Category Archives: Garden

The Medicinal Uses of Honey

Over the past two years, our family has embarked on an adventure into the world of beekeeping–and an adventure it has been! We have all enjoyed suiting up and walking out to the field to tend the hives. Between observing their behavior, learning how to care for bees and beehives,, collecting swarms, and processing honey we have learned and enjoyed so much about having these amazing and beneficial creatures in our backyard.

While honey has been used for thousands of years for its healing properties, there are many scientific studies that have recently established its utility for a number of issues. It is anti-inflammatory, moisturizing, antimicrobial, and promotes healing. In my mind, honey is best used to heal the skin and membranes of the mouth and nasal cavity from wounds and infections. Honey promotes wound healing by killing bacteria, reducing the size of the wound, improving the growth of healthy new cells, and decreasing scarring. It is postulated that antioxidant properties of honey improve wound healing by decreasing free radical damage.

There have been many studies that have shown the ability of honey to kill infectious bacteria, primarily because of the presence of hydrogen peroxide in the honey. When tested against mupirocin (a common topical antibacterial), honey worked equally well to kill meticillin resistant staph aureus (MRSA) that was growing in the nasal cavity. Some types of honey, such as manuka honey, also contain a chemical called methylglyoxyl, which is not as easily deactivated by enzymes in human blood. This gives these types of honey even greater antibacterial activity.

My favorite use of honey is for assisting in the healing from upper respiratory infections. It soothes the mouth and throat, decreases the cough response, and decreases any bacteria that could be aggravating the infection. Most people are familiar with the old time remedy of honey and lemon in water to soothe a sore throat and decrease a cough. Multiple studies have shown the ability of honey to decrease coughing, particularly at night. When tested against dextromethorphan (robitussin), diphenhydramine (benadryl), levidroproprazine (an antitussive more common in Europe) salbutamol (albuterol) and placebo, honey worked as well or better than all of these except dextromethorphan for decreasing cough and helping to sleep without being woken by that cough. Given the potential for side effects of all of the above medications and the efficacy of honey, it a no-brainer to try this first for treating that cough that’s keeping you up at night.

With this in mind, I use honey as the base for my cough and cold syrup that I make for my patients and my family during the cold and flu season. I make an herbal extract with a combination of herbs, including licorice root and yerba mansa to assist in healing the lining of the mouth, throat, and nose, osha to clear out mucus, wild cherry bark to decrease the compulsion to cough, and elderberry to stimulate the immune system. This mixture is combined with local honey and turned into a tasty and effective syrup that I call “Dr. Kaycie’s Slime Buster”. It is safe and effective for kids over the age of 12 months as well as adults. Feel free to let me know if you want to know more about it!

Molan P1, Rhodes T2.Honey: A Biologic Wound Dressing.Wounds. 2015 Jun;27(6):141-51.
Morroni G1, Alvarez-Suarez JM2,3, Brenciani A1 et al. Comparison of the Antimicrobial Activities of Four Honeys From Three Countries (New Zealand, Cuba, and Kenya).Front Microbiol. 2018 Jun 25;9:1378.
Willix DJ1, Molan PC, Harfoot CG. A comparison of the sensitivity of wound-infecting species of bacteria to the antibacterial activity of manuka honey and other honey.J Appl Bacteriol. 1992 Nov;73(5):388-94.

Abd Jalil MA1, Kasmuri AR, Hadi H. Stingless Bee Honey, the Natural Wound Healer: A Review.Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2017;30(2):66-75.
Oryan A1, Alemzadeh E2, Moshiri A3.Biological properties and therapeutic activities of honey in wound healing: A narrative review and meta-analysis.J Tissue Viability. 2016 May;25(2):98-118.
Poovelikunnel TT1, Gethin G2, Solanki D3, et al. Randomized controlled trial of honey versus mupirocin to decolonize patients with nasal colonization of meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. J Hosp Infect. 2018 Feb;98(2):141-148.
Honey for acute cough in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Mar 14;(3):
Miceli Sopo S1, Greco M2, Monaco S2 et al. Effect of multiple honey doses on non-specific acute cough in children. An open randomised study and literature review.Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2015 Sep-Oct;43(5):449-55.
Oduwole O1, Meremikwu MM, Oyo-Ita A, Udoh EE. Honey for acute cough in children. Evid Based Child Health. 2014 Jun;9(2):401-44.

