Rebuild Yourself During the Harvest
Many, many of the people I've talked to this week have been extra tired.
I have a theory: that this fabulous weather is invigorating, inspiring, and motivating, and we're all doing much more than we were last week. In the absence of the hot, humid drag that summer can have on our to-do lists, we're suddenly presented with the both an ideal environment to accomplish tasks we've put off, and the foreboding of more inhospitable weather- of the cold, icy variety.
It is worth it, however, to take some time and consider what this season is about.
Flowers that have been lazily bobbing about all summer are suddenly putting out seed. Fruits that have been taking in the scenery, slowly ballooning in size, are suddenly ripening and falling. Animals that have been dozing on hot afternoons are suddenly out at all hours, munching away and putting on their winter storage.
This last flurry of activity is all about preparation, building up, maximizing, optimizing, and storage before winter- a season that's all about hunkering down, being quiet, resting and restoring.
This makes Autumn the perfect time of year to heal! (Keep an eye out, I'll make the same argument for the next 3 seasons, too. It's all relative :) )
Enjoying the bounty that Autumn brings us signals a shift in our eating patterns- from summer salads and crisp-tender veg and quick grilled meats, to long-roasting, stewing, souping, and crockpots. It also allows our bodies to shift from the quick, light fare that cools us in the heat, to heavier, warm, sweet foods (in an Ayurvedic Tastes sense) that also imbibe us with the energies of the earth as it goes through it's own storage rituals.
Root vegetables hold all the promise of next years' growth, stored in their sweet layers deep in the comforting, supportive earth.
Seeds (including nuts) hold that same promise, and hold a sense of fresh air, sunshine and youth in their tight shells.
Mushrooms wait all summer for the cool dampness September brings, and help to bridge the gap between layers of the forest, between freshly fallen leaves and rich, dark hummus underneath, in the same way that they work with your body.
Squashes, with their hard rinds perfect for outlasting the whole season, yield a melting, soft, sweet interior, and gift us with all those qualities too.
Here's an example of a whole day's meal plan, based on this transition time between full-fledged Summer and outright Autumn:
Last week I was lucky enough to take a tour of the Highlands Mansion gardens and wild areas with members of the Pennypack Farm Herb Study Group, led by forager Sarah Murray. Sarah lived for over 20 years in France, and developed an interest from her former husband François Couplan, a renowned expert on the edible plants of the world.
We met in the evening and, knowing we had limited light, tried to get as much in as we could even though we could stop every few feet in just the tended CSA beds to find wonderful edibles! Right away Sarah pointed out Evening Primrose with her precious flowers and edible leaves, growing all by herself near the garden gate, and a lush hedgerow of Mugwort that led us to a discussion of Mugwort cake in Korean culture. Interesting note: Mugwort looks like Feverfew when it's young.
Lamb's Quarters was standing near the Basil rows, and Sarah explained she much prefers to call it by another common name, Wild Spinach, since that makes people more likely to try it! It's a relative of Quinoa, and the seeds can be used in the same way. A distinguishing feature is a white bloom, or powder, on the very young leaves. And yes, it tastes like spinach.
Wild Carrot IS Queen Anne's Lace! I didn't know that! She's a biennial, so the first year has low growing, ferny, carrot-like leaves and tiny carrot-like taproots that smell STRONGLY of carrot. In the second year, the flower stalk shoots up into the familiar white umbrel with the dark drop in the center. She has hairy stems and very aromatic seeds, unlike Wild Hemlock, a potential look-alike that is VERY TOXIC but has no smell (seeds, roots or otherwise) and no hairs.
We came upon Velvet Leaf, a relative of Marshmallow that I wasn't familiar with before. It develops a fun pod with edible seeds that taste a little like green peppers. The leaves are also edible, and lend an interesting texture to a pesto.
There was plenty of Red Clover all over the CSA beds as well, and we discussed the white chevron on the leaves that marks the medicinal plants.
Next, we found Galinsoga, a weed I have seen many times and one that Sarah didn't have a common name for. It makes a nice salad green and has edible flowers, too.
