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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ASARABACCA - ONCE FAMOUS MEDICINAL HERB: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF ASARABACCA


ASARABACCA, ASARUM EUROPAEUM LINN.
Asarabacca is a member of the Aristolochiaceae family and is native to Europe being naturalized in the British Isles. It has also been called ‘wild nard’; Pliny wrote about it as nardum rusticum or country nard. (This is not to be confused with Indian spikenard or jatamansi.) The name asarabacca comes from the Greek ασαρον and βακχάρις, (spicy) and the root was a source of perfume βακάρις although as it has a camphor smell it would seem that tastes in perfume have changed since those times. (Who would want to smell of mothballs and ginger?)The plant has a mildly peppery and ginger smell, and was also used in medicinal drinks in ancient Greece.
  Today it is mainly used in homeopathy to treat anxiety and excitability. However at one time it was widely used, especially in the Middle Ages. Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) sometimes described as the German Mother of Botany, mentions it in her two medical books (“Physica” and “Causea et Curae”), which she wrote between 1151 and 1161, and judging by the number of copies of these manuscripts still in existence, they were widely read. She recommended asarabacca to be used in a bathing regime for skin eruptions due to lust or (sexual) incontinence with agrimony Agrimonia eupatoria, hyssop Hyssopus officinalis, asarum Asarum europaeum and menstrual blood added to a bath.
  The Physicians of Myddfai used it in combination with other herbs for pneumonia: -
    “There are three kinds of lung disease; — simple pneumonia, white pneumonia (bronchitis) and black  pneumonia, (phthysis) which is marked by pain below the mamma, under the armpit, and in the top of the
shoulders, with (hectic) redness of the cheeks. And thus are they treated. Let (the patient) take, for three successive days, of the following herbs; hemlock, agrimony, herb Robert, and asarabacca, then let him
undergo a three day's course of aperients. When the disease is thus removed from the bronchial tubes, an emetic should be given him (daily) to the end of nine days.”
 Actually asarabacca is a purgative and a fairly violent one at that, and as it contains toxins, should not be used. The information here is for interest’s sake only. It has also been used for bronchitis, but gained a lot of attention as it was used in snuff to provoke sneezing and to clear the nasal passages. It has been used for silicosis and as an expectorant as well as to promote sweating during fevers.
  The British herbalist Culpeper writing in the 17th century says that it is a purgative and if boiled in whey will remove “obstructions of the liver and spleen,” and suggested that it was good for jaundice and other liver complaints. If steeped in urine he believed it was good for fever and said that its volatile oil obtained from the roots when mixed with laudanum (opium) was an antidote to snake bites. He also wrote that the “leaves and root being boiled in lye and the head often washed therewith whilst it is warm, comforteth the head and brain that is ill affected by taking a cold and helpeth the memory.”
  The American cousin of asarabacca is Asarum canadensis which is known as wild ginger. It has different properties to the European plant, so don’t confuse it. The European asarabacca is a small plant rather like the Lesser celandine in height, but it has browny-purple flowers, which remind me of the Water Avens, (Geum rivale) which is also known as Indian Chocolate. It is a protected species in Europe and lives in shady woodlands, although now it is a popular garden ornamental planted because its kidney-shaped evergreen leaves make good ground cover. It has one single drooping flower on its stems, and this blooms in May. Later come the red berries and the seed capsules, which contain numerous boat-shaped seeds.
   In traditional medicine systems in Europe and other parts of the world this little plant has been used as a remedy for asthma, angina, coughs, migraines, dehydration and to induce vomiting, as well as the ailments already mentioned above.
  It contains toxins which are neutralized by the drying process, although β-asarone, one of its constituents is thought to be carcinogenic. The volatile oil from the roots is made up of 50% of toxic phenyl-propane asarone with mono and sesquiterpenoids. The old herbalists were aware of the dangers in plants and warned of them as well as extolling a plant’s virtues.
  This plant has gone out of fashion in herbal remedies, perhaps because there are so many others we know are safer to use, and because it is an endangered species.



























