DIY Kitchen Herbs

Fresh or dried herbs are relatively inexpensive to buy, so why cultivate your own?  Only you can answer that for yourself.  I like to grow as many of the herbs I use in the kitchen, myself!  Why?  Because they are fresh, I know they are not sprayed with pesticides etc. and they are just there right outside the back door.  I only ‘pick fresh’, dry or freeze whatever I will use, so no waste of produce or of money.   For me, there is also the basic satisfaction of seeing something grow, from seed in some cases, into something that adds, at its least, nutritional value and at its best may provide medicinal benefits with no inherent side-effects.  Bonus – they look so good in the garden!

I am not a qualified herbalist so any of the herbs I talk about in this post are in general circulation and use.  The benefits are easily researched and I will try to provide links for a deeper dive should you be interested in knowing more.  Apologies in advance for the links provided.  Many websites have an annoying number of ads and ‘request to subscribe’ pop-ups.  So, it is just extra information if you want and, of course, you can always do your own research.

You don’t need a big garden or even a garden at all, to grow herbs.  Most herbs can be grown in pots/planters.  My advice would be to grow the herbs you know you will use.  I have parsley, rosemary, sage, chives, lemon balm, thyme and lemon verbena.  I have recently started some coriander from seed as I read that even this late in the year it will grow.  I can verify that this is true as within a week the seeds have peeped above the soil.  I will soon need to transfer them into a bigger tray.  Another herb I will add next year is oregano.  I have grown mint in the past and it grows like crazy so you would need lots of growing space for it.  This would be a good example of weighing up whether to grow a herb or not.  Q) What would I use mint for?  A) Tea, flavouring drinks like Kombucha.  Q2) Would it be easier to buy some mint tea?  A2) Yes!   Conclusion – the inconvenience outweighs the benefit of growing it myself.

How to use your DIY Herbs

In the past I have used herbs fresh or frozen.  It is only this year that I have ventured into drying herbs for ‘future’ use.  Why?  It is somewhat prompted by rumours of possible disruption to food and energy supplies.  My personal philosophy being “better safe than sorry” and “sure why not”!   Once a herb is completely dried it can be stored long term and used in many ways.

So far I have not found it necessary to have a dehydrator to dry herbs.  These can be quite expensive machines but if you can afford one – good for you.  I hear dehydrators don’t use so much electricity so it would be ideal to have one if you are dehydrating lots of produce.  Some air fryers, as well a regular oven, can also be used to dehydrate food.

You can air dry your herbs, especially this time of year when it is warm and dry.  We are experiencing some lovely weather here in Ireland.   This is what I am doing at the moment (as seen in the picture on the left).  Here are the steps I follow – first pick a small amount of fresh herbs and then wash them thoroughly but gently.  Dry them off with a paper towel or clean tea towel.  The herbs are then ready to be ‘air dried’.  I just use some net bags and hang them from a pole in the utility room which gets plenty of light.  I have found that Rosemary and Lemon Balm dry quickly.  Parsley and Sage seem to take a little longer.  So, if you want to do your ‘storing’ all in the one day, you can finish off the drying in the oven.  The leaves should feel crunchy, not pliable in any way.  Spread the herbs onto a baking sheet in the oven.  Heat the oven to 50°C and leave the oven door ajar.   Check after 1/2 hr. to see if the herbs are crisp and dry, keep going until they are.  [Any moisture left in the leaves may cause the herb to grow mouldy in time and render them useless].  You can also do the whole drying process in the oven but you may as well benefit from this nice weather we are having.  Won’t cost you a thing!!

Once dried completely,  just add the Sage leaves and Lemon balm leaves to storage jars, just as they are.  I use the lemon balm for tea and cold drink flavouring.  Fresh lemon balm leaves can be used when baking fish in the oven.  Dried it can be added to any recipe to provide a lemony flavour.    Lemon balm is recommended for anxiety and insomnia.  It can be taken as a herbal tea at night.  More about the benefits of Lemon balm here.

