Category Archives: Summer

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).

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

photo (24)

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.

Fluid and Electrolyte Balance for Athletes

 


I learned my lesson this year when it comes to hydration.  As I wrote about last month, we did our first long bike tour this summer: The Courage Classic.  The first day of the classic this year we started in Leadville, looped around Turquoise lake then rode up to Fremont pass before descending to Copper Mountain resort. The first 15 miles or so around the lake were beautiful and exciting with steep, winding ascents and descents.  The next 18 miles up to the pass was a steady climb with a steep finish.  I knew as I started the final climb up to the pass that I was feeling slower and slower, and when I finally reached the pass I was ready for a snack.  Over the past 3 ½ hours I had drained my large bike water bottle, perhaps 25 oz or so, plus 4 or 5 oz at one of the aid stations.

At the aid station atop Fremont pass, I got off my bike and found a snack–a crustless pre-manufactured white bread pb&j in a plastic wrapper. Under the circumstances, absolutely delicious!  I took a couple sips of water then went to chat for a moment with someone from my team.  We gave high fives, said good job, I smiled and turned away.  As I turned, I noticed that all the muscles in my face had frozen into place.  It occurred to me at that moment that perhaps I had not properly prepared with water and electrolytes for the race.  I forced my cheeks out of their joker-mask configuration and got back on the bike.

The rest of the day was good, I had a fun screaming fast ride down into Copper Mountain and all was well; but I paid for it with a doozy of a headache for the rest of the day. I also know my performance and fatigue was seriously affected by my dehydration.  The next day I doubled the water consumption, rode faster, and wasn’t tired at the end of a similar ride.

So how much water do we need when we exercise?  A good rule of thumb is that if we are sweating at a maximal rate, we lose about 1 oz/minute.  This means that if you are going full-tilt, you will lose almost 1 liter for every ½ hour of exercise.  Most endurance sports will cause a 1.5 liter/hour fluid loss, and in high heat you can lose up to 2.5 L/hour.  Water weighs about 2 pounds per liter, so we can assume a loss of 3-5 pounds per hour for endurance sports such as biking, running, soccer, etc.

Research has shown that “sweating beyond 2% of body weight can cause significant impairment of endurance through deficiencies in thermoregulatory and circulatory function.”  This means two things: First, when we lose too much water through sweat, the body stops sweating and our body temperature rises too high and can make us more prone to fatigue and cramping and can even become dangerous to health.  Secondly, when we lose blood volume, the heart is not able to circulate blood as efficiently so we get less ideal oxygen supply to the muscles and brain which also impairs performance. This means, that for a 150 pound person, 1 hour of exercise without replacing the water lost will result in worse performance. If you are going to be out for several hours, working towards 1 liter/hour would help to keep up with fluid loss enough to meet the body’s needs for an extended event.

So what about performance and electrolyte drinks?  In most electrolyte drinks, there are three primary components:  water, carbohydrate, and electrolytes.  Research has shown that for the first hour of exercise, energy primarily comes from glycogen which is stored in the muscles.  After this, as the glycogen is used up, the body will rely more and more upon glucose in the blood.  For extended exercise, it is recommended to ingest 1 gram/minute, or 240 calories/hour.  Generally, it is better to start this before fatigue sets in so the body has time to absorb the calories.

The primary electrolytes that are lost during exercise are sodium and chloride, so again, for prolonged exercise it is worthwhile to supplement with salt; this can minimize muscle cramping and fatigue.  While these are the primary electrolytes in the fluid surrounding the body’s cells, the most common electrolyte found in the cells is potassium.  Potassium containing foods such as avocados, bananas, and potatoes can be a good follow up to exercise, and coconut water has a very high amount of potassium and is excellent for hydration.

Sports drinks can be useful before, during, and after a workout to keep blood sugar, water, and electrolytes, but you don’t necessarily have to get too fancy.  One study compared plain water, sports drink, coconut water, and a sodium enriched coconut water for rehydration after exercise.  The sports drink and sodium enriched coconut water were the most successful at rehydrating people, but the coconut water variety was the best tolerated in terms of volume.  Another thing to consider for kids following a big event is good old potato chips and a glass of water–they will get carbohydrates, potassium, and salt from the chips which will help with rehydration and prevent muscle cramping.

