An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘antioxidants’

Ginkgo biloba enhances brain and circulatory function

In the realm of long-lived trees, Ginkgo is among the oldest. Some Ginkgos in East Asia are more than 4,000 years old. This tree’s method of longevity provides answers for humanity’s alchemical anti-aging quest.

Ginkgo biloba's beautiful fan-shaped leaves turn canary-yellow in fall. The leaves turn from tip to stem.

Ginkgos’ abundance in antioxidant flavonoids can serve humans when they ingest them, but they are vital to the plant’s developed ability to protect itself from environmental stressors. Flavonoid compounds predominate in the surface of plants serving as an exterior structure, counteracting oxidative stress from pollutants and, more interestingly, acting as communication molecules, much like our own hormones, to warn the plant of threats.

Current research suggests plant flavonoid compounds can communicate with human hormone receptor-sites and actually lower cortisol, a primary hormone associated with stress.

Through multiple mechanisms Ginkgo enhances brain function. Ginkgo has been shown to actually support and enhance the function of neural tissue by protecting neurons from damage, and also regenerating neurons.

Ginkgo leaves protect the brain and cardivascular system from oxidative stress, and actually enhances brain function.

In a college town, many can identify with the consequences of burning the candle at both ends: forgetfulness, depression, general cerebral insufficiency. Ginkgo is used to restore brain function in generally healthy adults experiencing mental exhaustion or attention deficit.

Research shows Ginkgo has prevented beta-amyloid plaques implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, and has enhanced neurogenesis in the hippocampus, a significant memory area of the brain.

Ginkgo’s circulatory support enhances the blood flow by preventing damaging oxidation to lipids, or fats, in the arteries and capillaries. Studies show Ginkgo-treated red blood cells become more slippery and flexible, less sticky, which ultimately prevents atherosclerosis.

Ginkgo didn’t become internationally known for circulatory and brain support until German physician Dr. Willmar Schwabe studied its effect on circulation, oxidation and brain health. Schwabe’s extract is known as EGB761, and is the reason why Ginkgo is the most studied plant medicine in Europe.

Currently, controversial banter exists between one camp claiming the only therapeutic benefits from Ginkgo leaves can be obtained from laboratory-isolated compounds, and standardized extracts of 24 percent ginkgo flavone glycosides and 6 percent erpene lactones. The other camp states harvested young leaves from “wild” trees also are effective in supporting brain and circulatory health.

Traditional Chinese medicine utilized the seeds, which are more like nuts, more than the leaves, and each part offers different medicinal properties. The seeds are removed from the stinky flesh of the female fruit, then cooked, and utilized for lung ailments. A Chinese restaurant in the Washington, D.C., area serves Ginkgo seeds as a tasty appetizer.

Antioxidants within Ginkgos provide the power to withstand urban pollution, and grant them the approved status of acceptable trees for city streets. If they’re male, that is. Female fruits smell like rotting flesh in order to attract animals to serve as seed distributors. Although this works for the tree, it’s off-putting for the human olfactory senses.

Ginkgos offer a gloriously uniform, canary-yellow brilliance in the fall, which flutter down, covering the sidewalks, so that above and below is completely gold. During this mesmerizing phenomenon, it is the best week to be strolling through downtown Athens.

This article originally appeared in the Urban Forager Column of Athens Banner-Herald on Sunday, November 7, 2010.

Perilla frutescens (shiso) is a novel vegetable

Perilla frutescens var. crispa, shiso, in Crawford, GA. Notice the ruffled edges.

Perilla frutescens, a relatively new green-leafy vegetable introduced to North America from Asia and naturalizing throughout the eastern US, is popular in Asian dishes and a source of expensive omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements.

Growing in the Athens area are two variants: one is called shiso (Perilla frutescens var. crispa), which is either green or purplish-burgundy with ruffled, deeply serrated edges, and the other is egoma (Perilla frutescens var. frutescens), which has flat, green leaves with serrated edges.

