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Article Table of Contents
Iris Herbal Library
Articles by Cathy Hope

Hypothyroid: An Alternative Approach   Proscribed foods; Problematic contributing factors; Alternatives to drug therapy.

The Earth Medicine Gazette
Articles by Carole Tashel
Tone Your Bones: Osteoporosis Myths & Misconceptions   Facts that may surprise you and contradict what you've been led to believe.
Outsmarting the Flu: The Art of Fever Management   Fevers -- part of a thorough, natural defense against infection.
Flu Shots: Yes or No?   Avian flu is in the news. Should you get vaccinated against the flu?
Vibrant Health On a Tightwad Budget Why it Pays to Make Friends With Weeds
Heart Health:
Why the experts are wrong on cholesterol
Growing a Backyard Medicine Chest Garden:
How to grow the plants and make medicines
The Unexpected Gifts of Stinging Nettle
Protect Yourself From Radiation Damage
Menopause Medicine: Minor miracles to make it easier
Hysterectomy Hysteria: or .... How to hang onto your uterus
Straight Talk About the Immune System:
Six ways to avoid getting sick … and what to do if you succumb

Beyond Eating: Tips For Absorbing Your Food

Miscellaneous Articles of Interest

Iris Herbal Products



Beyond Eating: Tips For Absorbing Your Food

by Carole Tashel

If you are health-conscious, each week you probably take home armloads of dark green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds and perhaps some dairy, meat, fish or poultry. That's great, but remember, "You are not what you eat, but what you absorb." This newsletter offers ideas to make it more likely that your food will actually become a part of you! (Note: These are general suggestions and require fine-tuning for each individual.)

Enliven digestion and encourage assimilation

How can a meal become more than the sum of its parts? First, see if this simple equation isn't true for you: Convivial company + laughter + good food = good digestion. On a more mundane level, some condiments and practices increase available nutrients or make your body more able to assimilate them. One way to look at digestion is through the metaphor of a fire (hydrochloric acid, other digestive juices and enzymes) consuming fuel (your food). Digestive "fire" breaks down food into elements that can be absorbed into your tissues. There are many different approaches to stoke the fire.

* Have trouble digesting proteins and fats? Tasting something bitter may help. Ten minutes before meals, place five drops of barberry or dandelion root extract on your tongue. Similar strategies include munching on a bit of parsley (there's good reason it's used as a garnish!), or taking sips of grapefruit juice or room-temperature water with a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

* Eat foods high in enzymes: extra virgin olive oil, a little raw honey, grapes, figs, avocado, dates, bananas, papaya, kiwi, mangos. Rather than enter the fray of "which is better -- cooked or raw," I offer you this quote by nutritionist Nancy Lee Bentley: "There is no question that cooking deactivates some vital nutrients, including enzymes, but cooking also makes digestion less stressful." My advice would be to focus on eating a balance of raw and cooked foods, depending upon the season, your constitution and present state of health. Check in with your body and see which raw foods agree with you.

* Soak grains and beans overnight before cooking, then discard the soaking water. Lengthy soaking eliminates elements such as phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, which bind minerals, block enzymes and disturb digestion.

Season your food

Tasteful seasoning makes meals easier to digest and absorb. Pay attention to aesthetics, too: food that looks appealing awakens the digestive powers.

* The salty taste promotes digestion and provides raw materials for hydrochloric acid. Use unrefined sea salt, seaweed, umeboshi (see below).

* Pungent herbs like ginger, pepper, garlic and horseradish increase digestive fire -- use with discretion, as they can be overly heating to some.

* Try the classic combination of coriander powder, fennel and cumin seeds - saute with onions or add to main dishes. Herbs such as nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and ginger taste great added to grains or cereals. And saffron, an exquisitely fragrant herb, helps food to be absorbed into the deeper tissues. It's expensive, but you need add only a pinch to soups, grains and mild fish to enjoy its flavor and benefits.

* Some condiments enhance the digestive process. After dinner, do as the East Indians do, and enjoy a teaspoon of toasted fennel seeds. Lemon juice perks up grains, fish, salads and soups and helps you absorb minerals. A small amount of mango chutney is nice with grains, beans, on toast, crackers, etc.

