the perfect cuppa for valentines day

A cup of rose tea can put a rosy glow in your cheeks, a glint in your eye and some lift to your libido. Roses don’t just symbolise love they have a phytochemistry conducive to optimum health and the engendering of positive emotion.

Rose flower tea is most often derived from the petals or unopened flower buds of Rosa rugosa or select species of R. canina, R. damascene, R. laevigata & R. gallica var. centifolia. No matter the rose, the tea bears a delicious floral fruity flavour. Sometimes it comes in specialty teas and herbal teabags. Dried rose buds are available in some health stores and most Asian markets.

Traditionally the petal tea is made up from dried petals separated from the rest of the flower while the bud tea is dried immature buds kept intact. Rose flower tea aka Mei Gui Hua or Yue ji hua has been utilized in Chinese medicine for over 5,000 years to invigorate blood and Qi, relieve depression, revive the convalescent and address gynaecological conditions.

In the western traditions, Rose tea has a history of use as cooling beverage to remedy menopausal hot flushes and night sweats and in its sedative and nervine actions to address irritability, mental and physical fatigue and also mild depression. Its oldest tradition is to relieve uterine and menstrual irregularities and to attenuate PMS –

Certainly its supply of calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium and b vitamins are of benefit and also the flavonoids that contribute to improved blood flow – hence its use too as an aphrodisiac – it also has an impact upon the production of sex hormones and decreases stress chemicals in the body; That things helpful to getting in the mood.

Beyond a love token and being a good mood stimulator there are many benefits in rose tea: Rose petals store a good quantity of vitamin C which is immune boosting and system cleansing and that accounts for its reputation in viral illness recovery and general pick-me-up applications.

Rose petals also contains significant amount of polyphenols that actively repair cellular damage and act as free-radical scavengers contributing to its association as a rejuvenating tonic. Polyphenols also exert influence on gut bacteria and on the chemistry of inflammation and further help attenuate bacterial and viral infection.

Rose tea stimulates bile and is viewed as a detox and digestive. Its antimicrobial nature is beneficial to gut health and also to urinary tract health. Rose tea shows some antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus epidermidis, S. aureus, Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis, Micrococcus luteus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus mirabilis and also against two significant yeast strains Candida albicans & C. parapsilosis.

The tea contains quercetin and ellagic acid – both of which support the body’s natural defenses against allergens and cancers and which have a role in slowing the progression of diabetes and other obesity-mediated metabolic complications. Roxyloside A and other flavonoid glycosides within rose petals have a role in cardiovascular and venous health via suppression of angiotensin I-converting enzyme (ACE) activity.

How to make: To maximise the Vitamin C and other antioxidant agents it is best to rest boiled water for 30-60 seconds before making an infusion. Fresh petals will need the bitter white portion at the base of the petal removed; dried petals are good to go. The standard ratio is 1-2 tsps per cup required.

As roses contain many flavourful and bioactive volatile oils it is good to make in a teapot or covered cup. Infusion duration is 3-5 minutes. Can be sweetened with some honey or stevia. Suitable cooled and served over ice.

Main medicinal actions: Antibacterial, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, aphrodisiac, astringent, blood tonic, detox, digestive, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, nervine, sedative, uterine. Dosage: The standard range is 1-2 cups daily over therapeutic duration. Over consumption can cause nausea or headache. Caution: Avoid in pregnancy due to uterine activity. Caution in recurrent use if on blood thinning medication.

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Enhancing iron absorption

There are several agents that help improve absorption of iron; either by altering the availability or solubility of dietary iron, by improving its chances of uptake in the digestive system or by improving the mechanisms of its general metabolism and movement into the bloodstream.

Ascorbic acid – Ascorbic acid also known as vitamin C is a potent booster of non-haem iron absorption; to the extent that it can potentially increase the bio-availability of plant-based iron by 2 or even 3 times more if taken at the same time as the main iron rich meal. That may be a simple as a fizzy supplement in your mealtime glass of water or via combining vitamin C rich foods on the plate.

Ascorbic acid coats iron molecules and so helps prevent the formation of insoluble /un-absorbable iron compounds in the stomach and intestines. It also helps assist the uptake of dietary iron into the mucosal cells of the duodenum and so into the blood stream more efficiently.