Tuesday, August 30, 2011

BLACK COHOSH - A WOMAN'S HERB: USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF BLACK COHOSH


BLACK COHOSH, ACTEAE RACEMOSA / CIMICIFUGA RACEMOSA
Black Cohosh is native to North America and was used by Native Americans who used the plant for gynaecological problems, kidney problems, malaria, sore throats and to induce lactation in breast-feeding mothers, for colds, coughs, hives and backache. In the 19th century it was a common home remedy in the US for rheumatism, fever, to promote menstruation and as a diuretic. It fell out of use with the advent of pharmaceuticals.
  It has a number of other names which refer to its properties or alleged properties, some of theses being black snakeroot, rattle root, rattle top and rattle wood, all referring to the belief that a tincture of the roots is an antidote for rattlesnake venom. Its other names are bugbane and bugwort as insects tend not to go near it; it is a natural insect repellent.
  It has been used in Europe for 40 years and is approved by the German Commission E for premenstrual discomfort, painful menstruation and to treat menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes/flashes. However some doubt has been cast on this use, as clinical trials of Black Cohosh have rarely been conducted for more than a six month period. The parts used in herbal remedies are the roots and rhizomes.
  Scientific studies are still underway on Black Cohosh and as it contains plant-based estrogens, it is believed that these may inhibit bone loss which leads to osteoporosis. It is possible that it may help reduce inflammation, especially that which is associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis; preparations for these complaints typically do not use Black Cohosh alone. It is usually combined with willow bark, sarsaparilla (Smilax), poplar bark (Populus tremuloides), and guaiacum (Guaiacum officinale) resin. This combination is said to relieve inflammation but there is not enough evidence to show that Black Cohosh can do this on its own.
  It is a tall flowering plant that grows in shady woods in the eastern regions of the North American continent. It is a member of the Ranunculaceae, or buttercup family of plants so is also related to the Lesser celandine. The fresh or dried stems and / or roots of the plant can be used in infusions, (tisanes); 1 ounce of fresh root and stems, chopped, to 1 pint of boiling water steeped for 15 minutes before straining and drinking.
  People with liver complaints are advised not to take Black Cohosh preparations, as it has very occasionally caused some problems. However these were very few in number but pregnant and lactating mothers are also advised not to use it as well as women with a hormone-related condition such as breast cancer. Most of the reported side effects of Black Cohosh are minor however.

Monday, August 29, 2011

WEST HIMALAYAN FIR - HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES


WEST HIMALAYAN FIR, ABIES PINDROW ROYLE
The Himalayan firs, both Abies pindrow Royle, also known as Abies webbiana pindrow, the West Himalayan fir and the East Himalayan fir, Abies spectabilis can hybridize, which is both good and bad for their survival.  These are members of the Pinaceae family of plants so they are related to the chilgoza producing pine and the European pine which produces pignoli or the smaller pine nuts used in the cuisine of the Mediterranean regions. Theses firs are under threat because of unsustainable harvesting practices, as they are used by local people for fuel. In Pakistan where the logs and branches of this tree are used for cooking, hakims, (traditional medicine practitioners) say that it will cure bronchial problems and respiratory ones.
  The West Himalayan fir is a slow-growing tree and likes shade, but doesn’t thrive in frosty conditions. Locals chop down rhododendrons for cooking and forage food for their livestock and this is often left on the forest floor. New trees fail to sprout because of this litter. Young trees are used for poles, and the older ones are felled for timber and fuel. The wood is light and not very durable, but is made into furniture and construction to make door and window frames.
   Unlike the Himalayan yew, Taxus wallichiana the trees are not under threat because of their medicinal qualities as the leaves of the tree are used primarily and not the bark and wood, which in the Himalayan yew is the source of an anti-cancer drug, taxol. Scientists and agriculturalists have been warning for more than a decade that these firs are threatened because of unsustainable forestry management and this seems not to have been addressed, their numbers are still in decline.
   In Ayurvedic medicine the leaves are used for heart problems, and the leaves are used for various purposes. A tincture or decoction of the leaves is used for asthma chronic bronchitis and lung infections, while the powdered leaves are used with the juice of Adhatoda vasica for coughs and colds. The juice from the leaves is added to mother’s milk or water and given to infants with a fever. For this 5 to 10 drops of juice are added to the liquid to be used.
   Clinical trials have found that extracts of the leaves of the West Himalayan fir are in many ways consistent with their uses in traditional medicine. They have anti-inflammatory properties and anti-depressant activity, with some sedative actions. They protect from ulcers, perhaps because of the steroids contained in them, but have yet to show antibacterial properties in the lab in vitro. They have some effect on insulin secretion and may have the potential for anti diabetic drugs. It is thought that the flavonoids and triterpenoids present may help to protect the lungs. They also have some pain-killing properties. A new alkaloid has been isolated from the leaves to and investigations are still underway to discover how the extracts can be used to benefit our health.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