SWEET MANGO CHUTNEY   (makes 1 cup)
2 fresh mangos
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/4 teaspoon dry ginger powder
1/8 teaspoon powdered cloves
1 teaspoon coriander powder
2 teaspoons organic orange peel, grated
Dash lemon or lime juice, added after blending.

Puree all but the last ingredient in blender or food processor.

(The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar - reprinted with permission)

Make your colon happy

Your large intestine harbors about three and a half to four pounds of microbes! When these bugs are in the correct balance (i.e., more good than bad), they help in the final breakdown of foods, and in the process, make vitamins K, B2, B12 and folic acid. What encourages the good ones?

* Adequate fiber, best obtained by eating whole foods

* Traditionally fermented foods are a must! Aside from the usual -- yogurt, tamari, miso, tempeh and of course, acidophilus -- there's kefir, buttermilk, pickled ginger, home-fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and pickled vegetables, the exotic Japanese umeboshi plums (use sparingly as a condiment or spread the paste thinly on bread), olives (choose stronger-flavored traditional olives at olive bars) and fresh-crocked pickled cucumbers from local delis.

Experiment with animal foods

Dr. Weston Price studied dietary practices world wide, and found that virtually all traditional diets contained some animal products. Why? Because nutrients such as vitamins A and D in animal foods aid in the assimilation of protein and minerals.

* Expand your use of plain yogurt -- try a dollop with any meal, in soups, even on salads. Or use raita, a condiment made with yogurt and various vegetables and spices.

* Add small amounts of eggs or full fat dairy products such as organic cheese or butter to meals (and this makes minerals in all those green leafy vegetables more absorbable). Add shredded organic chicken to your salads or soups.

Changing your diet may seem overwhelming at first, so experiment with these suggestions a little at a time. Getting a few successes under your belt (so to speak!) will generate confidence and the momentum to continue.






by Carole Tashel

Weeds are sweated over, assaulted with chemicals, considered by most as the curse of the gardener, useless at best. But these much-maligned innocents are less intrinsically diabolical than they are thoroughly misunderstood. Sure, there are a few mighty troublesome plants, but many weeds can help your garden thrive, feed you, heal you — or all three. I know it may seem curious at first glance, but weeds occupy an honored place in the natural order of whole systems.

Weeds are like the doctors in troubled ecosystems. Some seek out sad, depleted soil and send strong roots deep into the subsoil. There they draw out and stash in their leaves new materials — potassium, calcium, phosphorus, trace minerals. Then, they donate their lives to the cause of enriched topsoil. (Another great place for them to rot is in your compost pile. What a pity so many end up improving soil at the landfill.)

Sometimes, their mission is to protect bare or disturbed ground. As annual weeds decompose, they leave behind humus and more porous soil, setting the stage for other plants to prosper. Weeds are nature’s disaster plan, par excellence. Only if land is completely denuded by erosion or killed by chemicals will there be no weeds — not exactly cause for rejoicing.

Their untamed genetic qualities make them resilient in harsh climates, and resistant to bug problems. Periodically, plant breeders resort to weeds to strengthen our “improved” pampered cultivars. Knowledgeable farmers used to “read weeds” like oracles, for indications of changes in the quality, fertility and drainage of their fields. And some weeds, because of their beneficial influences, were even grown intentionally with crops. For instance, amaranth (sometimes called pigweed) helps potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, onions and corn to flourish. Sow thistle works similarly.

With such good credentials, it’s no surprise that weeds make superior chow and medicines. Each weed excels in at least one nutrient — some in many. Mallow (Malva neglecta, “cheeseweed”) makes a yummy, hearty boiled green. A three-ounce serving contains more iron than beef liver and is high in calcium and beta carotene. Mallow’s dried leaves make a mineral-rich tea, and a fresh leaf poultice soothes inflammation. Its small, nutritious seeds, which resemble tiny rounds of French cheese, have a nutty taste. Many adults may remember feasting on these “cheeses” as children.

Lambs quarters provide almost three times the calcium of an equal amount of milk, and offer a better balance of co-factors magnesium and phosphorus. Cook them like spinach. Raw, the leaves can form the basis of a unique and colorful wild salad mix — just add purslane, amaranth leaves, sorrel, nasturtium and edible flowers (Johnny jump-ups, rose petals, bachelor buttons, etc.).