Sage, I would use it mostly in savoury foods like soup, meat dishes and savoury breads.  It is quite delicious cooked in butter on the pan with sliced mushrooms.  It can also be used to make Sage tea and its benefits are many.  More about the benefits of Sage tea here.

Parsley – my favourite!!  The smell always bring me back to secondary school days – cookery class – you always had to have that sprig of parsley to garnish your dish!!  Shame if it is cast to one side.  Parsley is full of great nutrition.  It grows best in spring and summer so if you want to enjoy the taste and benefits all year round, drying is a good way to preserve it.  I got flat leaf  parsley seeds and started planting from seed this year for the first time.  Turned out great!!  It is flourishing in the garden planter.  I use it liberally in salads.  I’ve added it to lentil bread instead of dill and little by little I’m drying and storing it to use in the winter.  Parsley is rich in vitamins and minerals, and its high cholorophyll content makes is an excellent blood purifier.  After I dried a recent batch of parsley I ran it through the high speed blender to produce a powder.  This would be an excellent nutritious addition to a smoothie, soup or sauce.

Rosemary usually survives the winter and flourishes again in the spring, summer and autumn.  I add fresh cleaned rosemary sprigs to the bottle of any new purchase of olive oil.  Though it is not ‘obvious’ to the naked eye, oils go rancid over time and rancid oils are not healthy to consume.  Adding some fresh sprigs of Rosemary to the bottle slows down the ‘ageing’ process.   The electrons in the oil and those in the rosemary connect harmoniously making the oil more stable, not to mention more nutritious.  Place fresh clean springs of Rosemary on any meat you are going to cook.  Cooking meat produces ‘carcinogens’ in the process and Rosemary mitigates some of that damage.  I chopped up my last batch of dried Rosemary into really small pieces.  This would be perfect for including in meat dishes, for making Rosemary potato wedges etc.  The benefits of Rosemary are many and you can read more about it here.

All of the above herbs are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and rich in phyto-nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Growing and using your own herbs costs you one thing you may need to consider – TIME!  If you have a little time to spare, it is well worth the effort.  I would like to think that our food and fuel supply will always be assured, but ‘just in case’ this is one way to boost your nutrition using fresh and dried herbs from your own back yard.

Once you start you won’t be able to stop.

Anne ♥

 

Red Split Lentil Bread

I came across this recipe on YouTube.  I’ll provide the link below.  There are many versions of it online so you can check them out.

This one is basic and within the video the presenter gives a second option which includes the addition of cheese, herbs and spices to make a more savoury bread.  I hope to try that for my next bake.

The ingredients are simple and accessible.  It is ‘gluten free’ but not dairy free.  The presenter does mention ways around that, so you could check that out.  For bread I usually buy sourdough from Lidl and have noticed a recent price increase which is quite a leap from €1.95 to €2.15 for a cob.  I’m aware that I can make bread from oat flour and I do use this for crumbles and other bakes but for me personally I tend not to digest grains very well, especially early in the day when I’m most likely to eat bread.  The fermenting process with sourdough makes digestion easier for me, but I’m always looking for other healthy alternatives.  Also, in case my ‘go to’ bread becomes even more expensive, in these ‘uncertain times’, I will have some tried and tested options to fall back on.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups of red split lentils
  • 1 cup natural yogurt or Greek yogurt
  • 20g baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 60 mls of Olive Oil
Method:

Wash the red split lentils in a bowl until the water runs clear.  Leave the lentils to soak overnight in water.  Drain off the water through a sieve.  With a food processor (blade attachment) liquidize the lentils.  Remove half the mixture into a separate bowl.  To half the mixture still in the food processor, add the eggs, yogurt, olive oil, salt and baking powder.  Run until completely blended opening the lid to scrap down the side a couple of times.   Pour this mixture into the bowl with the rest of the lentils and mix well.  Pour into a greased tin.  Spread some seeds on top.  The video presenter used Sesame and Nigella seeds.  I did not have these to hand so I used sunflower seeds.  Place in a preheated oven at 180°C for 35-40 minutes.