Vitamin C is best known as an immune system booster and as a potent antioxidant that helps prevent/heal free radical damage to our cells. Vitamin C is also involved in the production of several neurotransmitters in particular the happy hormone – serotonin. Vitamin C is therefore a good addition to the diet to generally boost health and take the edge off some of the side effects of anaemia including low mood and physical fatigue.

Some fruits rich in vitamin C may also contain tannins or polyphenols that can bind to iron. eg Cranberries, raspberries and blueberries. So a cranberry sauce may not be helpful but lemon vinaigrette will.

Foods rich in Ascorbic acid include citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime), kiwifruit, papaya, pineapples, strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes. Many veg are high in C including spinach, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, green beans and summer and winter squash.

Probiotics – Every health store and most pharmacies will have a selection of probiotics – supplements used to boost intestinal health or to recover from a recent course of antibiotics. Probiotics are what’s known as ‘friendly bacteria’ – predominantly Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium – the type that help us digest food and maintain our stomachs role in our immune system. Several studies have found that probiotic supplementation is also beneficial to increase iron and mineral absorption. Several foods are also naturally probiotic.

Probiotic foods include buttermilk, natural yogurt, kefir, bacterially cultured yoghurt-type drinks, bacterially cultured cheese, pickles, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented foods

Prebiotics – Prebiotics are what feed probiotics – normally a source of oligosaccharides or other complex starches. prebiotic are the first food humans were designed to taste; galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS) is found in human breast milk and has a role in immune system development as well as setting parameters for future digestive health by establish good colonies of bifido bacteria.

Inulin is a complex starch found in legumes and whole grains, and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are found in fruits – both support Lactobacilli. Simply put, gut health is essential for the effective absorption of nutrients and so any foods that support gut health are good to have on your radar and on your plate.

Good food sources include Artichokes, asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, barley, oats, rye, wheat, quinoa, legumes, bananas, berries, honey, chicory root, dandelion root, elecampane root.

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abating anaemia

Following on from veganuary and the rise in prompts to take up vegetarianism to help limit climate change, if you are up for the challenge how can you head off one of the potential pitfalls of those two dietary lifestyles – Anaemia.

For some people anaemia is a persistent or reoccurring lifelong condition for others it may be experienced as a once off or temporary dietary deficiency. Some dietary lifestyles are more prone to anaemia as the iron in plant based meals (non-haem iron) is considerably less readily absorbed than the type of iron in animal products (haem iron).

Anaemia is often commonly thought of as an iron deficiency – in fact it is a decrease in your red blood cell count, or compromised haemoglobin content in the blood which is dependent on sufficient iron but also b-vitamins.

Sometimes acid reflux, peptic ulcer or other digestive complaints may case malabsorption of iron or b vits, sometimes an illness with blood loss (eg gastric bleed) is at the root. Prolonged use of antacids, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories can inhibit mineral absorption.

Currently, anaemia is understood in three distinct causative categories; microcytic, macrocytic or normocytic. “Cytic” is a medical term denoting cells; in this instance red blood cells. Their size, enlarged or shrunken or normal provides a clue to the type of anaemia in play.

Microcytic type anaemia. In this condition, red blood cells are diminished in size. Most often due to an iron deficiency but also occasioned by periodic menstrual blood loss.

Macrocytic type anaemia. In this condition, red blood cells appear larger than normal it is sometimes referred to as Megaloblastic anaemia. Most commonly occurs as a result of vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency.

Normocytic type anaemia. Here the red blood cells appear normal sized but present with an impaired oxygen-carrying capacity. Most commonly occurring as a secondary manifestation of a long-standing chronic disease or inflammatory factor.

Irrespective of the type, all of these anaemias present with the same symptoms; pale pallor, physical tiredness to mental fatigue, wheeziness or breathlessness, palpitations, headaches and increased experiences of muscular or joint pain. All types can exacerbate underlying illnesses from angina to viral load.

Garden treatments: Sometimes a weed can come to the rescue and a salad of dandelion greens or chickweed can help you maintain good levels of iron or alternately you could avail of 1 tsp. of tincture of Yellow dock root (three times daily). The other herbal staples for anaemia include alfalfa, burdock root and the iron rich nettle – but really any increase in edible plants will help.

