Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What is Holistic Herbalism?


My approach to herbs is called "Holistic herbalism." In this video, I describe what that is, and why it is so powerful.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Miso Soup for the Soul

Chickpea miso is mellow, tasty and made without soy.
Freshly harvested immature daikon radishes.
I spent some time in progressive Japanese home kitchens with women cooking thoroughly excellent traditional cuisine with an experimental twist. They all explained that miso soup is the best for anyone recovering from anything. This recipe is the result of what I learned in Japan synthesized with my tastes and ingredient availability. Though this miso soup recipe is not traditional, the freshness of the ingredients and the basic, naked flavors are aligned with the Japanese culinary tradition

Miso is a fermented soy paste from Japan traditionally used to flavor a brothy soup. There are actually thousands of different types of miso in Japan, much like cheeses or wines in France. In this country, we only have a few available to us. Experiment with a few different brands and types to see which is your favorite, as each has a distinct flavor. My favorite type of miso is a red miso that I get at an Asian grocery in Seattle called Uwajimaya. It’s organic, and made in Japan. Be sure to check the ingredients, which should not be more than; soybeans, salt, koji, rice, and aspergillus oryzae. There are some adulterated products out there.

Miso itself is a great long-term health tonic. Miso is a high-quality protein that comes with a great amount of other nutrients. There was a study in Japan after the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings that showed people with a diet high in natural miso were less effected by the radiation. Vital stuff.

Traditional miso soup uses a soup stock called “dashi”, made from fish. I was taught this method of making vegetarian broth by the chef at a natural foods restaurant I stayed at in Kyushuu. I really love this method because it incorporates seaweed and shiitake mushrooms, which are two incredibly healing foods.

Miso Soup

2 cups filtered or spring water
1 tsp or a piece of a seaweed*
4-6 fresh shiitake mushrooms**

1/2 cup daikon radish, diced (or the same amount of potato)
one small carrot, diced

3 cloves garlic
½ inch piece of ginger
¼ cup chopped cilantro (coriander)
¼ cup chopped green onion

1-2 Tbsp miso (depending on taste preference)***

Put two cups of water in a pot on med-high. Add seaweed. Slice mushrooms and add. Let the seaweed and the mushrooms simmer together for 5 minutes to develop a good flavorful broth base. Dice sweet potato and carrot to about a cm thick and add to pot. Simmer until they are cooked through (probably about 5 minutes).

Meanwhile, mince the garlic, chop the parsley and green onion and get your grater out to grate the ginger directly into the soup. It should be boiling by the time you are done with that. First things first- grate the ginger (probably equivalent to about a tablespoon) directly into the pot. Ginger lovers can do more, ginger haters less. At this time, test both daikon and a carrot for doneness by sticking your fingernail in gently. Look for a nice give- but don’t let it get mushy. We are going for minimal cooking here to retain nutrients.

When they are done cooking, turn the heat off and add the garlic, parsley and green onions to the pot and let sit. Get a soup bowl out and add the miso to the empty bowl. Add about ¼ cup of just the soup broth to the bowl with the miso and mix in with a fork. This is to keep the miso alive† and to incorporate it most easily. Then, add the rest of the soup and enjoy. Avocado is a wonderful addition to the soup at this point- try it out, you may never be the same.

*Seaweeds that work best: dulse (flakes or strips), nori (loose, not formed into sheets for sushi), kelp (kombu in Japanese), arame all work

**A note on mushrooms: Dried mushrooms work also, but need to be boiled in the broth for 10 minutes before adding other ingredients to ensure their softness. Dried mushrooms have the benefit of imparting more flavor to the broth, though fresh mushrooms have a more enjoyable texture. Maitake mushrooms are wonderful in addition or instead of shiitake. If fresh beech mushrooms or enoki mushrooms are available, these also are a tasty addition, though maitake and shiitake should still be used because of their strong flavors.

*** A note on miso: For subtle misos like chickpea or mellow white miso, you may need to add a little more, or spot it with a splash of wheat-free tamari (soy sauce made without gluten) to live up to your tasty desires. However, some people prefer the subtler flavors. When it comes to hatcho miso or barley miso (very dark brown in color and sharp to taste), you may want to combine it with a mellower miso. Basically- experiment and feel free to tailor the recipe to your own tastes.

† Never add miso directly to the boiling water because it contains beneficial organisms and enzymes that will die if overheated. Always add it after the soup has been taken off the heat. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Occupy Your Body

Taking control of your own health is now a revolutionary act.

