Tiger nuts, from the Cyperus family have been with us for millennia. They were cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and found in paintings in the tomb of Rekhmire. In the tomb was an inscription detailing how to make small loaves of a mixture of tiger nuts and honey. This is that ancient recipe: - First of all a quantity of tiger nuts should be ground in a mortar until they are of the consistency of flour. Put this in a bowl with honey and mix to form a dough. Then put the mixture in a pan with a little fat and cook over a low fire until a firm paste has formed. This should smell toasted but not burnt. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool then take a little of the paste at a time and form into conical “loaves.” This was probably one of Rekhmire’s favourite foods and the recipe would have been written down so that it could be made for him in the next world.
   Cyperus esculentus loves to grow in marshy ground and is a member of the sedge family so it is a relative of Nut Grass. It is also known as Yellow Nut Sedge. Other names for tiger nuts include Earth almond and Zulu nuts. It is related to Cyperus papyrus which grew abundantly in ancient Egypt along the banks of the Nile, and from which paper was made. It is also related to Cyperus rotunda which grows in south Asia. The later has been used in the Indian subcontinent in medicine for centuries, as a remedy for all manner of ailments. Medical trials of this have shown that it has anti-inflammatory and immunostimulatory properties and it is useful in the treatment of atherosclerosis. This plant is known as motha or nagarmotha in Hindi and mustak or mustaki in Sanskrit. It has been proven to have potent antioxidant properties just like the tiger nuts from Cyperus esculentus, which come from Spain, and are cultivated in the Valencia area.
tiger nut crop drying
   Spanish tiger nuts have come under close scrutiny lately and it has been found that the oil obtained from them has similar properties to olive oil. This plant’s aerial parts look like those of rice or vetiver. Tiger nuts are also more nutritious (and I think tastier than peanuts). They contain minerals: - chromium, sodium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper and zinc, and have a high vitamin E and C content. Apart from all these beneficial ingredients, they also contain all the amino acids and some of the B-complex vitamins. They are suitable for diabetics and can be eaten raw, roasted or dried.
   They have been known for 4000 years, and are not actually a nut but a small tuber, which is high in fibre, proteins and natural sugars. They are a good source of energy and have a rather curious flavour, which is a little like caramel, and this is perhaps more pronounced because they are chewy.
   Tiger nuts are grown from April through to September, the dried during September and October until they are finally harvested in November/December. Like rice they need irrigation on a weekly basis, and seem to be particularly well adapted to the climate around the Spanish Mediterranean coast. They are also grown in Egypt where they are used in perfumes, food and medicine. You may have had ice cream flavoured with them or biscuits. It has been shown that they can help prevent heart attacks and thrombosis and that they increase blood circulation, as they, as well as their Asian relatives have potent antioxidant properties. They can also help to decrease the risk of some cancers including colon cancer partly due it would appear to the high content of soluble glucose in the nuts.
   Keen anglers love tiger nuts as they are an excellent bait for carp. Another interesting fact about the Cyperus rotunda from Asia is that it is used to increase the size of female breasts! (So is imli or tamarind of course.) Cyperus esculentus is classed as a noxious weed in California and is on the B list there.
 In Ayurvedic medicine, rotunda is used for mental problems including psychosis, as an emmenogogue, for wound healing, for poor eyesight, to regulate body weight, improve digestion, for skin disorders, as well as for helping uterine contractions in child birth.
  Below is a recipe for a refreshing drink which has been made in Spain for centuries.

250 gr tiger nuts
200 gr sugar
1½ litres of water
lemon rind, grated
1 cinnamon stick and a little cinnamon powder

Soak the tiger nuts in several changes of water for 24 hours.
Grind the tiger nuts and then blend with the lemon zest in ½ litre of water.
Add the rest of the water and stir well, then strain through a layer of cloth.
Now add the sugar and cinnamon stick and keep stirring it until the sugar dissolves.
Put in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours and serve in glasses of crushed ice, sprinkled with a little cinnamon powder.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