When identifying either variety of Perilla, a distinguishing characteristic is in the anise-basil smell of the foliage when it’s crushed. Since Perilla’s in the mint family (Lamiaceae), it will have a square stem. Flowers rise up on four-sided stalks, resembling basil, but are taller and more pronounced. I usually find Perilla in a moist, semi-shade habitat, such as the Fred Birchmore Nature Trail in Athens.

Listing the health-promoting properties of Perilla would appear to place it in a panacea, cure-all category of potential world crops. Evidenced-based research matches the claims, which might make this a top-ten plant in usefulness.

Perilla frutescens var. frutescens, egoma, on the Fred Birchmore Trail in Athens.

Perilla’s antimutagenic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities lend it to be a traditional herb for treating cancerous tumors in Asia. Research studies of Perilla leaf extract have found the herb efficacious in treating human leukemia and human hepatoma cells by increasing apoptosis-related genes and apoptosis (programmed cell death) in the cancer cells. In one study on liver cancer, scientists compared the Perilla leaf extract to rosmarinic acid, a potent antioxidant compound found in high quantities in Perilla, to determine whether the activity is attributed to the rosmarinic acid. The study found the whole-leaf extract of Perilla was significantly more effective than the isolated constituent—a possible argument for wholeness.

Scientific studies have also verified the efficacy of using Perilla as an antidepressant. The studies were based on a Japanese herbal remedy which uses Perilla for its effect on depression associated with chronic unpredictable stress. There’s a lot of that going around.

Oil extracted from the seeds is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids, and can be an alternative to fish oil. Perilla oil has a neuroprotective and cardiovascular-protective effect, and is a possible preventative for strokes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

There’s no need to make an alcohol tincture or water extract of Perilla because it’s an excellent, flavorful, cooked veggie, which has up to five times the carotene found in carotene-rich vegetables. Nutrition studies compared Perilla to spinach and found Perilla to be significantly higher in lutein than spinach. In addition to the carotenes, Perilla has an abundant supply of antioxidants, such as rosmarinic acid, flavonoids, and anthocyanins.

The omega-3-rich seeds of the flat-leaf Perilla can be used as a topping for salads or a spice. In Japanese cooking, the leaves of the ruffled-leaf Perilla are dredged in tempura batter and fried. The purple leaf variety is added to vinegars, pickled foods and rice to give flavor, a pinkish hue, and antimicrobial properties.

There’s no telling who is responsible for introducing Perilla to the US, but since it’s here, I’ll learn how to put it to good use.

Super antioxidants found in local muscadines

Vitis rotundifolia, unripe muscadines. Scuppernongs are muscadines that are bronzeish green, and dark muscadines start off green, as in the photo, and turn purple-black.

What loves a hot, humid summer? Muscadines do.

These rambling grape vines thrive in the Southern heat as no other grape will. They’re so full of vitality they can pull down mature trees. Truly, this is a plant with vigor.

Actually, the muscadine is clever. To propagate, the muscadine needs to produce fruit, which contain its seed, and it needs sunlight for maximum fruit production. Although it isn’t a climbing vine, like English ivy, it compensates for what it lacks. On the forest floor, where sunlight is at a premium, the young muscadines get friendly and hitch themselves to sapling trees. As the tree reaches to the light, the vine rides on its coattails, growing to match the rate of the tree’s speed of growth, so its roots aren’t pulled from the ground. Eventually, the great weight of the muscadine, thanks to its exposure to sunlight enabled by the tree, will take down its companion, finding itself back on the forest floor. The mother vine then will hope her progeny will meet and attach themselves to nice saplings so they can together ride to the light.

Something we can learn from the muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) is longevity, which we also might experience when we introduce muscadine grapes and leaves into our diet.

