Food Therapy

Fire Cider: an herbal tonic for wellness!

Fire Cider

We’re deep into cold season here in Minnesota. My partner, my friends, and most of my clients seem to be dealing with nasty colds right now! I’ve managed to stay illness-free so far (knock on wood), and Fire Cider has been one of my stand-by immune system support allies the last few weeks. Fire Cider is a keep-on-hand pantry classic for good health. As a general health tonic, taking a shot of Fire Cider is an awesome way start your morning or as a pick me up when you're feeling low. It's also indispensable to help kick out the early stages of a cold!

In the kitchen, Fire Cider makes a great culinary ingredient, for use cocktails, sparkling water, or in salad dressings and marinades. I used some as part of the dressing on a bean salad recently, and it was a hit.

Why buy bottles of packaged Fire Cider at the co-op or Whole Foods when you can make a batch at home yourself (or with friends!) and take an active role in supporting your own health? Get on it and build that healing pantry yourself.

What is Fire Cider?

Fire Cider is a combination of herbs and medicinal foods soaked in vinegar, so named by the great Rosemary Gladstar years and years ago. Every herbalist has their own version of Fire Cider, and the internet is bursting with variations. This bold mix of horseradish, garlic, ginger, onion, turmeric,  chili peppers, lemons, raw honey, and a few other herbal allies is a naturally anti-viral, anti-bacterial dream come true, helping to stimulate the immune system, support the qi (your body's functional energy), increase circulation, promote detoxification, and kick out pathogenic factors with every zesty dose.

The spicy, sour, bitter, acrid, and sweet flavor combination is very moving and stimulating to the body's blood, qi, and fluids, making it a great choice if you're feeling a cold coming on, are "stuck in a rut" or depressed, have tight achy muscles, spend a lot of time sitting at a desk all day, have cold hands and feet, have a slow-moving digestive system, have phlegm stuck in your lungs, or are recovering from a few too many cocktails last night....

As for my version of Fire Cider, I like adding I like adding thyme, rosemary, dried, shredded astragalus root, and shredded fresh burdock root. Thyme is nourishing and moving to the qi, and rosemary stimulates digestion. Both work together to support the qi, loosen and transform phlegm and mucous, and resolve pathogenic factors like colds and flus.

Astragalus (huang qi) is one of my herbal sweethearts, a wonderfully tonifying herb that helps to build the body's blood and qi, support the Lungs, and promote stable energy levels and digestive function. In Chinese herbal medicine, astragalus is also treasured for its ability to boost protective qi and protect your body against pathogenic factors -- that's Chinese medicine talk for your immune system.

Burdock root is a long, slender, wily-looking root, with a rough brown exterior and a cream colored, starchy interior. When exposed to oxygen, shredded and sliced burdock root turns brown very quickly -- as evidenced by the deep brown color in the photo above. Burdock has powerful detoxifying, heat clearing, dampness draining, and external pathogen clearing effects. I like adding sliced burdock root to broths, stocks, and stews, and often throw dried burdock root in liver-supportive herbal tea blends.

How does it taste?

It tastes like it means business -- spicy, sour, bitter, sweet, acrid, and awesome. It's called Fire Cider for a reason.

Is there anyone who shouldn't use Fire Cider?

While Fire Cider is considered generally safe, there are some situations where it may not be the right fit for certain individuals. People taking prescription blood thinners (like Coumadin or Warfarin) may want to avoid Fire Cider completely, or use extreme caution -- many these herbs have blood thinning properties, so you will want to work with you physician to make sure your INR levels are stable. Additionally, the immune-stimulating properties of Fire Cider may be problematic for individuals with autoimmune conditions. Caution should also be taken by anyone taking several prescription medications, or individuals who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Finally, if you're a hot tempered or easily irritable person who is warm all the time, sweaty, and gets easily red and shiny in the face, this Fire Cider may just be a little too much, um, fire for you. Try some soothing green tea, lemon balm tea, nettle tea, or mint tea instead.

If you have questions on whether Fire Cider is right for you, speak to your healthcare practitioner.



A jar of beautiful and powerful ingredients, ready to get doused in vinegar!

A jar of beautiful and powerful ingredients, ready to get doused in vinegar!