Snowdrops are native to Europe, and their original range extended from the Pyrenees to Ukraine eastward and from Germany and Poland through to southern Italy, Albania and northern Greece. They became naturalized in northern Europe including the British Isles.
  Writing in the latter part of the 16th century Gerard says that they were a garden flower, and said “Nothing is set down hereof by the ancient writers, nor anything observed by the moderne” as regards their medicinal properties. However we now know that Gerard was wrong. The Bulbous Violet as the snowdrop was called then was mentioned in an old glossary dating from 1465, under the name “Leucis i viola alba” or the white violet, stating that it was an emmenogogue, used to regulate menstruation. It can also be found under narcissi in other old manuscripts and these say that it was a “digestive, resolutive and consolidante” so Gerard hadn’t done his homework too well.
   Snowdrops also go by the name “Fair Maid of February” which is when it pushes its head up through the winter snows, bringing with it the promise of spring and life and rebirth after the cold of winter. It was one of my grandmother’s favourite flowers as was the blue violet. Legend has it that when Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden it was winter on Earth and snowing. Eve cried for the warmth of Paradise and God took pity on her and transformed some snowflakes into snowdrops to console her. Hence they are now the flower of Hope.
   The Druids traveled before they settled in the British Isles and it is possible that they knew of the healing properties of the snowdrop, as in Celtic mythology it is the flower of the Triple goddess, Brigit, goddess of poetry and inspiration, of healing and of the blacksmiths arts. She was the goddess of the New Moon and of flame hearth and the smithy. The Celtic nation of Brigantia was once in parts of Spain, Brittany and the British Isles, and as the snowdrop was native to Spain, the Celts would have known of it. Whatever the case, their healing was lost in the period of the introduction of Christianity and we may only now be beginning to rediscover what they knew of the healing powers of plants. A German legend says that snow got its whiteness from the snowdrop as it wanted a colour and god said it should ask plants and animals for some of theirs. Only the snowdrop was willing to share its colour with the snow and so it is white.
  It is believed that snowdrops were taken to the British Isles by monks from Italy, as they were grown in old monastery gardens.
   William Wordsworth wrote lines “On seeing a Tuft of Snowdrops” in 1819: -
  …these frail snowdrops together cling,
 And nod their helmets, smitten by the wing
 Of many a furious whirl-blast sweeping by”
And this “whirl-blast” seems to accurately describe the way Alzheimer’s patients must feel. It is perhaps apt that modern medical research has shown that galanthamine or galantamine, extracted from snowdrops may be able to help Alzheimer’s sufferers.
   A Russian pharmacologist visiting Bulgaria observed a peasant woman treating children with poliomyelitis with a concoction made from snowdrop bulbs, and was amazed when they recovered without any signs of paralysis. Later, in 1951, another Russian pharmacologist, Mashkovsky, discovered galanthamine in the snowdrop Galanthus woronwii and this has been used in Eastern Europe for the alleviation of neuromuscular ailments including neuralgia and neuritis. It enhances the neurotransmissions in the brain, so was used for poliomyelitis.
   Now in the West, snowdrop lectin (Galanthus nivalis agglutinin) from Galanthus nivalis is being studied for its potential activity against HIV. It is also a powerful insecticide. Galanthamine is used in the treatment of traumatic injuries to the nervous system too.
  It seems as though the humble snowdrop has a lot of health benefits for us that we probably hadn’t realized.


Bluebells are native to the British Isles and Ireland, although there seems to be a little confusion surrounding them. The “bluebell of Scotland” is the harebell, Campinula rotundifolia which is a completely different flower. This is usually a single flower on a stalk, but bluebells have many bell shaped flowers on a single stalk, and the native British bluebell has a heady fragrance. The invading species of Spanish bluebell is Hyacinthoides hispanica, which is easy to distinguish from the British variety as it doesn’t have a fragrance, has paler blue flowers, is taller, is more upright and has wider leaves. The British variety is now a protected species, under the 1998 Wildlife and Countryside Act so unfortunately it is illegal to collect them. However they were abundant in the woods where I grew up and there were no restrictions on picking them, although no one I knew ever uprooted them. This may have been because of an ancient superstition, which says that anyone who picks or damages a bluebell will die because they are fairy flowers. It was thought that the fairies rang the bluebells to call a fairy meeting and any human who heard the bells ringing would die, or fall under the enchantment of the fairies. In some parts of the country it was believed that you shouldn’t walk into a ring of bluebells because you would fall under a spell or die. They are sometimes called Dead Man’s Bells. When I was young I had no idea that they were a flower of doom, but knew them as fairy flowers, which was not something to fear.
    Another superstition is that if someone wears a garland of bluebells they are compelled to tell the truth. Also if you are a young woman and can turn a single bluebell flower inside out without tearing or damaging it, you will win the one you love.
   The Daily Telegraph newspaper in Britain keeps a close watch on bluebells and got very excited in 2009 and again in may 2010 when white bluebells were found. I have often seen them growing along with pink ones and knew they were rare, although I hadn’t realized (because there were always a fair number of them) that a white bluebell occurs once in every 10,000. We had pink ones in the woods too and these are even rarer, I have since learned. In 2008 it reported that the bluebells had flowered a month early on the 3rd of March, possibly because of global warming.
  Bluebells along with wild wood anemones, foxgloves, primroses, sorrel and dog violets indicate places where ancient forests (pre1600) once stood. If you have these in your garden, then it is likely that your house in built on ancient forest land.
   These flowers attract bees and butterflies, and the 19th century poet laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, waxed poetically lyrical about them. Here are some of his lines:
     “In the month when earth and sky are one,
      To squeeze the bluebell ‘gainst the adder’s bite”
And “The heaven’s upbreaking through the earth” was how he described the bluebell in flower, which it does normally around April and May. Juice from the bluebell stems was an old remedy for poisonous bites; the adder mentioned by Tennyson is the viper, the only poisonous snake native to the British Isles.
   Britain actually has 30% of the world’s population of bluebells, which grow in North America, North Africa, Western Europe, the Iberian Peninsula and Central France. They can also be found along the Mediterranean as far as Italy.
   The plant was first called Hyacinthus by the botanist Linnaeus, because of their resemblance to the wild hyacinth which meant that he associated it with the Greek myth of the youth Hyacinth who was beloved of Apollo the Sun god and Zephyrus the god of the West Wind. Hyacinth loved Apollo best and the jealous West Wind sent a quoit in the wrong direction while Hyacinth was playing quoits with Apollo, and he was killed by its blow. In his grief, Apollo caused a hyacinth flower to grow from the blood of Hyacinth and the letters Ai Ai (alas, alas) were written on it. The bluebell was called Hyacinth nonscripta because it was not written upon.
   In the language of flowers the bluebell means constancy, humility and gratitude and is a symbol of humility and gratitude.
  Traditionally the bluebell root was used as a styptic (which stops bleeding by contracting the bleed vessels and tissue) and diuretic, and also as a substitute for starch when huge white ruffs were fashionable (Elizabethan and Jacobean times). The bulb contains inulin and mucilage and trials are underway to teat the efficacy of the bluebell for the treatments of infections stemming from HIV and cancer treatments, but the trials are still in the early stages.