Oduwole O1, Udoh EE, Oyo-Ita A, Meremikwu MM.:Honey for acute cough in children.Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Apr 10;4

Homemade Sauerkraut: Improve Digestion, Prevent Cancer

There is a farm at my children’s school, and every Thursday afternoon they host a farm stand where parents and students can buy fresh veggies, goat milk products, and homemade goodies. A few weeks ago, I stopped by the stand and encountered some truly amazing produce–a head of cabbage so giant I thought I was back in Alaska. I passed on buying it, not knowing what I’d actually do with the beast, but I went home and thought about it all night, came up with a plan, and the next day headed back to the farm to see if there were more. The farmer generously took me out to the field and found me this beauty. I brought this leafy 15-pounder home and started shredding.IMG_1105

Making Sauerkraut:
It turns out making sauerkraut is a relatively simple process: it requires cabbage, salt, and a good vessel for storage. I bought a large crock for making vinegar a few years ago so I decided to use this. I would recommend using something nonreactive and not plastic, so crockery or glass are good options. According to Alton Brown, my go-to resource for all cooking projects that seem a bit more like chemistry, for every 5lbs of cabbage, use 3Tbsp pickling salt (I used kosher salt and doubled the amount). He also uses 1 Tbsp of juniper berries and 2 tsp caraway, but that is optional. After shredding and mixing the cabbage with salt, pack it firmly into your sanitized fermentation vessel of choice. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, then lay a quart-sized glass jar full of water over the plate (sanitize these too).
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After a couple days, a liquid brine should form to cover the top of the cabbage, if not, add enough water to cover the cabbage. Check it every couple of days and skim the scum off the top if necessary. The sauerkraut should be ready in 10 days to 4 weeks-just take a bit out and taste it! When it is finished, pack it into sanitized quart jars and cover with brine (the spigot at the bottom of my vinegar crock was handy for this). It should keep in the refrigerator for a few months.IMG_1177

Why Sauerkraut?

In addition to being a good source of Vitamin C, B6, and iron, there are two primary health benefits to eating sauerkraut: improved digestion and cancer prevention. The digestive benefits are twofold: there are many strains of probiotic bacteria (including lactobacillus) that work together to eat the sugars in the cabbage and produce this fermented food. Eating raw sauerkraut will help to repopulate the large intestine with beneficial bacteria, which can improve digestion, relieve inflammation, and increase the strength of the immune system overall. Green cabbage is also a good source of glutamine, which is an amino acid that is the preferred food for the lining of the digestive tract. This can also help to repair damaged cells and improve the integrity of the large intestine. One word of caution; the process of fermentation can create a trisaccharide that, when consumed by the bacteria that live in the digestive tract, can cause gas for some people. The addition of caraway and juniper (as advised by Alton Brown’s recipe) can help to dispel that gas and maximize the digestive benefit of the sauerkraut.

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is the primary chemical present in sauerkraut that has been associated with cancer prevention. I3C can be found in all members of the cabbage (brassica) family, but particularly high levels have been found in cabbage that has been fermented for 7-9 days. After this length of time, I3C levels continue to remain elevated but will taper off over time. I3C has been shown to reduce proliferation (growth) of several types of cancer, including colon, prostate, breast, and leukemia. I3C has been discussed particularly in reference to prevention of breast and cervical cancers because it helps to metabolize and remove estrogens from the system. These types of cancer are frequently (though not always) dependent upon estrogen as a growth promoter. However, I3C also can help to initiate natural cell death (called apoptosis) and protect the liver against cancer-causing chemicals which is why benefit has been found for non-estrogen dependent cancers as well.

Making sauerkraut is a little adventure that yields a delicious, health promoting, and cost-saving product with flavor unrivaled by the canned store-bought types. You can purchase raw sauerkraut at many health food stores, but the cost can be upwards of $20/quart. Making it at home requires only the cost of the cabbage–mine cost about $1.30/quart, plus the glory of figuring out what to do with a cabbage the size of my torso.

Enjoy and be well!

The Incredible Dandelion: Spring Health Supporter!