Finally, we searched out a patch of Ground Ivy that Sarah had scouted earlier. It's great for allergic sinus issues, but tonight we were going to make Ground Ivy Chips!
After it got too dark, we went back to one of our fellow walker's homes for snacks. We had a nice salad with all sorts of greens and flowers, a superb pesto and the chips, with some crackers and a fantastic tea of Hibiscus, Cinnamon, Stevia and Nettles.
More Foraged Plants from Fellow Walker Hilarie
Ground Ivy Chips:
Dressing - 2 tbs balsamic vinegar, pinch of salt, pinch of garlic powder, olive oil.
Mix ingredients in that order, then coat the washed and stemmed leaves
Place the leaves one-by-one on a lightly oiled cookie sheet, smoothing out so they are open and flat.
Place in oven preheated to 400º, and leave in exactly 3 minutes.
Remove leaves from sheet immediately and enjoy!
Garlic Mustard leaves, Velvetleaf leaves, and any other aromatic leaves work well (Basil, Parsley, Cilantro, etc.).
Soak 1 cup raw almonds overnight and remove the skins.
Place them in a food processor, and add the leaves, washed and stemmed (about 2-3 cups) and salt. You can also add fresh garlic for flavor.
Add 2-3 tbs coconut oil and blend. Add water or coconut milk to obtain a smooth texture.
Recently, I overheard two people talking about the milk a local Ag College sells from their student-raised cows. The gist of the exchange was the speaker expressing disappointment in the false advertising the College puts out, because you can go visit the cows and see that they're not just eating grass. There's all sorts of weeds and other things growing in those fields. The listener tsked and that was it- they were gone and I was left almost as dumbfounded as Lewis Black.
Now, I realize that not everyone knows everything. That's the beauty of the internets, and a major reason my herbal teachers encouraged me to write in the first place- we all have something to say, and it will be new to someone! I recently read an article called, in fact, "Actually, Everyone *Doesn't* Know That," a primer on why so many people hate that Monsanto thing. While I have mixed feelings about the actual writing, the heart of the piece was great, and was very welcoming to people looking for answers.
So here's why that conversation dumbfounded me, for anyone who may not see a problem with it: "grass-fed" means "as compared to penned-up and stuffed with corn and other grains", not "the groomed stuff of gated suburban lawns." Cows are grazers, and really "chew their cud"- they re-chew plant parts that are hard to digest, and their 4-part stomach eventually breaks it all down.
In comparison, no matter how much chewing we did, we'd never get as much nutrition as cows do from what they eat. And what they eat influences how their milk tastes, as well as what's actually in the milk- vitamins like A and D, conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs), or growth hormones, trans fats, or other toxins . Common cattle feed has much, much higher exposures to pesticides, contains antibiotics and other chemicals, and often even contains slaughterhouse wastes and euthanized pets (sources below.) In addition, imagine what you'd be like if you ate nothing but carbs all day, every day- these are not healthy animals.
Grass-fed cows, by their very nature, are raised on pasture. A certain amount of land is needed per cow, and this leads in part to the higher cost of their milk. Now, exactly how cows are treated depends on the farmer. Some refuse any and all antibiotics, some will use them for sick animals but not sell their milk during a quarantine period. Some supplement with corn or hay. And of course, in temperate climates like the Northeast, there simply is no grass growing in the dead of winter, so feed must be procured.
The topic of raw vs pasteurized or even ultrapasteurized milk (which some people consider a 'processed food' like common junk food) is a whole 'nother topic. Suffice to say, the smaller the outfit you can buy your milk from, the better off you'll usually be. Really, that's a good credo for all your food shopping. You are what you eat, after all.
Lipinski, Lori. "Milk: It Does A Body Good?", Weston A. Price Foundation, July 7 2003. http://www.westonaprice.org/making-it-practical/milk-it-does-a-body-good
Severson, Kim. "An Organic Cash Cow", New York Times, November 9 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/09/dining/09milk.html
I want to share my sources on what to eat. Food is complicated- it's medicine, nutrition, comfort, energy, social, and time consuming. First, READ THIS. Don't go crazy.