To the left is a picture of the bread.  It turned out well.  I made the mistake of turning the oven dial to 280°C and only noticed it at about 15 minutes in, so this may have affected the bake? I’ll know the next time I bake it if there is a difference!  When I am making this again I think it might be better to line the baking tin, as I found it difficult to get the bread out.  The video had suggested using olive oil to grease the tin.

My thoughts on the bread

It’s texture is more ‘cake like’ than standard ‘bread like’ and the taste is more savoury than floury.  It is a little bit crumbly at first but when it is completely cooled down it holds together quite well.  It has a richer taste than standard bread.  It goes well with savoury food like nut butter and with a salad.  I have tried toasting some under the grill and in a toaster for a heated up version. It does not brown like standard bread, but it still works well toasted.   It goes down very well (digestion wise) I have had no acid or digestive discomfort after eating it.  It also goes well with sweet foods like banana or jam, however, the more ‘cake like’ texture may not stand up to a lot of handling.  For example, it might be better to slice some banana onto the bread rather than mash it on which could cause the bread to break up under the pressure.  Not ideal if you want to lift a slice up to your mouth!

In terms of nutritional value and value for money I will definitely be adding this to my ‘go to recipes’.  Lentils are a very good source of beneficial carbohydrates, protein, fibre, B vitamins and a variety of minerals including iron.  They are ‘gluten free’ and inexpensive.  I always use Free Range or Organic eggs.  Thankfully these are easily available to me.  Extra Virgin Olive oil is full of monounsaturated fatty acids which are very healthy fats to consume.   So lots of good nutrition there!!

I am storing this bread in an airtight container and because temperatures are quite warm at the moment, I’m keeping this in the fridge.  If you are of the mindset that bread should only present and taste a certain way, then this may be a bit of a stretch for you, but I have to say I’m very happy with the outcome.

 

 

←  Click this icon to view the video entitled:

Lentil Bread Recipe’ by Refika’s Kitchen

[Video is approximately 9 mins]

 

Enjoy 🙂

Anne

 

How to make Sauerkraut

I have to admit that even since childhood I have NOT been a fan of cooked cabbage or any cooked cruciferous vegetables for that matter.  In retrospect, when I consider how it was offered ‘plain cooked, perhaps even overcooked, smelly veg’ 😦 , I’m not surprised it didn’t appeal.  ‘No offence mother’!!  I could not be swayed, and I mean, AT ALL!!

Turns out cruciferous vegetables (cabbage in all its forms, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, radishes etc.) are one of the most nutritionally valuable and health beneficial foods you can consume.  The phytonutrients (phyto = plant) in crucifers protect our health by working as antioxidants to disarm free radicals before they can damage DNA, cell membranes and fat-containing molecules such as cholesterol.  These compounds actually signal our genes to increase production of enzymes involved in detoxification, the cleansing process through which our bodies eliminate harmful compounds.

In any case, I won’t be too hard on myself for having rejected crucifers for so long, since boiling drastically reduces the nutritional benefits which is lost through heat and into the water that went down the plug hole 😊.  In later years however, I happily consume various forms of raw cabbage e.g. coleslaw and other cruciferous containing salad dishes and of course, sauerkraut.   Some lightly steamed Broccoli drenched in butter with a sprinkle of pepper is also very pleasing to my taste buds, whereas to eat it overcooked is still a chore ☹  Here it is worth noting for anyone with Thyroid issues, it is best to cook crucifers even a little to deactivate the goitrogens contained in these vegetables.

You can read more about the benefits of cruciferous vegetables here.

Finally, with regard to the benefit of cruciferous vegetable in general, most nutritional therapists will be familiar with these benefits in relation to hormonal balance for both male and female hormones.  An increase in consumption of cruciferous vegetables is usually recommended and/or supplementation with diindolylmethane or DIM for short.