Chlorophyll is the lifeblood of plants, but the green pigment that facilitates photosynthesis is compositionally close to the haemoglobin of red blood cells that consumption of edible foliage makes for a temporary replacement until your body is able to replenish naturally.

Fresh thyme is excellent as a tea or in a soup or casserole but dried thyme holds on to its iron content and is perhaps one of the most iron-rich herbs you can pluck from the spice rack. One 1 teaspoon of dried thyme delivers around 1.2 milligrams of iron.

Kitchen support: Often in holistic circles there is a kind of sympathetic magic, and many practitioners may suggest that eating red will increase red blood but as we have seen in the previous – green might just be the better option– that said I cannot praise beetroot enough for raising our own internal red – it boosts oxygen supply/delivery and can support a healthy blood count with its nutritional and phytochemical composition.

Of course you should increase iron rich foods such as salad greens, leafy vegetable, brown rice, lentils, but also dried fruits, (notably raisins and prunes) and bran flakes or fortified cereal is an option too. There is a consideration worth taking, to cook in iron pots and not aluminium pots (metal ions impart to boiling water at cooking temperatures).

Calcium binds to iron so avoiding cow’s milk at your meal is a good idea, perhaps swap to a plant based milk instead. The tannins in tea and coffee also inhibit iron so perhaps an herbal tea will be a preferred option at meal time. Anise tea and raspberry leaf tea help increase the absorption rate of iron.

B vitamins are good for the blood but folate in particular – it is necessary for the formation of red blood cells. Folate rich foods include dark leafy veg and also fruits ( particularly papaya, oranges, grapefruit and grapes). Folates are also prevalent in beans so try the following – in order of folate intensity – mung beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, lima beans, black beans, navy beans and kidney beans. Lentils are also excellent.

Then there is the option of some asparagus soup – Eating just one cup of boiled asparagus delivers approximately 260 mcg of folic acid – so blitzing that into a soup amalgamates the nutrients that have leeched into the cooking water and delivers more.

A vegan diet may trigger a b12 deficient anaemia and this generally requires supplementation from synthetic or algae derived b12. B12 is not present in plant based foods unless fortified. Cereals and nutritional yeast are most commonly fortified.

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try a tasty stir-fry to remedy winter aches and pains

Traditional stir-fry spices are warming and so improve blood circulation and our own pain regulating mechanisms but many of them have a powerful dose of anti-inflammatory or analgesic action. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin which is one of the most researched and proven anti-inflammation compounds we can ingest.

Ginger also contains a lot of anti-inflammatory chemicals while chilies contain capsaicin which switches off neuroreceptor p – the pain perception receivers in our bodies. Ginger, chilli, garlic and curry powder mixes all cause a release of endorphins that further lessens our experience of discomfort. So a good stir fry or any of these ingredients will diminish muscular pain and general aches.

Other ingredients that make the dish even more pain relieving include any green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, chard, bok choy) are full of anti-inflammatory carotenoids and sulforaphanes. Try some precooked sweet potatoes and fresh sliced red peppers, both are rich in beta-cryptoxanthin – which is a potent inflammatory, and both are full of system cleansing antioxidants – which helps to diminish toxin accumulations and pain signalling. Tofu is a great vegetarian option to supply pain dampening omega-3 fatty acids but you could use fatty fish; both also help to cool down inflammation markers that wake up pain receptors.

A stir fry is quick and easy, no fuss so no stress – but it has another positive psychology bonus – it is hot and hot foods help to release even more pain modifying endorphins. The lift that comes after a good meal is not just the replenishment of nourishment, it is your brain rewarding you for refuelling and when you refuel with foods full of healthy phytochemicals the reward is amplified – even more so when the ‘heat’ in the food be that physical warmth of freely cooked or the ‘spice’ kicks in to warm the blood and boost circulation and get those endorphins and anti-inflammatories distributed quicker and more effectively.

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a minute on the lips – how fattening is your lipstick?

There is a saying – a cautionary warning to food cravers and dieters; “a minute on the lips – a lifetime on the hips”. But may this idiom extend beyond the chocolate biscuits or that tempting desert to the lipstick you are wearing or the chocolate-scented shower gel you use.

Certain ingredients in beauty products contain ‘hidden fats’ that are absorbed through the skin but for me the dangerous ones are those known to alter your hormonal and endocrine systems and change how you accumulate and store fats.