Fire Cider Recipe

yield: 1 quart

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar

  • 1 cup fresh horseradish root, grated (do not peel)

  • 1 cup fresh burdock root, grated (do not peel)

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • ½ cup peeled garlic cloves, chopped

  • ½ cup fresh ginger root, grated (do not peel)

  • ½ cup fresh turmeric root, grated (do not peel), or 1 tablespoon dried powdered turmeric if fresh is unavailable

  • rind and juice of 3 small, organic unwaxed lemons

  • 2 jalapeño peppers, sliced

  • ¼ cup dried, shredded or sliced astragalus root (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon dry thyme leaves, or a few sprigs fresh

  • 1 tablespoon dry rosemary leaves, or a few sprigs fresh

  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • ¼-½ cup raw honey

Instructions:

Scrub all ingredients well, and prepare as directed above.I used the largest holes on a box grater to grate the horseradish, burdock, ginger, and turmeric roots. If grating by hand isn't your style, you could probably use the grating/shredding blade in a food processor, but I've never done it this way! Take caution while grating horseradish and chopping onions and peppers, to ensure that your eyes and skin are protected. Wear gloves, or make sure to wash hands well after contact with these ingredients!

Layer all ingredients EXCEPT honey into a ½ gallon (aka 2 quart) mason jar. Cover with vinegar. Put a square of wax paper or parchment over the top of the jar, then screw on lid over the wax/parchment paper. Steep for 4-6 weeks, shaking daily. Check often to make sure ingredients are covered completely by apple cider vinegar, topping off with more vinegar as needed.

After 4-6 weeks, open jar and strain out vinegar into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheese cloth. Squeeze ingredients in cheesecloth to get out remaining vinegar. Stir honey into vinegar, to taste. Transfer into air-tight bottles or jars, and store in a dark, cool place. Done! Shake bottle well before each use. As long as the contents of the jar stay uncontaminated, this stuff lasts for a long time - feel free to keep in the fridge for longer storage.

Dosage:

  • As a general health tonic, take 1/2-1 oz shots daily, or as needed.

  • For acute cold symptoms, 1/2 - 1 oz shots every few hours at the first sign of a cold, until symptoms subside.

  • As a culinary ingredient, use as you would vinegar, adding to dressings, marinades, sauces, or mixing in cocktails or sparkling water.

Variations:

This recipe is endlessly versatile. Here’s a handful of ways to change up this recipe…

  • if you can’t find an ingredient listed above, that’s okay, you can always make it without

  • use other types of hot peppers

  • add a few green onions

  • swap out lemons for limes, oranges, or tangerines

  • add additional herbs with medicinal properties, like oregano, sage, schisandra berries, licorice, or dried medicinal mushrooms like shiitake or reishi

*The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

*Heads up! This post may contain some affiliate links. If you buy something through one of those links you won't pay a single cent more, but I'll get a small commission that helps keep the content flowing. P.S. I only recommend products I use in my own daily life!

Beyond Milk: Dairy-Free Sources of Calcium

Beyond Milk: Dairy-Free Sources of Calcium

Do you know that 2 cups of cooked kale has more calcium than a 1/2 cup of milk?

The government recommendation for adults ages 19-50 is 1000 mg of calcium per day. One cup of milk has 296 mg, but there are plenty of reasons you might not to drink milk, from personal preference to medical reasons.  If you avoid dairy due to intolerance or allergy, you may think that you don't have very many options to get adequate calcium. How wrong you are! A diverse diet of whole foods provides endless ways to get easily absorbable calcium, without having to take supplements.  

Maximizing Calcium Absorption

These suggestions are adapted from World's Healthiest Foods:

  • Vitamin D accelerates the absorption of calcium from the gastrointestinal tract.  Fish oil, cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, sardines, liquid and pill vitamin D supplements, and various non-dairy milks fortified with D are good ways to get vitamin D in your diet.
  • High consumption of potassium reduces the urinary excretion of calcium.  To learn more about dietary sources of potassium, check out this post. 
  • High intakes of sodium, caffeine, or protein cause an increase in the urinary excretion of calcium.
  • Certain types of dietary fiber like the fiber found in wheat and oat bran, may interfere with calcium absorption by decreasing transit time (the amount of time it takes for digested foods to move through the intestines), limiting the amount of time during digestion for calcium to be absorbed. Dietary fiber also stimulates the proliferation of "friendly" bacteria in the gut, which bind calcium and make it less available for absorption.
  • Phytic acid, found in whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes, can bind to calcium to form and insoluble complex, thereby decreasing the absorption of calcium.  To reduce phytic acid content in these foods, soak your grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes before consuming. 
  • Oxalic acid, found in spinach, beets, celery, pecans, peanuts, tea and cocoa, can bind to calcium and form an insoluble complex that is excreted in the feces. While research studies confirm the ability of phytic acid and oxalic acid in foods to lower availability of calcium, the decrease in available calcium is relatively small. 