A tasty soup to help ward off colds and flu as it has vitamins and minerals that boost the immune system.
  Broken rice is rice that has been damaged during hulling and so is cheaper than perfect basmati rice. It is commonly used in Pakistan as an addition to soups (as here) or for desserts. Ordinary rice can be used too.
   You can also add crushed roasted chestnuts or shelled walnuts to this soup for added flavour and nutrition when you add the rice.
1 onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ inch ginger root, finely chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
3 tbsps besan (chickpea flour)
3 tbsps tomato puree (peel and chop a tomato and fry to a paste)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground coriander seeds
2 tbsps white vinegar
2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
salt to taste
2 tbsps butter
1 tbsp oil
2 glasses chicken stock
1 cup broken rice cleaned washed and soaked
6 glasses water
3-4 green chillies, chopped for garnish

Heat the butter and oil over a low heat so that they don’t burn. Add the onion and fry until soft. Add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 min.
Add the besan and fry but stir so that it doesn’t burn.
Now add the tomato paste and the apple. Cook over a low heat for 5 mins taking care that they do not burn- stir well.
Add the chicken stock slowly and stir to mix completely. Then add the garam masala, coriander, black pepper and rice. Allow the soup to boil, and then add the vinegar, water and cook for 45 mins or until the mixture thickens.
Add the lemon juice and salt, garnish and serve.
If you want to you can keep this in the fridge until ready and just add a little more water and reheat.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


