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


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!

A divine tea experience

Tea indulgence at Mariage Freres in Paris

On a recent day trip to Paris I treated myself to a tea experience at Mariage Freres. Situated in the heart of the Marais area, this tea salon is a perfect respite for legs aching from a long Parisian promenade.  Once seated in the small colonial style dining room I was handed a tea menu and a little book, titled ‘The French Art of Tea’, to help in my selection. The book was perfect tea table reading covering history, selection, characteristics and food matching for all the main varieties of tea.  It was so informative that I bought one to bring home with me!  The menu was similarly impressive, a vast list of teas that are all available to taste.  Their storage must be huge.

The tea menu at Mariage Freres

I selected the top tea on the right hand column (and it wasn’t just because i was overwhelmed by the choice), called Tibetan White Tea.  Like any good white tea, it was delicate with a hint of fruit and beautiful perfume.  The tea came prepared and strained in a beautiful pot with it’s own felt insulation layer, so my brew stayed warm as I enjoyed my other indulgence.  Nothing marks a perfect Paris afternoon more than a cheeky cocktail so I selected the house named ‘Mariage’s', Marco Polo red tea with champenoise methode sparkling white wine.  The red tea was sweet and syrupy and added a lovely depth to the fresh and fruity wine. Gorgeous!

I will definitely be going back one day, after all there are so many more teas to try!  The menu also includes a whole range of snacks and meals prepared using different teas.  I can picture many more indulgent afternoons to come, I just have to get back to Paris.  It is such a pleasure to enjoy an experience where tea is front and centre, where it belongs.

Tea takes centre stage at Mariage Freres

Tea in Sydney

Winter has barged in on my year and left me with cold fingers and a snuffley nose.  I intend to deal with this situation in two ways:
1. Escape to Europe for some northern hemisphere summer
2. Enjoy the wonderful warming benefits of tea at every opportunity

Tea is pretty much always my drink of choice (unless it is cocktail hour), and I love that there are as many different plants that taste good infused in boiling water as there are health benefits from those teas.  Some of my favourites are herbal teas like fennel, mint, rosehip, hibiscus, ginger, lemon balm, nettle, dandelion root and the wonderful blends by the geniuses at Pukka (a London tea brand that is starting to make it’s way here to Australia).  Earl Grey is my all time favourite black tea, although I am starting to develop a respect for Orange Pekoe.

Over the last few years I have developed a deep appreciation for the complexity and variety of green tea, a term that really refers to a whole library of teas, each  with a unique colour, flavour and aroma.  Oolong, white tea, red tea, Pu Erh tea, all completely different and suited to different situations.  One of my favourite teas at the moment is an Australian green tea, grown in the Kiewa Valley at Tawonga in Victoria by the Alpine Tea Company.

I am also thrilled to note that some new tea houses are starting to pop up (I am also discovering ones that may have always been here) and offering more opportunities for a cup of tea on a busy day.

This weekend I have had two very different tea house experiences.  One was a classic Chinese tea tasting session in a Neutral Bay tea shop run by the wonderful Raymond Mao.  Time seems to stand still as we sit and watch him prepare his teas for us to examine, smell and taste, appreciating the way the flavour changes with each infusion.  Raymond has great knowledge of tea and the process involved in creating each variety, beginning as they all do with the leaves or young shoots of the Camelia bush (or tree in some cases).  Raymond has made tea pilgrimages to different areas of China and has wonderful photos of small villages who care for 500 year old tea trees.  If you have a bit of time, sit and drink in his knowledge whilst you taste his tea.

Tea tasting at My Tea House, Neutral Bay

Tea tasting at My Tea House, Neutral Bay

Raymond Mao, My Tea House, Neutral Bay

Raymond Mao, My Tea House, Neutral Bay

The other tea house was part of the new breed, which sets itself apart from the cafes or coffee shops with a few teas on the menu as a dedicated, tea only venue that creates the feel of a classic tea salon.  The Tea Parlour in Refern is a time capsule in which you can sink into a plush armchair, open a vintage book to read from the tea menu and select a home made scone or cucumber sandwich to accompany your pot of tea.  A great space to come with a small group for high tea, or a close friend for a tete-a-tete.  I raise my china to the emergence of many more tea houses to balance out our coffee heavy culture.

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:

Make your own herbal medicines

I was given a great book for Christmas: ‘Grow Your Own Drugs: A Year With James Wong’, the companion to the BBC TV show that has also aired here in Australia.  James Wong is an ethnobotanist interested in medicinal plants and home grown remedies (and quite easy on the eye).