Here’s a sneaky peek at two. The two you are probably exposed to every day.

Parabens are chemical shelf-life extenders that feature in an array of cosmetic and toiletry products; from moisturizers, lipstick, foundation and concealer to makeup removers, deodorants, shaving foam, toothpaste and shampoo. There are many types but notably Isobutylparaben, Butylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben and Parahydroxybenzoate are used / identified in your cosmetic ingredient list.

The problem with parabens is their xenoestrogenic effect – meaning that they are shaped quite like oestrogen and once absorbed into the body they end up filling up receptors located in your cells normally reserved for real oestrogen – the consequence being that other neurotransmitters and glands mistakenly start relaying messages and making adjustments based on the presence of what they assume is real oestrogen.

That ‘excess oestrogen’ can be implicated in estrogen driven cancers, early puberty, complications in menopause and issues with both male and female fertility but also in insulin resistance and weight gain. Just like real Oestrogen, these parabens acting as false hormones can promote additional fat accumulation around the hips and thighs.

Phthalates are chemical agents utilized as plasticizers, solvents and fixatives to maintain a products consistency. They feature predominantly in perfumes, nail polish and hair spray but also in body washes, soaps, shampoo and even moisturizers. The side of the box may note dimethylphthalate (DMP), or diethylphthalate (DEP) but there are more.

Phthalates are considered “obesogens” – yes cause obesity. They do this by tricking the body into fat storage via a disruption of the normal hormonal activities of the body and subsequent impact upon the endocrine system. Phthalates do not act like oestrogen, rather they act to block androgens (male hormones) which can allow oestrogen dominance to occur and the fat accumulation associated with that – but decreased androgens can also be implicated in insulin resistance and so prompt a higher risk for weight gain and diabetes.

To discover more about harmful chemicals in your cosmetic and toiletries and explore solutions to avoid those products – check out my book  ‘Beauty treatments from the garden’
all online book retailers and good bookstores.

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a natural approach to nail problems

Gardeners, gloves on or not, can be prone to nail problems – here are some cures and tips from my book beauty treatments from the garden

Soft nails – Fragile nails can indicate rheumatism, poor diet or poor general health. Iron deficiency produces brittle nails as does a lack of biotin (vitamin H) or zinc.

Brittle nail syndromes  (Onychoschizia and onychorrhexis) come in two directions – splitting of the nail horizontally is medically known as onychoschizia while vertical splits are referred to as onychorrhexis. Women and older people are most affected by the syndrome – age degrades keratin in the nail structure as does acetone in polish remover.

natural treatment spa for soft nail – mortar and pestle up some horsetail and paint on the liquid extract – rich in nail strengthening silica. Silica is also present in dandelions, asparagus, alfalfa, cabbage and cucumbers. from the kitchen, Biotin from avocados, mushrooms, Swiss chard and sunflowers seeds will strengthen nails from within but topically the natural oils from crushed sunflower seeds can strengthen and an avocado hand mask will treat not just the nails but the whole hand. Silica is available for internal top up or external application from olives, oats, radishes, bell peppers, rice, millet and soybeans

Cracked and splitting nails can beset gardeners as much as it can kitchen porters and it’s the same causative factor – repeated exposure to water and substances (detergents or hot compost) that degrades the keratin – the agent of the structural integrity of your nails. On average healthy nails average hold around 15- 18 percent water content. Less than that leads to brittle nails that split and crack easily but anything approaching 30 percent water content also triggers cracking – the keratin glue dissolves some bonds at that degree of saturation and nails quickly soften and damage.

A natural response – The answer is to moisturise your nails without saturating them- that’s as simple as an olive oil nail bath but if you blitz comfrey and horsetail in the oil base then the extra silicon and phytochemicals can strengthen as well as improve waterproofing. Growing your own garlic and including it in your diet will add several phytoconstituents that help you produce more keratin.

Hangnails are those torn pieces of skin right at the edge of a nail. Easily occasioned if you are a nail biter – don’t worry the dahlias will come up. Just as easily occasioned by cold weather or via water immersion or by exposure to detergents and other harsh chemicals. Pamper your nails and use an antibacterial wash to prevent hangnails becoming paronychia.

