The Bittersweet Story of Sugar

The Bittersweet Story of Sugar

The story of sugar is bittersweet indeed. It is a story of addiction that is responsible for millions of deaths, unspeakable suffering, despicable abuse, savage cruelty, ruthless exploitation, social injustice, ecological destruction, and last, but by no means least – a legacy of public health problems including dental decay, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, which combined cost millions of dollars in annual health budgets around the world.

The story of sugar can starts somewhere around 15000BC. Sugar cane is a tall reed and a member of the grass family. It originating in New Guinea, but it must have been pretty popular, even in prehistoric times as by 6000BC it had spread to India, China, and the Fiji Islands. The Arabs introduced it to the Occident and planted it in what is now Iraq and Persia. At that time, the Arabs were spreading throughout southern Europe, taking their most important food plants with them and traded in sugar, back then an expensive rarity that was mostly sold as medicine.

Sugar’s reputation as a medicinal substance actually has a long tradition. In Ayurvedic medicine, various forms of sugar were used for eons and still play a role as adjuncts to countless compound remedies. As early as 600BC it was mentioned in numerous ancient texts, where it is referred to as ‘Sharkara’. It was classified into twelve different types according to the quality. A thin type of reed known as Vamshika was considered ‘superior’ quality.

sugar

It appears that the art of making sugar was invented in India, in about 100BC. Originally the cane was simply boiled to obtain a concentrated, unrefined type of sugar known as jaggery or ‘gur’. Ancient Greek historians described it as ‘a kind of honey from a reed, produced without bees’.

A turning point came in 1097AD when some crusaders robbed a caravan in Palestine and made off with 11 camel loads of sugar. Very soon after, in 1100AD Venice became the most important trading port for sugar – and as a result, it prospered mightily!

But the competition was stiff, even back then. By around 1400AD, the Portuguese had taken over to become the biggest force in the sugar trade. In 1420AD they started to settle the island of Madeira, which they had only discovered the year before. Soon they had stripped the island of its natural vegetation in order to plant sugar cane. Of course, laborers were needed to do all the hard work.

That problem was solved by Henry the Explorer, who in 1444, on one of his voyages to circumnavigate Africa, had kidnapped a group of 235 natives from Lagos, which he had brought back to Seville. The Portuguese bought them as slaves to work in the new Portuguese sugar plantations. Columbus himself is said to have been involved in these early plantations. Soon after, the Canary Islands suffered the same fate. And, as we all know, it was from here that in 1493AD Columbus began his second voyage to Hispaniola, carrying in the vault of his ship some sugar cane cuttings- the beginnings of a very dark chapter of history that was to change the world forever. The story of sugar shows that European expansion did not happen haphazardly. It happened by design and should be regarded as a crime.

sugar harvest

At first, sugar cane was only planted on a fairly small scale, in Hispaniola. the biggest problem of the Conquistadores was that the native population was utterly unwilling and ‘unsuitable’ as a workforce. Work on the sugar plantation is very hard. Clearing land, planting, and harvesting by hand in the heat of the tropical sun was back-breaking enough, but processing the canes in the presses and boilers to make sugar is what became known as the proverbial sweatshop, and a dangerous one at that.

The natives simply refused, preferring to die rather than to perform the work, or if they were forced into this horrendous slavery, they soon died in droves from the inhumane working conditions. Within 20 years of Columbus’ arrival in Hispaniola (now Haiti) the native population shrank from an estimated 800 000 – 2 million inhabitants to only 15000, and 30 years later they were completely annihilated.

To solve the labor problem, plantation owners imported slaves from Africa. Africans were brutally rounding up like animals, tied together, and marched for miles to the shipping port. How is it possible that human beings can be so cruel and heartless towards another fellow human being? The answer is denial by means of ‘dehumanization’. Europeans were high on sugar: they were greedy, power-hungry, and willing to sacrifice their humanity for profits. They simply denied Blacks the status of a human being.

They regarded them as subhuman and considered their lives to be inconsequential, except as a workforce. The brutal excesses of slavery are well documented and there is no need to spell them out in every bloody detail again. Suffice to say that over the course of 400 years about 20 million Africans were forced into slavery and transported across the Atlantic (several million more were sold into slavery elsewhere). Millions died from the unspeakably harsh conditions (20% of those that were captured never even survived the journey). In the 18th century, the value of one ton of sugar was considered equivalent to one slave. In 1801 alone, 35000 slaves died for the 70 000 tons of sugar that England imported that year.

sugar press

Sugar plantations dramatically changed the demographic face of the world. Over the course of 400 years, the native population of the Caribbean Islands was practically obliterated, Africans from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds were imported. Irish, Welsh, and Scottish immigrants followed and after the abolition of slavery, Chinese and Indians were lured in as a cheap workforce.

In 1747, a German researcher by the name of Maggrave discovered that sugar beets yielded a substance that was identical to cane sugar. Europe began its own sugar production, but it was only when Napoleon issued a trade embargo against products from the transatlantic colonies that Europe’s domestic sugar production really took off.

sugar plantation

Apart from the devastating human impact, sugar plantations also had dire ecological effects. Sugar demands good soil as well as plenty of water, and it is extremely hungry for expansion. Millions of acres of native forests were decimated to make room for this monoculture cash crop. Water supplies became polluted from the industrial waste and water tables sank. As in all monocultures, pesticides and fungicides need to be applied in vast quantities, thus further polluting the soil and the water as well as poisoning the workers.

Social injustice is programmed into each and every cash crop economy and the vestiges of unfair land distribution determine the political, socioeconomic, and demographic patterns in all parts of the world where colonial powers with their cash crop economies once ruled.

And yet, in comparison, sugar cane is easily the most destructive cash crop the world has ever exploited. Apart from the human and environmental production costs mentioned above refined sugar offers no nutritional benefit what-so-ever. It provides nothing but empty calories while causing major damage to our physical health. Yet, we classify it as a food. Health problems related to excessive levels of sugar in the diet, such as obesity and diabetes, are costing health services literally billions of dollars each year. Yet, sugar’s grip on society’s sweet tooth continues unabated – in fact, global sugar production and consumption are still steadily increasing. This sweet drug has driven the world economy for hundreds of years, and as we have seen, with disastrous consequences. It is not the sugar plant that is at fault, but our addictive minds.  Addiction and denial go hand in hand. As long as we refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem we can simply go on ‘as normal’, fulfilling the cravings while ignoring the consequences. Whether the object of desire is sugar, coffee, tea, cocoa, tobacco – or oil, the patterns that drive consumption and ruthless exploitation are the same.

Pumpkins (Curcubita sp)

Pumpkins (Curcubita sp)

Gourds, Pumpkins, and Winter Squash

Since it is nearly Halloween I thought I’d write a post about Pumpkins – predictable I know, but nonetheless fascinating. Pumpkin, a member of the gourd family, belongs to a huge group of cultivars that are all variations of the winter squash. They come in a truly amazing range of shapes, colors, and sizes. Talking about size – some growers have developed the strange ambition: who can grow the BIGGEST Pumpkin of them all? The jury is still out, but growers have already managed to produce some pumpkins of absurd, even obscene sizes. So far, the largest Giant Pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima) ever reported is said to have weighed more than a ton! Other common cultivars are Cucurbita pepo (e.g. Acorn and Halloween type squash) and Cucurbita moschata (e.g. Butternut squash).