There are two kinds of long pepper, one is Piper longum, which comes from the Indian subcontinent and the other is Piper retrofractum which grows in South East Asia, notably in Indonesia and Thailand and is sometimes referred to as Balinese pepper. Long pepper was known to the Romans and ancient Greeks and has been used in Ayurvedic medicine since time immemorial.
Theophrastus described it as “elongated and black and has seeds like those of the poppy…”He goes on to say that it was used as an antidote, along with other pepper as an antidote “for poisoning by hemlock.” In the first century AD Dioscorides describes it as “a tree that grows in India. It produces fruit, which is at first oblong-like pods; this is the long pepper, the contents of which closely resemble millet.” He says that it was used to treat poisonous bites. Parsimonious Pliny also refers to long pepper, “Long pepper is very easily adulterated with Alexandrian mustard; its price is 15 denarii per pound, while that of white pepper is 7 and of black, 4.” It actually reached Europe before black pepper did, and it was used in mediaeval cooking.
   It is dried and only a little is needed to flavour a dish. When it is fresh and wet it has a sweet taste but the drying process makes it much more pungent. It grows on a vine and is believed to be native to the Himalayan regions of the Indian subcontinent. Now it is cultivated in Assam, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, where it is called pippali.
  It has traditionally been used to cure STDs, menstrual pain, TB, leprosy, chronic stomach pain, sleeping disorders, a diuretic, for relaxation of the muscles, to relieve tension and alleviate anxiety, to strengthen the immune system, treat respiratory problems, reduce fevers, as an abortifacient, an emmenogogue, for piles, recurrent fevers, to aid digestion, to boost reproductive functions and so as an aphrodisiac.
   A paste made from the peppers may be applied externally to painful swellings, and when mixed with ghee and honey as a remedy for coughs and TB. Long peppers and Indian gooseberries are used together to treat anaemia. This is a remedy for respiratory problems etc: 3 long peppers boiled in 4 parts milk to 1 part water, for a few minutes, and then drunk. You should take this for 10 days adding one long pepper a day, then for a further 10 days decrease the number of peppers per day by one. This is supposed to also be good for the treatment of recurrent fevers, piles and digestive problems. An infusion is also given after childbirth to expel the placenta.
   Modern medical research has shown that the long pepper had antifertility activity in rats, and that it has antiamoebic properties. It is also an analgesic (has the ability to relieve pain), has anti-tumour properties, and regulates the immune system. Research on the properties of the long pepper is ongoing. However it has proven to be an effective anti-inflammatory and is a diuretic.
   Long pepper is one of the spice ingredients of Ras el Hanout (a Moroccan spice mixture) and berbere which is an Ethiopian spice mixture which contains dried red chillies, long pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom seeds. The following recipe is a Mediaeval one, and the proportions might not be quite right, so you will have to experiment.

 a little water
¼ pint white wine
2 tbsps sugar
4-6 long peppers

Stand the pears upright in a saucepan and add the liquids, vanilla pod and long peppers. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer for 20-30 mins or until the pears are tender.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


There are more than 2000 varieties of plum which grow around the world. The aloo bukhara, (which in Urdu means the potato of Bukhara, is in fact a corruption of  alu in Farsi, which means plum) grows in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and India. Bukhara is a famous ancient city, and was founded long before AD 800 when the modern city was founded on an older site. It was the centre of learning along with Samarkand and is now situated in Uzbekistan. It is now famous in the region for its rare books which date from the 13th century, (Genghis Khan destroyed the city in 1220, but it was rebuilt) when it was the centre of Sufi Islam. Now it is famous for carpets as well as rare books.
 It was an important centre of trade on the Great Silk Road. The plums come into season soon, and we are looking forward to their arrival as they help to ward ff colds and flu. The Latin name for these plums is Prunus bokharensis. They are eaten raw, cooked and dried, and can be used to clean metal. The name Bukhara comes from the Sanskrit, “vihara” meaning “monastery”
   All plum trees are thought to have originated in the area around the Caspian Sea, and were introduced into Britain by the Romans, it is thought. In Roman times there were 300 known varieties. These go under the general name of Prunus domestica. The pilgrims took plums with them to America. In The Vale of Evesham, in the UK plums have been commercially produced since the 19th century and in Pershore there is an annual Plum Fayre held in August. I had a great aunt who lived close to Pershore and in plum season I particularly liked the Yellow Egg Plum, perhaps because of its name. It is said that this plum tree was found growing wild in nearby Tiddesley Wood in the early 19th century and records show that in 1870, 900 tons were taken to market at the harvest. In Britain the most popular plum is probably the Victoria, and Pershore is also famous for this and the Pershore Purple, and more recently the Pershore Emblem.
Yellow egg plum
    Plums are related to almonds and apricots and are members of the rose family. It is best not to eat any part of the plum (especially the seeds) which is bitter as they contain amygdalin and prunasin which are water-soluble substances which form hydrocyanic acid which is extremely toxic. However, in small amounts, this stimulates respiration, improves digestion and gives a sense of well-being.
Plums also contain selenium which is probably responsible for this feeling. They also contain chromium, potassium and other minerals as well as the vitamins A and C so they help the eyesight and help the body to absorb iron. Plums also contain amino acids and Omega-6 fatty acid, and unique phytonutrients, neaocholorogenic acid and cholorogenic acid, which are classed as phenols, and have potent antioxidant properties. Regular consumption of plums can help to prevent cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration. Dried plums or prunes have a laxative effect and are used to cure constipation. However they are not as potent in this regards as jamalgota (Croton tiglium) which incidentally, you only need a pinch of to have the desired effect. Plums are also useful to asthma sufferers and those who have rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
U K plum
  Each species of plum has its individual stone, so archaeologists could tell which plums were carried on Henry VIII’s flagship the “Mary Rose” when it was raised from the seabed.