Sources:
Ismail I, Singh R, Sirisinghe RG. Rehydration with sodium-enriched coconut water after exercise-induced dehydration. Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health. 2007 Jul;38(4):769-85.

Coggan AR, Coyle EF.Carbohydrate ingestion during prolonged exercise: effects on metabolism and performance.Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 1991;19:1-40

Groff, Gropper.  Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. 3rd ed. 2000.

picking peaches

Oh how I love summer vacation.  We just returned from a week at the “beach”–in Colorado, this means a chilly, snowmelt-fed reservoir at 8000 feet with a rocky shore, but it still qualified to fulfill my dream of a leisurely week of swimsuits and barbeques with my family.  On the way home, we decided to take a detour to the land of peach orchards in Paonia, Colorado.  It took a bit longer than I expected, when my Google map told me 200 miles, I thought “great, 3 hours” without remembering to take into account high mountain passes with winding descents, torrential rain, hail, and small children who need to do things like pee and have lunch.  So, pulling into town at 5pm on Friday seeing farm stands boarded up for the night, I wasn’t hopeful that my peach picking fantasy would come to fruition.

Fortunately, the nice folks at Austin Farm picked up the phone when we called and told us to come by. When we arrived, we got to hop on the back of a golf cart and take a tour of the farm:  apples, peaches, plums, nectarines, chickens, blackberries, cows, and bees, with detailed descriptions of natural farming techniques and grafting to develop new fruit varieties.  The orchards were beautiful and the kids loved getting to pick their own fruit, feed the calf, and watch the magic trick of breaking an apple exactly in half with your bare hands.

I’m not writing about peaches today because I love peaches.  I do love peaches of course, especially right from the tree; a soft, juicy, fragrant peach is really unparalleled in the world of fruit.  However, from a health perspective what is so much more important than the peaches is the experience of going to meet them where they grow.  What is the difference between a peach you picked yourself and one you picked off the pile at the grocery store?  There are the obvious things:  a peach at the store had to be picked a bit early so it would ship well, not squish when it’s stacked in a pile, and not mold within a day of the store receiving it.  A tree ripened peach won’t do any of those things, but the flavor and texture will be far superior.  Also, the peaches sent to the store will all look perfect; the best peach I ate at the farm had a large hole in it because it had grown so large and soft it punctured itself on the branch.  Beyond this, however, is the understanding of where the food comes from and the gratitude for the food that comes from this awareness that is also a fundamental factor in eating to be healthy.

In this culture, the things that make us sick are wildly different from any society in the past.  While we still have infectious diseases and malnutrition, by and large our illnesses are chronic and based on lifestyle.  That is, we don’t nourish ourselves properly and we don’t move enough.  I say we don’t nourish ourselves properly because the problem is more than just eating too much.  In my practice, I also see many people who eat too little or just eat in a way that does not support health.  I see the issue not as as a lack of willpower or gluttony, it’s more just being disconnected from our food.  Eating isn’t just something we do out of habit, because our stomachs rumble, for comfort or to be social, it is (or should be) an act of nourishing the body.

Eating to be healthy is so much more than counting calories and analyzing nutrient content.  It’s even more than getting the freshest, most responsibly raised seasonal foods.  Healthy eating is about recognizing how the earth provides the energy to sustain us and help us grow.  To truly appreciate what we eat, we must get closer to our food sources so we can appreciate the miraculous event that occurs when water, sunlight and dirt work together.  When we don’t understand where our food comes from and how it is produced, it is easy to lose track of the fact that it is (or was) a living thing; when we eat something we use its energy to fuel our own bodies.  When we frame the act of eating in this way, it is so much easier to remember to eat intentionally. Just sitting down to eat and remembering to be thankful for our food helps us digest and utilize food more efficiently and make better choices.  This can be done regardless of if you’re eating the world’s most divine peach right from the tree or a snickers bar from the gas station.

Though I would highly recommend the peach.

Summer Squash Pancakes to flip for

Some of you are just starting to see zucchini’s and summer squash hanging from their vines, while more of you are swimming in the abundance wondering what else you could possibly do with them. As a kid, I wasn’t always thrilled to see the piles of green squash throughout our house, but there were two dishes that I happily gobbled up and then asked for more. One is my beloved Zucchini Soup, which is a simple smooth puree of steamed zucchini with a handful of other ingredients.

