Anti-inflammatory dinners

A photograph of a collection of home-grown squash.

Most people who know me suffer my obsession with pumpkins! It starts about now when the beauties are brought in from the garden, through Winter as I cook them, save the seeds then agonise over which to keep for growing the following Spring, Spring of course when the seeds are sown, and Summer when they are coaxed along with numerous  cunning tricks and treats!

It’s not actually just pumpkins. It’s courgettes, gourds, squash of all types (and marrows when the courgettes get away unnoticed and reappear a foot long!) I have to confess that marrows are my least favourite – but even they have some uses. Winter squash are my true obsession amongst which various types of pumpkin all rate highly!

Pumpkins are truly important in Chinese Medicine, and Autumn is their particularly useful time of year. In Autumn, Chinese Medicine predicts that people are especially vulnerable to lung and skin problems. It’s the season of coughs and colds; the start or worsening of phlegm related problems – sinusitis, asthma, rhinitis, vertigo and sickness. It’s also the season of eczema, psoriasis and all sorts of odd rashes and sores.

Pumpkins to the rescue! (or at least part of the rescue!). Pumpkins are sweet, round and (often) orange, which are all Spleen related attributes. In Chinese Medicine theory nourishing the spleen helps the Lungs et voila!
Plus, of course, they are packed full of an amazing quantity of vitamins and minerals and taste delicious. if this doesn’t sway you then their seeds also have a track history of curing worms, especially tape and round worm – see?!

I tested the anti fungal, viral, bacterial  and worm (slug actually in this instance) properties of pumpkins this Summer when I tragically caught a growing squash with the lawn mower.

After I had calmed down I brought out some pumpkin seed oil and swabbed my pumpkin’s wounds. I braced myself for disaster over the coming days –  but no! the squash grew on undeterred. The scars never regained the right colour but seemed to resist infection perfectly. The survivor is the beautiful green lobular pumpkin in the front row of the photo above.

At last! On to something useful! Here comes a recipe containing foods and herbs and spices which are medicinally therapeutic  from a Chinese Medicine perspective, and also makes a perfect anti – inflammatory dinner.

Heat up some oil –  Coconut oil is a good one to heat up and contains Lauric acid – good for infections.

cook some chopped onion in the hot oil until soft and a bit brown then add lots of chopped up veg and herbs and spices. You really don’t have to be too careful which, but if they’re denser like butternut squash, cook for a bit longer than leafy veg like broccoli or spinach. Here’s how;

Start with lots of chopped garlic, root ginger, fresh turmeric if you have it,
then add ground cumin, a few squashed green cardamom pods, ground coriander, crushed, chopped or dried chillies, depending on how hot you like things.
Add some marigold bouillon powder

next the veg;
I like to use winter squash (of course) cut into chunks, sweet potato, carrots
then add some or all of;
french beans, celery, broccoli, or cauliflower
then spinach, chard or pak choi
I like to add loads of chopped parsley

Add a little water and cook until the veg are nearly cooked through (this won’t take long)

Add a tin of coconut if you like it.

Bring back to a simmer

slide in some big chunks of fish. I like naturally smoked haddock – just boned.

cook until the fish is cooked through (about five to ten mins depending how big your chunks are)
Try not to break up the chunks of fish too much if you stir.

Delicious, easy, uses up all your veg left overs, and perfectly anti – inflammatory.

Don’t forget to keep your pumpkin or squash seeds for growing next year!

Ps I know its not right to have favourites, but the tastiest pumpkins are the grey lobular French ones if you can find one!

Chinese Medicine and the Autumn Equinox

A photograph of the sun setting in Cumbria.

Happy Autumn equinox!

This is one of the important times of year in Chinese medicine – the change from Summer to Autumn. 

It’s a good time to plan ahead for looking after ourselves as the days get shorter.

For some people this is an instinctively energising thought! The smell and feel of Autumn makes this group of people want to wrap up and go mushroom hunting in beautiful woodland! They want to build bonfires, make chutney and pick apples for making cider all at the same time!

For everyone else the arrival of Autumn is a deeply mournful event, with the prospect of song birds departing, day-light dwindling and – oh most misery making of all – Christmas embedded somewhere in the heart of the long months ahead!

There are acupuncture points which can help with seasonal adjustment and – particularly important for this seasonal change – help protect us from catching one of the colds, flues and sick bugs that are out and about.

To help ourselves we can make sure that we stay warm enough – still not difficult in this amazing weather but watch out for it getting colder!