NUT GRASS: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF NUT GRASS


NUT GRASS, PURPLE NUT SEDGE, COCO GRASS, CYPERUS ROTUNDUS
Nut grass is a common weed in the Indian subcontinent and is found throughout the world. Its seeds are edible and can be used in extremis, but the rhizome is particularly valued for its oil and this is used in the perfume industry. The grass is a member of the sedge family or the Cyperaceae family of plants so is a close relative of Cyperus esculentus, the tiger nut or chufa. Nut grass has been used to cure a number of ailments in traditional medicine systems around the world. In Pakistan it is used for stomach problems, as a diuretic and stimulant as well as to improve the functioning of the nervous system.
   In other systems it has been used to assist in menstrual problems, to reduce the temperatures in fevers and to promote sweating, and has a number of other uses as well as being an alleged aphrodisiac. It can regulate blood pressure and clinical trials have shown that extracts of the plant have anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. It may also have sedative and hypnotic effects as well as being a muscle relaxant.
  It contains camphene so is rather like the camphor tree in its smell, and it is used as an insect repellent in clothes, but as I’ve mentioned before, sandalwood and patchouli are much better smelling than camphor based smells.
   A decoction of the rhizomes and roots is used in Ayurvedic medicine as an antidote to poison, while a paste of the rhizome can be applied to the breasts of a mother to promote the milk flow. Incidentally in folk medicine the same paste is used to increase the size of breasts. The roots and rhizomes are used to improve memory and the cognitive processes, and to “harmonize” the functions of the liver, spleen and pancreas.
  The above ground part of the plant is used to get rid of internal worms, and as an astringent to heal wounds, and this is the part believed to have aphrodisiac properties. It is used to treat rheumatism and fungal infections. It is used to cure indigestion, coughs, bronchitis, to stop vomiting and to quench thirst, and has many other uses.
   Here is a remedy for headaches: - pulverize the rhizome to a paste and plaster this on your forehead for almost instant relief (it is claimed). The same paste applied to irritated skin will also stop itching.
  A powder from the rhizome is used for epilepsy and psychosis as well as menstrual problems.
  In China the plant is used to treat cervical cancer. You will also see Cyperus rotundus in skin whitening creams and women are told specifically to look for this ingredient on the labels of such creams.
  The plant contains limonene, camphene, the minerals magnesium and manganese along with flavonoids, tannins, polyphenols and saponins. Clinical trials have at least borne out some of the traditional uses of this plant, and perhaps more will be verified as clinical trials progress.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