In terms of recipes, let me guide you to some of my favorite sources. First of all, I discovered only in the last 2 years or so the delight of READING a cookbook! I picked up one by the founder of Earthbound Organic Farm, "Food to Live By" and read it cover to cover. I enjoyed it so much I now pick it up on purpose just to see what inspiration I can pull.
Also, these are a few of my favorite food blogs:
#1 hands down: http://www.remedialeating.com/
I follow these and others in a reader online, and when I have an ingredient or need inspiration I just do a search in the reader and see what hits where!
Also, Pinterest. Oh dear. Here is my Recipes board: http://pinterest.com/pilatespaula/recipes/
Even if you don't have an account you can still see all the yummyness. Again, I do searches and see what hits. I do like food... and visual aids.
I resurrected this piece after reading today's Tip from Maia Toll's free 21-Day Detox. She's giving easy-to-integrate daily tips on making small changes that will detox our life, not just our body.
A year or two ago, I was discussing pH balance with a friend who was on a high protein diet. She was having a hard time with low energy and general fatigue, and wanted to know more about how the diet was affecting her. I hit upon a ceviche metaphor, that she was 'cooking' herself, and here we are!
A Primer on Acids, Bases and Enzymes
Or, Why Digestion Is Hard!
Or, Another Reason to Eat Your Veggies
First, look at enzymes. Enzymes are substances that make chemical reactions happen. Normally, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but enzymes make the jump from point A to point B happen with MUCH less energy (aka Heat).
So, to cook a piece of fish, bake it in the oven, sauté it in a pan, poach it in liquid… any way to cook it, it’s HOT!
BUT, soak a piece of fish in lime juice, and the enzymes in the lime (all living plant materials have enzymes) will also ‘cook’ the fish, with MUCH less heat. Ceviche on a cold day takes a lot longer (or maybe won’t work even at all) than on a warm one (the reason it’s a Mediterranean dish)
Quickly, let’s look at what the enzymes in the citrus (an acid) and the heat did. In this case, they cooked the fish. It went from translucent and floppy to opaque and solid and flakey and tasty.
NOW. Your body makes LOADS of enzymes to help along PILES of chemical reactions that happen for MANY reasons in your body every second. Most chemical reactions need heat, which your body doesn’t have (or you’d cook yourself) so it uses enzymes to ‘catalyze’ the reactions.
Turning food into the energy it takes to breathe and think and blink is one example of a process that uses SCADS of reactions. So your body uses enzymes to break down proteins and carbohydrates along the digestion path (your saliva has enzymes to begin digesting starch even as you chew!).
The very process of digesting protein creates acids, which is counter-productive to digesting. We’ve just seen that acids cook proteins (the kind you’re eating AND the kind you’re made of!) So, having an acidic body will ‘cook’ the foods you’re eating, instead of digesting them. Having an acidic body will also CHANGE the enzymes that are supposed to digest your food, so they can’t work anyway. Too much acid creates an internal environment that is slowly cooking itself.
Therefore, your body functions best in a slightly Basic (Alkaline) environment. What Alkalinizes your body? Vegetables! DARK green ones, LIGHTLY cooked (because cooking changes enzymes! And you want those veggie enzymes!) And WATER! It neutralizes everything! It washes you clean, from the inside out.
Your urine, especially the first thing in the morning, should be slightly acidic. This is because your body removes the acid created from digesting protein and put it in the trash bin (your kidneys are a super waste treatment plant). High acid readings indicate an extremely acidic self. What’s actually acidic? Your blood stream, and because it carries everything everywhere, all of your cells too- both because your blood is carrying acidic fluid to them, and because the acid-saturated blood can’t effectively remove acidic wastes from them, either.
ALL THIS MEANS that you need to counterbalance the protein in your diet (which, by the way, encourages muscle growth) with alkalizing vegetables and water, Lots of Water!