We can take up some gentle form of exercise like yoga or walking, make the most of the last of the sunshine strong enough to be topping up our vitamin D levels, and start adding warming herbs and spices to our food and drinks again. Try cooking up apples and pears with cinnamon and a tiny bit of clove, make your own elderberry cordial or spicy ginger cordial. I’ll add a recipe for these next time.

How long does it take? Acupuncture for fertility and IVF support.

A photograph of a man and woman holding her pregnant abdomen.

I thought I’d do a series of thoughts on ‘How long does it take?

This one is thinking about acupuncture and a Chinese medicine approach to fertility and IVFsupport;

As always there are two main things to bear in mind – the first ‘how severe is the problem?’, the second is ‘how long has it been a problem for?’

The answer to both of these questions can hugely influence how much acupuncture andChinese medicine a person might need, to expect to see a difference.

The average number of acupuncture treatments that are estimated to see a definite difference is usually given as five, but sometimes I see amazing results from the first treatment, and sometimes progress is slower.
So saying, I would certainly hope to be seeing some positive changes after five sessions of acupuncture, regardless of the condition.
Sometimes the change might be ‘less pain’, for example with period pain –  or fewer mood swings. Sometimes a woman’s cycle might start becoming more regular of moving towards 28 days. With Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome things depend again on the severity of the condition. It might be a case of trying to initiate a period, shorten a cycle, stabilise blood sugar and control weight gain or just optimise things on the run up to IVF.

If the fertility problem is more in terms of sperm motility or number, then again the aim would be to optimise things over a period of weeks or months. I’ve seen amazing changes in all aspects of  sperm quality after a course of acupuncture along with Chinese medicine lifestyle advice.

With IVF support there are two key points for acupuncture intervention and a lot of research has centred around these two treatments. These times are just before and just after embryo implantation.

If time and finance were real constraints then just these two treatments would be the ones to go for.

In an ideal world most practitioners would aim to see a woman three months before IVF was due. This would give time to give a course of weekly sessions through one complete cycle (if cycles are actually happening of course), and gain enough understanding of the issues involved to aim further treatments at optimal points in the run up to IVF.

Sometimes the acupuncture sessions are particularly helpful in helping a woman or a couple cope with the stress of IVF – particularly with repeat IVF cycles. There are also acupuncture points which are specific to key events, for example for promoting ovulation, increasing blood flow to a healthy, thick womb lining, and gently damping down an adverse immune response toimplantation. There are also acupuncture points specific to helping minimise the risk of miscarriage.

Fertility support and particularly IVF support is an area where conventional Western medicine and Chinese medicine work particularly well together, and acupuncture is often a form of support which is recommended by IVF clinics.

For anyone who might be thinking about really focussing on fertility I’d recommend these things;

Look at your diet –  increase the quality and quantity of fresh vegetables, fruit and fish, decrease the amount of processed food, sugar, alcohol and stimulants.

Finally make that last push to stop smoking.

Check your rubella immunity is up to date.

Start some gentle, regular exercise.

Take steps to reduce stress in your life.

And – of course – I’d recommend acupuncture and Chinese medicine!

Anti-inflammatory muesli.

A photograph of a chicken on a table eating muesli.
A photo of muesli ingredientsA photograph of home made muesli

Photos of before, half way through and just in time afterwards when the hens spotted what I was doing!

Yesterday I was in Manchester so I dropped in on one of my favourite places – Unicorn, an amazing and fantastic whole food grocery which is run as a workers’ co-operative. Everything they sell is as local, ethical, organic and generally as saintly as  anything could ever be – and isn’t expensive.

Unicorn is a truly inspiring place and I came home laden with goodies. The first thing I’ve done this morning has been to put together a muesli which fits with the anti-inflammatory diet that I’m trying out. It took me a while to make but I’ve made loads and it really does taste delicious ‘though I say so myself! It doesn’t contain any added sugar or syrups and none of the flakes are malted, but the dried fruit keeps it tasting sweet The different grains give it a real creaminess too.

Here’s what I used – I’ll give the proportions in mug-fulls;

1 mug of porridge oats
1 mug of jumbo oats
Half a mug of rye flakes
Half a mug of puffed millet
Half a mug of millet flakes
Half a mug of puffed rice
Half a mug of rice flakes
Half a mug of barley flakes

Half a mug of toasted hazel nuts
Half a mug of pumpkin seeds
Half a mug of linseed
Half a mug of toasted almond flakes
1 mug of toasted coconut chips
Half a mug of whole almonds
Half a mug of whole sesame seeds
Half a mug of sunflower seeds

Half a mug of chopped prunes
Half a mug of chopped dried mango
Half a mug of chopped dried dates
Half a mug of chopped dried figs
Half a mug of chopped dried apricots
Half a mug of raisins

I bought the dried fruit whole and cut it into biggish pieces with kitchen scissors.