The other takes the virtues of a good oil and sears shreds of squash into a mid-summer latke. A griddle or cast-iron pan is the perfect tool to get a golden crisp to the edges. I typically use a hearty olive oil, but coconut oil could give it an exotic twist, while butter could add an almost caramelized flavor. I also keep the temperature of the skillet or griddle to medium. Anything above this will cause these more gentle fats to smoke. This also results in destroying the good nutrients in the fats as well. Check out this handy Smoke Point list from Wikipedia to see about your own preferred oils. Ghee is also an amazing option anytime you want a higher smoke point. It is butter with the milk solids removed thereby almost doubling the smoke point. Whatever fat you choose there are a few simple steps to ensure crisp edges on a Summer Squash or Zucchini Pancake.

The first critical step is to squeeze out any excess liquid from the zucchini. Just as you would with traditional potato latkes, salt by osmosis will help remove some of the water from the squash so that the pancakes will crisp rather than steam.

If you have those baseball bat sized zucs this is a pretty good way to use them. Cut out the seeds (they are a bit too rough and inedible in flavor for shredding) and then shred up the flesh & skin. The salting process will aid in removing any of the bitter taste overgrown squash sometimes has.

Another interesting part of this recipe is there isn’t a lot of batter. Really there is just enough to keep all of the squash together in pancake form. But, if you want more batter, simply double the amount of eggs & flour. I like a bit of parmesan for the flavor, but it is entirely optional.

Summer Squash Pancakes (serves about 2)

3 cups zucchini or summer squash, shredded

1/2 teaspoon salt (kosher is actually ideal, if using increase the amount to just under 1 teaspoon)

2 tablespoons flour (wheat or your favorite gluten-free flour will do, brown-rice flour works just fine)

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon grated parmesan, optional

1 pinch black pepper, more to taste

1-2 tablespoons olive oil, ghee, coconut oil or butter

Toss the shredded squash in a colander with the salt. Allow to rest for at least 5 minutes up to 30 minutes.

Squeeze out the excess liquid with your hands and shake dry.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, egg, parmesan (if using) and the black pepper.

Fold the shredded vegetables into the batter.

Heat a griddle or skillet (cast-iron works well for this!) over medium heat. Melt in a bit of your preferred fat. Scoop on a generous dollop of batter. Allow it to sear for 3-6 minutes. Flip it over once the bottom side is golden and sear on the other side until golden and cooked through.

Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more ghee, butter or oil as needed.

Feed Your Body for Summer Activities

Cardiac Climbers Bike Team

Our team for the Courage Classic. Go Cardiac Climbers!

My husband and I just completed our first long-distance bike tour this weekend.  We rode in the Courage Classic, a 3-day tour of the beautiful mountain passes of Summit County, Colorado.  The Courage Classic is a benefit ride to raise funds for Children’s Hospital: we got to be part of  the Cardiac Climbers team which specifically rides to support kids in the cardiac unit.  How inspiring!  Between the friendly and supportive team members, getting to meet some of the kids we were riding for, and the amazing scenery, the weekend was an amazing reminder of how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful state with such a wonderful community.

On a health note, this weekend was also an excellent reminder to me of how we can best support our bodies during the summer months.  During the summer, we focus on eating and drinking for optimal performance of physical tasks.  Whether we are putting our energy towards tending the garden or farm, climbing mountains, riding bikes, or other sports, we tend to spend much more time outdoors being active during this time of year.

With this in mind, the body systems that need the most focus during the summer are the cardiovascular system, muscles, and hydration.   The cardiovascular system is essential to athletic endeavors because it delivers oxygen and nutrients to the body; the heart must keep up with the demands on the muscles.  Foods high in bioflavonoids such as berries, peppers, and tomatoes support healthy blood vessels.  Foods with a high Omega-3 fat ratio such as salmon and flax oil help to keep cholesterol levels balanced and our arteries clear.  Also, high fiber foods such as leafy greens, apples, flaxseed  and carrots will help rid the body of excess cholesterol.