We have been studying with an Ayurveda practitioner in the Advanced Herbalism class, and I'm beginning to see the world in terms of Vata, Pitta and Kapha a little bit. This week, Vata really came up and introduced itself.
The weather: It has been COLD. I was talking to a girl who just graduated from Syracuse last May, and she thinks its cold! I was dog and house sitting for a friend over the last week and a half, so being forced to go outside several times a day put me in close contact with the temperatures and the wind and the dryness. Oh the dryness.
It snowed a little at the beginning of the week, and by morning it was all gone. I don't think the temperatures made it to 20 degrees, and it got very windy. The snow evaporated into the dry air! It didn't blow away, there were no drifts or piles. And it stayed DRY.
My self: I started with the back of my right hand drying out, that's completely common. Then my cuticles. Then I got a rash/dry area at the base of my tail bone. I started paying attention- that area's directly opposite my digestion! Well, the next day (TMI alert!) came the gas and bloat, which is extremely UNcommon, and it lasted for 2 days.
Now we're at the end of the week, and I have my morning off. I was super sluggish and lethargic, not tired but not motivated or inspired at all. Man-in-my-life mentioned he was concerned about my iron intake, and that got me thinking- all that intestinal upset, the dry and windy conditions that mimicked outside so well, would also cause poor absorption of what I was eating. I actually had some ground beef this week, iron should have been good, but I was such a mess who knows!
Enter kichari. I made a pot that day, and my breakfast oats with yogurt for the next day, and kept on with tea. It had cinnamon and echinacea among other things. so it felt great to drink. And I rested. Hey, here I was dog sitting with cable and a gas fireplace. Why not indulge! I felt MUCH better by the next day, still down mentally but ok energy-wise. I've also been having intense dreams that are like movies close to or up to when I wake.
People: All week I noticed my pilates clients doing silly things, especially when I asked them to do something with their right or left hand. Many more people than usual had to pause and really think about which side to use. I teach a private mat pilates class to a group of friends, and in the 3+ years I have been with them I don't think they have EVER been so chatty. I've also seen more and unusual cramping- feet, shins, calves, hips.
So, from the Characteristics of Each Dosha handout we have, I find:
We Americans love our aggressive approach to health. Work out till you throw up! Do the Atkins diet until you're in ketoacidosis! Detox until you feel like death warmed over!
My friends, be gentle! You're an ecosystem, not a machine. A very common understanding of a detox is going in there with a crowbar and a pressure washer, and cleaning out your insides down to the studs. The difficulty is that the warehouses you're cleaning out, primarily your liver, also function as the gutters and sewage treatment plant for the waste products they once stored. When the floodgates open and the storage facility suddenly has to process what it so carefully packed away out of sight, the overflow of toxins and other wastes pour into your bloodstream and make your head foggy, your breath bad, your skin erupt, your kidneys stressed, and your digestion sluggish.
How does it feel to air out your house, or your car? The windows open, the sun shining in, the dust blowing out. It's fresh, clean and very satisfying.
When you think of detoxing, think of strengthening the avenues of elimination your body has for dealing with the waste products. Think also of eliminating them in manageable amounts. If your body is too busy de-storing, it can't properly get rid of everything and it may just get stored somewhere else.
Another, more critical issue, is that the liver stores away things the body can't deal with, like chemicals and heavy metals. Aggressively emptying the liver exposes the rest of your organs and brain to these more serious wastes.
How do you safely and easily detox, then? Think of it this way: Easy In, Easy Out.
The act of digesting food makes the intestines, liver, kidneys, and other organs work. That's their job. Often, though, digestion is not their only job. For example, the liver produces bile to digest fats, it breaks down various chemicals in the blood like stress hormones into waste products, and it stores away both wastes it can't or doesn't have time to eliminate, and a reserve of glucose for energy between meals. Going easy on food gives these organs a break without shorting your brain on its fuel needs. Juice fasts are nice because fresh juices can contain antioxidants, helpful enzymes, some easy-access sugar and other great resources. Monodiets of foods like Indian kichari are very easy on the digestive system, use warming and supportive spices, and help rebuild depleted energy reserves. Fruit, teas, water, and well cooked vegetables are also easy on your system. Meat, dairy, fats, caffeine, sweets, sometimes even raw vegetables are harder to digest properly.