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We live on the outskirts of Golden at 6200 feet, which has been right about at snow line for the past month or so. The result is that, while even the bottom of the neighborhood is decked out in tulips and lilacs, we are still (im-) patiently waiting for the profusion of blooms to hit at our house. So today when I went outside to take some photos for the newsletter, all I could find in my backyard was a big, happy, sunny patch of dandelions–which reminded me how fantastic is our friend the dandelion. Let me count the ways:

Dandelion leaves are power packed nutritionally: One serving has more than a day’s supply of Vitamins A and K, and are high in Vitamin C, Iron, and Calcium. They are also a good source of trace minerals such as Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium and Copper. The beauty of dandelion leaves is that they are a diuretic, meaning they help move excess fluid out of the body, which can be helpful during spring cleansing. On the flip side, they also replace minerals, as opposed to other diuretics which tend to leach minerals from the body.

Dandelion roots are wonderful medicine. I frequently add dandelion root to herbal formulas where gentle support to the liver is desired. This is helpful for liver conditions but also for spring cleansing, allergy support, or chronic inflammatory issues. Roasted, ground dandelion roots have also long been used as a coffee substitute.

Dandelion flowers are also edible and medicinal. The flowers can be thrown into pancakes and muffins, boiled in a sugar solution to make a lovely yellow honey-like syrup, or fermented to make wine. Studies suggest that the flavonoids found in dandelions help to prevent oxidative damage to cells and are protective to the liver.

So, even if spring hasn’t quite turned the corner into full bloom at your house, remember to look down under your feet and celebrate the return of the Dandelion. It has so many gifts to offer! (Also remember, please to only harvest in a place you know has been free from pesticides, runoff from industrial chemicals, and marking animals. 🙂

Enjoy!

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In honor of Food Day, Chef Lilly Steirer and I have been talking about some of the great ways to incorporate more nourishing foods into our diets. One of the things she asked me was to comment on some strategies for helping our kids to eat well. Kids, mine included, can be very picky eaters, so here are some of my strategies for helping them to make nutritious choices:

Repetition–Often, just having a healthy option on the table, and asking the kids to eat just a little of it, will pay off over time as they become accustomed to it.

“Deconstructed” meals–One thing that has been helpful for getting my kids to eat well is recognizing that, while the whole meal may not look appealing, the individual components of the meal often are. I often serve “deconstructed” meals. For instance, if you make a chicken curry, you can reserve some of the plain cooked chicken, veggies, and rice and allow the kids to use the sauce as they please.

Healthy alternatives–Have fruits, veggies, nuts, and healthy crackers available when they reach for a snack. At dinner time, make sure there is a protein, a healthy starch such as brown rice, quinoa, or whole grain pasta, and a vegetable available.

Ownership–letting your kids choose from an array of healthy options helps them be more excited about eating. My kids always eat more of their lunches when they make their own or we talk about what they want to eat when I pack it.

Gardening– Gardening has also been a great way to get my kids excited about eating fresh fruits and vegetables because they have seen them from seed to table and they feel a sense of ownership and pride with the produce we have produced.

Good Attitude–If your kids see you being picky about food, they are more likely to be less adventurous.

Moderation–Treat treats like treats, not habits. A small bite of good quality dark chocolate is not the same as an entire Hershey bar. Instead of soaking pancakes in syrup, my kids love a small pool to dip in. Life and eating should be fun, just keep things in check.

Tomatoes, Lycopene and Prostate Cancer

TomatoI had the opportunity to write an article for this month’s issue of the Natural Medicine Journal about the connection between Lycopene and prevention of Prostate cancer. This is following results of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute earlier this year. The HPFS is an ongoing study of over 50,000 men who were between the ages of 40 and 75 at the beginning of the study in 1986. After nearly 30 years of following the dietary habits and health status of these men, they have found a distinct protective effect of consumption of foods that are high in lycopene.

Lycopene is a carotenoid, a class of compounds that often give plants a yellow, orange, or red color. The foods that are most common in the Western diet that are highest in lycopene are tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon. Processed tomato foods such as tomato paste and sauce are particularly high in lycopene because it becomes concentrated. Lycopene has the most potent antioxidant activity of all the carotenoids, and there have been many studies over the past several decades that have demonstrated the ability of lycopene to detoxify, prevent cell damage, and initiate death of cancer cells.

This current study is of particular interest to us because, from a prevention standpoint, it looks at whole foods instead of supplements, and it gives us a long-term look at a large number human subjects rather than animal or in-vitro models. The most significant finding in this study is that “men with the highest (cumulative) intake were half as likely to develop lethal prostate cancer compared with those with the lowest intake”. That is, the men who started eating foods with the highest amount of lycopene earliest in life were least likely to die of prostate cancer.