The gourd family is native to the Americas. Wild members were used as long as 10 000 years ago, and the family was one of the first to be domesticated. Various types of squash and gourds have been cultivated in Central America since about 7500 – 5000 BC!

They have never lost their appeal. On the contrary. New forms have been developed and Pumpkins, Squash, and Co. have now spread around the globe.

pumpkin varieties

Distribution:

Archeobotanist have found the earliest evidence of Pumpkin use in the Oaxaca region of  Mexico, but its native range comprises both, the northeastern corner of Mexico and the southwestern United States.

What’s in a name?

In the US and the UK the term ‘Pumpkin’, which seems to have derived from a Native American word for ‘a big round fruit’, only refers to the familiar round orange winter squash best known as Halloween decorations. But in New Zealand, the word is used for all types of winter squash.

The German word ‘Kürbis’ derives from the scientific name of the family of ‘Cucurbita’.

Food use

Botanically, Pumpkins are classified as ‘berries’, but no-one except botanists would think of them that way. Edible Pumpkins are mostly grown for the orange fruit flesh, which is incredibly versatile and can be used in countless sweet and savory dishes, most famous among them, Pumpkin pie! But the seeds are also edible and yield an edible and deliciously nutty oil that is rich in vitamin E and linoleic acid. It is not suitable for cooking, as its delicate constituents are destroyed at high temperatures, but it is excellent for adding an extra flavor dimension to soups and salads.

Even the flowers are edible. Stuffed and fried they are a delicacy.

pumpkin pie

Nutrition

It may come as a surprise that pumpkin is quite low in carbohydrates – the caloric value is 66% less than that of potatoes. Nutritionally, pumpkin scores high in beta carotene, the precursor of vitamin A that is so important for the immune system. It also contains pectin, a type of fibre that not only promotes a sense of satiety but also regulates the flow of sugars in the GI tract after a meal. It is thus a very beneficial food for people with metabolic issues. However, it is difficult to predict exactly how much pectin will be present in any particular pumpkin. The content level varies depending on the time of harvest as well as the method of preparation.

Pumpkin also contains vitamin C, B2, and B6. But, amazingly, it has a water content of 92%!

Medicinal use

Pumpkin is a therapeutic food that can boost the immune system and soothes kidney and bladder conditions. The seeds are rich in zinc which boosts the immune system. They are also indicated as a supportive nutritional remedy in the treatment of enlarged prostate glands. The Aztecs used the seeds as a remedy to expel worms, a use that has been adopted by western herbalists.

Pumpkin customs: Halloween decorations

Halloween decorations at the London Dungeon

 

Traditionally, the Halloween pumpkin was a Turnip. I kid you not! It was once a relatively local folk custom in Ireland to carve a Turnip at Halloween. The effigy was known as Jack-o-lantern, which has its origin in an Irish folk tale about a stingy guy called Jack (Stingy Jack, actually)

The Tale of Stingy Jack

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, Stingy Jack had some drinks with the devil but did not have the money to pay for them. There must be some pretty stupid devils in Ireland – Jack manages to persuade this devil to change himself into a coin so he could pay for the drinks. But as soon as the devil obliged him Stingy Jack decided to keep the coin instead! He put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, thus preventing the devil to change back into his original form.

Eventually, he made a deal with the coin. He freed him on the condition that he would leave him alone and not bother him for a year and a day, not claim his soul, should he die in the meantime. After a year and a day had passed the devil returned and stupidly allowed himself to be tricked again. This time Jack had sent him up a tree to pick a fruit and while he was up there, had carved a cross into the bark. Thus the devil was stuck again. Jack demanded that he would leave him alone again for a further 10 years.

But Jack did not live that long. Soon after the second episode with the devil he died. But despite his posturing with the cross and all, God was not pleased with his conduct and refused entry to heaven on account of his dishonesty. This was a bit of an unforeseen dilemma for Jack, since the devil, still upset with him for tricking him and being mean, also refused him entry to hell. Besides, he had given him his word that he would not claim his soul for 10 years.

Thus, the devil sent Jack off with only a piece of coal to keep him warm and to light his way through the twilight zone. To carry the coal Jack carved out a Turnip to safeguard his chunk of coal, and to this day he roams the land as the lost soul known as Jack O’Lantern.

When the Irish arrived in the United States they brought their story of Jack O’Lantern and their custom of carving the Turnip with them. When they came across the Pumpkin they were delighted as Pumpkins are much easier to carve than Turnips! And, as they say, the rest is history.

Remembering the dead, honoring the spirits

This is the most common story regarding the use of pumpkins at Halloween. But in fact, the real story is much older. In Celtic Ireland, the custom of the carved out Turnip root far predates this Christianized tale. Originally, it is related to the Celtic Festival of Samhain (November 1st), which marks the end of the growing season. At this time, the veil between the worlds is said to be thin and spirits of the deceased leave the Other World to roam among us and to beg for food. It was customary to put out a little food and drink for these spirits and a carved-out Turnip with a candle placed inside was hung up so they could find their way. In turn, the spirits blessed the souls of those who provided for them. The day that marked the occasion later became known as ‘All- Hallows Eve’, which in time morphed into ‘Halloween’.

Interestingly, a similar custom is practiced in Mexico, where November 1st is celebrated as ‘El Dia de los Muertos’ – the day of the dead, which combines Catholic elements (All Saints and All Souls day) with pre-Columbian Aztec traditions. It is a day to remember the dead and families gather in cemeteries to make offerings to their departed relatives. Food offerings, including candied Pumpkins, are an important part of the celebrations, as are the sugar skulls and candles are placed on their graves.

As endearing as these ancient traditions of remembering the dead are, the accompanying waste of food is truly shocking. As the Guardian reports, a staggering 12.76 million pumpkins will be purchased, carved up, and then binned over Halloween.

That’s scary!

Preserving the Harvest (1)

Preserving the Harvest (1)

This article is about ways to preserve the harvest. Making your own pickles and preserves, jams and chutneys, liqueurs and canned veggies is a great way to celebrate the abundant gifts of nature. If you can get the kids involved, it is also a wonderful opportunity to bond and share stories while teaching them essential life skills.

Not too long ago, gardening and making one’s own food was considered old-fashioned and tedious work. It was something that belonged to the domain of Grandmothers and country bumpkins. Why bother, if all you need to do is to go down to the supermarket?

But things have changed. Soaring food prices, GM technology and a growing concern over dubious agrochemicals that have crept into our food supplies, more people have turned to gardening and making your own is fashionable again.

While the garden may not cover all your food needs, even producing some of your own food is uniquely satisfying. However, there is one problem: living in a temperate climate, with a limited growing phase, we are subject to the ‘feast or famine’ phenomenon. The harvest is plentiful during the warm part of the year, but there is almost nothing to harvest during the winter.

With any luck, the harvest is plentiful enough to provide for the cold season as well – but how can we preserve the abundance, so when winter comes we can still enjoy the fruits of the previous season’s labor. What delight it will be then to have tasty reminders of the summer’s plenty.

Freezing

These days, freezing is usually considered the easiest and quickest method to preserve anything. It certainly is convenient – if you have a very large freezer, that is. However, it is not a very energy efficient method, and nor is it particularly reliable. Power cuts occur with worrying frequency. And they spell disaster for anything that is stored in the freezer, unless you have an independent back-up power supply.