Everyone’s heard about the benefits of red wine, with the goodies being in the skin. All berries that are red, blue, purple and black have anti-aging polyphenolic flavonoid compounds called anthocyanins. The black-purple berries of the native Southeastern muscadine vine have more anthocyanins than any European grape.

The bronze-colored muscadines are called scuppernongs, and have less anthocyanins, than the black.

Besides anthocyanins, other polyphenols in muscadine, such as ellagic acid, maintain health for every part of the body by a protecting gene expression and inhibiting cellular damage from free radicals. Increased immune, heart and brain function and decreased inflammation contributing to cancer development are some of the remarkable, longevity-promoting effects of muscadines.

Muscadines have been cultivated in the South since the 16th century, and they’re also invasively abundant. It’s a puzzler why this grape isn’t more popular. University of Georgia researchers at the Nutraceutical Research Laboratory are working to promote Georgia’s agricultural crop of muscadines for export, providing research that the muscadine is more potent in antioxidants than the high-priced, imported, exotic Acai berry.

Value-added muscadine products, such as wines, jams and juices, will increasingly find a market. Entrepreneurial community gardens might cooperatively find a boost by cultivating muscadines as produce and for value-added products. The grapes, which have a tough skin and tolerate the Georgia climate, have a long shelf life, and ship well. Growers need to know that nonhybridized varieties require a male and female vine to produce fruit.

The leaves also contain polyphenols and make a delicious, locavore substitute for Greek stuffed grape leaves, known as dolmas. Harvest 20 to 30 of the largest muscadine leaves, brine them, stuff with a millet-raisin mixture, roll and steam, and you have healthy hors d’oeuvres.

Stuffed muscadine leaves, local dolmas

Recipe for stuffed muscadine leaves. Based on a recipe from Wildman Steve Brill.

Pick 30 of the largest and prettiest muscadine leaves you can find. Rinse them well. Cut off the stems. Brine them for a few minutes in 2 quarts of boiling water with 2 tablespoons of sea salt. Drain, and then rinse them again in cold water. Set them aside.

Stuffing: Mix together 2 cups of cooked millet or brown rice; 1 cup of feta; 1/2 cup of raisins chopped into smaller pieces; 2 tablespoons of chopped green onions; 2 tablespoons of parsley; 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts (excellent ingredient); 1 teaspoon of rosemary; 1/2 teaspoon of paprika and sage; 1/2 teaspoon of salt; a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

To stuff the leaves begin with the stem side toward you. Put a small spoonful in the center of the leaf. Shape the stuffing into a inch & a half log going across the leaf. Fold the right and left sides of the leaf over the stuffing. Roll the stem-side over the stuffing until it meets the tip of the leaf. Spear them through the middle with toothpicks.

Steam them in a large enamel pot. Add 4 cups of stock or water to the pot, 8 cloves of peeled garlic, and chopped ginger. Find a steaming basket or shelf to place the stuffed muscadines on. Steam for 30-40 minutes. You could cook in a large skillet on the stove top, or bake them in a casserole dish. In both cases you would add the stock or water to the cookware.

Make the sauce in a blender with 1/4 c almonds, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 c tahini, 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger; 6 cloves of peeled garlic. Spoon over the rolls after they are on a buffet platter or served on a plate.

These stuffed muscadine leaves (dolmas) are really good. They were a hit at my last herb walk and wild foods lunch. Don’t expect them to taste the same as Falafel King’s, though, which are a delicacy. The way they are made is different.

Let me know if you make this.

This article originally appeared in my Sunday Urban Forager column of the Athens Banner-Herald, August 15, 2010.

Powerfoods high in glutathione aid in detoxing

Asparagus and avocado are the 2 highest foods in glutathione.

We may not deliberately poison ourselves, but we are exposed to poisonous toxins in our air, water, food and drinks, and clothing. Our body works hard to keep toxins from entering into our tissues and cells. The #1 most important antioxidant for free radical protection is also mega important for detoxification: glutathione. We make glutathione in the body (it’s called glutathione conjugation), and we can also find it in our food.