I mixed it all together, and that’s it! Yum!

If you’re thinking “surely that just looks like she put everything she liked the look of in her basket?”
You’d be completely right! I’m sure this would be fine with only half the ingredients but the important thing for me is that it really didn’t need sweetening. I was prepared to put some honey from my bees in with it, but it really doesn’t need it.

According to Chinese medicine principals it might be good to make this a bit easier to digest. To do this you could turn this into a Bircher style muesli by adding some fluid like soya milk, almond milk or just water the night before and leaving it to soften up before eating it for breakfast. Even better you could warm it up too  before eating it or cook it up like a porridge.

I like to add some fresh or stewed fruit and soya milk to mine. I’m making a stewed apple and blackberry compote at the moment. Again this doesn’t need any sugar adding.

You could also add some cinnamon especially as the weather turns colder. This is used as a Chinese herb for keeping the cold and damp out.

Hay Fever

A photograph of some fox-gloves

Summer’s here and with all the loveliness of increased warmth,  sunshine and long evenings outside comes hay fever!

Over the 17 years that I’ve been in practice I’ve treated so many people for hay fever through the Summer months. I don’t suffer from it myself but through school and University I’ve always been aware of how difficult it can be for people to manage, especially coming, as it does, at the peak of exam time!

Chinese Medicine has a really interesting take on hay fever. It considers it to be a condition which is influenced by a whole host of factors; the season, surrounding conditions, how well a person is taking care of themselves, if they have suffered from repeated colds, if they are sleeping well, if they are stressed… and on and on!

As is so often the case, Chinese medicine acknowledges the complexity of the human body, and puts into practice a whole array of advice as part of treating a condition which, on the surface, looks so straight forward.

And in my experience it can be really helpful. I treat children and adults for hay fever every year, as soon as the first trees start blossoming!

I may actually be able to take some honey from my bee hives this year – fingers crossed! It’ll be great to try out some local honey on friends and family to see how it helps any hay fever symptoms that they might have. I’ll report back!

Now back to making this year’s batch of elderflower champagne!

Bruises and Bleeding

A photograph of a bumblebee on marigold flowers.

When I first trained in Chinese Herbal Medicine 12 years ago, I chose a company in Manchester headed by a Professor of Chinese Medicine, Shulan Tang. Shulan is from a family of Chinese doctors and, following a childhood of Cultural Revolution, did the usual full training of 7 years combined conventional and Chinese medicine.

Chinese Herbal Medicine at that time was quite unregulated in the UK and both the ingredients and the packaging looked very different from the high end cosmetic style pills that are seen today.

I had a few favourites whilst I was training, one of which was a product for cuts and bruises.

It was a white powder made from 4 dried and ground Chinese herbs. It came in a tiny, hand blown glass bottle, plugged with a cork, sealed with bees wax and wound with string to further secure the cork. The bottle itself came in a little cardboard matchbox, padded with cotton wool and enclosing a minute leaflet. The leaflet explained that the powder was especially useful for gun shot wounds; the bottle should be easily available so that the powder could be carefully poured into the bullet hole as soon as possible. Embedded in the underside of the cork was a single, little, white pill to help stop internal bleeding.

Modern Chinese Herbal treatment uses the same principals of treatment, just packages, choses and sources herbs in a way that better suits the modern world.

There are a whole range of herbs and acupuncture points which deal with bruising and bleeding. (It might seem quite ironic to think of acupuncture as an intervention to deal with bruising and bleeding! Actually, even though I might use one thousand acupuncture needles per week, I rarely see blood, and perhaps only one of those needles might cause a little bruise.)

In Chinese Medicine the causes of bleeding might not be obvious. There are, of course the usual causes; nose bleeds, injuries and so on, but the type of bleeding has a distinct form. For example a nose bleed might be gushing or slight; the blood might be bright red or thick and purple.

Spleen Qi deficiency (where, as always Spleen doesn’t relate at all to an anatomical spleen) can result in blood leaking out of blood vessels, while Heat in the blood could cause heavy, more persistent bleeding.

A lot of topical Chinese ointments and creams combine a whole range of herbs for injuries from bumps and falls.