Pharmaceuticals drugs and the medical system that goes with it promote the disease paradigm, and create a tendency to ignore the problem or to be satisfied with an incomplete and impermanent solution. Furthermore, the whole industry is rife with environmental and social corruption. It is of course in the interest of those with the bulging bank accounts that we continue to go to the doctor, that we continue to support the modern medical establishment, and that we continue to take pills for our ills forever. We are often not aware that there are other options, because our doctors are often not aware of them.

I refuse to support an establishment that hides from truth in its narrow-mindedness, bureaucracy and greed. Instead, I choose a pragmatic, self-originated and holistic approach to my own health (which is so much cheaper, it’s ridiculous). We have the right to control our own health and to know about our own bodies.

Holistic medicine emphasizes prevention and self-care above all else. It looks for the root cause—be it emotional or physical—and seeks deeply effective solutions that usually have nothing to do with taking a pill. It’s about facing your shit, making the life you love and having an awesome time while doing it. Furthermore, this approach to health reduces reliance on a system that lies, pollutes and profits from it.

One key part of the holistic medicine paradigm is using plants as medicine, or herbalism. Humans have been using plant medicine since before we were ‘humans’. Plant medicine is the culmination of millions of years of co-evolution. Most animals intuitively target specific plants to self-treat specific conditions; even cancer and deadly parasites. It is commonly known that a companzee will ingest the leaves of Aspilia when they are afflicted with oesophagostomum (a nematode resembling hook worm) parasites. The Aspilia leaves are highly toxic, and yet the chimpanzees know to consume them folded like accordions, so that the bristles rake out and kill the nematodes and leave the chimp unaffected. There are many examples of animals observed using plants for specific medicinal purposes.

The medicine in plants comes from “secondary chemicals,” used to defend themselves from threats, heal themselves from exposure to threats, or to receive information about potential threats. When we consume that plant, the complex chemical cocktail works within us to defend, heal and inform in our bodies. A few confounding studies in particular have shown that despite the want to refine and define active chemicals in plants to make pills, plants are most harmoniously effective and have little to no side effects when used in their whole forms (tea, tincture, capsules, etc.).

Another key piece of holistic health is nutrition, and the last and most important is emotional and spiritual health. I will not speak in depth about these in this particular article for brevity’s sake, but know that these play super important roles in everyone’s lives.

To use whole plants as medicine in this age is to say "I trust my direct experience above the limited truth I am being presented." The people that are doing medical research are caught in the same system that seeks to profit from pharmaceutical sales, so a system that undermines the roots of that profit (holistic medicine) and lowers the need for those drugs will not be supported. Scientific research is often biased and corrupt because of this dynamic. We inherited this corruption from medieval Europe. It is time for us to chuck that whole uncaring system out the window and deeply listen to our bodies and minds. My body says that eating more vegetables and less pills rocks. My mind says that clear communication and free emotional expression make life great.  What does yours say? 

Friday, January 13, 2012

SuperHeroes Drink Juice for Breakfast

Drinking fresh juice is a totally transcendent way of getting a direct and pure infusion of minerals and vitamins. I am not talking about bottled juice that has been pasteurized- I'm talking about juice you've JUST made from fresh ingredients in your kitchen. Juice loses a lot of its potency when it sits for long periods, and especially when its pasteurized. Yuck. Freshly made juice has the most kick in the first 15 minutes after you've made it. It contains live enzymes, sensitive vitamins and minerals and antioxidants that go directly into your body rather than being complicated by excess fiber, fat and protein. For this reason, it's best to drink juice at least 2 hours after eating solid foods and 15 minutes before eating solid foods. Naturally, the morning is the best time. There has been revolutionary work done by people like Max Gerson (The Gerson Therapy) and Gabriel Cousens (Tree of Life) using fresh juice as a base to heal degenerative diseases like cancer.

In the evolved food pyramid, greens replace grains at the bottom. They are the foundation of our everyday diet. Greens are the one food we can eat all the time. Consuming them in juice form brings their cleansing and nutrifying properties directly into our systems. You WILL feel high after consuming green juice.

In my most recent workshop, we learned how to make green juice in a blender. Even though we have two juicers in our cabinet, I prefer to use the blender method for greens because I find it gets way more out of the juice, and there's less to clean.

Green Juice
1-3 handfuls of greens (dandelion greens, parsley, kale, cilantro, cleavers, mint, mustard, hairy bittercress, broadleaf or narrowleaf plantain, chickweed...)
enough water to blend

Put greens into blender and add water. Blend for a minute or so- as finely as possible. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or a piece of rough cloth. You will have a smooth juice of the plant that is bright green. Reprocess the pulp with another batch of water and another strain to really get your money's worth. Go for it.