Ridges- occasionally raised lines develop in the nail, often harmless and natural disruption to normal cell division/ nail growth patterns – occasional indicative of trauma or a medical condition, they can appear horizontally or vertically. Often they will simply grow out. Any nail nourishment – be that an external horsetail finger bathe or eating zinc rich foods etc.- will benefit the condition of your nails.

Beau lines – not quite a love letter, rather a condition of the nail matrix where/when cells temporarily stop dividing – Nail growth is a result of normal cell division, the renewal/production of new cells from the matrix simply pushes the older cells outwards toward the fingertips. Named after the French physician Joseph Honore Simon Beau, he was the first to describe the condition which presents as multiple horizontal grooves in the fingernails. The groves run parallel to the base of the nail bed and are different to vertical ridges. Beau lines predominantly occur after/during illness or trauma – trauma to the person or direct trauma to the nail (hammer blow etc). The shock of an early frost won’t do it.

Vertical ridges – Running from the base of the nail to the tip. They are not generally occasioned by illness as with beau lines but rather manifest (or increase in prominence) with age.

Yellow nails – Tea, nicotine, turmeric and peaty soils can all stain a nail. But make sure it’s not a medical condition signifier. To whiten stained nails simply paint on a mix of 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 table spoon of olive oil.

White spots(leukonychia) commonly occasioned by a minor trauma – it is not a vitamin deficiency. The only effective treatment is to wait for the nail to grow it out – slowly pushing it to the tip as the nail grows. Leukonychia can also manifest as white streaks.

Sometimes an eczema outbreak can dot nails and some fungal infections begin as white spotting but neither are leukonychia – fungal will need treatment see fungal treatments here or in the book. Persistent spotting may indicate a liver or kidney function issue to be highlighted with a medical professional.

White Flecks – flecking can indicate a zinc deficiency or just be the temporary ‘scar’ from a trauma to the nail fold (located just under the cuticle) – as it grows out it become visible. Cereal with milk a few times a week supply’s both zinc and other nutrition that helps recovery or remove deficit. Nuts and seed also aid.

Pitting – when small depressions develop upon or within the nail surface it can be an indication of an underlying medical condition. Pitting can lead to the nail loosening and even nail bed detachment. Psoriasis can occasion pitting.

Curving nails (Koilonychia) is an abnormal growth pattern of the fingernail where the nail becomes thin, develops raised ridges commences to curve inward – it is an indication of an iron deficiency and often accompanies anaemia. Time to eat more brassicas and possibly take a supplement.

Discover more inside the book – available from all good booksellers

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Quick blitz raw garlic pesto

Garlic in our diet is often touted as a cure all, especially to fortify us against winter ills – but cooking it diminishes its healing chemistry, so here is a handy and very tasty way to get your raw on.

Quick blitz Raw Garlic Pesto – To a blender or food processor add 2 cloves of crushed garlic, 1 cup of basil, 1/3 cups grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, 1 tablespoon of pine nuts, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of black pepper. Quick whizz. Depending on the moisture levels in the basil – If too thick add a drop of water or a little extra oil to loosen to a preferred consistency. Will keep in fridge for a few days but best consumed within 3 days.

Some of the reticence to use fresh garlic is that it can linger on the breath – but chlorophyll binds to sulphur compounds and helps neutralize much of the odour. So making a raw garlic pesto is not only availing of the raw but it’s using basil with plenty of chlorophyll to make it much easier to consume and stay social.

Health benefits: Garlic’s botanical name is Allium sativum – ‘allium’ reminds us that it is in the onion family and has that particular flavour and aroma profile – which is due to its potent content of sulphur compounds. Those compounds can correct the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut biome, balance the good and bad cholesterol in your bloodstream, cleanse and strengthen red blood cells and improve the efficiency of white blood cells – so a big health kick. It also contains selenium and zinc, two mineral drivers of our immune system and utilized in how our body repairs and replenishes itself.

sativum denotes ‘cultivated’ and it has been welcomed and sustained as culinary and medicinal crop for thousands of years. Garlic features in both Mesopotamian writings and Egyptian art from 3000 B.C. and in every herbal written since – most of that context was as healing agent; Topically used to remedy fungal infections and even employed in oils as a hair cosmetic but most popular of all – eaten to bring vigour and vitality.

If I may add a modern caveat – garlic increases immune function and so moderation/ caution is required if you have an autoimmune condition. That doesn’t mean avoid altogether, it just means not every day.

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