Luckily, there are many other options as we can learn from history. How did people manage to store things in the days before electricity lit up our world? After all, it is a fairly new invention!

It turns out, our ancestors have been incredibly innovative when it comes to devising methods of preserving foods, although not all are equally suitable for all types of foods and vegetables.

To begin with, it is helpful to consider the growing cycle. The natural life cycle of a plant starts with germination. Gradually, the plant develops and grows and eventually reaches its peak. This process is known as maturation. Most plants are harvested at their peak. From that point on they begin to decay.

No process of preservation can halt this natural cycle of growth and decay, it can only slow it down, or in some ways, progress it. The ultimate aim is to preserve as much of the mineral and vitamin content of a given fruit or vegetable as possible.

Clamps

In the old days, root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and parsnips were stored in the cellar. They were kept in boxes filled with earth, which were periodically sprinkled with water to keep them moist. In fact, the original purpose of cellars was to provide a cool, dark storage space for foods. Originally, they would have only had a dirt floor. This creates a moist, cool atmosphere that is able to ‘breath’. Unfortunately, modern houses, with their concrete foundations, insulated basements and concrete floors are much less suitable for storing vegetables. That is why people came up with the idea of these special boxes, which imitate the natural conditions.

But even without any kind of basement it is still possible to store vegetables – in a ‘clamp’. A clamp consists of a mound of root vegetables that is laid out on a thick layer of straw, which in turn is covered with earth. Alternatively, one can dig a pit. The base is laid out with wooden planks and straw. The vegetables are stored in the next layer, which is covered and covered with sand and earth. (For instructions, check with a good book on self-sufficiency).

It is important to ensure ventilation – e.g. by allowing the bottom layer of straw to peek through beneath the covering layers of soil. Unfortunately, these methods only work in places where winter temperatures don’t fall too low.

Carrots can be stored in containers filled with sand (or in clamps, as described above). They should not be washed and must not be damaged, otherwise they will rot. The green parts should be removed.

Sunchokes, parsnips, leeks, celery and Brussels sprouts can remain in the ground. Mild frosts don’t bother them. If need be, a layer of soil, straw or mulch will protect them against damage from hard frosts. Cauliflowers can be ‘planted’ (with roots attached) in boxes filled with sandy soil. They should be sprinkled with water once in a while.

Root vegetable clamps

For a limited period of time, cucumbers, melons and pumpkins can be stored in suspended nets.  But their high water content makes them liable to rot, especially if they have been bruised.

Onions and garlic should be spread out in the sun until the outer layers dry and turn papery. Thereafter, they can be bundled and hung.

Apples can be stored in a cool, moist, but aerated basement. But, they must be handled gently. Bruised apples will rot. Late varieties are more suitable for long-term storage. Early varieties are better used for immediately. Ideally, apples should be picked as late in the season as possible, when they come off the tree without effort. They should be spread out to dry for a day or so, and then stored singly (wrapped in paper, if possible) and placed on a shelf or in small cardboard storage boxes. Pears can be stored the same way, but prefer slightly cooler temperatures.

Chestnuts keep well in clamps. Check for tiny holes in their shells, which is a tell-tale sign that  they are infested with worms. Pulses and grains can be stored in hessian bags. The bags can be treated with neem spray to deter bugs. Shake the bag occasionally to inhibit the development of insect larvae.

Dehydration

One of the best methods to preserve fruits and vegetables is to dehydrate them. This method has the advantage that the ‘natural goodness’ is largely preserved, since only the water is extracted. In hot and dry climates, vegetables and fruits can be dried in the sun, or on special racks. In the colder time of the year, the rack is placed near the fire place or oven. It is difficult to sun dry fruit and veggies in modern apartments. However, one can use the oven to help the process. Arrange the prepared fruit on racks (rather than cookie sheets) that are lined with baking paper. Obviously, thin slices dry faster than thicker ones and juicy fruits take longer than dryer types. The greatest difficulty is to get the temperature right, since many of the nutrients are destroyed at temperature above 40°C. The lowest setting on the dial is usually 50°C degrees (100F). It is better to dry things at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. Keep the oven door slightly ajar to modify the temperature and to let the steam escape.

But even so, keeping the oven running for long periods of time is not very energy efficient and is also a nuisance during the summer, when it is difficult enough to keep the room temperatures bearable.

The best option is a dehydrator. The lower the wattage, the lower the electricity use will be. The best models are expandable (all you to add extra racks), have a timer and an accurate temperature regulator.

To prevent discolouration dip fruits that are vulnerable to oxidation in lemon water (50:50) before drying them. This preserves the natural color. Once dry, and aired out, store the dried goods in air-tight containers (storage jars). Dried fruit and vegetables can keep for ages, as long as they are stored properly. But if they absorb moisture from the atmosphere they will go moldy.

Very juicy fruit should drain for a period of time to reduce the amount of moisture (e.g, pineapple) before drying. Cut the fruit to the desired size and drain in a colander for at least an 1 hour.

Air-drying fruit also has advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage is that it saves on electricity and can be done at a lower temperature, which preserves the vitamins. The disadvantage is that the drying fruit will attract fruit flies. Prolonged drying also encourages mold.

Drying fruit and vegetables correctly requires a bit of practice. Dehydrators make the process a great deal easier and less messy. A major advantage is that the dried material takes up much less space which is handy for storage. Also, dried fruit and veg keep well for long periods of time if stored correctly.

Fruit Leather

Spread pureed fruit blended with honey and ground almonds, or hazelnuts on baking paper, and dry.  Fruit Leather is a very popular snack that also makes an excellent, instant energy, hiking food.

Dried vegetables can be rehydrated by soaking them for a few hours in enough water to cover them; slowly cook them with the remaining water. It took time to remove the water, and it takes time to reabsorb it. If prepared too quickly the veggies will be chewy. The smaller and thinner the slices, the quicker they will reabsorb the water.

dehydration

Lacto-fermentation

Everybody knows (and some actually love) Sauerkraut. But not all Sauerkrauts are created equal. Most commercially available types are produced using salt and vinegar and are pasteurised, which unfortunately, kills off the probiotic substances that make fermented foods like Sauerkraut so beneficial.

Sauerkraut is not the only way in which Cabbage can be fermented. A more interesting variation (to my taste, at least) is Korean Kimchi, which consists of a combination of different vegetables and spices. There are dozens of recipes and plenty of scope for experimentation.

The method of lacto-fermentation is simple, providing one has the right equipment. It does not take much, except a special fermentation crock-pot with a grooved rim. This rim should be half-filled with water, which, once covered with the lid, creates an airlock that prevents air borne bacteria or fungal spores from entering the pot. Another necessary item is a stone or weight to push down the vegetables and keep them submerged in the juices. For smaller amounts, airtight jars (pickling jars) can be used instead.

Cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, onion, garlic, horseradish, celery, bell peppers and pepperonis are well-suited for lacto-fermentation.

Suitable pickling spices include mustard seeds, peppercorns, allspice, juniper, cloves, fenugreek, ajowan, coriander, cumin, chillies, dill, fennel, tarragon, and bay leaves.

Finely cut or shred the vegetables and pack them tightly into the crockpot; sprinkle the spices between the layers of veggies. As the final layer, cover the veggies with a large cabbage or horseradish. Horseradish leaves will help to prevent mold. Prepare enough brine (1oz salt per liter of water) to pour over and cover the vegetables, but don’t fill the jar all the way to the top. (You can add a little whey to aid the fermentation process).