6 lbs plums
6 lbs sugar
1½ pints water

Pakistani plum
Put the plums in the water and bring to a rolling boil. When tender lower the heat and the sugar. Stir continuously and bring to a rolling boil again. Test to see if it has reached setting point after 15 mins. You do this by putting a drop from a metal spoon onto a cold saucer, waiting for a minute or two then pushing it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it has reached setting point and you can turn off the heat.
You need sterile jars, warmed, to pour the jam into and wax paper to cover it, then cellophane and then put a secure lid on the jar.
This is wonderful with toast or in creamy desserts and custards.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


In winter most people feel down and rather jaded after a fun, warm summer, but this syrup helps boost the immune system so that you can ward off colds and flu, as well as coughs. If you have any of these then this will help get rid of it and it also helps to ease muscle pains. It also raises your spirits and can be taken every morning before you brave the cold outside world.
    One of Nature’s most beneficial gifts is honey, and if you take honey in hot milk or water every night, you will see a general improvement in your overall health.
   The following syrup recipe will help to keep you healthy through the winter, so you can avoid the doctor and illnesses associated with winter.

500 gr honey
20 gr cinnamon
20 gr cloves
20 gr green tea
50 gr kolanjan (galangal)
20 gr violet flowers (banafshah)
20 gr goazban (borage) flowers
2 litres water

Alpinia galanga
In a pestle and mortar, crush all the ingredients except for the honey and water, very well.
Steep these ingredients in the water for 24 hours.
After 24 hours heat the liquid and boil so that the liquid is reduced by half.
Add the honey and cook on a low heat for 5 mins.
Leave to cool then pour into sterile bottles and make sure the tops are airtight.

Infants 2-5 drops a day only.
Children aged 3-5 years half a teaspoon per day.
Older children 1 teaspoon per day.
Adults 2-4 teaspoons per day.
You can use the syrup with hot milk or hot water.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).


Although you may not have heard of this particular plant the rhizome was very popular in Europe as a spice in the Middle Ages. Chaucer mentions it in “The Canterbury Tales” and spells it “galyngale”, but it was the lesser galangal, Alpinia officinarum, that was popular in his time as it is more pungent than the Greater one which is Alpinia galanga. There is yet another variety, Keampferia galanga, all of which have rhizomes which resemble ginger and turmeric. They are members of the ginger family.
   You may be forgiven for thinking that the Latin name Alpinia has something to do with the Alps, but you would be mistaken as this genus was named after a famous 17th century Italian botanist, Prospero Alpino.
   The Greater galangal grows to a height of 5 feet and the Lesser one to around 3 feet. The rhizomes are about three inches long, and have an aromatic smell similar to pine needles when fresh. When dried the smell is more like cinnamon. The root has been used as a spice for more than a thousand years, in both Europe and Asia, although it has long since gone out of favour. It was introduced wither by Greek or Arab physicians. In Russia it is used to flavour vinegar and in a liqueur called “nastoika” and in Lithuania and Estonia it has been used as a medicine and spice for centuries. In India it is still used in medicine, perfumery and brewing. It is believed to be native to China and Indonesia, but grows in South West India and the Eastern Himalayas too.
    The fruits of the plant (berries) can be used in cooking as a substitute for cardamom seeds, and galangal powder goes well with fish and seafood as well as poultry, but you only need a little to flavour a dish.
   It has gone by other names in English and these testify to the uses it had in medicine, Colic Root, East India Catarrh Root, China Root and India Root. It is supposed to make an excellent remedy for sea-sickness, and was given to those who suffered from flatulence, dyspepsia, vomiting and other stomach disorders. It was also used for fevers and to generally strengthen the body and as an aphrodisiac. Modern medical studies have shown that it increases the sperm count of rats, and the mobility of the sperm, and it has also tentatively suggested that the plant and its extracts could be potentially beneficial as an anti-tumour, anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-microbial agent. It may also help lower cholesterol levels. It contains the bioflavonoids quercetin and kaempferol and has strong antioxidant effects. The seeds may have anti-ulcer properties.
   Traditionally on the Indian subcontinent it has been used to control incontinence and fever, and also as an anti-fungal. Apart from its medicinal qualities it was once used as a deodorant and for combating bad breath. It has also been used in the same ways as in Europe. Modern research shows that it might be able to alleviate some of the symptoms of dementia.
 As to its reputation as an aphrodisiac, this is what Gerard, writing in 1597 says of the roots “they conduce the venery, and heate the too cold reines (loins).”