Healthy muscles can be supported on several levels:  Muscular growth and maintenance requires protein.  Although we generally need less heavy meats throughout the summer, making sure you eat adequate proteins from nuts, seeds, fish, dairy, and other animal proteins will provide the building blocks for healthy muscle tissue.  Electrolyte balance is also critical for muscle performance.  Regular salt, of course, is important, but including good sources of potassium such as avocado or coconut juice, and magnesium from nuts and seeds is also critical.  Finally, hydration is absoutely key for athletic performance: 6-10 cups of water or herbal tea per day and even more when you are exercising will prevent muscle cramping and help with good blood flow.

Also, because foods from the garden are abundant and fresh, we want to maximize their nutritional value.  Summer is an ideal time to shift our diet towards more raw, vegetarian fare.  Vitamins, enzymes, and phytonutrients are most intact in foods that are fresh from the ground and uncooked.  Because the weather is warm, the body can break down foods more easily and has more “digestive fire” to utilize the nutrients in raw fruits and vegetables.   Foods that must be cooked, such as meats, should be cooked to just done on a grill or under the broiler rather than stewed or put in the slow cooker.

This summer, find what inspires you and go out and do it!  Just make sure your body is getting the nutrition to keep up with the inspiration. Eat well, drink plenty of water, sleep enough and go get ‘em.

The Medicinal Value of Culinary Herbs (With a recipe for Tummy Soother Sleep Tea)

One of my favorite ways to help people connect with nature and health is to take them out on medicinal herb walks.  Often, as we walk around in a wild space, someone will point to something and say “is that an herb or a weed?”  Well, the difference is really just semantics: when we decide that a plant is valuable to us personally, we call it an herb.  When we decide we don’t like it, it’s in the way of something else we’d prefer to have in that spot, or we just don’t know what to do with it, it’s a weed.

The dividing line between medicinal and culinary herbs can also often be thin.  On a broad level, the differences are obvious: medicinal herbs serve a health promoting purpose and culinary herbs taste good.  Also, many medicinal herbs have potential toxicity so they must be taken in specific dosages to avoid causing problems.  However, on the other hand many culinary herbs have potent medicinal properties of which we are often unaware.  Often these herbs are dried, concentrated, or distilled to create medicines, but they also have value fresh from your backyard or the fridge.

For many culinary herbs, they are medicinal for the same reason that they are delicious.  Their flavoring properties come from volatile oils contained in the seeds or foliage of the plant.  Those oils can also be medicinal.  Oregano and thyme oils are quite good at killing yeasts, and lavender and garlic are useful for killing bacteria.  Rosemary oil has been found to be an excellent antioxidant and is actually used as a preservative in many natural foods.

Beyond this, we can find that almost all of our common culinary herbs can be of use to promote health.  Mint and lemon balm teas are quite good for soothing an upset stomach, and fennel is quite good at helping to dispel gas.  Parsley (most often the root) has traditionally been used to promote kidney health.  Cilantro is an excellent adjunct to a detoxification regimen as it helps to move toxins from the body.  And sorrel is a very cooling plant that can be eaten to reduce a fever (raspberries and mushrooms are good for this as well)!

Every parent is a nurse and a doctor at some point and it always helps to have some tricks up your sleeve when a little one is feeling yucky.  The recipe below is handy for babies, kids, and adults with a colicky or upset tummy and helps to promote restful sleep through the night.

Soothing Tummy Sleep Tea

In a glass jar, combine equal parts (start with ¼ oz or 3 Tbsp of each):
Peppermint
Lemon balm
Chamomile
Lavender
Put 1 tsp of the mixture in a tea ball or bag.  Pour 1 cup boiled water over the tea, steep 5-8 minutes (you don’t need to take the tea ball out when it’s done steeping).  For adults and kids over 12 months, add 1 tsp honey.  For babies over 4 months, add 1 oz apple juice and give them 1-2 oz of the mixture  in a bottle (can combine with breast milk or other milk without the sweetener).

