it spoils quite fast on its own,  I like to prepare a succus of the fresh plant juice to have on hand.  A succus is made by putting fresh plant material through a juicer  (or blending the material and then pressing it through a weighted press) and adding a volume of grain alcohol (180 proof) equal to a third of the total volume of juice (ie if you have 300 ml of juice, add 100 ml grain alcohol). You can also use a regular liquor such as vodka or brandy, but then increase the amount to 2/3 of the total volume of juice so that your finished succus ends up having around a 25% alcohol content to ensure preservation.  After three days, filter out the succus by pouring it through a paper filter or cheesecloth, and bottle and store. It can be applied directly to skin irritations or added as combined with other herbs such as aloe, witch-hazel, plantain or calendula extracts. The succus of jewelweed is quite fun to make because it turns from forest green to red upon the addition of alcohol! Herbal alchemy in action!

Jewelweed is an important addition to the summer toolbox of home remedies, and an even greater one because it is abundant and local.  As many say, the herbs we need the most are those that grow most prolifically and closest to the back door. And at least if summer gives us the nuisance of bugs and rash inducing plants to contend with, it gives us the pleasure of preparing our own remedies to soothe the summer’s ills.

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.