3 lbs chicken cut into 4 or 6 serving pieces and scored
4 brazil nuts, ground
1 tsp chilli powder
2 tsps ground coriander seeds
1 tsp galangal powder
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or minced
½ tsp turmeric
4 tbsps oil*
2 medium onions, chopped
3 cups coconut milk
2 inch stick of cinnamon or cassia bark
1 stalk of lemon grass
2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
salt to taste
fresh coriander leaves to garnish

Mix the nuts, chilli, coriander seeds, galangal, garlic and turmeric into a paste with a little oil (*sesame mixed with olive oil is good) and rub over and into the chicken.
Leave to marinate for at least 3 hours, preferably leave overnight in the fridge.
Heat some oil in a pan, and fry the onions until golden, then add the chicken pieces and again fry til golden.
Gradually add the coconut milk stirring continuously until it boils.
Add the lemon grass and cinnamon stick and simmer for 30 mins.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and salt to taste.
Serve with plain rice and chutneys.
This has Taste and is a Treat.



Sunflowers can grow to 10 feet high and are very attractive to birds and butterflies as well as bees. I first saw a sunflower in a neighbour’s garden in Britain and was awed by its size (I was 2 years old). It was then pointed out to me that the black and white seeds the parrot my great-aunt’s friend owned ate sunflower seeds, and since then I have always thought of them as bird food, although I have eaten them as a snack with pumpkin seeds. They are often eaten in this way in Greece and Italy, but I can’t quite get rid of the thought of the parrot snacking on them.
   I have since seen fields of sunflowers in Italy in Tuscany and the Marche regions and have been impressed with their sun turning abilities. They face one way in the morning and in the evening, on the return journey they face in the opposite direction; truly sun turners or girasole as they are called in Italian. Another member of the Helianthus (literally sun=Helios and anthus=flower in Greek) family is the Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus.
   Sunflowers are native to the Americas and were domesticated by the Native Americans three thousand years ago. They were revered by the Aztecs and the priestess in the temples of the sun used to carry the flowers and wear wreaths of them in their hair. The Spaniards found delicately wrought golden sunflowers when they arrived in Peru in the 16th century. It was the conquistadores who were responsible for introducing the flowers to Europe in the 16th century where they were grown as curiosities.
Sunflower Seeds
  The oil yield of the seeds was increased by the Russians from 28% to nearly 50 % in the 19th century and now the oil is extensively used in cooking as it has a high smoke point and can be mixed with oils that have a lower smoke point such as olive and sesame oils. Sunflowers are also sources of biodiesel, but the cost of the oil prohibits it from being widely used as biodiesel currently.
    The seeds and oil are rich in vitamins A and E and the oil may be used as a moisturizer for oily skins as it has drying properties, but improves the elasticity of facial skin.
  No part of the plant is wasted as the stems are good for fuel when dry and the stems and leaves can be given to domestic animals as tasty fodder. The oil-cake left after the oil has been extracted from the seeds is also used as animal fodder. Even the flowers can be used to make a yellow dye.
Painting by Van Gogh
  Sunflower oil contains a high proportion of unsaturated fatty acids (90%) with the remaining 10% made up of saturated acids, palmitic and stearic. The oil is good as salad dressing, for cooking and is made into margarine.
   The seeds have diuretic and expectorant properties and have been used to treat bronchial, laryngeal and pulmonary problems, as well as coughs and colds. The recipe for a cough medicine is given below. The tincture made from the seeds has been used to reduce fevers, while the leaves from the plant have been incorporated into some herbal tobaccos.

2 oz sunflower seeds
2 pints water
6 fl.oz. gin
6 oz sugar

Boil the seeds in the water until it is reduced to 12 fl ozs.
Strain and add the gin and sugar stirring until the sugar dissolves.
Dose: 1-2 tsps 3 or 4 times a day.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).