If you use fermentation crock-pot, half fill the rim with water (air-lock), place the stone on top of the vegetables and cover with the lid. Keep an eye on the water level in the airlock and replenish with water if it starts to evaporate. Place the jar or crockpot in a warm place for about 10 days, then move it to a cool one for another 6 weeks. Remove any mold that may have formed on the surface. Avoid removing the lid unnecessarily.

Canning

Canning is a great way to preserve foods. Almost anything can be canned and stored for later – and canned goods keep indefinitely, theoretically, at least. In practice, it is recommended to use canned foods within a year or two.

There are basically two different canning methods, one that is suitable for high acid foods, such as fruit, juices, and pickles, and one that is suitable for low acid foods, such as most vegetables, or meats.

There are many good canning recipes and it is best to choose a tried and tested one to avoid disappointment – especially if you are new to canning.

High acid foods are a little easier to process, as they do not require extreme heat to preserve them. Ordinary boiling is sufficient as the acid content inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Certain kinds of equipment make the process a great deal easier.

To preserve high acid foods, you need a large pot and rack (for holding the jars in place above the bottom of the pan), canning jars with two-part lids (lid with a rubber rim and band), a canning funnel, a jar lifter and lid magnet. A ‘head space’ measuring tool and bubble remover can also be useful.

The most important thing about canning is to make sure that all the equipment is squeaky clean and that the produce is immaculate and fresh. Don’t be tempted to preserve items that are on the verge of going off, or you will ruin the whole batch.

Prepare the foods according to your recipe, fill into the jars, and cover with a rubber ring and lid. The lids  are held in place with a special little clamp. Canning machines have a rack that is placed at the bottom. If you are using a large pot, you need to find a rack that fits the pot. Place the jars on top of the rack and cover with water . Boil for a set amount of time (according to your recipe) to sterilize the jars.

For a detailed description of the process see:

Canning High Acid Foods

Low acid foods require more care. Since they lack naturally occurring acids, they must be heated to a temperature that is well above boiling to kill any pathogens that otherwise might spoil the fruits of your labor. To achieve such high temperatures you will need a pressure cooker, preferably a purpose made one with a pressure gauge and thermometer.

As with the high acid foods, it is recommended to use a tried and tested recipe. Fill your food into clean jars, cover with lids and place the jars on the rack. Cover with water and sterilize according to the instructions of your recipe.

For a very useful and detailed description of the process, see this presentation:

Canning Low Acid Foods

Pickling

Instead of fermenting foods, many vegetables can be pickled in vinegar. This method is not as wholesome as the lacto-fermentation mentioned above, since it does not create probiotic bacteria in the process. Acid inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria, which is why it serves well as a preserving liquid.

The most important thing about pickling in vinegar is to use non-metal (except stainless steel) and non-plastic containers. Acids can react with such materials. Use glass or stoneware.

Fruit can be pickled in a vinegar /sugar syrup, to make delicious condiments.

Vegetables are often salted for a period of time (overnight) in order to draw out some of their water and to soften the skin. Wash and simmer them for a few minutes before covering them in vinegar and pickling spices. But not for too long. You’ll want the veggies to stay crunchy.

Some recipes call for a vinegar /sugar others for a vinegar /brine blend. Some recommend the vinegar to first be heated (and simmered with various spices) and then cooled before pouring it over the vegetables, other recipes call for hot vinegar. Pickling provides endless scope for experimentation.

Preserving in Oil

Oil in itself does not ward off bacteria, but it creates an effective barrier and thus prevents oxidation. To preserve vegetables in oil they are usually cooked in either brine or vinegar first, for a short period of time. The idea is to preserve the crunchiness. Place the veggies into a jar and cover with oil. Start with a layer of oil before adding the veggies, as this will prevent air bubbles. Make sure the contents remain covered in oil even once you start to use the preserve. Use good cooking oil – olive oil is ideal, as it has a good balance of fatty acids and resists oxidation.

Preserving in Sugar/Syrup

That sugar isn’t healthy is not the latest discovery of science. It depletes vitamin B1 and calcium and destroys the teeth. However, for certain things sugar is an ideal preserving agent – just as with any other harmful substance, there is a direct correlation between the level of damage and the amount consumed. Sugar preserves include jams, jellies, marmalade, syrup and candied fruit. For jams and jellies it is usually necessary to add pectin (or use preserving sugar) in order to achieve the proper consistency.

If you use lemon or orange peel in your recipes make sure it comes from organic citrus fruit.

Preserving nature’s bounty is an art and no novice will immediately master all methods. But it is a great joy to preserve the harvest and to create unique tasty treats, just exactly the way you like them. No commercial enterprise can even come close to that. All it takes is a spirit of experimentation and discovery.

It is also a lot of work – but it is SO worthwhile when, in the midst of winter, you can still feast on jars and cans filled with the sunshine and goodness of the previous harvest.

Resources:

National Center for Home Food Preservation

FAO Leaflet Small-scale Post-Harvest Handling Practices

jam
Preserving the Harvest (2)

Preserving the Harvest (2)

In the last issue, I talked about different ways to preserve food, from storing, canning, and drying to making jams and pickles. All of these methods serve to preserve food for later use to sustain the body. However, there is only so much jam and cake you can make with excess fruit.  But, hey, there is still something else you can do!

Traditionally, any excess fruit is distilled to yield fruit brandy. The Black Forest, for example, is famous for its Kirschwasser, but there are dozens of similar fruit brandies made from plums, raspberries, bilberries, pears, apples, apricots – you name it. But as home distillation is illegal in many parts of the world, we won’t go into it here.

Wine-making

Winemaking, on the other hand, is not illegal. Wine experts may scoff at such peasant brews, fruit wines can be excellent, highly idiosyncratic, fun to make, and inexpensive. One just has to abandon any preconceived ideas of what wine should taste like. If you enjoy experimentation, winemaking opens up a whole new universe of hitherto unimagined possibilities.

The process of winemaking is simple enough. It involves the straight forward process of converting sugar to alcohol and CO2, using the ‘bio-services’ of yeast, which does all the work. (Sorry, wine-making is not CO2 neutral.)

There are gazillion different recipes for just about any fruit or vegetable imaginable. But grapes are considered ‘ideal’ in terms of the balance of acids and sugars. They require little or no adjustments. The most difficult aspect is the measuring process used to calculate the acid/sugar/ and potential alcohol content of the resulting brew. That is if you are going to get technical about it and expect to have some control over the result. Good wine does not happen by accident (although it may). When making wines with other fruits the wine-maker periodically takes a sample to measure the acid and sugar levels and makes adjustments accordingly.

Beginners often find it confusing that there is no general method that applies to all fruit. Each is considered for its own specific merits and treated accordingly. Although when just starting out one tends to want to follow a tried and tested recipe blindly, it ultimately will be to your advantage to learn about the chemistry involved so that you can make your own decisions based on your specific measurements.

Hot summers produce sweeter fruits than cold and rainy ones. Personal taste also comes into play. Some prefer a lighter, fruitier wine while others like a heavy, full-bodied one. As in all food ventures, the better the quality of the source materials you use, the better will be the result.