Fresh Herb Yogurt Dressing will make you abandon those bottles of Ranch

Pulling treats straight off the vine or out of the dirt is one of the greatest summer pleasures. The sweetness of these fresh delights need little else unless you want to make them into an actual meal. At which point there are endless possibilities, but somehow I have this image of strolling through my garden with a simple sauce in one hand to dip in & enjoy each new veggie. In this country we seem particularly obsessed with Ranch Dressing which leaves something to be desired both nutritionally and culinarily. Don’t get me wrong, I have had to do my fair share of dipping into those white & green flecked sauce filled containers surrounded by tasteless cold vegetables. However, when it comes to eating something enchanting from the garden, they deserve something better.

While it is convenient to squeeze dressing out of those plastic squirt bottles, whipping up this dressing does not take much effort. It is so simple in fact that I usually only prepare a small batch, just enough for the evenings meal but feel free to double, quadruple or multiple* this as desired.

My other favorite element of this dressing is you can make it yours by mixing and matching the fresh herbs you have available, whether they are straight out of your own garden, herb window box or sold to you in small bouquets from your local farmer, just use what you have available. Dried herbs can even be used in a pinch.

Start with greek or strained yogurt to have a thicker sauce, but any plain yogurt can work instead and is sometimes nice for a runnier dressing to drizzle on salads. You could also go the more classic Ranch Dressing route by thinning the dressing with buttermilk instead of the lemon juice and olive oil. Also, add more herbs, garlic, salt or pepper to your own personal taste. If you are feeling lazy about chopping the herbs and want to make a big batch just toss all of this in your blender and viola! Dressing for a week of harvesting, dipping and munching!

Yogurt Herb Ranch Dressing

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/2 cup plain yogurt, use greek or strained for a thicker dipping sauce

1 tablespoon fresh herbs, finely minced or 1 teaspoon dried herbs (such as parsley, oregano, chives, thyme, etc)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pinch salt and pepper, to taste

Whisk together the lemon juice & garlic. Let it sit briefly, for the garlic to mellow a bit. Fold in the plain yogurt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking rapidly. Fold in the fresh herbs. Season with just a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.
Buttermilk Yogurt Ranch

1/2 cup plain yogurt or greek strained yogurt

1/4 cup buttermilk 

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh herbs or 1 teaspoon dried herbs (such as parsley, oregano, chives, thyme, etc)

salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the yogurt, buttermilk, garlic, fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Taste. Add more herbs, salt or pepper as desired.

Use the blender for either of the above recipes, just toss in, blend and enjoy! Just know, the herbs will probably make the dressing more green rather than white with flecks of herbs.

*As a little tip, if you subscribe to Lilly’s Table you can put in your desired number of servings and it easily will double this recipe for you.

Transitioning into Summer Eating

Image

As summer quickly approaches, we are naturally falling into a new rhythm as a family.  Mealtime has moved from the kitchen out to the deck.  Later sunsets mean bike riding into the evening hours and thus dinner and bedtime have been pushed back.  And it’s getting hot in the house which means we have started to minimize our indoor cooking activities.  On days that hit 95, we have a no indoor cooking rule, which means the rice cooker gets plugged in out on the deck, the grill gets fired up, and anything else we eat will be raw.

When the weather gets warmer, our bodies do not have to work so hard to maintain warmth.  The heavy, cooked foods of winter are unnecessary; we are able to break down and absorb less processed foods more easily during the summer.  In chinese medicine, this is called “digestive fire”. The stronger our digestive fire, the more efficiently our digestive tract will work.  When the body does not have to put energy into warming itself, there is more energy available for digestion.  For this reason, raw and lightly cooked foods become easier to utilize during the summer.

In addition to this, we are starting to get some of the fun stuff out of the garden (or farmer’s market, or even local delights from the supermarket).  When the produce is local and fresh the nutrition contained in these foods will be optimal.  Especially during June, the produce available here in Colorado tends to be of the “get to it quick!” variety.  We are harvesting peas, strawberries, lettuce, chard, and fresh herbs from the backyard right now.  These are not storage vegetables; I find that even overnight in the fridge significantly diminishes the quality of these foods. What we see with our eyes and feel with our tongues is true; nutrient content will plummet the more we wait or cook any of these foods. My recommendation is straight from the garden to your mouth with as little fussing as possible in between!

Enjoy moving into the bounty of summer.  The veggies are fresh, our bodies are ready, so get out the wooden bowl and get ready for salad time!