Look a little further, you’ll find more. Amaranth was once a staple in ancient cultures; a wild variety is surely lurking in your yard. Edible leaves, raw or cooked, and high-quality protein in the seeds are its claim to fame. Purslane adds a hint of lemony flavor to salads and soups. It’s particularly rich in essential fatty acids (like the Omega 3s, which cost megabucks at your nearest health food store). Cut your cholesterol and boost your immune system — for free.

What about the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, “official remedy for disorders”)? With a botanical name like that, shouldn’t you be raising some? The fresh greens (with almost twice the beta carotene as spinach) are great sautéed with garlic and olive oil. Dandelion root tea gives sluggish livers a gentle push, and the dried leaves make a diuretic tea that won’t deplete potassium like many drugs will. I could go on. There are so many amazing weeds. Imagine if folks with marginal food budgets (and nutrition) regained the simple skills of wild food harvesting taken for granted a couple of generations ago.

All well and good, but let’s say you’ve inherited a neglected yard, and you’re wondering how to manage your weed bonanza. I mean, how much tumbleweed can one person eat? (You guessed it. When they’re about three inches high, tumbleweeds are nutritious and edible, though this side of bland.) Timing is of the essence when removing weeds. Of course, they’re easiest to pull after a rain. Don’t use a hoe to cut weeds off at the ground before they flower or begin seed formation, or they’ll simply try again, much harder. The best time for hoeing annuals is just before seeds mature. After a good rain, it’s easy to pull out many perennials (whole root attached, please). If you despise pulling them, contribute to the local economy: hire neighborhood kids. If it’s too late and they’ve already gone to seed, your best bet is “sheet mulching,” a permaculture technique which results in rich soil six months later. Permanently, thickly mulched yards don’t suffer many weeds. The cardinal rule: Don’t let unwanted weeds spread their seeds.

Do plant or mulch cleared spaces; mother nature recolonizes bare ground with more weeds. You can bake weeds under clear or black plastic (this does kill friendly soil bacteria, however), or subdue them with a heavy thatch of straw. I heard about pouring white vinegar on weeds and tried it on the young tumbleweeds on my driveway: they died. Weeds between flagstones and bricks succumb to a boiling water bath. Timing is critical: most germination occurs in April, May, September and October, so get them while they’re young and vulnerable.

Check out “Weed Aside” (made from vegetable oils), which dehydrates young weeds when applied in warm, dry weather; and “Wow Plus!” or “Original Wow!” (basically corn gluten), which inhibits roots of weed seedlings from sprouting in lawns and flower beds. Both are simple, eminently safe products.

Poisoning weeds with herbicides is a whole different game, played by thousands across the country. The brand names sound actually playful: Roundup, Weed-Be-Gon, Amaze. The nasty truth is these poisons are not fully degraded in the soil, and do have serious cumulative health consequences. They often end up many miles from their point of use, in water, food, birds and you. (Do read the revealing Consumer Reports article, “Greener greens? The truth about organic food,” January, 1998.) According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most herbicides are more toxic than insecticides. The list of weed enemies on the container reads like a wild foods supermarket and natural medicine chest, causing wild food enthusiasts and herbalists to cringe.

Now, what do you think? I’ll bet the next time you see your neighbor going nearly mad over the dandelions in his lawn, you’ll have a few things to say. In the meantime, bon appétit.


* Weeds of the West, Tom Whitson, Ed., Western Society of Weed Science, Newark, CA 1992. The clearest photos I’ve ever seen, of just about every common weed. Consult a copy at your local nursery.

* Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Euell Gibbons, Alan C. Hood Publishing, Brattleboro, 1987. First published in 1962, and still a classic.

* Gardens Alive! (812) 537-8650, Source for Wow Plus! & Weed Aside.

* If you don’t have the patience for the right weeds to show up in your yard, order some! Try the following sources:

- Seeds of Change, (888) 762-7333,
- J.L. Hudson, Seedsman, Star Rt 2, Box 337, La Honda, CA 94020,
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds, (800) 879-2258,

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not pick and eat unknown plants. Check with an experienced forager for positive identification and other safety factors involved.

This article is from Gardening the Southwest: How to care for your land while growing food, medicine and beauty (Healing Earth Publications, 1999), available through the author.




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