Many legends spring forth from medieval Europe especially from around the time of the Black Death. One of the best, but not well known concerns four (or sometimes 7) ne’er-do-wells of indiscriminate origins. The story varies from country to country but essentially concerns the discovery of an elixir either in Marseilles or London that conferred immunity from the dreaded plague. This marauding band either burgled the houses of those who had fled the plague or robbed graves depending on your sources. When the locals noticed their inexplicable health they traded in their secret for either their freedom or a less painful death, again depending on who you talk to. Luckily for us, Europe shook off the plague but their (albeit very approximate) recipe survives and as we all know there’s one thing I love more than a good legend. A good recipe.
I do love where I live. Who wouldn’t? It is pretty and rural and full of healthy things like fresh air and country walks. But just sometimes I miss some of the things I used to able to pick up at a moment’s notice when I lived in Frankfurt or New York. Take miso soup, for example. It’s not something that turns up on my local supermarket’s shelves. Why not, I do not know. They have all manner of horrible soups to make up in a cup, the kind that always leave a powdery residue on the bottom of any cup and always taste the same whilst giving absolutely no nutrition whatsoever, no matter what flavour you buy. But no miso. When most of us were struck down with the dreaded flu, all we wanted to eat was a nice warm miso soup, but despite my rudely healthy husband (I have not got over that yet, I am the healthy one round here) kindly bringing back supplies from London, we just didn’t have enough to go round. From my sick bed I gathered the family around and vowed that as soon as I was fighting fit again I would experiment until I found a version that I could knock up quickly and painlessly in my own kitchen so we would never have to go without again. I am happy to report that I did just that and now luckily we can get back to enjoying the country walks without cursing the lack of miso soups. Continue reading
So, I know, it is Monday. I should be posting up a lovely quick meat free meal, but today is going to be different, just to keep you all on your toes. The reason behind this is simple. Last week, after hanging around with a variety of germ infested children, I went down with the flu. Now, what you need to understand is that I never get ill (in fact I can only think of one time in my life when I had the flu before) unless you count the odd hangover, so I really don’t make the best patient. It’s not that I don’t like lying around doing nothing, I just want to feel well whilst I’m doing it. And believe me, this flu was a killer. As it’s still hanging around now leaving all of us feeling like we’ve been run over by a bus, I thought today I’d rustle up something to perk us back up again so we can last out the last few weeks of this interminable winter.
So it’s December the first, our thanksgiving leftovers are just about eaten (we don’t hang around in my house) and it is cold and damp outside, with another 3 weeks to go before we can legitimately start the next feast. Now, I quite like the hunkering down, almost hibernating atmosphere of this time of year, but I do understand why others find it trying, especially in the UK with our limited daylight hours. It seems I have barely finished lunch before it starts to get dark. I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like further north; I am only surprised people have enough time to get out of bed at all. Luckily though, as with most things, we can ease these things slightly by what we eat. Maybe not as much as two weeks in the Maldives (but following the sun around the planet would be a nightmare for your carbon footprint), leaving us with the next best option; a diet filled with tryptophan. Continue reading
Now I happen to believe that we are what we eat. Hardly revolutionary, I know, but I also think that they aren’t many conditions that aren’t improved by good and possibly well targeted nutrition. And that the opposite could well be true; many conditions could be worsened by inadequate and poor nutrition. Certain rules go without saying; try to buy your food as close to its natural state as possible, and eat all of those foods in moderation and again, it goes without saying, in the correct balance. But despite following these rules, there will, however, sometimes be times in our lives when we will need to re examine our approach to our diets, perhaps when our immune system is put under greater stress, or just as we age. I have recently been asked to put my mind to what foods might help at times like this and, in particular, share my thoughts on what foods might help alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, so this post will be a bit different to usual and will try to cover a couple of natural remedies.