Chickpeas pack 105 mg of calcium per cooked cup

On visiting a nutritionist and making Mango Chicken Curry and Steamed Napa Cabbage & Fennel

On visiting a nutritionist and making Mango Chicken Curry and Steamed Napa Cabbage & Fennel

IMG_0124

I recently had a session with Jennette Turner, a Natural Foods Educator here in Minneapolis, MN. Jennette has a lot of experience and a grounded, whole foods approach to nutrition. From her website: "Jennette earned her Holistic Nutrition degree after three years of intensive study at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. After graduation, Jennette taught classes at the Institute alongside Paul Pitchford, Sally Fallon and Annemarie Colbin. She is a certified member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and a member of the Weston A. Price Nutrition Foundation. Her articles have appeared in publications nationwide."  I was excited to hear that she has spoken at the WAPF Conference - I've always wanted to go!  She also  has a really cool meal planning subscription called Dinner with Jennette. My new housemate subscribed last year - some strange coincidence, right? - so we have a stockpile of recipes that I'm excited to go through.

I really enjoyed my appointment with Jennette, and found her approach to diet completely affirming. I struggle - like so many of you do, too - with my weight, and body images issues, and spinning cycles of "I should eat this" or "I shouldn't eat that" and feeligns of guilt. I get all tied up in knots, and end up denying myself things, only to binge on them later. Jennette had excellent advice for me about new ways to approach how I thought about eating. she gave me book titles to read, and affirmed all the work I've done to change my diet and improve my health with food. And the best part yet? She told me to stop worrying about my weight, eat what I want, and see if my cravings reduce.  She told me to eat breakfast at home instead of eating at my desk at work. She told me to eat lots of butter and protein.. She told me to eat snacks during the day.  She gave me great recipes to try.

Tips for Cooking when You're Chronically Ill

Tips for Cooking when You're Chronically Ill

Any of us with food allergies and intolerances already have a lot of work to do in the kitchen. But when you are also battling with any type of chronic illness, the challenge becomes even more intense. Combining a limited diet with feeling sick all the time makes it hard to get the motivation and energy to cook. I mean really, when you don’t feel well the last thing you want to do is cook, right?  

I have been fortunate that my Lyme symptoms have never made me totally unable to cook for myself. I have always been able to grocery shop and prepare my own meals.  And while I've always been able to do it, a few years ago when I was very sick it was completely exhausting. I was so brain foggy and fatigued that preparing a meal took forever, and left me feeling trained. I lived alone and was working a full time job, and it was a serious struggle.

During those times, I figured out some tips and tricks that helped me along the way - things that I still do today even though I'm feeling better. The trick is learning how to make the most of your time in the kitchen and get the most out of your meals.  Making big batches, eating whole foods, and getting help from friends are just a few ideas. Here are some of my favorite things I learned, and I hope they help you too.

Tips for Cooking when You're Chronically Ill 

Make big batches and freeze the leftovers. When you’re having a good day or when you have help from a friend, make big batches.  It is more work on the front end, but ultimately, it leaves you with less work.  You can eat off your big batch all week or freeze the leftovers for later.  Basics like cooked rice, quinoa, millet, or any kind of cooked beans can last for 5-7 days in the fridge if tightly sealed, and they can freeze very well for months.  Prepared foods like soups, lasagna (with brown rice lasagna noodles!), casseroles,  burgers and meatballs, and homemade breads and muffins freeze amazingly well. I use a FoodSaver to vacuum package all my foods for the freezer.  Then when I am super busy or having a bad day and can’t deal with being in the kitchen, I can just reach in the freezer and get something wholesome!

Get friendly with quick to prepare whole foods.

  • Split mung beans and lentils cook quick very quickly and don’t require pre-soaking.

  • Whole grains like quinoa, millet, and buckwheat cook in under 20 minutes. Make big pots of a couple different grains at the start of the week and eat off them all week in salads, soups, or just plain.

  • Winter squash are nutritious and so easy to bake, and you can eat off them for days.

  • Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes can be baked whole in the oven or microwave, and stored in the fridge for 3-4 days.

  • Most vegetables can be eaten raw if you don’t want to deal with cooking them. Make a meal of bean dip, raw vegetables, and miso soup.

Steam vegetables. Steamed vegetables take only minutes to prepare, are easy to digest, and can be eaten any time of day with any kind of other foods. You can steam vegetables on the stovetop with a steaming basket in a pot, or you can purchase electric vegetable steamer appliances if you don’t trust yourself (and your Lyme brain) with open flame.  My rice cooker even has a vegetable steaming tray that I sometimes use if I don’t feel like using the stovetop.

Make salads and get comfortable with eating raw.  The easiest food in the book.  Bag of pre-washed baby greens, some kind of protein (beans, meat, fish, nuts), and a handful of other vegetables, or a scoop of quinoa or millet.  Add some salad dressing or a little oil and vinegar, lemon juice, or  sprinkle of vitamin C crystals, and you’re done!  Under 5 minutes.  If your body tolerates raw vegetables well, learn to love eating raw veggies with your meals – less prep work, and good for you too!