MONKEY PUZZLE TREE - A LIVING FOSSIL: INFORMATION AND USES OF MONKEY PUZZLE TREE


THE MONKEY PUZZLE TREE, ARAUCARIA ARAUCANA
The Monkey Puzzle tree is an evergreen, native to Southern Chile and South West Argentina where it was prized for its timber. However it is now a protected endangered species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Logging caused the destruction of this tree which has been called “a living fossil”. It has been around for 250 million years or so and is very distinctive. It has sharp needle like leaves which were described as being like “hypodermic syringes” by locals in West Cross, Swansea Wales UK who believed that a 150 year old tree should be felled as it was dangerous for children; probably a case of health and safety concerns gone mad.
  These trees can live for 1,200 years and are resilient to dangers from volcanoes, landslides, winds and wild fires in their native habitat. It is thought that they developed their sharp leaves in order to deter grazing dinosaurs, as they have been around since the Mesozoic Age. The leaves are scale-like and the trunk is scaly and ridged with diamond patterns, which make it resemble the outer hard casing of a pineapple. If you make an incision in the trunk a resin will freely exude which is used to heal wounds and ulcers by the indigenous people in its natural habitat.
  The Pehuenche people revere this tree and it is decorated during their two-day long harvest festival and stands in the altar while the potent prayers are said for the bounty of the earth to continue. The timber from the tree was used for carpentry and joinery and is a pale yellow which can be highly polished. Unscrupulous logging concerns almost eradicated this tree in its native habitat until the indigenous peoples made a stand to protect it.
  There are many of these trees planted in Britain and these were mainly planted during the Victorian era. It grows to amazing heights in its native habitat, reaching heights of 160 feet and having a spread of around 50 feet. The trunk can have a girth of around 1.5 metres, and it is sometimes associated with bad luck.
  The trees are believed to have found their way to Britain with Archibald Menzies a plant collector and naval surgeon who sailed with Captain George Vancouver on his circumnavigation of the globe between 1791 and 1795, in Captain James Cook’s former ship, the Discovery. The story goes that he had been invited to dinner by the then governor of Chile when he was served the pine nuts from this tree for dessert. Instead of eating them he took them back to his ship and planted them. He took 5 saplings back to Britain with him and these were supposed to have been the first planted in the UK. They taste a lot like pine nuts and look like chilgoza. The cones when they mature can contain 200 seeds, and these begin to grow when the tree is 25 years old. They take 2 or 3 years to ripen however.
  It is said that the tree got the name Monkey Puzzle tree when a visitor who went to view a tree planted by Sir Joseph Banks, the unofficial director of Kew Gardens, in the latter part of the 18th century and commented that it would “puzzle any monkey to climb.” In fact, of course, there were no monkeys in the tree’s native habitat. .
  I remember a Monkey puzzle tree in the grounds of a chapel in the small town where I grew up and was always fascinated by it. It was so huge to me and I could watch the birds look for nuts below the tree. They didn’t seem perturbed by the needles. It was a dark, shady tree and crows made their nests in it, which is why it might be associated with bad luck in some places, I assume. Incidentally, Araucaria was also the name of my favourite cryptic crossword puzzle setter in the UK's The Guardian newspaper
  It is a member of the Araucariaceae family and it is said that Whitby jet, prized by the Victorians for jewellery making was formed by a long extinct tree of this family in the same way as we believe amber was formed by a member of the same family.
  These trees are also called Chilean pines and other Latin synonyms for them are Araucaria imbriata and Pinus araucaria. You can’t miss them as they have a loose pyramid shape and really are “living fossils.” 

Friday, August 26, 2011

BLACK RICE - WELL-KEPT ASIAN SECRET: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF BLACK RICE: BLACK RICE AND SEA FOOD RECIPE


BLACK RICE, ORYZA GENUS
Black rice originated in Asia and there are references to its being cultivated in China from 150 BC.  It is a member of the Poaceae family of plants which includes wheat, maize (sweet corn), sorghum, millet, rye, oats and barley, to name but a few of the other members of this grass family. Today it is hailed as one of nature’s superfoods having more health benefits than blueberries.
   Black rice contains the B-complex vitamins, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B5 and B6 along with vitamin E and the minerals iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, being particularly rich in both potassium and phosphorous. It is also a good source of essential amino acids and other amino acids. The colour comes from the anthocyanin molecules classes as flavonoids, and anthocyanins are known to have potent antioxidant properties which help to protect our bodies from cardio-vascular diseases and cancers. The antioxidant properties of the bran which is removed from the black rice are particularly potent and it has been suggested that this bran would be beneficial if it were used in breakfast cereals and other foodstuffs as it is cheap and available. This would boost our health and also help in the anti-aging process. Anthocyanins and their antioxidant properties can also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and are thought to slow the deterioration process of this disease, as well as to help people suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes.
   The name anthocyanin comes from the Greek which means ‘blue flower’ and these pigments give black rice its distinctive colour. Today anthocyanins can be purple, black and red, not just blue.
  In Asia the anthocyanins are extracted from black rice and added to red wine to give it a richer colour, and by doing this the antioxidant properties of the red wine are also boosted. However, in some countries such additions are classed as adulterants, so the wines cannot be sold in countries which classify this addition as an adulterant.
  Black rice was called ‘forbidden rice’ in China as it was reserved for the sole use of the Emperor and his favourites. The Emperors believed (perhaps rightly it would seem) that black rice increased longevity and slowed the aging process. It was almost an elixir of youth for them as they endowed it with aphrodisiac qualities as well. Anyone who stole the Emperor’s rice was sentenced to death.
  Luckily it is now available to the commoners and is grown throughout Asia. In Japan it is used in sushi and it has been made into noodles and other pasta. It is fibre rich and so good for the digestive system, and if you thought that brown rice was the best there is in terms of health benefits, it seems that you were wrong. Black rice is even healthier.
  There is sticky, glutinous black rice which is used for decoration and desserts in Asia, but “forbidden rice” is not sweet, like brown rice it has a nutty flavour, similar to that of sweet chestnuts. It is gluten-free and so can be safely eaten by people with a gluten intolerance.
  Chinese research has shown that it is good for the stomach, kidneys and spleen, as well as the eyes (the vitamin E content would suggest this is so) and blood circulation.
  If you compare the benefits of equivalent amounts of blueberries and black rice bran, the latter comes out on top as it clearly contains less sugar than blueberries, and it has more fibre, vitamin E and antioxidant properties. It is also cheaper than blueberries.
  When you have a diet that consists of the superfoods such as broccoli, kiwi fruit and other fresh produce, along with whole grains and pulses, you can probably prevent the onset of many diseases, especially if the healthy diet is combined with exercise.
  To cook black rice it should be soaked overnight or for quite a few hours then strained and rinsed so that cooking time is reduced to around 30 minutes. If you cook it without soaking it first, be prepared to cook it for an hour to 70 minutes. You should use 1 cup of rice (soaked) to 2 cups of water, and an extra ½ cup of water if it has not been soaked.