I’m not a botany expert, but the long, hot sumer (at least by English standards) that we have enjoyed this year, mixed with an exceptionally mild and sunny autumn seems to have lead to a bumper berry harvest this year. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already made the best of the blackberries, hawthorn and rose hips that my hedgerows have to offer and now is the time for sloes to come into their own. Continue reading
Who doesn’t love apples? I think they look absolutely beautiful to look at, and I never go a day without eating one. To me, they conjure up images of warm kitchens smelling of cinnamon and vanilla. Of brown sugar, blue skies and cooler mornings. I have lots of happy memories of autumn days when we lived in New York spent in the sunshine, having rides on the back of tractors and picking (and eating) as many apples as was possible (apart from the day of the poison ivy- least said about that better). And I’m not the only one, as the good news is that more and more of us must be waking up to their charms as sales of locally produced apples are going up (in this country at least).
This is obviously the time of year to harvest apples, and to enjoy them and all of their numerous health benefits. Perhaps they might not seem as bursting with vitamins to look at as some exotic, more colourful fruit, but apples (if brought locally) have usually not been air freighted, nor have travelled so many miles. Apart from being a great sweet snack, perfect for a pick me up, they are full of insoluble fibre, and anti-oxidants to lower you cholesterol, and fight inflammation. People who eat apples have been shown to have lower levels of C- reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, whose presence in your blood suggests increases risk of heart disease and diabetes. And for all you fellow runners out there, eat one beforehand and they can even make your work out easier. This is due to the anti-inflammatory quercetin which reportedly makes more oxygen available to your lungs. I have to say, I haven’t noticed the hill outside my house getting any easier when I’ve been running on an apple, but it can’t do any harm to try. The benefits don’t stop there though, did you know that raw apple can be used in the treatment of diarrhoea? It was common knowledge when I lived in Germany, but most people elsewhere haven’t a clue you can use apples in this way. It is particularly good for young children, and honestly, it really works. You have to grate the apple, with the skin on as you need the pectin and then leave to go slightly brown for a few minutes before feeding it to your patient. Continue reading
Roses are not only beautiful flowers to look at, but, come autumn, they produce the most wonderful fruit. We don’t really consider them a fruit anymore, despite the fact that they contain over 50% as much vitamin C as an orange, and this vitamin C is absorbed by your body twice as fast as any man made supplement. Whilst I enjoy an orange as much as the next man, I do find it unusual that we ignore a fruit that is native to much of Europe and the US in favour of fruit that is imported and has travelled a far longer distance to get to our tables. It also goes without saying that they are rich in those free radical fighting anti-cancer anti-oxidants, and have an anti-inflammatory effect as well possibly reducing specific enzymes which break down cartilage in our joints as we age a bit, therefore helping with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
To make the most of this fruit at this time of year, you could dry the hips, for use later in a tea, or you could, as I prefer to, make a rose hip syrup. Parents of the UK were advised to do so during the Second World War to make sure their children were getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals. The syrup couldn’t be easier, but you will need sterilised bottles again. Now you should really wait until after the first frost so that the hips are just perfect, but being in south of England, the birds have usually got there first if you wait this long. A good solution is to pick your berries and then freeze them for a week or so. This works well for me as it also allows me to pick smaller quantities, but does mean that I am forever grabbing rose hips wherever I go at this time of year. Continue reading
If you didn’t pick all your elder blossom in spring, now is the time to get out there quick and start gathering. Elderberry has been known for hundreds of years as nature’s medicine cabinet, and in the Middle Ages it was even regarded as a holy tree for its medicinal properties, but over the last few decades we seem to have forgotten about it.
Apart from being delicious (especially when it has been sweetened a bit), usually for free and very easy to gather and pick, Elderberry is full to the brim with free radical fighting anti-oxidants, in fact it’s ORAC score (or oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is double that of super food blueberries. This means that eating them should help to reduce the risk of cancer and should strengthen your immune system. In fact, the anti-oxidants in elderberries help protect mucous membranes and reduce any inflammation in them. Studies show that people who use elderberry cold and flu symptoms were alleviated four days quicker than those who didn’t. Continue reading
When you have finished making your hawthorn berry syrup and are still wondering about what to do with the masses of haws that are still on the bushes outside, you really should try making this schnapps.
I like to think of schnapps are basically the same as a herbal tincture, but in (slightly!) different size glasses. You will get all the amazing benefits to your heart’s health but more than a thimble full and the other not so good effects of the 40% alcohol will probably kick in. Still, it tastes really good with cheese and is a great way to finish a meal, and if you time it right, makes a lovely present for someone at christmas. Continue reading