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

Posts tagged ‘diabetes’

Dig dandelion roots in the fall

Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, leaf and root can protect the liver from toxic chemicals.

Everybody knows the ubiquitous, perennial dandelion, but not everybody appreciates dandelions if they take up residency in their yard. Becoming familiar with dandelion’s uses might lead someone to think twice before taking a dandelion’s life.

In the most jovial of uses, dandelion flowers are a favorite childhood material for necklace making, and the geometric seed-globes provide an endless source for blowing wishes.

Used as food and medicine for thousands of years, dandelions are a standby for herbalists and wild food foragers. Originally native to Eurasia, common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) was introduced to North America in the mid-17th century. Due to dandelion’s skill in self-propagation, its introduction to the New World was likely an intention of the human and of the plant.

Medicinal actions of dandelion could be summed up as simply cleansing. The leaf and root are considered an alterative, meaning they cleanse the blood of waste debris produced by our immune system and metabolism. Back when doctors used plants for medicine, they utilized dandelion for treating cases of “autointoxication,” a self-poisoning condition resulting from sedentary lifestyles, and diets of refined flour and high saturated fat.

Recent research demonstrates dandelion leaf and root protect the liver from heavy toxins, such as carbon tetrachloride, also known as Freon. My auto mechanic explained how he digs dandelion roots from his yard to brew, which he learned from his grandmother. As an auto mechanic, exposed to toxins, his dandelion brew is great for his liver.

Dandelion’s saw-toothed leaves are diuretic and high in potassium salts, supporting kidney health. The vitamin-rich leaf is higher in vitamin A than carrots, and also contains vitamins B, C and D.

Spring greens are tasty in salads, tossed with dandelion flowers for a splash of color. From late summer into fall, leaves grow bitter, which fosters good digestion. Add bitter fall leaves to sweet vegetables like beets, parsnips and sweet potatoes to balance the flavor.

Dandelion roots stimulate the release of bile from the gallbladder, which helps to prevent gallstone formation, and has historically been used to treat existing gallstones. The taproot also is a gentle liver tonic used in chronic hepatitis. Current research demonstrated dandelion root induces apoptosis, or cell death, in leukemia cell lines.

Dandelion roots contain inulin, a nonstarch polysaccharide fiber technically called fructo-oligosaccharide, which prevents fluctuations in blood sugar levels, while also feeding the good flora bacteria in the gut. Good intestinal bacteria play a significant role in a healthy immune system.

Fall is the best time for dandelion root digging due to the significantly higher inulin content. Fresh roots are best, and can either be boiled, also called decocted, or roasted and used as a coffee substitute or additive. An herbal colleague makes dandelion root ice cream, which is surprisingly delicious.

After a cost-benefit analysis of herbicidal consequences versus dandelion’s virtues, hopefully one will concede that it’s better to round them up with trowels and spades, and eat them, rather than using chemicals.

This article originally appeared in the Urban Forager Column of the Athens Banner-Herald, Sunday, November 21, 2010.

Dandelion Recipes:

Roasted Dandelion Coffee: Roast cleaned dandelion roots on a cookie sheet for 4 hours until the roots easily snap and the insides are brown. Use a coffee grinder to grind the roots. For interest, add cardamon before brewing the dandelion coffee.

Euell Gibbons’ Dandelion Wine: “Gather 1 gallon of dandelion flowers on a dry day. Put these in a 2-gallon crock and pour 1 gallon of boiling water over them. Cover the jar and allow the flowers to steep for 3 days. Strain through a jelly cloth so you can squeeze all the liquid from the flowers. Put the liquid in a kettle, add 1 small ginger root, the thinly pared peels and the juice of 3 oranges and 1 lemon. Stir in 3 pounds of sugar and boil gently for 20 minutes. Return the liquid to the crock and allow it to cool until barely lukewarm. Spread 1/2 cake of yeast on a piece of toasted rye bread and float it on top. Cover the crock with a cloth and keep in a worm room for 6 days. Then strain off the wine into a gallon jug, corking it loosely with a wad of cotton. Keep in a dark place for 3 weeks, then carefully decant into a bottle and cap or cork tightly. Don’t touch it until Christmas or later” (pp. 81-82).

