Two Late-Winter Soups to fight Infection

A photograph of two homemade soups.

Another late Winter day, but I felt the first hint of Spring around the corner last Wednesday!

It’s difficult to define what made it happen, but suddenly I looked at my garden in a slightly different way; I noticed bulbs pushing through, bird song and I had my first urge to start tidying things up. Right on cue my hens started laying properly again. I think day length has something to do with it; and something to do with the quality of light.

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A Therapeutic Soup for a Grey, January Day

A photograph of homemade soup.

Today was a warm day for this time of year, but in all other respects pretty typical for a January day; wet, grey and still dark in the mornings and early afternoons.

There was still a bit of light when I got home this afternoon and I wandered down to the bottom of the garden to check up on my chickens and see what was still growing in the vegetable patch for dinner.

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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!

Anti-inflammatory lunches

A photo of a homemade anti-inflammatory lunch.

A few people have been asking for ideas for anti-inflammatory lunches, so here we are – this is for you!

It’s still amazingly warm here so I’m still having a version of coleslaw for lunch. More on this in a minute, but a quick Chinese Medicine note of caution; this is all raw which has some issues in Chinese medicine. It’s shredded very finely which makes it easier to digest, and I’m adding ginger and fresh turmeric root to increase its ant-inflammatory effect but stop it being too cold (the issue here is its rawness in Chinese Medicine rather than its actual temperature.)

As the weather gets colder and perhaps the rain finally comes back, I’ll swap to stir-fries and soups. A good plan if time is really limited is to cook extra amounts for the evening meal that you can take a portion in for lunch the following day.

In the meantime here’s how I’m making anti-inflammatory coleslaw;

As always I’m using things from my garden – the advantage being that then things are in season, and I’m working my way through those huge harvest gluts! If you don’t grow your own veg. then try to chose things that are in season as much as possible.

Im using courgettes, not too old or huge! perhaps one medium sized one,
4 carrots
4 medium sized beetroots
one eighth to a quarter of a whole cabbage depending on the size, with the tough centre cut out
1 thumb sized piece of ginger
same amount of fresh turmeric root

I’m finely peeling the roots or giving them a good wash and scrub, cutting them into chunks and feeding them into a food processor with the grater attachment fitted. This is a real discovery for me! It’s huge fun to use and grates things in seconds. You could do it by hand if you’re more patient than me or don’t have a food processor. If you put your turmeric in to grate this way then everything you use will turn yellow and stay that way for a very long time. I don’t mind, but you might!

Once I’ve grated everything I tip it into my biggest bowl.

Then I make a dressing from
hemp oil
pumpkin oil
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
I use about the same amount of each and the mix fills a mug.
I tip it onto my grated veg and mix it really well.

I keep this in a tupperware (a big one) in the fridge and it makes about 5 lunches or more.

When I’m ready to use it I mix it up again, put a big portion in a bowl and put a small handful oftoasted mixed seeds and nuts and a handful of chopped mixed dried fruit on it.

For the mixed nuts and seeds i use about equal amounts of;
almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds

I put them in a big baking tray and bake them until they just start turning brown (watch this – it can be quite quick and you definitely don’t want to burn them!)
After they’re cooked I add a smaller amount of linseed and keep the cooled mix in a tupperware for adding to things.

For the mixed dried fruit I use;
figs, dates, prunes, unsulphured apricots, mango, peach, and raisins

I cut up the bigger pieces with kitchen scissors, mix everything together, and that gets stored too for adding to my coleslaw and also to porridge.

Mixing these ready prepared things together is really easy for making lunch. I like to have a fewoatcakes with nut butter or avocado or tinned fish with it.

Get grating!

ps. the picture is of my latest batch of coleslaw. I didn’t realise that the beetroot was stripy white and pink inside until I’d grated it! Actually I think the usual red beetroot is nicer.

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.

Ovulation and egg quality.

An illustration of sperm moving towards the egg.

I’ve been talking to lots of people this week about egg quality and ovulation. I thought I’d give some thoughts from both a Chinese and Western medical perspective.

In Chinese Medicine the quality of a woman’s eggs is determined by a combination of factors; The health of that particular woman’s own mother and father and how her pregnancy went and also the diet and lifestyle of the same woman growing up. These form a baseline which is then influenced by how that women lives her adult life on a day to day basis.

This is echoed by modern Western medical evidence. Genetics play a large part in the number and quality of a woman’s eggs, but the environment the eggs develop in can be affected by lifestyle factors, and this in turn can impact on the egg itself.

The right hormones are needed in the right amounts at the right time during a woman’s cycle for an egg to grow, ripen and be released from an ovary. Stress, lack of sleep, exhaustion and unbalanced blood sugar all impact badly on hormonal balance and research shows that increased stress hormones can be detrimental to egg health.

In Chinese medicine a balance of rest, gentle exercise, good sleep and regular good quality nutrition helps fertility. A general principal is to aim to go to bed with a little bit of energy still left in reserve.

Drinking alcohol, smoking and having a poor diet increases a persons free radical load and free radicals damage both eggs and sperm. A diet rich in antioxidants helps to neutralise free radicals, so brightly coloured fruit and veg are really helpful in protecting vulnerable eggs and sperm.

Studies have shown that acupuncture can help increase blood flow to the pelvic area and the ovaries. A good blood flow allows more oxygen and nutrients to get through and helps boost the health of the eggs as well as helping thicken the developing endometrial lining ready to receive a fertilised egg.

The anti-inflammatory diet that I’m writing about at the moment contains some good principals for a healthy way of eating. Try it out!