Basic Method:

  • Select and prepare the fruit: take off stalks, remove large stones
  • Transfer to a bucket and bruise/mash
  • Add water (the flavor would be too strong if left undiluted)
  • Add other flavoring agents, such as ginger or raisins

Many winemakers add Campden tablets at this stage for the purpose of sterilizing the brew. Others just add the yeast and allow nature to run its course. Whichever method you follow, the important thing is not to add yeast and Campden tablets at the same time as this would destroy the yeast.

After adding the yeast, leave the mixture to ferment, but cover the container. This primary fermentation usually takes approximately 3 – 7 days.

Siphon the liquid off by transferring it to a demijohn. Bung with an air-lock to prevent oxygen from entering. Fill the demijohn to the top. Check the sugar/acid content and make adjustments as needed. Let it ferment for a further 4-6 weeks.

Avoid opening the demijohn unnecessarily so as to minimize exposure to air, especially in the beginning when the alcohol content is low. But if the fermentation process slows down too soon, test and if necessary, feed it with additional sugar.

When the right alcohol/acid/sugar balance has been achieved, the liquid is siphoned off, filtered and filled into bottles. After 6 months to 1 year, the wine will be good to drink.

Winemaking is not complicated. But if you want really good results you have to invest in a range of tools and equipment and learn how to use them. You also need enough room to store the materials and the demijohns. But the satisfaction and sense of discovery derived from it are absolutely worth the effort. Just don’t expect your wine made from Bananas to taste like a Chardonnay. And, be patient!

It would go far beyond the scope of this article to describe all the tools that are necessary to get started or the additives that may improve the quality of your wine. Join a wine-making forum to discuss your projects and learn from others who are also practicing this fine art. Below are some links to pertinent pages and forums:

Liqueurs

This kind of sweet, alcoholic ‘dessert’ is easy to make and quite delicious. Macerate the fruit or herbs in a strong alcohol base such as Vodka, for several weeks. Remove the fruit and add sugar or spiced sugar syrup. Fill into glass jars and allow to stand for several months more – the longer you leave them the better they get.

Rumtopf

This is a great way to preserve excess amounts of fruit. And what sweet memories it of the summer past it will bring with when you dig into it in the winter.

Rumtopf consists of fruit, sugar, and rum. It is basically a collection of seasonal fruit preserved in and macerated in sugar and alcohol. Traditionally, it is started with the first soft fruit of the year – usually strawberries. Remove the green bits but keep the fruits as ‘whole’ as possible. Place a layer of fruit into the rumtopf (a tall earthenware pot), then cover it with a layer of sugar (equal amount in weight). Finally, add rum to cover the fruit with about 1inch of alcohol. Place the lid on top and leave in a cool, dark place. Every month a new fruit is added following the same procedure. Strawberries, cherries, currants, gooseberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, apples, pears – whatever you fancy. Most people prefer to make a batch for red fruit and a separate batch for yellow fruit or use red fruits only. By Winter Solstice you will have a lovely jug full of highly potent fruit that makes a very warming condiment for ice cream or other desserts.

Elderberry wine

  • 3 lbs fresh elderberries
  • 3 lbs sugar
  • 8 pints of water
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid
  • Wine yeast

Clean and strip the Elderberries from the bracteoles (can be done with a fork) and remove all green parts. Place in a bucket and bruise the berries to release the juice. Boil the water and pour half of it over the berries. Set aside until cool. Dissolve the sugar in the rest of the boiling water and strain the berries through a sieve on to the sugar. Add the lemon juice and the yeast (the liquid should be warm, but not hot). Pour the liquid into a demijohn and seal with an airlock.

Keep the wine in a warm place and allow the fermentation to run its course. When the bubbling has ceased, siphon the wine into a clean jar, a process that winemakers call ‘racking’. This is done to remove any sedimentation (known as ‘lees’). Store the demijohn in a cool place and rack intermittently until no more sediments form. When the fermentation has ceased completely, there are no more sediments and the specific gravity is 1000 or less, the wine is ready for bottling.

Green Walnut Liqueur

  • 750 ml fruit brandy
  • 500g brown sugar
  • 1 Vanilla bean
  • 3 inches of crushed Cinnamon stick
  • 3-5 star anise, roughly crushed

Pick about 30 green walnuts (traditionally on St. John’s Day / 24 June) while they are still soft. Cut into slices and place them into a wide-mouthed jar. Pour 750ml of fruit brandy, or eau de vie over the nuts and macerate for 4-6 weeks. Strain and discard the nuts. Prepare a syrup with 500g of brown sugar and 500ml water. Scrape the inside of the Vanilla bean, and add to the syrup along with the crushed Cinnamon and the Star Anise. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon of Cocoa powder and the juice and zest of 1 organic orange. Set aside to cool, then mix with the walnut filtrate and fill into jars (Kilner jars). Allow macerating for at least 3 months. Filter and bottle.

Plant Profile: Corn (Zea Maize)

Plant Profile: Corn (Zea Maize)

Corn or Maize, the ‘staff of life’ of the Americas, hardly needs much of a description. Every child recognizes it and it is cultivated so abundantly that it can hardly be overlooked. What few people know, though, is that Corn is just an overambitious grass.

Corn is a giant among grasses. It can grow more than 2m high and covers vast stretches of land dominating rural landscapes. The sturdy, fibrous stalk with its characteristic broad angularly bent-over leaves is a familiar sight. The ears develop in the leaf axils. But they are so well covered by the outer sheathing (husks) that they can barely be seen, were it not for the tuft of ‘hair’, known as corn silk that protrudes from the top of the cobs.

Modern corn was first domesticated in Mexico. It is one of the earliest domesticated plants from the New World. Its wild genetic parents are two species of Teosinte (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teosinte). Today, at least five species of Teosinte exist, but it is not clear whether any of them has been a direct ancestor of our modern corn, or whether the original parent variety has since become extinct.

Although Teosinte resembles modern corn in many ways the differences between wild and domesticated species are quite distinct. Most notably, Teosinte’s cobs are tiny. Its seeds are hard and covered by a tough skin. When ripe, their ears break off and the seeds are released.

Domesticated corn has been bred to hold on to the ears and not to release its seeds voluntarily. In the process, modern domesticated corn has become entirely dependent on humans to sow their seeds. We don’t know exactly when corn first began to morph into the shape and size we know today, but the process must have started a very long time ago. The oldest archaeological record for domesticated corn comes from Guilá Naquitz Cave, near Mitla, which is located in the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. It is approximately 6250 years old.

Surprisingly, corn appears to have been known in Asia for much longer than is commonly assumed. It was long assumed that prior to Columbus there was no contact between the Old World and the New. Yet, archaeological findings from southern India and China that feature corn and other New World plants, seems to prove this theory wrong. Carl L. Johannessen stumbled across some very precise carvings at temples in the Karnataka region of India, which were built during the Hoysala Dynasty, between the 10th and 13th centuries.

Carl L. Johannessen and Anne Z. Parker, “Maize Ears Sculptured in 12th and 13th Century A.D. India as Indicators of Pre-Columbian Diffusion,” Economic Botany 43 , 1989, 164-80, argue that stone carvings of maize ears exist in at least three pre-Columbian Hoysala stone block temples near Mysore, Karnataka state, India.

Their article provides 16 photographs that show a few of the sculptures in question.https://www.asc.ohio-state.edu/mcculloch.2/arch/maize.html. The carvings are quite remarkably accurate. Not just one but many distinctive features of maize are represented as true to life as a record cast in stone. Yet, many scholars have found it difficult to accept the idea of pre-Columbian contact and have thus come up with their own alternative interpretations of these sculptures. None of them seems terribly convincing.