It is also important to note that these men who fared the best in the study seemed to have better habits overall. Those with the highest lycopene consumption “also consumed less alcohol, coffee and all three types of fats and slightly more fruits, vegetables, and dietary fiber”. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables have also been generally found to be protective against cancers and prostate cancer specifically.

What is the take home message from this study? The best way to take care of your prostate is to eat fruits and vegetables, particularly those high in lycopene, and start early–the impact you will have will be so much more powerful now than making changes once a problem arises.

If you would like to see the full article in the Natural Medicine Journal Click Here

Source: Zu, Ke et al. Dietary Lycopene, Angiogenesis, and Prostate Cancer: A Prospective Study in the Prostate-Specific Antigen Era. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2014. 106 (2).

Making the Most of the Garden: Pickled and Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

So, as Lilly mentioned in her last post, we had our first real freeze a couple of weeks ago which means just about everything from the garden had to come in. (In case you’re wondering, I keep the carrots and parsnips in the ground until it freezes hard because they keep better out there than in my fridge). Along with all the greens, indian corn for grinding, popcorn for popping, potatoes, zucchini, peppers, tomatillos and ripe tomatoes, I also ended up with about 15 pounds of green tomatoes.

What to do?  If you’ve read my other posts, you know that I am a tomato obsessive:  these overly nurtured babies started out as seeds last February, so even if they’ve not ripened they will not go to waste.  In past years I’ve stuck them in a paper sack and allowed them to ripen, but this year I decided to celebrate them for who they are.  Green tomatoes have their own nutritional benefits:  They are very high in Vitamins A, C, and pantothenic acid, plus are a great source of potassium.  But let’s be honest, I’m not eating them for their nutritional value, I’m loving them for their own unique deliciousness.

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So, the first ten pounds went into jars.  PIckled tomatoes will have all the same health benefits I mentioned in my post about pickles if you prepare them in a similar way.  My folks have found that they need about twice the salt though so I followed their lead.  Sadly, the season for big, overgrown dillweed with large seed heads has passed here so I had to go with the more demurely plastic packaged baby dill from the grocery store. Otherwise, I stuck with the formula.

Next, fried green tomatoes.  I have always heard about this mystical dish and have tried them from time to time but haven’t ever quite gotten the wow I was imagining, so I decided to improvise a bit. I may have mentioned in the past that my husband is a bit of a breaded food obsessive:  chicken fingers, pork cutlets, fish sticks, mozzarella sticks, zucchini fritters–they are all well loved, so I’ve become fairly well practiced at making gluten free, healthy versions of these crispy delights.  These turned out good enough to share the recipe, with a crispy, flavorful crust and a tangy middle.  mmm.  Can’t wait for next year.

GF Fried Green Tomatoes:

2 large green tomatoes, sliced ⅜ inch thick

2 Tbsp high heat oil, such as safflower

1 egg

½ cup grated parmesan

½ cup almond meal

¼ cup arrowroot starch (potato or even corn would also probably work fine)

½ tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp garlic powder

sea salt

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat and add enough oil to coat the pan generously.  Scramble the egg in a bowl.  Mix the remaining ingredients except salt into another bowl.  Dip tomato slice into egg, allow to drip, then using your other hand, coat with the parmesan/almond mixture.  Place in pan.  Repeat with all the tomato slices.  Salt the upper side.  When the bottom in nicely browned, flip tomato slices, salt, and brown the other side.  You may need to turn heat down to medium if the pan starts to get too hot.  Eat when hot and crispy out of the pan.

Homemade Tomato Sauce and the Benefits of Lycopene

Homemade Tomato sauce

Homemade Tomato Sauce

It’s tomato harvest time here in my backyard, and as my mom says, we are up to our earballs.  Each year at the beginning of September, I go through the same process of frantically calling upon friends and neighbors to please come with large bowls and take some home to enjoy. I also repeat the same ritual of attempting to make a large pot of sauce so I can preserve some of the garden goodness for the months ahead, but always with mixed results.  This year, however, I decided to stop cutting corners and do it right: I grew more romas than slicers or cherry tomatoes, and went through and blanched, skinned, and seeded the tomatoes before putting them in the pot. I always cringe at the thought of getting rid of so much of each precious tomato, but it yielded a thick sauce free of skins and seeds that is worth sticking in the freezer for a colder month.