Gibbons, E. (1962). Stalking the wild asparagus. Chambersburg, PA: Alan C. Hood & Co.

Get your vitamins and omega-3s with purslane

Purslane growing in Hull St. "vegetable garden". Loaded in omega-3s, purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is the eigth most widespread plant in the world.

You may never have been formally introduced to this little plant, but by the time you finish reading, you’ll be glad to know this wild superfood, which is actually the eighth most widespread plant in the world.

Purslane /Portulaca oleracea/ is a succulent annual that crawls along compacted soil. Its thick and fleshy leaves grow from a reddish stem, and its teeny, yellow flowers bloom only in daylight. Purslane is highly heat and drought-tolerant, perfect for cultivating in an Athens edible landscape. Between Trapeze Pub and Casa Mia on Hull Street, a unique vegetable garden grows. Where other vegetables are wilting from the heat and lack of watering, purslane is thriving.

Notice the reddish stem of the succulent purslane.

Ancient cultures worldwide have relied on purslane as a green leafy powerhouse vegetable par excellence. Though the weed may not be native, non-agricultural people of the Pacific Northwest foraged for purslane prior to European contact, proving that puslane has been in North America for quite some time. Among the Greeks, Cretans and Turks in the Mediterranean, purslane is a favorite wild vegetable to collect.

If stranded in a remote area, you would be fine if purslane were growing nearby. In fact, you’d probably be a lot healthier. Studies show that purslane’s nutritive value of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants is superior to cultivated foods. According to the USDA and Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, president of The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, DC, “Purslane is the richest vegetable source of omega-3 fatty acids.” Within this little weed is the omega-3s in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and antioxidants, such as phenolic compounds, alpha-tocopherol (a vitamin E), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A) and glutathione (a compound which metabolizes toxins in the small intestines and prevents their transport to other tissues in the body).

Purslane’s yield of omega-3 ALAs far surpasses any other non-aquatic source, that it just might convert you to foraging. ALAs are a proven cardio-protective nutrient, and its antioxidant-rich content means that purslane is a powerful superfood that can protect against cancer. In Trinidad and Tobago, purslane is a common herb used for diabetes mellitus. A study in mice with diabetes mellitus found a decrease in blood glucose, increase in good HDL cholesterol and a decrease in triglycerides when the mice consumed purslane. The U.S. has overlooked this weed to the detriment of our health.

Eaten raw, this culinary weed adds a delightful, juicy, sour crispness to salad, or it’s also delicious cooked like spinach. One study found that the ALA content was higher in purslane exposed to low temperatures, so you might want to put purslane you’ve just collected in the fridge for an hour before eating.

But wait, there’s more. Remember all the concern a few years ago about bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics? Purslane, the wonder-plant, can remove BPA from water in 24 hours, according to a Japanese study. Soon, purslane will be put to work in phytoremediation of contaminated industrial wastewater. Purslane keeps delivering the goods.

This article appeared in the Athens Banner Herald, June 27, 2010.

Backyard Abundance

Happy with their harvest.

Question: How do you feed your family when grocery and gas prices are going up?

How do you get your child to eat his or her vegetables?

How do you get your kids off the couch and outside?

The Answer to all of the above: Grow your own food!

10,000 years ago at the time of the first agricultural revolution, when people complained about having to walk so far to get their food, the answer was the same: Grow your own food! After 10,000 years, we seem to have the same transportation problem: excessive energy output for less food results. Another agricultural revolution is at hand. I’m calling it “Backyard Abundance” or maybe “Edible Landscapes”. You might be amazed at how much food is produced from one inexpensive, little packet of seeds. My sister, Heidi, found out how easy it is to have backyard abundance, and her kids are learning, too.

It all started with the tomato plants she grew along the fence near the swingset. Heidi doesn’t even like tomatoes, but her husband does, so she grew them and had her sons help her pick them as they multiplied almost out of control. Heidi said when her son Jack, age 6, is just sitting around watching TV, she can say, “Come on, let’s pick tomatoes,” and he’ll drop anything to go outside with her to the tomato patch. Her oldest son, Adam, age 7, loves to pop the cherry tomatoes directly into his mouth from the vine. You don’t get much fresher than that!