Corn hybridizes quite freely and innumerable varieties have been created since it was first domesticated. Today, corn comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures: some predominantly starchy varieties, some soft, some hard, some sweet, some long, some short and round, some with large kernels, others with tiny ones, some blue, some white, some yellow or red and even glassy, multi-colored ones exist.

The variety appears sheer endless, yet only about five basic types of corn exist. The rest are variations of these basic types.

DENT CORN

The cobs of this type of corn are white to yellow. It is called ‘dented’ because the kernels become indented as the cob matures. This is the most commonly cultivated species as it is very versatile. Dent corn is used to produce oil, cereals, and flour, as well as animal feed. it is rich in cellulose which can be used to make biodegradable plastics and absorbent material for toiletries such as diapers, while the oil is used in cosmetics, soaps, skincare products, and more.

FLINT CORN

The cobs come in all colors and they shrink as they dry. This type of corn has very hard kernels and is used for similar purposes as Dent corn.

POPCORN

This type of corn is characterized by a hard outer skin and a soft, starchy center. This combination gives it its unique ‘pop-ability’.

SWEET or VEGETABLE CORN

This is everybody’s favorite type of corn. As the name suggests, it is high in sugar and deliciously succulent. It is the well-known ‘corn on the cob’ variety. Most of the carbohydrates in this type come in the form of sugars, which make it so tasty and sweet. It is best enjoyed fresh, as the sugars turn into starch if it is stored for too long.

WAXY CORN

This type of corn has starchy cobs with a waxy appearance. It is mainly used in the Far East for its tapioca-like starch. The food industry makes use of its stabilizing and thickening properties and as an emulsifier, e.g. for salad dressings. Other industrial uses include remoistening adhesives for gummed tape, in adhesives, and in the paper industry and as animal feed.

New varieties of corn are continuously bred. But today, these are born in the test tubes of biotech labs. Such modern cobs are not just hybrids but bio-engineered functional plant agents, designed to produce phytohormones and other substances of value to the pharmaceutical industry.

This type of enterprise is inherently dangerous as there is no way to protect people from inadvertently consuming this type of product. The germplasms of edible and bio-engineers varieties are kept in the same storage vaults, which risks accidental mixing. The germ-plasm bank for corn in Mexico has already been contaminated with genetically altered material. And time and again there are reports of non-approved, gene-manipulated types of corn that have entered the human food chain, often in the form of harmless-looking tortilla chips. These can cause severe and dangerous ‘allergic’ reactions in humans.

Corn is also at the center of another controversy: a considerable amount of corn is used to make ethanol as a bio-fuel. While we urgently need to find more environmentally friendly sustainable biofuel alternatives, we must also realize that they have their own environmental problems. Previously uncultivated land or even forest is turned over to agricultural production to fuel our cars.

In the course of its domestication, Corn has adapted so well to our human needs that it has given up its ability to reproduce independently. Natural fertilization still occurs, but corn depends on humans for all its nurture and care.

NIACIN DEFICIENCY AND NIXTAMALIZATION

Corn is very nutritious and supplies about 20% of the world’s food calories. However, a diet that is completely dominated by corn and corn products is deficient in niacin (vitamin B3). Niacin deficiency can result in serious physical health problems due to niacin deficiency. The condition is known as ‘Pellagra’, which is characterized by the ‘3 D’s’ – diarrhea, dermatitis, and dementia (some say 4 D’s and add ‘death’).

Interestingly, the lack of niacin in corn can be corrected by treating it with lye – a common practice among Native Americans. Such treatment results in a corn product known as hominy or Nixtamal. The process itself is referred to as nixtamalization (from the Nahuatl word ‘nixtamalli’, meaning ‘unformed corn dough’). This forms the basis of many corn products such as tamales, corn tortillas, and masa. The process removes the pericarp or outer skin of the kernel.

The process of nixtamalization also increases the bio-available amount of calcium by 75% – 85%, making it more easily digestible. Other minerals, such as iron, copper, and zinc are also increased. Nixtamalization also counteracts certain mycotoxins present in untreated corn. Fermentation of nixtamalized corn produces even more benefits: increased levels of riboflavin, protein, and niacin in addition to amino acids, such as tryptophan and lysine.

Unfortunately, the purpose of this alchemy was completely lost on the Spaniards, who took some corn back with them to Europe. They also introduced it to Africa, where it soon became an important food crop. However, the people who came to rely on it, but did not have the traditional knowledge to guide their use, soon became sick with pellagra symptoms. The importance of minerals and vitamins had yet to be discovered, so corn soon was eyed with suspicion. It earned a reputation as a poor man’s food that would prevent starvation, but it was not considered wholesome.

CREATION MYTHS

Native Americans of course continued to thrive on it. It is their most important staple food and it is closely tied to all kinds of spiritual traditions and practices.Throughout the Americas, corn is closely associated with various creation myths. According to theses myths it was the Corn God or Goddess him or herself who taught the people how to grow and prepare corn so it may sustain them.

The Mayans revered this God as Yam Kaax, described in the Popol Vuh, the Sacred Book of the Mayans. Corn is linked to the very genesis of creation itself, for when the Gods decided to shape the world, they made different kinds of corn brew, which were to provide vigor and substance to their creation. They formed the first man and the first woman from white and yellow corn masa, which they transmuted into human flesh and blood.

And so it is to this day – corn is part of every meal, whether as tortillas tamales or hominy or one or another type of brew. The Aztecs mixed corn starch and cocoa to make a brew known as ‘Atole’, a kind of original ‘hot chocolate’. However, this did not taste much like what we have enjoy as such. It was mixed with various spices including vanilla and chili. An alcoholic brew made from corn is known as ‘Chicha’. Originally, it was used as sacred brew for ritual purposes, but now it is served at any and all occasions, especially during fiestas.

According to a Peruvian story, only two men survived the primordial deluge. They learned about corn from the ‘Macaw Women’. Every day, when they returned home at night, they found a large vessel filled with Chicha in their house. This went on for some days until one day, one of the men decided to stay at home to watch and see who brought them the mysterious brew.

Soon after the other man had left, two red Macaws flew in, took off their feathers and revealed their female bodies, one an old hag, the other a young girl. At once they started to chew some corn and spitting it into the pot. Finally, they filled it with water. This describes the traditional method of preparing Chicha. The man, being the possessive type, jumped from his hiding place and grabbed one of the women by the hair – of course he caught the young one, while the old woman fled. Thus, he came into possession not only of the first corn seeds, which he duly planted, but also of a wife.

In Peru, corn was associated with the Sun, which in this myth are personified as solar Goddesses. Chicha thus represents the essence of the sun’s magical powers.

In the Americas, Corn silk, the familiar tassel of ‘hair’ at the end of the cob, was considered a valuable medicine. It is believed to support the organs of the lower abdomen and was used to treat a variety of conditions: constipation, diarrhea, urinary retention, bladder infection, as well as infertility, and menstrual pains. It was also used to tone the womb after childbirth.

Although cornsilk is not ‘official’ in most of today’s pharmacopoeias, except in China, herbalists still use it to cleanse the urinary system, and to flush out kidney and bladder sand and gravel. Corn silk is considered a cleansing herb, that can eliminate toxins and thus purify the blood. Thanks to its diuretic effect it can also reduce an elevated blood pressure.