Classic Sauerkraut Recipe
(Dry salting method)     [To make one – 2 Litre Jar]
  • Head of Red or White Cabbage or mix
  • Sea Salt (800g of cabbage to 1 tablespoon of salt)
  • Juniper berries (1 ½ tblsp)
  • Caraway seeds (1 tblsp)
Method:
  1. Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and cut out the core, then shred the cabbage. You can use a sharp kitchen knife or the shredder blade on a food processor.
  2. Place the cabbage in a large bowl and add the salt. Massage the salt through the cabbage and leave to stand for 30-60 minutes.  Mix in the berries and seeds.  (These add flavour but are optional).
  3. With washed hands massage the mixture until it is wet and limp.
  4. Fill a sterilized jar with handfuls of the mixture, making sure to press it firmly down with your fist. You will see more liquid seeping out.
  5. Fill the jar to within 2.5cm of the top. For successful fermentation it is crucial to keep the cabbage submerged, so place a weight on it.  [You can use the outer leaves at the top of the kraut and place a weight in the middle.  I have some heavy glass t-light holders which I have found to work well].
  6. Close the lid. Leave it sit for anything from 1 to 6 weeks.
  7. If you are using an airtight jar you may need to burp (release the build-up of carbon dioxide gas) by opening the lid once in a while. [Personally, I have never had to do this and have left my Sauerkraut ferments for 21 days unopened on most occasions.   Just keep an eye on it.  Local temperature is a key factor and in Ireland anyway, temperatures are generally not that high so it slows the process down.  Fermenting is definitely a learning process and you’ll get to know what to expect the more you experiment].
  8. When you are happy with the flavour and texture you can store the jar in the fridge. [I tend to make a bigger amount than I can use so I usually transfer it to smaller jars in the fridge].

Note:  The longer you leave your sauerkraut to ferment the more of a probiotic punch it will contain.

Sauerkraut benefits:

The process of fermentation increases the bio-availability of the plants nutrients making it even more nutritious than the original cabbage.  It is high in Vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium and a very good source of dietary fibre.  Other minerals it contains are iron, potassium, copper and manganese.

If you happen to find yourself in love with sauerkraut, please note that moderation is advised.  It is best to eat fermented cruciferous vegetables as condiments, not as large components of the diet.

You can do a deeper dive into the benefits of Sauerkraut here.

For me, as I’ve said, it provides a tasty, easily made and stored source of vegetable and at the same time a source of natural probiotic.  The strains of live friendly bacteria are diverse.  Probiotics in supplement form are great but you could cut out this expense by regularly including fermented foods into your diet.  It is comparatively way less expensive.  It may cost you a little more time in the kitchen but even this is minimal as it becomes just part of your routine.

I started my fermenting journey with Kefir.  I’m not a big fan of milk so I didn’t continue making this for very long.  Then I moved on to making Kombucha.  This is really nice and I tried many and varied types of tea and added flavours.  But, to date my favourite ferment besides Sauerkraut, is ‘Probiotic Fizzy Lemonade’.  It doesn’t have to be lemon. You can find my instructions on this website here. I have most recently tried pomegranate and this turned out to be really, really tasty.

Though my fermenting journey started with my Nutritional Therapy training where we learned to make kefir and water kefir, I currently rely on ‘The Cultured Club’ book by Dearbhla Reynolds to expand my knowledge and experience with ferments.

References

The Cultured Club’ ….subtitle ‘Fabulous Funky Fermentation Recipes’  by Derbhla Reynolds.

World’s Healthiest Foods [On-line] – ‘Optimizing Your Cells’ Detoxification/Cleansing Ability by Eating Cabbage and Other Cruciferous Veg’

Dr. Axe [On-line] – ‘5 Health Benefits of Sauerkraut and How to Make Your Own’

Immune Support – Vitamin C

The Role of Vitamin C in Immunity

Vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system.  In times of high stress the adrenals glands are also under more pressure to produce the stress hormones to keep us going, but at a cost.  Vitamin C helps to heal any damage caused by excess stress.

But we can only get Vitamin C from our diet.  The body cannot make it. 