BLACK RICE AND SEAFOOD
Ingredients
1 cup black rice (soaked)
2 cups water
¾ lb prawns (shrimps) shelled and de-veined
¾ lb squid, cleaned and cut into diagonal rounds or pieces
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion (red) finely diced
1 wineglass white wine
¼ pint tomato passata (or fresh pulped tomatoes)
freshly ground black pepper
1 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsps fresh oregano leaves, torn or shredded
a splash of Tabasco
1 tbsp cumin seeds, dry fried
2 sprigs rosemary
olive oil , sesame oil and sunflower oil for frying

Method
Boil the water and when it is boiling add the black rice, bay leaf and rosemary sprigs. Cooked covered over a medium to low heat for ½ hour or until rice is tender.
Set aside, and leave to cool while cooking the other ingredients.
Heat the oils in a pan or wok; you will need 3 parts sunflower oil, 2 of olive oil and 1 of sesame oil. Add the prawns and fry quickly on both sides, 2 mins per side should be sufficient, until they become white-pink.
Strain and drain on absorbent paper.
Fry the squid in the same way. Remove from the pan and drain on absorbent paper.
Fry the onion, garlic and ginger until the onion is soft and translucent.
Pour the wine and tomato passata into the pan, and add the oregano leaves, cumin seeds and freshly ground black pepper. Stir well and incorporate any brown residue in the pan into the sauce.
  Drain the rice and pour the sauce on top of it with the squid and prawns on top, or stir the seafood into the sauce and then pour over the rice.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


   

Thursday, August 25, 2011

PLANTAINS ( GREEN BANANAS) - FULL OF NUTRIENTS: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF PLANTAINS: HOW TO MAKE FRIED PLANTAINS