Because I love to get the most nutrition possible out of my food, I am always wary of any process that involves taking out a significant portion of the food (like skins and seeds) and then cooking it for many hours, so making sauce seems a bit antithetical to this principle.  However, in this case, this food processing can actually boost the benefit of the food because of a little molecule called lycopene.  Lycopene is a carotenoid, or substance that gives the tomato its red color.  It is also found in other pink fruits such as watermelon, papaya, and guava, but the highest amount in the western diet is found in tomatoes.   

In the body, lycopene acts as a powerful antioxidant, meaning it gives electrons to oxygen or other molecules that are missing an electron.  Without an antioxidant these molecules then “steal” electrons from places like our DNA or cell membranes, causing damage to the tissues.  Lycopene has been shown to be a more effective antioxidant than Vitamin E or beta carotene, and can help to prevent cancer of the liver, lung, prostate, breast, and colon.  In cancer cells, it can arrest cells growth and promote cell death while having no effect on normal cells.  It also has been shown to prevent inflammatory disease of the liver, heart and neurological systems.

Interestingly, there are two ways in which cooking helps boost the benefits of lycopene.  First, by cooking out the water, the lycopene content becomes more concentrated, so you get more of it in each bite.  For instance, in a raw tomato, you may get as little as 8.8 mcg/g of lycopene, whereas in tomato sauce, you may get as much as 131 mcg/g. Powdering and freeze drying tend to decrease the amount of lycopene and makes it very unstable, whereas freezing and heat processing stabilizes the lycopene. Also, there are two molecular forms of lycopene, called trans and cis.  In a raw tomato, lycopene is in the trans form, while heat processing converts the lycopene to a cis form.  The longer the cooking, the more of this conversion takes place.  This cis form is more “bioavailable” to the body, meaning it is easier for it to utilize.

One other important thing to note is that how the tomatoes are grown also makes a difference.  Conventionally grown tomatoes have been found to be lower in many nutrients, including Vitamin C, polyphenols, quercetin, and flavonoids like lycopene.  So looking for tomatoes that have been organically grown or growing your own will yield a sauce richest in this health-promoting substance.  Plus, it will be the best sauce you’ve ever tasted.  

Enjoy!

Tomato sauce from scratch:

This is not a quick recipe, but it is a great way to use the bounty of your garden and you will never get a sauce from a jar that tastes as good as this!

Yield: 3-4 quarts

8 pounds fresh roma tomatoes

½ cup red wine

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 stalks of celery, diced

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

½ tsp black pepper

1 Tbsp kosher salt

1 heel of parmesan (optional)

1 small can tomato paste (optional)

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.  Put the tomatoes in (as many at a time as you can fit) and let them sit 2-3 minutes, until you can see the skin starting to crack on a few of them).  Strain the tomatoes out and put in a large bowl, repeat until all the tomatoes are done.  Empty the pot.  With each tomato. make a small slit in the skin and “pop” the insides out.  Cut this in half and gently squeeze out the seeds.  Place the skinned and seeded tomato in the pot.  Repeat until all the tomatoes are done. Add the rest of the ingredients except the tomato paste to the soup pot. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce heat and continue to simmer, about an hour.  At this point, you can take a potato masher and break up the tomatoes a bit more.  Continue to simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens, about 2 hours more. If you want to add some extra lycopene and give the sauce a bit more heft, you can add the tomato paste for the last hour of cooking.  Serve with pasta and homemade meatballs.

Sources:

Hallmann E., Orv Hetil. The influence of organic and conventional cultivation systems on the nutritional value and content of bioactive compounds in selected tomato types.J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Nov;92(14):2840-8. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.5617. Epub 2012 Feb 20.

Györéné KG, Varga A, Lugasi A. A comparison of chemical composition and nutritional value of organically and conventionally grown plant derived foods. 2006 Oct 29;147(43):2081-90.

Shi J, Le Maguer M.   Lycopene in tomatoes: chemical and physical properties affected by food processing. Crit Rev Biotechnol. 2000;20(4):293-334.

Unlu NZ, Bohn T, Francis DM, Nagaraja HN, Clinton SK, Schwartz SJ. Lycopene from heat-induced cis-isomer-rich tomato sauce is more bioavailable than from all-trans-rich tomato sauce in human subjects. Br J Nutr.  2007 Jul;98(1):140-6. Epub 2007 Mar 29.

