The mysterious overlappings of life and work

As a naturopath it makes sense that my work would influence my life. Through these years of study and practice I have learned many valuable lessons about how to live my life to encourage health rather than disease. I love that a big part of my work is to share this with my patients and to empower them to make small changes that I know over time will lead to huge benefits.

I was originally drawn to study and practice naturopathy because many of the professional roles I found myself in made it difficult to make health an ongoing priority in my life. I got to a point where I was done with sacrificing my health for my work.

Now I have found that my work as a practitioner has become relevant to my own life in more ways than I ever expected.

My husband and I have had difficulties with our fertility for the last few years and this has been the most challenging experience of my life so far. I understand the processes and problems of infertility in more detail than is probably helpful for someone going through it themselves..! A big challenge has been stepping back and accepting that it is not up to me to ‘fix it’ for myself. I have sought support from a team of brilliant practitioners and this has helped. A lot.

But I can never really let go of my need to understand why. This drives me through every day of my own health journey and it absolutely drives me in my work with patients. I want to help people learn why, and how, and what can be done. But I also recognise that the answers to these questions are not always available to us when we want them. I trust that in the future we will be able to look back and realise what this was all about. We will realise what we learned in the process, what we never would have learned if we hadn’t gone through it.

Until then, I am going to keep asking why, and how, and what can be done..                   But I will also remember to let it all go once in a while.

 

Nourishing traditions

2013 has been the year of getting back to my roots. By this I mean reconnecting with family, deepening my community in Sydney and establishing a routine of work and life that involves some new hobbies and grounding rituals. I will tell the story of my edible gardening adventures in another post – now I want to focus on a wonderful book that it took me far too long to read and a simple, delicious food that has become a nourishing staple.

Nourishing traditions by Sally Fallon will be familiar to anyone who is interested in the Weston A Price Foundation and their approach to food. Their website has lots of information about the health benefits of traditional diets as well as guidelines for avoiding diet-related chronic disease.

They advocate the proper preparation of grains and legumes to increase digestibility, the consumption of healthy fats (with an interesting slant on what these are considered to be) and the preparation of fermented dairy and vegetable foods to add natural probiotics and digestion boosting enzymes to your daily meals.

One of the simplest fermented recipes to try is Sauerkraut or pickled cabbage. I have always felt an affinity with this juicy, tangy side dish thanks to my Polish roots and it was so exciting to have a go at making my own.

The king of Sauerkraut – beautiful organic cabbage

The recipe is pretty simple:

1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded

1 tablespoon sea salt

4 tablespoons whey (optional – extra salt can be used instead)

1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional – but delicious)

Whey from strained yoghurt aids the lacto-fermentation process

The fermentation process is known as lacto-fermentation and involves the breakdown of carbohydrates by bacteria making them more digestible. Whey aids this process by providing probiotic bacteria to help encourage a healthy balance in your Sauerkraut and also adds a tangy flavour to the finished batch.

I got my whey by straining some plain organic yoghurt through a clean tea towel over a colander over night in the fridge. The whey can be kept in the fridge for up a few weeks for use in other fermented recipes and the solids are called yoghurt cheese and can be used in the same way as cream cheese (and is absolutely delicious!)

Pounding the ingredients releases juices and encourages fermentation

The method is simple and quite therapeutic!

Mix all your ingredients in a big sturdy bowl and grab something solid with which to pound. I use an ice cream scoop, I have seen others suggest a potato masher. The idea is to pound the cabbage until it has reduced in volume and release lots of juices. This might take 15-30 mins with breaks, depending on your tool and strength. Then pack it all into a clean jar, pressing down firmly and pouring in all the juices. You need a one inch gap at the top of your jar to allow for expansion (heed this warning – it will expand). Make sure that the cabbage is pretty well covered by its liquids to avoid mould forming.

My finished jar of Sauerkraut with not quite enough of a gap left at the top..

I left my jar in a room temperature cupboard for 3 days, checking daily to watch as bubbles formed and then liquid expanded. One day I opened the jar and released a build up of gas (apparently this is called ‘burping’). I tasted it after the third day and it was tangy but still crunchy (it seems the salt contributes to this, according to this great website).

At that point I put it in the fridge. And spent the next month enjoying colourful breakfasts and delicious salads. Sauerkraut can be eaten daily, can be added as a condiment to any meal and is a brilliant way to boost your digestion and nutrition. The flavour continued to develop over time and I enjoyed every mouthful!

A colourful breakfast - rye toast with yoghurt cheese and sauerkraut

For more information about the Weston A Price Foundation you can have a look here.

Any questions about this recipe or the benefits of fermented foods, feel free to email me at sgnaturopath@gmail.com

 

London Permaculture festival

It has been nearly 7 months and we are preparing to head home to Australia.  I have been working through a list of last minute London must-dos, like lunch in Brixton and visiting the Chelsea Physic Garden.  Last weekend I took the opportunity to visit the London Permaculture festival, a day long event filled with friendly faces and informative sessions. We have been doing some reading about permaculture whilst we have been here, ironic I know considering the idea was born in our home land!   The festival was a nice first connection with the permaculture community and I came away really inspired!

