Spring! The perfect weather for sauerkraut!

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This years long awaited Spring has properly arrived at last! My cherry tree is covering the garden in drifts of pink blossom,  every inch of the green house is packed with little seedlings  bursting from their pots and I did yoga in the sunshine for the first time this year with bumble bees buzzing and hens pecking my toes!

Everyone needs all the energy they can get when the days suddenly stretch out and we find ourselves moving so much more than even a few weeks ago.

Keeping our digestion happy and efficient is a way of helping stamina. And fermented foods are a great (and fun) way of doing this. Sauerkraut is an amazing food, naturally fermented, live and zingy and packed with easily available vitamins and minerals made accessible by the fermentation process.

Today I had the first try of a sauerkraut I made with cabbage and fennel. It was a couple of weeks old and was just perfect; refreshing and tasty.

I adapted a recipe from the wonderfully named Sandor Katz‘s book ‘Basic Fermentation

So here’s what I did;

I used one dense, white cabbage which weighed about 750 g

I grated the whole cabbage including the heart (you could finely chop it instead, and next time I’ll mix red and white cabbage to make a pink sauerkraut!).

As I grated it I mixed in a heaped desert spoon of sea salt and a handful of fennel seeds.

The salt makes the cabbage start sweating straight away and creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting. Apparently, Sandor says it’s possible to use ground kelp instead of salt and I’ll try this next time).

I packed the kraut down really firmly into a basin, (the pressing down packs the kraut into the basin and starts forcing water out of the cabbage), then pushed down on top of it another similar basin filled with water to give it weight.

I covered the whole lot with a tea towel to keep dust out and left it like that for a couple of weeks in the kitchen. The warmer weather (or warm kitchen) helps get the fermenting going as microbes love a bit of warmth!

I found that my cabbage had enough moisture in it not to need to add any water, but you could add a little to keep the cabbage below the surface or the brine if you liked.

The fennel is a digestive aid and also made the sauerkraut particularly tasty!

Have a go! Shop bought sauerkraut is expensive, salty and usually  killed off too, which gets rid of its main benefit!

 

 

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!

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!

The TCM Spleen and fertility

Problems with the Spleen, as it is meant clinically in Chinese medicine, has involvement in a whole range of conditions.

I’ve been talking to patients today about fertility, both male and female, miscarriage, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It might come as a surprise to find that the TCM Spleen has a role to play in all three of these.

In terms of miscarriage, this involvement is to do with the Spleen’s function of containing and holding in place. Long term Spleen deficiency weakens this ability and the clinical result can be bleeding, and risk of miscarriage.

Another outcome of a chronically weakened Spleen function is that Damp and Phlegm can accumulate. Again these are very much TCM terms which I’ll talk about more another time. The relevance here is that these conditions can cause obstructed functioning. In PCOS we often see weight gain, delayed or missing periods and a failure of the ovaries to reliably release an egg. Obstructions may also involve blocked fallopian tubes or poor sperm production or release.

From a Chinese medical point of view other factors are often involved too in these conditions and, again, I’d like to cover these in future posts.

A fresh Spring start.

It is Easter Sunday today and a mix of sunshine and showers. I’ve been in my vegetable patch planting this years crops and I’ve been transported, as always at this time of year, by the amazing mix of bird song, vibrant green plant life, and the smell and texture of the soil.

In Chinese medicine this is truly therapeutic. In fact it is quite specifically therapeutic, because growing and planting is clinically beneficial for Spleen energy.

As almost always with Chinese medical terminology this has nothing to do with an anatomical Spleen, but involves the TCM meaning of Spleen.

In TCM the Spleen (with a capital ‘s’) involves our connection with the Earth and our physical health in terms of digestion. A healthy Spleen means that our digestion is functioning well, allowing us to extract energy from the food that we eat. This means that we are satisfied with what we eat and drink, not craving more or less. We have good energy for what we do with the day, both mentally and physically. We don’t put on excess weight, and we are alert and well in ourselves. In Chinese medicine it also means that we are well connected in our relationships, at ease in ourselves and well grounded.

When the Spleen is not functioning well, Damp can accumulate making us sluggish heavy and lethargic. It can also make us achey and deeply tired and contribute to problems as varied as asthma, hay-fever and IBS.

Clients often ask about the dietary changes that they can make to help improve their Spleen deficient conditions. In the West we are used to being asked to alter what we eat to improve our health. In Chinese medicine too there are foods that are harmful to the Spleen and also foods which help improve its function. Of equal importance though, and often overlooked, are all the other life-style changes which are beneficial to Spleen energy.

These include gardening, planting, and growing things – however small the project. It is perfect for this time of year when we are all at our energetic low after the long Winter!

I’m heading back out to get some salad seeds going before the rain starts!