Vitamin C is also a water soluble vitamin so it doesn’t stay in the body for long.  This is good in one sense as there is no chance of toxicity.  On the other hand, this means we need to be sure of getting our daily dose.

Food is a great bio-available way to boost your vitamin C intake.  Make sure to get some into your diet to build a strong immune system.

Research into the use of high dose IV Vitamin C with Corona Virus patients in China showed promising results by reducing symptoms and speeding recovery.  You can read more about it at this website www.vitaminC4covid.com

Getting your daily Vitamin C

Although getting IV Vitamin C is not something we can generally avail of, we can take preventive measure by ensuring we have adequate Vitamin C in our diet for a start.  The photo above gives the best food sources.

After that, if you feel a cold or any infection coming on, you can easily boost your Vitamin C levels.  A good powdered form of Vitamin C is available from most health stores.  You could add 1 gram to a bottle of water and take a few mouthfuls every hour throughout the day.  You can also buy ‘slow release Vitamin C ‘ which will be released into the body over time.  This is the best way to take Vitamin C because the body will eliminate any Vitamin C it cannot use there and then.  Vitamin C is not stored in the body like the fat soluble vitamins A and D.

Another link

Alliance of Natural Health – Research :  Covid 19 and Vitamin C

♥ Anne

Banana Oat Snack Bars

Wait… don’t throw out those spotty bananas.  Here’s a recipe I often use to make these delicious and filling seed/nut bars.  It is so quick and easy to put together.  If you’re someone that skips breakfast at home because your morning schedule is hectic then these are perfect to transport and eat when you can eventually take five!  Also ideal for a mid-morning or afternoon snack or the kiddies school lunchbox.

Nuts and seeds are so full of essential minerals but we are often low on ideas of how to include them in the diet.  The sweetness and moisture of these bars comes from the ripe bananas, maple syrup and dates.  These increase the glycaemic load [GL], so don’t go overboard, it’s still a sweet treat!!  However, the 183 calories per bar are not ’empty calories’, they’re packed with healthy nutrients.

One bar gives you 8% of your recommended daily intake [RDI] of sugar and 10% RDI of fibre which will help dull down that sugar spike.  The cinnamon will also help balance blood sugar.  High in natural polyunsaturated fats including 25% RDI of Omega 3.  High in essential minerals and trace minerals especially manganese at 44% RDI.  Manganese is an important trace mineral needed for many vital functions, including nutrient absorption, production of digestive enzymes, bone development and immune-system defenses.  You are also getting Vitamin E, some of the B vitamins including a high amount of B5 to keep you calm, and the amino acid ‘tryptophan’ at 129mg per 100g to help regulate mood, sleep and hormone balance.   Well worth the 10 minutes it might take to mix it up – ready for the oven.

The great thing about this recipe is that most of the ingredients have a long shelf life making it easy to include as one of your regular bakes.

Recipe

Source:   Eat Your Greens.com

180g rolled oats (use gluten free oats for ‘gluten free’)
50g sunflower seeds
50g pumpkin seeds
35g almonds, roughly chopped
35g walnuts, roughly chopped
45g pitted dates, chopped
3 small or 2 large ripe bananas
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1 tablespoon of Maple Syrup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Butter or coconut oil, for greasing baking tray

Method

Preheat oven to 350°F / 180° C or 160° C (Fan).  Grease the bottom and sides of the baking tray or line it with greaseproof paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, seeds, nuts and dried fruit.  Place the bananas, vanilla or maple syrup, salt and cinnamon in the bowl of a small food processor or blender and process until smooth. This can also be done without a blender. Pour the banana puree over the oat mixture and stir until all the dry ingredients are evenly moist.  Press mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, until firm and lightly browned on the edges.  Let cool completely and cut into 12 bars.  You can store them in an airtight container for a couple days.  They will keep in the fridge for a week or more.  You can also wrap them individually and place them in a freezer bag or container and freeze them for up to 3 months.

You can really enjoy this ‘sweet treat’ knowing your body is getting the nutrients it needs to stay healthy 🙂   Oh…. and they really do taste Yum!