The first talk I wandered into was by Matt Morton from Oxford, introducing his research into the concept of a city block as a potential farming space, where individual residents come together to share land and/or resources to provide food for the block community.  A great idea in theory, faced with lots of difficulties in practice and raising interesting ideas around the way we perceive our usable space, often growing ornamental gardens rather than food gardens.

The edible landscape idea was continued by Pam Warhurst from Todmorden, a small town in northern England, who has pioneered a concept called Incredible Edible Todmorden.  She and her ever growing team of volunteers have gradually filled their town with edible gardens, making use of public spaces that are otherwise bare or ornamental, and building a strong community around growing food and sharing knowledge.  They have encouraged schools, police and fire services, health workers, residents of housing estates and local business people to get involved in community gardens and make real food a priority.  There are now cities all around the world who have taken up the same goal and the town has become a popular tourist destination.

The point that Pam made at the end of sharing the evolution of this project with us is that it all began with a simple idea and a small action and, most importantly, it started a conversation.  That’s what I got from attending the festival, my first taste of being part of conversations around permaculture and food growing.  To be continued when we get home to Australia!

The roots of Herbalism: A workshop with Penelope Ody

I feel very fortunate to be spending this time in the UK.  On various adventures outside London I have now seen for myself the majesty of the Lake District, the un-mistakeable English-ness of the Yorkshire Dales, and northern Wales in all its glory.  These areas are amongst countless other twists and turns of the British landscape, all with deep connections to the history of their culture.  Time after time I have been impressed with the way the past is cherished and shared through local exhibits, National Trust properties, or by keeping alive a traditional practice like dry-stone walling and thus preserving the landscape.

A goal for my time whilst living here has been to connect with the history of herbal medicine and bring alive the theory that was introduced during my herbalism studies in Australia.  Last week I took the opportunity to visit Walnut Cottage, the Hampshire herb garden of Penelope Ody, renowned herbal practitioner and author, by taking part in a day long workshop offered on her website.  The workshop, Leechbooks and Wort Cunning, discussed myths, legends, and traditional uses of plants that we still use medicinally today, whilst tracing the evolution of herbal medicine through the Druids, Saxons, Greek and Roman influences, and Medieval Christianity.  We were a small group which allowed for lively discussion and shared excitement, especially when we got to tour the herb garden and collect cuttings!

In the lovely herb garden at Walnut Cottage

Penelope Ody gives us a tour of her garden

We were casting ourselves back into the minds of our fore-mothers and fathers and regarding the plants with a deeper, more superstitious and magical significance.  We learnt that a popular use for herbs was to make them into an amulet that would bring the wearer luck or protection, depending on which plants were selected.

The cuttings for my herbal amulet

I collected cuttings of Bistort, Clover, Fennel, Rosemary and Walnut for good luck, courage, strength, improved mental powers and protection from illness and evil (covering all bases then).  I added cardamom pods for peaceful thoughts.  We also collected nine different cuttings from sacred plants such as rose, elder and mugwort to make a midsummer bouquet to be dried and hung in our homes.

My mid-summer bouquet

One of the treats of the day for me, aside from the delicious home cooked lunch, was getting to rifle through Penny’s amazing collection of old herbal books. One in particular,  The Leech Book of Bald, is the oldest surviving medical book in England.  In old English laece or leech means healer and this book was compiled by a monk named Bald during the 9th century.  We chose a traditional recipe, a cough syrup, from this ancient text and gave it a go.  The recipe stated: ‘Against a cough and narrowness boil sage and fennel in sweetened ale and sip it hot; do likewise as often as may be needed’.  The result tasted quite pleasant and the sensation after drinking was a soothing warmth in the throat.  These are herbs that we still use medicinally for coughs and congestion today, probably due in part to old references like this.

Herbal amulet, bouquet and medieval throat tonic

Now all that remains is to keep my amulet close and enjoy luck, health and an absence of evil!

Primrose Hill herb walk

I spent this Saturday morning walking around the lovely Primrose Hill with herbalist Christopher Hedley and a group of keen herbal students and enthusiasts.  It rained, it was cold, we were cold, but it was fantastic!  Christopher led us through tips on identifying our medicinal plants (never taste until you are sure!) and told stories about the magic of the hill.

The view down Primrose Hill from under a Hawthorn tree

We ate leaves from Hawthorn and Linden trees (above dog height is always best).  We found and then discussed the use of fresh plants like Chickweed for itchy skin, Common Dock for Nettle stings, and Plantain for insect bites.

Chickweed - a fresh plant tincture is helpful on itchy skin conditions

I am so inspired!  It is wonderful to walk around a park in the middle of a big city like London and remember that there are traditional herbal medicines growing all around.  I have some freshly picked Cleavers ready in a pot for an overnight cold infusion which Christopher recommends to be drunk over a few days for a Springtime lymphatic cleanse.