The Mayans considered their sacred plant a medicinal food – when suffering from severe illness they would eliminate all other foods from the diet and let corn alone nurture the person back to health. Mythology becomes reality – the corn reconstituted the patient’s flesh and blood just as in the ancient origin myth.

corn silk

Medicinal Uses:

Part used: Corn Silk, the silky ‘hair’ at the end of and surrounding the cob.

Constituents: allantoin, sterols, saponins, hordenine, plant acids, Vitamins C and K

Action: diuretic, demulcent, tonic,

Indications:

Corn silk is a valuable remedy, both, by itself or as an adjunct to other herbs. It can be used to treat afflictions of the genitourinary system. It is particularly helpful when it comes to alleviating the stinging pain of cystitis. The diuretic action also helps to flush out small urinary gravel and sand. In conditions such as prostatitis, it relieves fluid retention and reduces the frequent urge to urinate. The diuretic effect also lowers the blood pressure.

Native Americans have also used it to treat infertility and menstrual pain. Applied externally, the fresh corn silk can be used to clean wounds. For bacterial bladder infections it is best used in conjunction with an antiseptic herb, such as Uva Ursi or Boldo leaves. Cornsilk also seems to have an indirect effect on the liver, as it increases the flow of bile. This may explain the  traditional indigenous use of this herb in the treatment of gallbladder stones. Increased bile flow also improves digestion and absorption of nutrients from the intestines.

Corn Recipes

Green Chili Corn Bread

  • 1 cup of buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • ¼ cup of flour
  • 1 cup of yellow corn meal
  • ¼ cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4-ounce can of chopped green chillies (or fresh)
  • 1/2 cup of Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 8-ounce can of creamed corn

Mix all together. Pour into well-greased 9 x 9 inch pan. Bake at 350ºF. for 1 hour.

Blue Corn Dumplings

  • 1 cup Juniper Ash Water — (See below)
  • 3 ½ cups Water
  • 6 cups Blue Corn Meal
  • Salt to taste

Boil the water.

Add the juniper water and salt.

Add corn meal and knead until soft.

Shape into small balls and drop into the boiling water. Cook for about 15-20 minutes. Remove and drain.

Serving Ideas : good with stews and hearty soups.

The Hopi form round dumplings in the winter and flat ones in the summer to ward off bad weather.

Juniper Ash Water

  • 2 tablespoons Juniper Ash
  • 1 cup Water

Snip off the tips of several juniper twigs and place them on a fine meshed metal screen. The twigs should not be woody. Light the twigs and let the ash settle on the screen. With a fine brush, (broom grass), carefully sift the ash though the screen. Store in an air tight container until needed.

To make juniper water, boil the water, remove from heat and add the ash. Steep 10-15 minutes, strain. Only make as much as is needed immediately, as it does not keep.

Let Your Foods Be Medicines

Let Your Foods Be Medicines

It is no longer a secret that proper nutrition plays a vital part in maintaining good health. But when Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, first proclaimed ‘Let Your Foods Be Medicines and Your Medicines Be Food’ he wasn’t just talking about nutrition. Instead, he was implying that the distinction between staple foods, vegetables, spices, herbs, and drugs are often rather arbitrary. He knew very well that many common foods have healing properties, yet, are much safer to use than chemically more potent drugs.

Even today, the kitchen cupboard can be a veritable medicine chest. Let’s consider the medicinal properties of some common staple foods and vegetables:

Grains

Although some regard them as the root of all evil and shun them for their ‘fattening’ properties, grains and starches are an important part of a balanced diet. The operative word here is ‘balance’. Too much of a good thing can be, well, too much. Also, not all starches are created equal. Processed carbohydrates really are empty stuffing. White flour products including bread and pasta, polished rice and fried potatoes have little to commend them and contribute almost nothing but calories to the diet. Yet, the same items, less processed, form ‘the staff of life’.

They not only supply energy in the form of complex carbohydrates but also provide a large range of nutrients. They are rich in fiber, too, which is especially important for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Fibers, especially the water-soluble kind, eliminate toxins and keep cholesterol levels low. However, they should not dominate the diet. The amount of carbohydrates you need depends on how much physical energy you have to put out on a daily basis. People who live a more or less sedentary lifestyle need far fewer carbs to keep their burner going.

Grains also have medicinal properties that are very versatile. They are not used in herbal medicine today, but rather as home remedies:

Barley

Barley (Hordeum vulgare)

Barley gruel is an excellent nutritional food that is useful for throat and stomach problems. Boiled in milk it promotes lactation. Externally, it can be used as a poultice to treat sprained or stiff muscles, rheumatism, and skin afflictions. Simmered in milk it soothes sores and ulcers. Even Barley beer has its virtues: it stimulates the appetite and increases the secretion of digestive juices. It improves the digestion of fatty foods and eases heartburn. Warm beer acts as a demulcent and diuretic and has been used to alleviate urinary complaints.

Oats

Oats (Avena sativa)

Oats are very nourishing and provide an excellent source of energy for those who are recovering from sickness or are in poor health. Plain oat porridge is one of the best foods for stomach and intestinal problems such as ulcers and inflammation. Oat bran is an excellent source of water soluble fibre that acts as an inner cleanser, adding bulk while binding endotoxins for elimination.

Wheat

Wheat (Triticum sativum)

Wheat is one of the most important staple foods of the Western diet. However, the highly refined and bleached form commonly used for bread and pasta provides almost no nutritional value. Moreover, wheat allergies are becoming increasingly common. Spelt offers a good, less allergenic alternative.

Externally, pure, unadulterated wheat starch has been used as a drying agent. The soothing powder can be applied to weeping skin rashes and inflamed sores (poison ivy!). Those who are allergic to wheat should not use it for external applications either.

Wheatgerm is nutritionally the most valuable part. It is rich in vitamin E as well as other nutrients. It has been used to alleviate debilitating or nervous conditions, circulatory problems, digestive troubles, blood impurities, and skin afflictions.

Wheat bran is used as laxative or diet aid since it creates a sense of satiation. But as wheat bran is not water-soluble it does not bind endotoxins. While it adds bulk, the sharp edges of coarse bran can irritate the intestinal lining. Wheat bran offers little to no nutritional benefit. However, externally it can be used as a bath additive for rheumatic, gout, and certain skin problems (put in a muslin bag or similar if you don’t want your drains to clog up). . Mixed with honey it makes a good face-mask for treat blackheads and skin impurities.

Vegetables

Vegetables are the best source of vitamins, amino acids, minerals and other trace substances that are vital to our health. Vegetables are essential, yet too much of a good thing can be too much, in this case too. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body and can be toxic if they accumulate in excessive amounts. Too much asparagus can damage the kidneys and spinach can draw calcium from teeth and bones. But as vegetables are rarely eaten in really excessive amounts, damage is rare.

Onions

Onion (Allium cepa)

The onion family provides a host of wonderful and medicinally potent vegetables. Even the lowly onion has antiseptic and anti-putrefactive properties. It stimulates circulatory system including the heart, has diaphoretic, diuretic and expectorant properties, and increases mucous secretion.

To make an impromptu cough syrup, simply cut up an onion and sprinkle with brown sugar. Cover the dish and leave overnight. The sugar draws out the onion juice and makes a kind of syrup.