PLANTAINS, GREEN BANANAS, KACHA KELA, MUSA PARADISIACO
Plantains are very close relations to bananas and you could be forgiven for confusing them. They grow on the same types of trees as bananas but are longer and can be used at any of their three stages of ripeness. The ones used for cooking savoury dishes are mainly the green ones (verde), then come the yellow plantain ( ponto{n}) in the mid-stage of ripeness, and these are semisweet, as the starch of the green plantain has begun to turn into sugar. Finally the black, ripe plantain (maduro) is the sweet one that can be eaten raw or used in desserts. (This should not be confused with the plant plantain, Plantago major.)
  When the plant was named by Linnaeus the Swedish botanist in the 18th century he called it and the banana genus Musa after the Arabic word for the Biblical Moses, and the plantain became paradisiaco because the Koran says that it is the tree of Paradise.  The Arabs saw the Indian saddhus eating this and decided that it must be the “fruit of the wise.”
   It is said that Alexander the Great encountered the plantain on his campaign in India and ordered that it be grown in his African coastal domains. It certainly grows in the African continent today and was taken to the US and first cultivated there by slaves. It originated in South East Asia and probably the Indian subcontinent.
  Green plantain taste a little like a potato but it is starchier in texture, and can be fried along with a yam or even a sweet potato. When they are green you can do the same with them as you can with a potato in terms of cooking them. They are a little difficult to peel and the easiest way of doing this is to cut two centimetres from each end and then make a cut in the peel which doesn’t quite penetrate the flesh. Slide the knife along the length of the fruit and then it is easy to peel it with your fingers, as you would a banana.
  If you buy green plantains and want them to stay that way you can put them in a pot filled with water, cover it and they will stay green for several days. On the other hand, if you buy yellow ones and want them to ripen, keep them in a paper bag for a few days.
  Plantains contain vitamins A, C, E and K as well as some B-complex vitamins and are rich in potassium. They also contain other minerals, notably calcium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium, selenium and zinc. Apart from these they also contain Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and 18 amino acids as well as flavonoids.
  It is said that plantain juice, extracted straight from the tree is an antidote to snake bites, and that the mashed pulp of the ripe ones makes a good face mask.
  In Pakistan large bunches of the green ones are still used as decorations in villages if there is a marriage or other special event to celebrate. They are put in the streets and may be light with string of small bulbs.
  Plantains were introduced into the Caribbean islands by Dominican monks from the Canary Isles, and they have become an island staple eaten in dishes of rice and as side dishes which can be mixed with chicken curries. You fry the plantains and then add them to meat dishes after they have been cooked, as a plantain doesn’t take long to cook and soggy ones don’t taste right.
  Try this recipe for fried plantains and then either serve as a side dish or stir into already cooked meat dishes. You can omit the chilli powder if you don’t want to have the hotness.

FRIED PLANTAINS
Ingredients
Peanut oil or sunflower oil or any other oil that can
be heated to high temperatures without burning
4 or 5 green plantains cut into 5 centimetre lengthsand the thickness of French fried potatoes
chilli powder

Method
Dust with chilli powder before frying if you are using it.
Heat the oil in a shallow frying pan and cook the plantains on both sides for 3 minutes.
Drain on absorbent paper to soak up the excess oil.
Either serve as a side dish or with rice or a meat dish, as described above.
These have Taste and are a Treat.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

LESSER CELANDINE, WORDSWORTH'S FAVOURITE FLOWER: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF LESSER CELANDINE


LESSER CELANDINE, PILEWORT, FIG BUTTERCUP, RANUNCULUS FICARIA
The lesser celandine is one of my favourite wild flowers although it is invasive in the US it is native to Europe including Britain, western Asia and North Africa. It appears early in February and by the end of April it has died back.  It is a member of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, but is easy to distinguish because it has nine or ten petals (the buttercup and marsh marigold (Calutha palustris) have five) and has a star-shaped flower. It likes moist shady places and can frequently be seen in hedgerows, and woods, although in Wales, it grows on mountains too, and is a welcome sight in spring. It forms a carpet of dark green heart-shaped leaves, sometimes kidney shaped, and with its shiny yellow flowers it look very attractive. The problem with it is the tubers which can spread and kill other plants.
   The Lesser Celandine, despite its name is no relation of the Greater Celandine, (Chelidonium majus) to which it bears little resemblance. They have different medicinal properties and should not be confused.
  Like the shrinking violet (banaf shah) and Tickle Me (choi moi), it is sensitive to weather conditions, as these lines from William Wordsworth’s poem, The Lesser Celandine show clearly:-
    “There is a flower, the Lesser Celandine,
      That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain,
      And the first moment that the sun may shine,
      Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!”
Celandines are carved on Wordsworth’s tomb as they were said to be his favourite flower.
  Its Latin name comes from rana meaning frog, a reference to the moist places where it grows, and ficaria is from the Latin ficus or fig. This is presumably how it gets the name in the US of fig buttercup. It is called pilewort because for hundreds of years if not thousands, it has been used as a remedy for piles or haemorrhoids. The remedy can be either an ointment made from lard and the fresh bruised plant (whole) chopped, or taken internally as a tisane in wineglass full doses. The tisane is made with 1 oz of the fresh chopped herb to 1 pint of boiling water, left to steep for 20 minutes and then strained.
   The Lesser Celandine was well-known to herbalists in the Middle Ages and the first written reference we have is an illustration in the German herbalist’s “Kreutterbuch” (Rhodion) dating back to 1533. Gerard wrote about it, but as he may have got it confused with the Greater Celandine, I will only quote Culpeper the 17th century English herbalist
  “It is certain by good experience that the decoction of the leaves and roots doth
    wonderfully help piles and haemorrhoids, also kernels by the ears and throat called
    King’s Evil and any other hard wen or tumours.”
He went on to show how much regard he had for this little plant (it only grows to 2 inches under normal conditions)
   “The very herb borne about one’s body next to the skin helps in such diseases though it never touched the place grieved.”
  It is clear that the lesser Celandine was efficacious against piles but the Physicians of Myddfai had this remedy:-
   “Apply the calcareous droppings of a peacock (pounded) with fern roots and it will cure it.”
 The fern roots mentioned here were presumably those of bracken.
   The flower only opens at 9am and closes again at 5 pm, as well as being sensitive to the weather. Its buds can apparently be substituted for capers, but this is not to be recommended as all parts of the plant are slightly toxic, although the toxins can be removed by drying and exposure to heat in cooking. The young leaves have been eaten raw in salads, but they should not be consumed in quantities. Older leaves should only be eaten cooked. The young leaves and flower buds can be eaten like spinach but are best after boiling. You should collect the herb when it is in flower and dry it for later use. The leaves can be used in stews but they aren’t very tasty, others such as sorrel are much better. The tubers or bulbils as they are called may also be boiled and eaten as a vegetable. I’m told that the petals of the Lesser Celandine make good tooth cleaners, but can’t personally vouch for that. As far as I am concerned it makes and attractive and welcome appearance in early spring, and I have always loved to find the first celandine.