Horsechestnut tree - the nuts can be used as a tonic for varicose veins

Exploring new ingredients

Since moving to London earlier this year I have found that I have access to so many new ingredients!  My kitchen has bravely ventured into previously unchartered culinary waters, from ‘classics’ like a black pudding fry up and Toad in the Hole to cooking gorgeous local fish and Singapore style chilli crab (ok, that last one wasn’t me – I’m still a shellfish novice).

I have a couple of great independent health food stores near me in North London and love browsing for inspiration.  Today I made these delicious muffins:

Soaked Millet, Banana & Barberry muffins

I am not the best with recipes when I bake.  I know it’s risky, but I always seem to use a little less sugar, or flour, or add things.  So this recipe was loosely appropriated from the Millet Muffin recipe from Passionate Homemaking.  I started by leaving some organic millet flakes to soak overnight, out of the fridge in buttermilk, because I am exploring the benefits of soaking grains to improve their digestibility (you can read more about this here).

This morning I realised I should have also added the flour to the soaking mixture so I added wholemeal wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and about 1/3 cup honey with 1/3 cup sunflower oil. I also added a little soy milk to help the mix stay moist.  Then I covered with my tea towel and left it soaking out of the fridge for around 5 hours.  Possible not enough time for the “anti-nutrients” (I still have a bit of trouble with that word) to be neutralised but I hope better than nothing.

Before spooning into my muffin tin I added 2 chopped bananas, a good shake of dried barberries (see below!), one beaten egg and some cinnamon.  I’m happy to say I added no other sugar or sweetners and that the honey and banana have done the job beautifully.

Oven fresh muffins with Greek yoghurt and raspberries

Of course it’s always great to tuck into fresh home-made muffins, but I also get very excited about the health benefits of these ingredients.  Millet is a wonderful gluten-free wholegrain that is high in B vitamins, magnesium and protein. It is a great source of nutrients and fibre.  Barberries are not available at home in Australia (as far as I’m aware..) so I am thrilled to get to experiment with them here in London.

The berries are the fruit of the herb Berberis vulgaris,  and have a range of medicinal actions focusing on the digestive system.  They contain plant chemicals which are anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and regenerating to the lining of the gut, as well as being immune boosting.  They have a tart, almost sour flavour which offsets the sweet banana very well.  It could be because they are a great digestive stimulant, but I think I need to eat another muffin..

Food as medicine

Thanks to my lovely colleague Cath Bender for sending me the link to this TED talk.

United States based physician and scientist Dr Terry Wahls tells the amazing story of how she used diet to cure her MS.  She followed a logical process of research to highlight the specific nutrients necessary to maintain the health of her brain and nervous system and then built a diet abundant with these nutrients. Her recovery is incredible.

What we can all take from this is the inspiration to make the effort to include these important foods in our diet as much as possible.  It is not always easy to eat the amounts of fresh greens, brightly coloured vegetables and berries and essential fatty acids that were effective in halting and turning around the nervous system degeneration experienced by Dr Wahls.  But for anybody who is looking to prevent chronic disease these foods are here waiting to offer you their benefits, even if you start to gradually include them alongside your normal diet.  Start slow, get into good habits and build from there.

I was inspired to take these suggestions and use them to make breakfast.  This is my free range egg omelette filled with sautéed red onion and fresh sorrel, silverbeet and parsley from our garden.  I crumbled some goats cheese through the eggs, which may or may not have been in keeping with the diet, but tasted excellent.

Hunter gatherer omelette

 

How healthy is your work?

Researchers from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research at the University of WA have found a link between sedentary work (where long periods of time are spent sitting) and an increased risk of colorectal cancer, regardless of recreational physical activity.

The study was carried out in Western Australia between 2005 and 2007 and involved men and women self-administering a questionnaire about their work history, lifestyle, diet and medication use.

Participants were asked about their lifetime occupational history and the results indicated that the participants who had spent 10 or more years working in sedentary jobs had an increased risk of distal colon and rectal cancers compared with those who had never had a sedentary job.

How many hours do you sit down each day?

If you work with a computer it is probably quite a few (I know how long I spend tapping at this machine!)

Whilst the mechanisms behind the increased risk are not yet fully understood, we can take the general message and try to include more physical activity in our day at work.

This could be as simple as getting up every 1-2 hours and having a good stretch.  This also helps avoid neck and shoulder stiffness, stretches your eyes and allows you to take some deep breaths.  A couple of bigger bursts of activity through the day can include going for a brisk walk around the block as a mid-morning break, taking the stairs when we come back in from lunch, or going to a nearby gym or yoga class for a session during the day.  You may have to come to some understanding with your boss, but in the long run you will both benefit as your increased energy and focus will help improve your productivity overall.

The abstract from the WA study can be found here:

http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/03/18/aje.kwq513.abstract