Water is a HUGE part of the detox plan. Your blood is mostly water, which bathes every tiny bit of your body and picks up all sorts of waste products that your kidneys then filter out and mix with more water to create urine. Drinking plenty of water ensures that the filter process is quick and easy, and that the blood is always ready to clean the next place that needs it. Think of rinsing out the rag when wiping the counters- a dirty one won't pick up much more dirt.
Water on the outside is very important as well. Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and is an elimination pathway. Bathing gets rid of dead skin cells that can block pores, especially through exfoliation with a stiff brush or loofah or even a good scrub with a wash cloth, and soaking can draw wastes out through the skin. Warm water also increases circulation, which increases the kidney action.
A detox fast is a conscious action. When you go about your normal life, your body responds to that life. It digests what you give it, it provides energy to muscles and organs with the highest demand, it cleans up what it can in between. Fasting reduces the resources available for all these functions. This means you can't have the same expectations for your body during a fast that you would normally.
Traditionally, fasts are often seen in religious practices that require simultaneous times of rest. Resting or taking it easy during a fast reduces the demands on your body so that it can rebuild. Imagine the items you could check off the to-do list if your office shut down for a few days, or a week. You could patch the roof, paint the porch, plant a garden or fix that broken thing in the garage, and doing these things wouldn't drain you like doing them during your normal work schedule would- which is why you haven't done them yet!
Similarly, allowing your body to rest gives it a chance to repair damage, replenish reserves, and restore balance. Your body does need to work, though, to keep you alive. There is a fine line between providing time for recuperation and fasting for so long that you end up using all the reserves you built in the first place.
So how long to fast, then? Start with a day. Say, the first of the month. Or maybe the first Saturday, if that's a day off for you. Plan it out, decide what you'll eat and drink and when, what activities you'll do and what you'll avoid. Then pay attention. Are you more hungry than you thought, or snacky maybe because you're bored? More sluggish, or downright sleepy? Energized or alert?
Next time, maybe next month, go for two or three days. You'll probably feel dramatic swings in yourself over that time. You can go from being on top of the world to having flu-like symptoms in a matter of hours. Remember, let your body tell you what you need. A great hot shower or long soak in the tub might be all it takes to get whatever made you feel crappy out of your system. Hot tea or cooling water and lemon might help too.
Your mood might also swing widely as your energy levels dip during a fast. Be aware of this, and let others around you know what you're doing! I personally have found that Calcium-Magnesium supplements help balance my moods, so you may want to try that.
A week is probably the longest you should fast at a time, if you can comfortably build up to it. If your body doesn't respond well or healthily, stop there. Maybe it's only going to work for four days this time, or maybe only one.
You can fast yearly, seasonally, quarterly, monthly, or on whatever schedule resonates with you. Monthly is probably the most frequent interval that is safe and productive if you are fasting for more than a day at a time. I am remembering, though, a story in a Little House book about boys who went sledding on a Sunday, and the trouble they got in. Theirs was a community who took the weekly day of rest very seriously, and hardly even spoke for the whole day!
There are two main points I want to repeat, because missing them is at the core of why many people I speak with are stressed, depleted and unhealthy:
1.) You are an ecosystem, not a machine
2.) Easy In, Easy Out
Fun Fact: I'm an herbalist and a movement coach. Not a doctor, or a pharmacist, and not pretending to be one on TV.
This is a public space, so my writing reflects my experiences and I try to stay general enough so it might relate to you. This does not constitute medical advice, and I encourage you to discuss concerns with your doctor. Remember, however, that the final say in your wellness decisions are always yours- you have the power to choose, you are the boss of you.
And, some of my posts may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through them I'll earn a few cents. Thank you for supporting my work.
This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical, mental health or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness, medical condition or mental or emotional condition. Working with us is not a guarantee of any results. Paula Billig owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.