I like to make my own ointments. My favourite base oil is an infusion of marigold (calendula) flowers in safflower oil. Now’s the best time to make this. The best flowers are the open ones, rather than the more decorative pom pom like heads. If you can, pick them fresh on a warm day when the flowers are fully open. If you can’t find any to pick then you can buy them dried from a herbal supplier like Baldwin’s.

Squash as many flowers as will fit into a sterilised, glass jar. Fill the jar with oil, making sure that the oil covers the flowers, then leave the jar on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks to infuse. You can strain the flowers off then and the oil should keep for a year or so in a cool place.

This is my favourite anti inflammatory base oil which can be used on its own, or combined with a whole range of other things, depending on what you are treating.

Happy marigold picking!

Anti Viral Potions in February

A photograph of a viola flower

It’s coming towards the end of February and here in the Lake District we’ve been having some breathtakingly beautiful days of cold, clear sunshine with just a hint of Spring in the air.

Today I had a pile of paperwork to do but the day was just too lovely to spend indoors!

Instead I had a ride on a friends horse along an open, grassy stretch of estuary. Toby (the horse) had just recovered from a long spell of mud fever which had left one of his legs swollen and tender with a lot of bare, sore looking skin showing.

I was checking his leg over before riding and a Chinese herb sprang to mind. The herb is a type of Viola flower which is used to help fight infections. In Chinese medicine it’s used a lot, both as a tea and also as a compress of the whole plant, for conditions like boils and skin infections. It’s also used as a component in mixtures of other herbs to help fight bacterial and viral infections, especially those in which there’s a degree of swelling or inflammation, for example tonsillitis.

I found a couple of Viola plants in my vegetable patch this weekend, so I’m planning to pick them, roots and all, and make an oil based lotion for Toby’s leg. Hopefully it’ll protect his skin while the hair grows back, and prevent infection if his skin is broken.

It’s really easy to grow Viola’s. The type used in Chinese medicine is the beautiful little violet and yellow hearts-ease Viola that grows wild in the UK. Here in Cumbria I’ve seen them thriving in sand dunes. They’re robust plants and would grow well in a pot, or out in the garden, as long as some sunshine could get to them and they weren’t overwhelmed by other plants.

Other useful plants to get planting for your home herbal medicine kit would be Marigolds (preferably open flowered rather than the pom-pom type bedding plant), and Dandelions (you might not need to buy seed for these!)

Calendula flowers are fantastic in creams and balms for their anti-inflammatory effect, and Dandelions are used in Chinese Medicine to ward off viral epidemics. My Chinese Herbal Medicine tutor, Professor Shulan Tang, used to reminisce about her childhood in the country side of China, living on community farms. She told us that if there were an outbreak of meningitis in the area, then huge vats of whole Dandelion plants cooked in water would be prepared, for every one to drink, as a preventative.

I like the idea of being able to make some remedies with ingredients that you can grow yourself. I’ll add to my medical chest list as I think of things over my next few posts.

Now I’m off to the kitchen myself to cook up my ointment for Toby.

The year of the Dragon.

More coming on the conditions that acupuncture is used for. In the meantime here’s a link to what the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends. It is based on a review and analysis of reports of controlled clinical trials and ranges from migraines to shoulder, neck and back pain and includes a lot of things that might to be unexpected, like induction of labour, depression, and insomnia.

It has recently changed to the year of the dragon and what I really felt like talking about at the start of this baby-focussed year, was fertility; specifically how acupuncture is currently used to help with fertility issues. The dragon is considered the luckiest sign of all in China. The last two dragon years have both meant a ten percent increase in births in Asia because of this link with increased fortune!

Chinese medicine has a long history of helping with all types of fertility issues, from recurrent miscarriage to IVF support and even increasing sperm motility and mobility! I have worked alongside Zita West’s fertility clinic in London for the last 2 years. This gives my clients access to a whole wealth of her experience and expertise. There are so many different ways in which it is possible to optimise both female and male fertility and to help give IVF treatment the maximum chance of success.

Dietary advice is key, looking at a couples dietary and life style habits and making sure that they are getting it right. I can draw on advice here from Zita West’s London based top nutritionists and clinicians.

For women embarking on IVF a whole host of benefits can be derived from acupuncture treatment.
There are acupuncture points and combinations to help de-stress, to enhance blood flow to the endometrial lining, to promote ovulation, to regulate the menstrual cycle, to extend the post luteal phase… the list is endless. I’ll attach a few published articles and research papers.

At the moment 1 in 7 women are seeking help to have a baby.
Chinese medicine has a long history of being part of helping things along.