Here's the recipe for one more blender juice that's a little more sophisticated than the one above. I made it today, and it's actually the inspiration for this post. I had the realization when drinking it that it is incredibly tasty. Beets have a red pigment that is an antioxidant, along with having lots of great nutrients.  The turmeric and ginger add to the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory power, the lemon helps alkalinize your body (counter intuitive, but true), and the cayenne drives it all home by expanding your capillaries for maximum absorption (and may make you cry). This is a great recovery tonic if you've been feeling under the weather--especially congested or sore.

Red Juice
1 small beet, sliced
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
fresh turmeric (if available), sliced. Omit if you can't find it fresh.
fresh ginger, sliced
1 Tablespoon of raw honey (optional)
pinch of cayenne
2 cups water

Add everything to the blender with ONE cup of water (or as much as it takes to get a good blend going) and blend for a minute or so. Strain the whole mixture through a fine strainer (or cheesecloth, or rough cloth). Put pulp back in blender, add one more cup water, repeat. Drink half now and the other half later.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

To Health! Super shots for super-heroes.

Recently I've been incredibly inspired by some transcendent kitchen experiences I have had with David Richanbach, my super-food super-friend and cacao cohort. Here's the format: We upgrade an existing scene--friends taking a shot together at a bar--to something way more super--SuperHeroes taking ridiculously charged SuperShots together. Taking shots of vodka to get plastered pales in comparison to the experience of these super concentrated elixirs to get totally high on healthy stuff. I have memories of taking shots of some crazy herbal concoctions (on the road to formulating an herbal espresso) with David and jumping around the kitchen yelling. Not for those who prefer the quiet of sipping tea and reading a book.

I especially appreciate this approach because sometimes I simply don't have the patience for a full cup of tea- or for going through the whole process...etc. Shots are quick, portable and you can take them throughout the day. Take your vessel and shot material to work and let it keep you awake and on the ball! I bet your coworkers won't steal it out of the fridge.

Here are a few recipes and ideas to get you started:

-First, you will need to find your shot vessel. I use tiny tea cups that the chinese use for serving tea. They are elegant and special, which makes me feel elegant and special. If you have a special shot glass, this also goes with the ambiance. Go for about 1 fl oz.

-Second you will need to make something to fill it with. I encourage you to formulate your own with your own genius creativity. Here are some recipes that I have found:

Crying Tiger (not for the spice-sensitive)
This shot combination will have you crying. Increase amounts if you find it too weak for you. This is a great thing to take in the morning or before eating. Also great when you have a cold or general congestion. Keep a tissue on hand for nose leakage possibilities.

2 cups water
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 inch piece of grated fresh turmeric, or 1 tablespoon of dried powder
2 Tablespoons high quality honey (no need to be exact)
1/8 tsp cayenne powder (or as much or as little as you're comfortable with--this is spicy, potent stuff.)

Put all ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain with a metal fine mesh strainer. Take a shot when cool enough to drink- store the rest in the fridge while you work on it. Lasts 4 days in the fridge.

Liver Siege
Take this tonic for liver support, improved digestion and detoxification. This is a great shot to prepare for yourself when on a cleanse. You can pick the dandelion from your garden! Even this time of year. If not, some stores sell fresh greens that can be substituted.

- About 1 cup of chopped leaves and roots (whole plant) of fresh dandelion
- 1 cup filtered water- or enough to cover in blender

Blend on high until thoroughly pulverized. Strain with a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or rough weave fabric into a jar. Take a shot (1oz) 15 minutes before meals, take two in the morning.

High on ACV
Take this shot on an empty stomach for alkalinizing your body. Brush teeth after this shot, as its pretty acidic. This is a GREAT everyday shot for general health. Especially if you have problems with feeling hungry a lot, or with pH imbalance.

- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup raw apple cider vinegar, unfiltered.
- 2 Tablespoons honey
- juice of whole lemon
- 1/8 tsp cayenne if desired

Combine all ingredients in a jar and dance around with it to shake it up. Keep in fridge and take two in the morning, and before meals. Will last a week in the fridge.

Green Lantern
Green drinks are great for general health, and always make you feel great. Parsley is great for cleansing the kidneys and urinary tract and freshening the breath. Cilantro is great for dragging out heavy metals. Green superfood powders are rich in nutrients and protein.

- 1 cup water
- Big handful of fresh parsley (can use stems for this)
- Big handful of fresh cilantro (coriander, for you Brits)
- 2 tablespoons spirulina, chlorella, vitamineral green or blue green algae.