Olive trees are native to Anatolia Turkey, from where they spread to the rest of the Mediterranean region. The olive tree has many legends associated with it and perhaps the most famous is that it came into being when the goddess of wisdom, Athena planted her spear firmly into the ground and it became an olive tree. This was said to have happened in Athena, Athens, the capital city of Greece which is named after the goddess. Greeks will tell you that all Greek olive trees came from cuttings taken from this original tree. In his writings, Homer says that the olive tree created by Athena was 10,000 years old and still growing when he was writing. He also mentions that if anyone destroyed an olive tree, they were sentenced to death, so sacred were they to the ancient Greeks. They appear in paintings from the Minoan period of Greek history dating back to 3,500 BC. On ancient gold coins, Athena is depicted wearing olive leaves on her helmet.
   In ancient Olympia in 775 BC, where athletes trained for and competed in the ancient Olympic Games, victors were awarded crowns made from olive branches, and of course the dove and the olive twig is an international symbol of peace. Olive trees are mentioned in the Bible and the dove took an olive twig to Noah after the great flood.
   Olive trees have been cultivated for thousands of years, and can live for a thousand years or more, although 500 years is more common. They can grow up to 50 feet high and can have a spread of 30 feet or more. However they are usually pruned to 20 feet so that collection of the fruit is easier. Olives are traditionally harvested by shaking the trees and hitting the branches with long poles so that the olives fall into a net or cloth that has been placed under the tree.
   Olives, olive oil and olive leaves are very much a part of the Mediterranean diet, and modern medical research has shown that they are all beneficial to our health. Eating olives or olive oil can help prevent wrinkles, and slow the aging process, can help stop hot flushes in menopausal women, combat the ravages of alcohol, prevent dandruff (rub some oil into a dry scalp), make the hair shiny and healthy, prevent dry skin and acne, stop muscles aching, lower blood pressure and strengthen nails. Olive oil is said to be the reason why Greeks and Italians live to a ripe old age.
   Olives and their oil are rich in Vitamin E, iron, copper, dietary fibre and the good monounsaturated fats. The leaves are full of bioflavonoids and have potent antioxidant properties. Traditionally Greeks make a tisane from the leaves to calm frazzled nerves and relieve stress, and give a cup to their city-dwelling relatives when they arrive in their ancestral villages after working in Athens. The tisane can be made from a handful of leaves, and pouring a cupful of water on them and allowing them to steep for 10 to 15 mins, then straining and draining and sweetening with honey. The bark from the tree can also be added to a tisane. The tisane is a diuretic, so you shouldn’t have too many cups of it. Studies have shown that the leaves can help with arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and have antimicrobial properties. They may be useful in helping treat HIV/AIDS; they certainly can relieve hypertension, and lower cholesterol levels. They have been used to treat inflammation, diabetes, and infections. The cholesterol lowering effects are believed to come from oleuropein contained in the leaf.
   In 1843 a fever, possibly caused by malaria bearing mosquitoes, spread like wildfire through the island of Lesbos (Mytilene) and the decoction made from the leaves of the olive tree were found to be effective in reducing fever. It was reported that this decoction was even better than quinine for reducing malarial fever. This quality had been reported by French and Spanish physicians after the Spanish war between these two countries which lasted from 1808-1813.
   I have always been amazed by early people’s imagination, and the leaps they took from tasting a hard, bitter olive picked from the tree, to the deliciousness of olive oil. It’s also amazing that something that tastes so good is so beneficial for our health. In Greece the best olive oil is to be found in villages, and the colour depends on where it comes from. For example, in Northern Greece, around Igoumenitsa, the oil is a golden colour, whereas in the Peloponnesus it is a rich green. The oil from villages is extra virgin, and probably not for sale as it comes from family olive groves and is made for the use of those families. I was lucky enough to have friends who kept me well supplied with oil when I lived in Greece, and it was by far superior to the oil sold in supermarkets. Olive trees produce creamy white flowers, but don’t bear fruit every year, only in alternate years, so to have an annual supply, families plant many olive trees so that they will have a harvest every year.
   Black olives from Kalamata are probably the best in the world, as is the oil produced from them. After tasting these any others pale in comparison. However olives are wonderful whether they are black, green, and green stuffed with pimentos or almonds. They can be used on pizzas, in drinks, as mezes with ouzo along with grilled pieces of octopus, or in a tomato sauce with capers for the Italian “putanesca” sauce. Olive oil is wonderful poured over freshly cooked pasta with garlic and basil for a light lunch Italian style, or just dip a piece of bread into the extra virgin oil for a real taste of the Mediterranean.
   Olives the olive leaves and olive oil can give you so many health benefits, that you really should invest in the products of the olive tree. Give your taste buds a treat.
  The recipe below was given me by a Greek friend, Vassiliki, try it and see what you think.

½ kilo fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
200 gr black olives, pitted and sliced
1 tbsp capers
½ tsp chilli powder
½ tsp paprika
dash of Tabasco
olive oil

Heat olive oil in a pan and add the onion. Fry until it is transparent then add the garlic.
Fry over a low heat for 5 mins.
Add all the other ingredients and stir well. It may need a little water, but not much. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down to very low and simmer for 20 mins.
Serve with pasta. If you like, add fresh chopped coriander leaves as a garnish.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