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BORLOTTI BEAN MAKES A FASHION STATEMENT: HEALTH BENEFITS AND HOW TO COOK DRIED BORLOTTI BEANS


BORLOTTI BEANS or CRANBERRY BEANS, COCO ROUGE
Borlotti beans are staples in Italian cuisine and are consumed in quantities in Greece, Turkey and Portugal. The best type is considered to be those grown in the Veneto region of Italy, with Lamon being particularly renowned for its production of borlotti beans. They are related to the green bean and kidney beans but are easily distinguished by their pods which are beige with pink, red or magenta streaks. In the Mediterranean where they are grown it is usual to buy them in their pods, but they can be found canned or bottled in supermarkets around the world. They are most frequently found dried, and as they also have pinky streaks on them they are easy to spot. Unfortunately they lose their colour when they are cooked and become a rather more boring brown. In the US they are called cranberry beans, presumably because the streaks on the pods and beans are the colour of cranberries.
   They originated in Colombia in the South American continent and were one of the crops that found their way into Europe with the Spanish and Portuguese explorers. (They are the cargamento bean.) The Italians, who were the first Europeans to embrace the tomato wholeheartedly, took to the borlotti bean too and now you can eat them in Italy in stews with polenta and in salads as well in appetizers along with prosciutto and lots of flat-leaved parsley and olive oil.
  These are very versatile beans with a nutty flavour reminiscent of chestnuts and with a meaty texture. They make very good beans on toast as a substitute for the more commonly used haricot beans.
  Borlotti beans are potassium rich so are good for the muscles and for the proper functioning of the kidneys. They contain other minerals which include sodium, zinc, selenium, copper, calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron and phosphorous as well as Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. As for vitamins, they contain vitamin A and several of the B-complex vitamins including B1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Borlotti beans also contain 18 amino acids along with dietary fibre and protein.
  They are good combined with other beans in a cold salad, and make a hearty addition to stews and casseroles. They are on of the essential ingredients in an Italian minestrone soup. You can add them to a Greek salad to make it more substantial.
  If you aren’t lucky enough to be able to buy fresh borlotti beans, then you will need to soak the dried ones in plenty of water overnight, and should cook them without adding salt to the water.

HOW TO COOK DRIED BORLOTTI BEANS
Ingredients
200 gr dried borlotti beans, soaked overnight and drained
3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 small bunch of fresh sage
2 tbsps olive oil

Method
Put the drained beans in a large pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add the other ingredients and stir to mix.
Add water so that the beans are just covered and put the lid on the pan.
This can be baked in a moderate oven or cooked over a low heat on top of the stove.
When the beans are soft but still retain their shape they are cooked.
Leave to cool if you are using them in a salad.
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