James Wong - Grow Your Own Drugs

I haven’t seen the show but the book is fantastic and filled with great ideas for turning fresh and dried herbs, essential oils and other simple ingredients into homemade herbal medicines.  Some of the herbs in his recipes are not readily available in Australia, at least to my knowledge, but I found plenty that are and so I had a go..


The first thing that caught my eye was his “Peppermint Tummy Soother for Indigestion”, a peppermint and chamomile syrup to take as needed for stomach cramps and nervous indigestion.  Most people have herbal tea bags in the cupboard so this is super easy.  I used dried peppermint leaves, 4 chamomile tea bags and some beautiful fresh chamomile flowers from J’s sister.


I basically made a really strong tea, simmering the herbs in water for 20 mins, then leaving to cool and straining through a sieve and muslin.  He recommends pushing on the herby bits with a spoon (I used my fingers) to squeeze out all the therapeutic juices.  This is what I ended up with:


I returned this to the clean pot and simmered for ages to reduce to 200ml volume.  James Wong suggested to simmer gently and I possibly took this slightly too far as it took about 40 mins to reduce!  Anyway, I was able to put a lot of love into my liquid herbs by spending so much time with them.  When the volume was right I added a cup and a bit of honey (from my cousins’ bees!) and 75ml of good cloudy apple cider vinegar.  This stuff is a great digestive tonic, alkaliser and all around friend to your body.

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And we’re back..

2011 is off to a busy start!  It’s hard to believe that January has come and gone.  My days have been full with new patients and a busy health food store, enjoying the long summer light and more than a little worry and heartache for everyone in Queensland who has suffered through the floods and the impending cyclone.  My thoughts and best wishes (and a little donation) are with you.

Reduce your need for NSAIDs this party season

It is that time of the year where there seems to be a Christmas party or end of year event every other night and of course, the big one, New Years Eve!   Where we would normally have some alcohol-free nights in the week, suddenly there is no end to the wine, beer, cocktails and champagne which go hand in hand with the silly season.  This leads to what some rightly call an ‘accumulated hangover’, the feeling of being hit harder than usual by the after effects of alcohol, due in part to the overload on your liver.  This is the time that many people reach for the panadol, naprogesic, nurofen, ponstan or any other pain-relieving drug.

NSAIDs for pain relief

These drugs are classed as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and work by inhibiting the production of certain chemicals in our body which contribute to pain and inflammation.  These chemicals do not work in isolation, but  are part of a larger system which governs many physiological processes in the body.  Thus when we take NSAIDs we are not only affecting the inflammatory process, but also our kidney function, blood vessel constriction, immune function and many other house-keeping and maintenance processes.

It is important to be aware of the risks associated with NSAID use, especially when your use is long term and frequent.  One of the most significant risks stems from unwanted effects on the gastrointestinal system, such as gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) due to the reduction of the  protective role usually played by the chemical inhibited by NSAIDs.  Gastritis can develop into ulceration and cause bleeding which is serious and potentially life threatening.  Another downside to NSAID use is an increased risk of stroke. This is dependent on many factors, including age, duration and frequency of use, concurrent use of other medications, and is the subject of further research.  If you have concerns around your NSAID use, speak to your Doctor, Naturopath or health professional before you stop taking any medications.

5 ways to help reduce your post-party hangover without using NSAIDs

1. Drink water - This is obvious but this is why it is number one:  if you drink water whilst you drink alcohol you will be less dehydrated and this has a huge impact on how you feel the next day.  Keep drinking water throughout your hangover to aid your liver in the elimination of toxins.

2. Eat food – Food in your stomach slows the absorption of alcohol and while some might prefer the cheap drunk route it is bound to lead to excess consumption and a big hangover.  Include vegetables to boost your vitamin and mineral status and support your detox processes.  Bitter greens, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, garlic, parsley, citrus fruits, rosemary and sage are all liver helpers.

3. Check the Omega 3 fatty acid sources in your diet - It is essential to get good amounts of these fatty acids either in your diet or from supplements as they help to reduce your overall tendency to inflammation.  Omega 3 fatty acids reduce the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals without inhibiting the other processes that these chemicals are involved in (see above).

4. Make sure you are getting plenty of Magnesium, Zinc and B Vitamins, either from your diet or supplements, as these help your body detoxify alcohol.

5. Support your liver -  it is doing a hard slog to support you.  Herbal medicine is a great way to support liver function.  Talk to your Naturopath or Herbalist about which liver herbs are best for you.

Love your liver

Your liver works hard not just dealing with the alcohol we consume, but detoxifying all the chemicals our bodies are exposed to from food, pollution, drugs, beauty products and many other sources.  One of the best things you can do for your liver is to give it regular breaks, such as alcohol-free days, to improve recovery and help prepare you for the next night out.

Have a happy and healthy new year!