Onion juice stimulates the kidneys and helps to dissolve small kidney stones. However, this should not be tried in cases of kidney inflamed or serious kidney disease, as it can be irritating.

garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic is an excellent home remedy. It has antiseptic and antibiotic properties and stimulates the immune system. Garlic is also excellent for keeping the circulatory system healthy as it reduces cholesterol levels, inhibits arteriosclerosis and lowers the blood pressure (vasodilator). It is full of vitamins and healthy nutrients. It can even kill worms (enema). It also stimulates the liver and gallbladder and acts on the metabolism. Cooked in milk it is a powerful expectorant. Garlic juice was once used as a remedy for tuberculosis.

Asparagus

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Asparagus stimulates the kidneys and increases the urinary volume. Asparagus contains a lot of purines though, which can contribute to the formation of uric acid crystals. While this is not normally a problem, people who eat a lot of organ meats may already have elevated levels of purines. In that case, it would be better to not overdo it with the asparagus.

White Cabbage

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea capita)

Rich in vitamin C, the lowly cabbage is another wonderful healing plant. Sauerkraut and raw cabbage are great detoxing agents. Fresh cabbage juice, (5x a day for 2 weeks) is an effective remedy for stomach ulcers. Bruised cabbage leaves, applied as a poultice, draws pus and putrid matter from rashes, sores, and boils. Applied to the chest it can be used as a pulmonary plaster for bronchial infections. It can also be applied to engorged breasts. Hot cabbage leaves soothe aching muscle, neuralgia, and rheumatic pain.

Horseraddish

Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana/ Cochlearia armoracia)

Horseradish has a stimulating effect on the circulatory and the digestive systems and boosts the metabolism. It can be used both internally and externally: Applied as a poultice it will act as a rubefacient and soothe aching muscles, gout, rheumatic joints, neuralgic pain, and sciatica. For a more convenient application use the tincture. A dab on the forehead can prevent migraines.

Horseradish mixed with lemon juice can halt an asthma attack – though this remedy is not for the faint of stomach. Added to a pint of ale and sweetened with sugar it makes a powerful diuretic remedy that can be used to treat edema. Steeped in wine and taken in teaspoonful doses it is an anti-catarrhal for the respiratory and digestive system. When using Horseradish internally it is best to start with small quantities. Monitor the effects closely. Too much of it can be rough on the kidneys.

Carrots

Carrot (Daucus carota)

Carrots offer one of the best sources for vitamin A. They are wonderfully vitalizing and boost the immune system. Carrot juice cleanses the intestinal tract and is an excellent remedy for excessive stomach acid and heartburn. It is also good for rheumatism and arthritis and acts positively on sugar metabolism in cases of diabetes. Externally, grated carrots can be applied to bruises, burns, and sores.

Celery

Celery (Apium graveolens)

Celery sticks are an excellent diuretic and are popular as a diet food. The fresh juice stimulates urination, relieves edema, rheumatism, gout and cellulite. It is a good digestive aid, recommended for indigestion, lack of appetite and wind. In Continental Europe it is the root rather than the sticks that is more commonly used in cooking. The water in which celery root has been boiled can be used as a rinse for treating dandruff. The syrup, made by boiling the root juice with sugar, makes an excellent cough remedy. However, avoid celery remedies when in cases of kidney inflammation, since its diuretic action may prove too irritating. The seeds provoke delayed menstruation and should be avoided during pregnancy.

Cucumber

Cucumber (Cucumis sativus)

Cucumber is commonly used in home cosmetics to moisturize dry skin. Used externally, the juice is refreshing, tonic, cleansing, and soothing especially on sunburned, dry, or tired skin.

But Cucumber also has medicinal properties: it regulates hydration, acts as a diuretic, and loosens kidney stones. It is useful in cases of edema and cellulite and stimulates lazy intestines.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin (Curcurbita pepo)

Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A and B. For medicinal purposes it is only used raw. Mashed pumpkin soothes sore feet, inflamed ulcers, sores and varicose veins. It has blood cleansing powers when added raw to a salad, which soothes the symptoms of kidney inflammation. Pumpkin seeds are one of the most effective and non-toxic worming agents. They are also rich in Zinc and as such are particularly beneficial for bladder and prostate problems.

Potatoes

Potato (Solanum tuberosum)

Potatoes are rich in vitamin C and extremely nutritious. A time limited diet, consisting of little more than mashed potatoes (without salt) relieves stomach problems associated with intestinal cramps and constipation. Used externally, raw, mashed potatoes are anti-inflammatory and can be applied to cankerous growths and sores.

Tomatoes

Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

Tomatoes stimulate the digestive juices and help to alleviate stomach ulcers and liver complaints. They also have a positive effect on edema, neuritis and circulatory issues, and especially on the peripheral blood vessels. Applied externally, fresh tomato juice applied to wounds can help to prevent infection and relieves inflammation.

Fruit

Delicious and wholesome, but very high in fruit sugar, fruits boost vitality and provide a rich source of nutrients and trace elements.

lemons

Lemon (Citrus medica)

Nothing soothes a cold better than hot lemon with ginger and honey. Lemons are extremely rich in vitamin C and act as a powerful immune system booster. Their diaphoretic action helps to cool a fever. As a gargle, lemon juice is a very useful astringent that can help to soothe a sore throat. Though perhaps not the most pleasant therapy, nose irrigation with diluted lemon juice cures even severe cases of nasal catarrh (e.g. allergies). It also supports the liver (breaks down fats), stimulates digestion and acts as a diuretic to flush out metabolic waste products.

apple

Apple (Fructus malus)

‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’ Whoever coined the phrase knew what they were talking about. Apples are nutritious and cleansing. They stimulate the circulatory system and metabolism. Apple therapy is indicated for migraines, gout, acidic stomach complaints, constipation, and biliousness, as well as for gout and rheumatism. Apple juice or apple flower tea is beneficial for coughs and colds, hoarseness, bronchial catarrh, and fever.

Apples soothe the nerves. Eaten at bedtime they promote restful sleep.

Apple cider vinegar is a most remarkable remedy for arthritis, gout, sinus catarrh, high blood pressure, migraine, chronic tiredness, and night sweats. Taken regularly diluted with water (sweeten with honey) it is one of the best anti-rheumatism remedies. It is rich in calcium and helps to improve memory and concentration, muscle strength, circulatory problems, badly healing wounds, itchy skin, joint pains, and lack of appetite. Apple wine has been shown to prevent kidney and bladder stones.

Blueberries, Vaccinium myrtillus

Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus)

Blueberries are a cleansing and tone the digestive system. The dried berries simmered in wine with Cinnamon and Cloves makes a wonderful, fortifying, and warming remedy for indigestion and other stomach and intestinal troubles. Blueberry wine eliminates endotoxins without disturbing the intestinal flora. (Blueberry wine = blueberries steeped in wine for a period of time, usually 4-6weeks) Fresh blueberry juice can be used as a gargle for throat infections and as a mouthwash for periodontal disease. Externally, an infusion of the leaves is a useful aid for treating the loss of hair. Blueberries have antioxidant properties and help to fight tumors by scavenging free radicals. The concentrated extract can help to increase circulation to the small blood vessels and can help to alleviate the retinal degradation caused by diabetes.

This list is by no means a comprehensive guide and should not replace a visit to the doctor. It is only meant to give a small glimpse into the remedial properties of common foods. When using any plant for medicinal purposes make sure you have familiarized yourself thoroughly with its properties and possible side effects.

Further resources:

The worlds healthiest foods (ext. link)

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