Recipe adapted from 'Eat Your Greens - Nut & Seed Banana Oat Bars' 2013

Magnesium ‘Miracle Mineral’

In my first blog about Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, I explained that it is unusual for Nutritional Therapists to recommend a single nutrient supplement, but that Vitamin D could be the exception.  Why?   Over many years, science has shown how insufficient vitamin D levels contribute to health concerns on virtually every level and many have responded by boosting levels with supplementation or quality time in the sun.   But here is another nutrient which has a similarly wide-reaching effect in the body, which is also largely deficient in the population and could benefit from supplementation.  Magnesium!  Every known illness is associated with magnesium deficiency.  Like vitamin D, magnesium supports seemingly endless functions and bodily systems.   It is a macro-mineral, the fourth most abundant in the body and a co-factor (a molecule that assists in chemical processes in the body) for the proper functioning of 325 enzymes.  Ongoing magnesium deficiency has been linked to numbness and tingling, muscle cramps and twitches, headaches and migraines, constipation, insomnia, irregular heart rhythms, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, premenstrual syndrome, personality changes, anxiety, fatigue and weakness, fibromyalgia, vertigo, and seizures…. and that’s just for a start!   But why such widespread lack?  Historically humans met their needs for magnesium through clean spring, river or lake mineral rich water and ate food grown in mineral rich soil.  Magnesium is much more plentiful in the diet than vitamin D, provided you are including magnesium rich foods.  Even so, mineral depleted soil produces a much lower mineral content in natural foods as compared to the beginning of the last century.  Other modern day factors also contribute to its depletion in the body such as stress, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods and sugar.  In this context, deficiency is easier to fathom!  Like vitamin D, having sufficient levels of magnesium could stack the potential for many more health benefits in your favour.  If you are interested in knowing more about magnesium, the best dietary and other sources, and the best type of magnesium to supplement with, then read on!   Q. Prefer to watch a video?  I have posted a link at the end of the blog.

Continue reading “Magnesium ‘Miracle Mineral’”

The Sunshine Vitamin D

As part of my Nutritional Therapy course I had to complete a scientific review of current research on the impact a single nutrient might have on a specific disease.   I chose Vitamin D and Osteoporosis [OP].  I wanted to answer the question ‘does current research show that adequate levels of Vitamin D have a positive impact on OP’?   Turns out that it does!   Not surprising I hear you say!  Most of us already know from TV commercials that Vitamin D is necessary for healthy bones and to absorb calcium.  But how much is adequate?   I discovered there are many and widely differing opinions on this and just when I thought I had this bit figured out, I learned that no vitamin works in isolation in the body anyway.   Plus, there are so many factors other than nutrients involved in disease progression.   I found out Vitamin D is not even a vitamin really!   It was designated a ‘vitamin’ based on its role as a dietary factor that aided in the cure of rickets.  It is now understood to be more ‘hormone like’ in its action.   Did you know, it is difficult to get adequate Vitamin D through diet alone?  Vitamin D is not even required in the diet if there is sufficient sunlight to allow its production from pro-Vitamin D molecules in the skin.  It is made in the body with its own Vitamin D receptors [VDRs].  For this reason it could be classified as a hormone rather than a vitamin (a vital amine).  Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide epidemic across all ages, genders and geographic locations with multiple implications on human health, due to its role in various bodily systems.   Even if you can avail of adequate year round sun-exposure on bare skin, the time of day, the colour of your skin and your age will also influence how much Vitamin D your body can produce.   A Nutritional Therapist seldom recommends a single vitamin but Vitamin D could be the exception to that rule, though it requires magnesium to be absorbed property and works in synergy with Vitamin K2.  Deficiency of Vitamin D has an impact on so many body systems yet symptoms of deficiency are not very obvious.  The only way to really know if you are deficient is to take a 25(OH)D blood test.   Are you getting enough of the ‘Sunshine’ Vitamin?  Let me help you figure it out!

Continue reading “The Sunshine Vitamin D”