Blend parsley, cilantro and water until thoroughly blended. Its best to put as many herbs as will blend into the cup of water for maximum potency. Reduce the amount of water if you can. Strain through a fine mesh tea strainer or cheesecloth. Put in a jar, add algae and shake well. Drink all within one day in shot increments, or just go for it in one go. Do NOT make if allergic to cilantro. Replace the cilantro with more parley if averted to it.

- You can also add tinctures (alcohol extractions of herbs) to these concoctions. A welcome addition for me is always milk thistle tincture, which is great for liver regeneration! I make some great tinctures for this purpose.

-Lastly, challenge your friends. Whip it out of the fridge and prepare some shots for everyone. Wince in the intensity together. Enjoy it.

Share your stories!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Tips for Good Digestion

It's winter in Washington, and the combination of holiday food, lack of exercise and the heavier diet of the winter months has got me thinking about digestion.

Good digestion means processing smoothly without pain or damage, and assimilating the maximum amount of nutrients from the food you eat. Having good digestion is either a gift from god, or for the rest of us, a daily set of habits that create the circumstances for this magical process to occur.

For the sake of it, I also want to highlight what "impaired" digestion might look like. It can manifest as; nutrient deficiencies that won't be cured by eating more of that nutrient or supplements, acid reflux or heartburn, IBS, pain in the intestines or stomach, certain food intolerances, some skin conditions, irregular bowel movements, ulcers, leaky gut syndrome etc.

Taking care of your digestive system is a great way to ensure good health. You liver and colon especially are prime spots to cultivate vitality through good support. Your intestines also deserve some street cred, as that's where the nutrients move through the walls and get distributed. This is where absorption problems can occur.

I just cut off an enormous chunk of information, so I'll have to resolve to expand more on it in future posts. For now, I want to present a brief "toolbox" for building healthy digestion.

It's essential. Drink it in the right amounts at the right times.

- Ice water literally freezes your digestive system, so try to avoid it in general. Warm or hot water is best. At restaurants, where you would normally receive ice water, ask the server to bring you a glass of hot (free) water before your meal when people are ordering beverages. Drink it before eating to improve digestion.

- First thing in the morning, before you've put anything else in your body, drink a whole glass of water (or as much as you can stand). This will often trigger a bowel movement if your system is functioning well. This flushes your system and starts your day with a well hydrated, clean slate.

- Avoid drinking large amounts of water (or liquid) during and after meals. Drink your water at least 15 minutes before the meal on an empty stomach, especially if you have done exercise or received bodywork (massage etc). Drinking water on a full stomach dilutes the food, making the food pass quickly through without fully imparting the nutrients it has to offer. Wait an hour if you can. If you find you must, drink hot water or a digestive aid tea in a small quantity a little after the meal.

- Slow down. Chew well. Be thankful. It's easier to process smaller pieces well mixed with saliva (which contains starch-digesting enzymes) than large ones hastily gulped down. Take a moment to really savour the tastes and texture, and be thankful for the food you're eating. It's well documented by science and by people that you'll receive food better when you eat mindfully.

What do I do when I overeat?
Lets face it: Most of us overeat on occasion. Rather than attacking ourselves about it, lets accept that this occurs and learn how to deal with it.

- If you know you're going to eat a large meal (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Grandma's cooking)--especially protein and fat rich foods--use digestive bitters before the meal. Digestive Bitters are an alcoholic extract of herbs, or a liquor apertif traditionally drunk just before a meal (use a glycerine extract or tea if you don't ride the alcohol train at all). It starts getting all the good bile juices flowing from your liver and gall bladder. These juices help absorb fats and proteins more efficiently. You may find taking them before every meal makes you a more vibrant being. Yes! I sell a great Digestive Bitters tincture!

- Put a hot water bottle or warm flax seed pillow on your stomach. Heat=energy, more energy=better digestion.

- Stomach massage is a great way to physically get things moving that may be taking some time. Rub your belly clockwise (from your perspective).

- Papaya enzymes are great for those who have heartburn or acid reflux. You can get chewable ones at health food stores. Eat them with your first few bites of the meal.

- Have some ginger tincture, syrup or a straight up after the meal. Ginger helps increase circulation to the area, which speeds up absorption and all functions. It's like applying heat.

- If you overeat often, consider getting some emotional support. Eating is a way that some of us cover up or try to process our emotions. You're not weak or wrong for needing emotional support: Those that seek support are strong enough to know what they need and do something about it. Emotional support can help us learn to deal with our emotions in healthy ways that aren't self-damaging.

That's all for today. If you have certain subjects you're curious about in the realm of digestion, please let me know vis comment!