Eat plenty of nutrient-dense foods. Don't skimp on the calories and fat. Make sure you eat enough during the day, eating eveyr few hours to keep your blood sugar stable and your metabolism going. Assuming that your body can digest fats well,  you should eat lots of healthy fats throughout the day.  Not only will it help the your brains nerve coatings, it will help your body tissues, and give you a sense of satisfaction.  Cook with coconut oil or ghee, and add olive oil, flax oil, pumpkin seed oil, and help oil to salads or over baked sweet potatoes.  Eat plenty of avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut milk, and high quality olives.  If you can, make bone broth, which is a good source of natural fat and nourishing gelatins. While you are healing, it is imperative that you keep your body well nourished, and eating quality fat can really help.

Supporting the Spleen with Chinese Nutrition Therapy

Supporting the Spleen with Chinese Nutrition Therapy

This is an updated and combined repost of three articles I wrote for the blog Lymenaide, originally posted on in January and February 2010.  If you have Lyme Disease, or have a love one with Lyme, I highly recommend Lymenaide!  Started by Ashley Von Tol and featuring three other contributing writers (myself included) it is an amazing source of information for all things related to Lyme Disease.

This is a long one friends, so get a cup of tea and start reading!


Supporting the Spleen with Chinese Nutrition Therapy

 

Adapted from three articles originally posted 1/22/10, 1/29/10, and 2/2/10 on Lymenaide

Since starting antibiotics a few weeks ago, I’ve noticed that my anxiety seems to have gotten worse. Not panic attack worse – that’s not my modus operandi – but I certainly notice myself ruminating a lot more than usual, and more soggy in the brain department.  I know that Herxing can do this.  But this mental stagnation, combined with my recent insomnia and appetite changes led me to believe I am suffering a little spleen disharmony too. When I told all of this to my acupuncturist, she nodded understandingly. “Antibiotics supress the spleen,” she told me. “Disharmony in the spleen is linked to anxiety and worry, so if you’re suppressing the spleen, all those issues are just going to get worse.”

Ah ha!  It was like a lightbulb turned on my head.  It all made sense!

For a few years I’ve been digging into the world of Chinese nutrition therapy; it was one of the first things I turned to when my symptoms got really bad in 2008.  My long-time general interest in Chinese medicine turned into a growing obsession, and I started taking classes to get my master's degree in Acupuncture and Oriental medicine. However, health problems with Lyme forced me to put that all on hold - it's too hard while healing from Lyme to leave a well paying job with health insurance to starting living on loans and be insanely busy.  I decided I needed to heal myself before I could learn how to heal others.

 

Pathway of the spleen meridian. Image source: www.soulfood4health.com/ meridians.html

Understanding the Spleen

Unless you’re familiar with the basic ideas of Chinese medicine, you’re probably wondering what the spleen, an organ that receives little to no attention in Western medicine, has to do with anything, especially anxiety. Here’s a little primer and very brief, rather rudimentary introduction.

There are five primary organ networks that form the basis of traditional Chinese physiology. Each primary (yin) organ has a pairing (yang) organ, as follows: Spleen/Pancreas (Stomach), the Heart (Small Intestine), the Liver (Gallbladder), the Lung (Large Intestine), and the Kidney (Bladder). Each organ network is associated with a phase, which encompasses a stage of transformation through life, time, and space, and is associated with a certain element. While each organ plays an important role in the transformation and utilization of qi (roughly translated as vital life energy) in the body, the spleen is kind of the ring leader of the circus.

I like the way that Harriet Beinfeld phrases the role of the spleen in her book Between Heaven and Earth:

Like Mother Earth, the Spleen is the constant provider, the hearth around which the body gathers to renew itself.

Not surprisingly, the spleen is associated with the Earth element. It likes to be warm, is nourished by sweet flavors, and needs regularity. The spleen-stomach is responsible for starting the process of digestion, the process by which our bodies our nourished. You know the phrase “When momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” An unhappy spleen is like an unhappy mother; everyone and everything are affected. The results of spleen disharmony are wide and varied. Ever wonder why anxiety or worry upsets your digestion?  Disharmony in the spleen-stomach is why; the flow of qi is severely compromised.  Even general spleen qi deficiency will compromise digestion, leading to improper assimilation of nutrients, irregular stools, and nausea, abdominal cramping, and discomfort. A deficient spleen may leave one feeling fatigued and exhausted. It affects our ability to deal with stress and manage pressures, and will often lead to physical and mental stagnation and compulsive behavior. Blood sugar levels and metabolism may be affected. Spleen deficiency can also lead to dampness, which can be described as yeast, bacterial, viral, or mucous imbalances (yes, like Candida albicans!).