Next in the evolution of her garden, at the other corner of her backyard, she started growing parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano and chives. She then was able to go out to the backyard and snip a little bit of herbs for her dinner recipes. The amount of herbs called for in a recipe costs about $1.50 to buy in a grocery store. At a nursery, she bought the whole plant, which comes back year after year, for little more than that. When I go over to help with dinner, I bring Heidi’s three boys out to the herb patch to gather what we need for the salad dressing and have them help me make it. The two-year-old, Kyle, scoops up handfuls of fresh thyme, chives and rosemary and chews them up. I have to go out and harvest more because he’s eaten so much.

For Adam’s fifth birthday, I bought him five blueberry bushes for the backyard. I gave him blueberry bushes specifically because Adam has Type-I Diabetes, and blueberries are very good for helping with the health complications that might come with diabetes. I thought it is never too early to build healthy capillaries and instill good eating practices, which are important for everyone, and even more important to Adam’s long-term health.

When Heidi saw my gift, she said, “I don’t think they’ll like blueberries.” I came prepared. The little bushes weren’t in fruit, yet, so I brought a pint of fresh blueberries with me to show them what the bushes would produce later that year. When they looked at the bowl of smooth, dark, bluish-black berries, they turned their little noses up. I took a few and started munching, exaggerating my “yums” until they slowly edged up to me and tried one. The blueberries became a hit. Adam, who was 5 at the time, and Jack, who was 3, wanted more. I told them they were lucky to have bushes in their backyard that would grow more blueberries later during the summer. Suddenly, they were excited. Now, they get many pints of berries each year, but it’s hard to really know how much they get because they eat so many of them right off the bush.

Heidi and Mike, her husband, let a few canes of blackberries grow along the fence, so they all harvested enough berries for a few cobblers. This spring Heidi added a muscadine vine that grows next to the tomatoes. Right now it’s loaded with grapes that are too hard to pick, but we’re all waiting for them to ripen so we may try them.

Unripe Muscadines, very high in antioxidants, like resveratrol!

The most recent addition to Heidi’s garden came late this spring when I brought over a packet of cucumber and pumpkin seeds. They had one more corner area along the fence that would be a good place for them, I thought. I sank the seeds into the ground with the boys helping me with spades and trowels. A few weeks later I get a call from my nephew Jack, telling me excitedly about all of the sprouts. In early July, he calls me again and tells me, “We’ve got cucumbers growing everywhere! But we have to wait for them to get 6 inches long before we can pick them.” A few days later I had the joy of sharing the very first cucumber off their vine, which was the very first cucumber Jack ever ate. He wouldn’t eat them before, but now that he has taken a part in their growing, his taste has changed.

We’re all eagerly watching the pumpkins in the pumpkin patch start to turn a beautiful orange. The boys already have one picked out to carve for Halloween. I’m thinking about pies and soups.

Kyle, the Pumpkin, and the Cuke

A week ago when we were out collecting cucumbers, the boys asked, “When these die, what can we plant next?” I smiled at my sister, and we started thinking out loud: “broccoli, collards, salad greens, peas, beans…” as we went through the seasons in our mind. I’ve been trying to talk Heidi into getting a fig tree, but she’s not crazy about it.

It probably sounds like Heidi and her family have a huge backyard, but it’s actually not that big. I added a picture of the backyard so readers could see that she lives in a typical Suburban-Atlanta subdivision with a smallish backyard. I really want readers to understand how possible it is to grow one’s own food. We haven’t done the math, but Heidi’s family and everyone she has shared her abundance with has saved money on groceries. Plus, her kids are actively involved in the revolutionary learning process of getting outside, counting the produce, watching the cycle of the seasons, learning what time of year certain foods ripen, the botanical parts of plants, and wanting to eat their harvest. That’s priceless.

Heidi's Backyard. Top left is the pumpkin and cucumber patch. Top right is the muscadine on the fence and tomatoes behind the swing set. The blueberries, blackberries and herbs are to the right of the camera, not visible.

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