Trejo-Solís C, Pedraza-Chaverrí J, Torres-Ramos M, Jiménez-Farfán D, Cruz Salgado A, Serrano-García N, Osorio-Rico L, Sotelo  Multiple molecular and cellular mechanisms of action of lycopene in cancer inhibition. J.Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:705121. doi: 10.1155/2013/705121. Epub 2013 Jul 21.

Lycopene. Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beans and Hormone Health

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There is nothing more fun than returning from a few days away from the garden and finding what has sprouted and ripened in my absence.  This morning, after a weekend away camping, I discovered about 30 pounds of zucchini and a bumper crop of yellow string beans.  I love planting beans and peas in my garden both for the delicious harvest and the nitrogen they give back to the soil.  Let’s talk a bit about their specific health benefits as well:

Just about everyone has become familiar with the controversy surrounding soy and its effect on hormones.  We know that soy contains a class of compounds called isoflavones, which have a phytoestrogenic effect on the body.  Soy and soy products, particularly concentrated soy proteins (frequently found in bars, protein powders, and vegetarian “meat” products), are particularly high in these compounds, and can significantly impact the body’s hormone balance.  Why is this important when we are talking about beans?  While soy is particularly high in isoflavones, all members of the bean or pea family will contain some amount of these compounds.

So, what is a phytoestrogen?  To understand this, we need to know a bit about estrogen.  Estrogen is a hormone–a chemical produced by the body that stimulates a receptor on a cell and tells the cell what to do in a specific way.  Estrogen is a growth stimulator, so it tells your body to change from a kid’s body into a grownup’s body.  During the menstrual cycle, estrogen tells your uterus to grow the lining that will support a pregnancy.  It also helps to maintain the strength and integrity of the bones.  A phytoestrogen is a chemical that comes from outside the body that will stimulate an estrogen receptor. Phytoestrogens are generally not as strong as estrogen, so it stimulates that receptor weakly.  So, for people who have very low estrogen levels a phytoestrogen will help the body feel like it has “more” estrogen, but for those with very high estrogen levels, a phytoestrogen may block those receptors and help the body feel like it has “less” estrogen. Because of this moderating quality of these compounds, it can be useful to help balance hormones for those who are both deficient in or have excess estrogen.

As with many botanical families, the legume family has these isoflavones in common throughout its members.  This means that some amount of these compounds can be found in a wide variety of plants that belong to this family: licorice root, alfalfa, clover, lentils, dried beans, peas, and even those fresh green beans.  It is important to keep in mind that isoflavones are only one class of chemical among many found in these foods.  This phytoestrogenic effect will generally be gentle and will be accompanied by all the other benefits of legumes:  fiber, minerals, protein, starches, and green energy in those beans that are eaten fresh.

Soy does tend to contain isoflavones in higher amounts than other members of the legume family, and they will be particularly concentrated in processed soy protein products and soy extracts.  In this case, there will be a more specific medicinal effect because they are being used in a more drug-like manner.  For people who are concerned about a history of estrogen-dependent cancers, this will be more relevant with soy protein products than with other legumes.  Soy protein can also be inappropriate in large amounts for those who would normally have a very low amount of estrogen in their systems, such as young children and men.

Happy Solstice! Tips for easy home gardening and what to do now!

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Hooray for March!  My favorite bipolar season.  In the past week we’ve had powder days at the ski resorts, hot days of rock climbing in shorts and a t-shirt, rain, sleet, and a foot of snow in my front yard.  We have been lucky and mother nature has been giving us some moisture in the past couple of months, so the garden is starting to awaken.  After the snow melted away this weekend, we discovered the garlic I planted in November is starting to poke out some green shoots.  This means it’s time to start thinking about planting.

I almost don’t need to even mention the health benefits of gardening.  Aside from getting the freshest, most nutrient packed foods that are grown exactly to your standards, gardening deepens our awareness of what’s in season (and consequently what foods are best for our bodies).  Having the kids help also encourages them to eat more fresh fruits and veggies and teaches them about where our food comes from.