Glutathione prevents accelerated aging and many diseases associated with toxins and the degeneration of the body: cancer, liver disease, dementia, mood disorders, cataracts, etc. Many lifestyle factors and diseases use large amounts of glutathione, thus causing a deficiency, which leads to liver dysfunction and disease. Heavy alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, exposure to organophosphates (food pesticides) and other environmental chemicals all use existing body levels of glutathione. We need to actively replenish our glutathione levels.

Asparagus is the highest tested food of glutathione. The second highest is avocado, and the third is purslane (Continue reading about wonder-food purslane in the previous post). An important note about avocado: not only does it contain glutathione, but it also contains GOOD fats. An avocado-enriched diet will lower bad LDL cholesterol more than a diet high in complex carbohydrates, according to clinical trials.

In addition to the three powerfoods listed above, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, cooked fish, and grass-fed meat will also contribute to your glutathione reserve. Glutathione is easily absorbed from digested food, so work these into your menu plan as often as you can.

Other ways of increasing glutathione are by eating foods and herbs that enable the synthesis or conjugation of glutathione to occur. Silymarin, a constituent from milk thistle (Silybum marianum), increases the rate of glutathione conjugation. It also prevents damage to the liver through protection from free radicals and increasing the rate of liver tissue regeneration. 70-200mg three times a day is a reasonable dose.

Foods in the Brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts) and limonene-containing foods (dill weed oil, caraway oil, and citrus peel) all help with glutathione conjugation, as well.

Be kind to your liver. It is the source of longevity and vision (both literal eyesight and metaphorical insight, dreams, and creative life plans).  Your liver is under considerable stress everyday. If you give it a hand, you will reap the benefits of a long and healthy life.

Ahhh, coffee…

Finally, the research is out on coffee’s benefits. This statement in the article “Coffee’s Mysterious Benefits Mount” should be emphasized: “Coffee contains more than a thousand chemicals, some of which have antioxidant and antimutagenic activities,” Mia Hashibe, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Utah and the study’s lead researcher, told Life’s Little Mysteries.

Too often, we have portrayed fruits, vegetables, herbs and animal products to contain a simple composition of ingredients. We hear something is high in C, E, D, A, omega-3s, good fats, antioxidants, polyphenols… The reality is that plants have hundreds to thousands of chemical compounds in them which researchers have yet to figure out what they do in a human body. The chemistry going on between food and drink and our bodies is far more complex than media and advertising conveys. Often, the antioxidants in a food have unheard-of-names and offer more health benefits than the vitamin C the food contains.

This coffee study also demonstrates that in research you can get what you’re looking for. If they’re looking for health risks, they’ll emphasize the risks. If it’s health benefits, then the research will emphasize the benefits. I think the yahoo article shows a good balance of benefits and risks of coffee.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/coffeesmysteriousbenefitsmount

Mint Water: Refreshing & Uplifting

About this time of year in Georgia, adding mint leaves to your chilled water can do the body-mind good.

Mint water in my recycled glass pitcher

Not only does it taste refreshing, but a study published in 2010* shows that all varieties of mint studied are capable of relieving anxiety and lifting your mood. Research also showed that mints are neuroprotective, containing antioxidants which protect central nervous system cells from oxidative stress.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) had the highest amount of antioxidants and mood lifting qualities out of all the mints studied. Water mint (Mentha aquatica) had the highest potential for lowering anxiety.

Mint is so incredibly easy to grow anywhere. Give it room to roam, or grow it in pots. And use it liberally! You can either chop the leaves or add them whole as they are in the photo. The aromatic oils will quickly flavor the water in minutes.

I also add a little mint (spearmint) to my potato salad which gives it a little pizazz.

*Lopez, V., et al (2010). Neuroprotective and neurochemical properties of mint extracts.     Phytotherapy Research, 24, 869-874.

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