If you haven’t done a lot of gardening, you live in a place with limited space, or you don’t have a lot of free time to spend in the dirt, here’s a quick list of things to try to optimize your production this year, plus a reminder of what you should be doing right now:

Plants with the best effort/output ratio:

Cherry tomatoes–these can be successful from indoor sprouting, buying a plant from the store, or direct seeding to a pot or garden.  Sun Golds are our family favorite for flavor and abundance.

radishes–Very satisfying for the impatient gardener.  Generally you can go from seed to salad in about 3 weeks

zucchini–if you have some room in the garden and a good water supply, zucchini wins for easy to grow and maximum poundage.

peas–if you have a place to trellis, peas are my kids’ favorite for direct snacking from the garden.

kale–One or two kale plants usually keeps my family eating greens (and kale chips!) from late may to late November.

Plants that are best for limited space:

potherbs: Plant a large pot on the back deck with oregano, basil, cilantro and thyme for added flavor to summer dinners.  Lavender and chives are also wonderful in pots because they come back year after year.

Cherry tomatoes–Especially if you get a “bush” variety, these are a great choice for pots.

strawberries–You can buy a hanging strawberry garden that will provide treats right from the patio.

baby greens–Many seed companies make a “garden mix” seed packet that you can harvest as they grow, or replant throughout the warm months for salads all season long.

 

Fun perennials that will come back each year:  These are all nice because with a bit of effort at the outset, you will have garden treats for years to come.

Rhubarb

Strawberries

Asparagus

Horseradish

Grapes

raspberries

mint

And here’s what you should be thinking about for your garden in March:

What to plant outdoors now:

Potatoes

onions

chives

carrots

radishes

kale

peas

spinach

lettuce

What to sprout now:

tomatoes

eggplant

cucumbers

peppers

 

Happy Solstice!  Enjoy!

Home Grown Tomatoes–Healthy Garden, Healthy Food, Healthy People!

I originally wrote this piece for Dr Stephanie Smith’s Create Mental Health Week blog earlier this year; it’s a personal story about how gardening helps me create mental and physical health for me and my family.

“Only two things that money can’t buy and that’s true love and home grown tomatoes.”

-John Denver

It’s springtime again and my yearly obsession is in full swing: tomatoes! Every year for the past 10 years sometime in the middle of February I notice a warm breeze in the air and start dreaming. I dream of ripe, warm, luscious, juicy tomatoes picked right off the vine, sliced, drizzled with some good olive oil and a touch of sea salt. My alternate dream is of fresh, toasted sourdough bread, crunchy thick-cut bacon, a light smear of mayo, a fresh lettuce leaf, and thick juicy slices of a giant tomato from my backyard.

This year the process is particularly special. We just rebuilt our backyard and put in several new garden beds; we have been watching workmen transform a bit of the open mountain behind our house into a home for all our delicious dreams. We’re putting in fruits, vegetables and herbs, hopefully enough to substitute for the farm share we used to get weekly. Right now our garden is all anticipation, and for me is the fruition of many years of “halfway” gardening in various combinations of limited space, poor soil, pots only, unfavorable climates, or limited time. This year, we are fully committed.

Gardening for me is an invaluable asset to my mental health for several reasons. First and foremost, I love good food. Fresh, flavorful produce is one of my greatest passions in life, and the best way to get it is to grow it myself. I love to cook and to feed healthy, delicious meals to my family, and gardening helps me do just that. Secondly, I love plants. As a Naturopathic doctor and herbalist, I use plants as medicine, but even more than that, there is something amazing about getting to know the intricacies of how mother nature works. Each plant has its own ideal soil conditions, watering needs, and interactions with other living beings from soil microbes to the animals who consume it. For me to learn about and understand plants helps me feel more connected to the planet and to my spirit because it helps me understand how interconnected every living being on the planet is. Finally, gardening gets me outside, breathing fresh air, moving my body and getting my mind off of things. Somehow, fiddling around with the vegetables helps me lose track of time and lets the stress melt away.

But back to February. One of the most satisfying parts of gardening is that if you follow the process, you reap great rewards at the end. In February, I buy my seeds and starting medium, resurrect the seedling trays from the garage, and start counting down the days to planting. Mid-March, seeds go in, trays go under the grow light, and the watering and watching begins. 5 or 6 days later, we have sprouts, a couple weeks after that I transplant sprouts, a few weeks later transplant again, and a couple weeks after that we start hardening off so our baby tomatoes get used to living in the outdoors. Mid-May my tomatoes finally get to go to their home in the ground, and from there it’s just pruning, watering, and finally in August my BLT dreams come true! I’m excited about all the food we’re growing, but there’s just something about tomatoes that feeds the soul.