European mistletoe or Viscum album is less toxic than its American counterpart, and this article refers only to the European variety. All information here is just that and if anyone cares to use the treatments then they should only do so under strict medical supervision. Mistletoe remedies are not for pregnant or lactating women and children should be actively discouraged from eating the berries.
   There are around 1,400 species of mistletoe that grow around the world, and Viscum album is divided into 4 subspecies, three of which occur in Europe and one in Asia.
   Of course, whether in Britain or the US, people know the tradition of kissing under branches of mistletoe at Christmas time when it decorates houses. This tradition stems from an ancient Scandinavian legend, when one of the gods, Balder was slain by an arrow made from mistletoe wood. The other deities prayed for his resurrection and their prayers were answered. Mistletoe was then kept in the care of the Goddess of Love and it was decreed that anyone passing under mistletoe should receive a kiss, symbolizing that it was a plant of love and peace not of hate.
   We also know from Pliny the Elder that mistletoe was harvested by the Druids in northern Europe. They only cut it when the moon was in a certain phase at the beginning of the New Year and cut mistletoe from the oak tree, which was especially revered by them because of its life-giving properties, as were the plants such as mistletoe and the oak apples that grew on it. They believed that mistletoe was a universal healer and used it in many potions. They also believed that it would protect from all evils and this is probably why we decorate our homes with it to this day. Druids used mistletoe to reach the other world in their shamanic rites and also used it in human sacrifices. Today modern “Druids” gather in orchards in Herefordshire, UK to celebrate the mistletoe in December, probably much to the consternation of farmers whose orchards they congregate in. Ancient Druids would gather mistletoe by cutting it with a golden sickle and laying it on white sheets under the oak trees from which it had been cut. They only cut the mistletoe after they had been told to cut it in visions, and would sing under the trees before they climbed them to harvest the mistletoe. Ovid writes “Ad viscum Druidae cantare solebant.”(The Druids would solemnly sing to the mistletoe.) The Druids sent young acolytes to dwellings carrying branches of mistletoe to herald the New Year.
  Now mistletoe should be burned, according to an old superstition, on Twelfth Night, or all the boys and girls who kissed under it will never marry. At one time it was also believed to cause sterility.
   In his play “Titus Andronicus” Shakespeare called it “the baleful mistletoe,” probably because he knew the old legend and because it was considered poisonous.
   Today mistletoe is rarely found on oak trees, but is most commonly found on old apple trees, although curiously not on pear trees. It also grows on ash trees, hawthorns and willows, among others. It is usually deposited by birds, notably the Missel Thrush which avidly devours the berries, and probably got its name from this predilection. It can also be “planted” on trees by rubbing the berries on the bark or the underside of branches, although birds are the best way of propagating mistletoe, farmers believe.
   European mistletoe is a true parasite and only grows on a living tree, not on decayed fallen bark as fungi can. Other mistletoes are not all true parasites. Viscum album grows a thick, woody root and has yellow calyxes in May, but the berries don’t fully ripen until December. The twigs and leaves (but not the berries) have been used as sheep fodder in winter.
   In Brittany mistletoe is known as the Herb of the Cross (Herbe de la Croix) as it is said that the wood of the mistletoe was used to make Christ’s cross, and was so demoted in the plant world and doomed to become a parasite. Mistletoe wood has been used as a protection from evil and epileptic fits since Druidic times, however.        
   Traditionally mistletoe leaves and twigs have been used to cure numerous ailments, among them hysteria, convulsions of delirium, for stopping internal haemorrhages, neuralgia, urinary disorders, heart disease, other problems related to the nervous system and as an aphrodisiac. Sir John Colbatch wrote a medical pamphlet in 1720 extolling the virtues of mistletoe as a cure for epilepsy, “The Treatment of Epilepsy by Mistletoe.” It was also used as a remedy for St. Vitus’ dance, and was often mixed with valerian root and vervain to treat nervous complaints. Cayenne peppers were added to this mixture for treating digestive disorders. Large quantities of mistletoe could aggravate the disorders it was supposed to treat however.
   The birdlime from the berries has been used to treat sores and ulcers and a berry was believed to relieve stitches in sides.
    You can make a cold water infusion with the chopped leaves and twigs by putting 2-4 tsp (10-20 gr) dried or fresh leaves into 500 ml of cold water and leaving them to steep overnight. Sweeten with honey and drink when you wake up. During the day steep more leaves in cold water and drink at bedtime. A tisane may be made with 1 tsp (5 gr) chopped leaves to 250 ml boiling water, and leaving this mixture to steep for 10-15 mins before straining and drinking. You can have 2 cups a day.
  Modern medical trials have shown that an extract of mistletoe when injected into the blood stream regularly can help in the treatment of bowel cancer as it can lower the effects of chemo and radiotherapy. It is believed that it acts upon the immune system, helping to prevent tumours spreading and to expel the toxic substances that build up in the body after the therapies. Those who underwent treatment with mistletoe extract survived for longer than patients who were not given the treatment, and they experienced fewer side effects from the therapies.
   Mistletoe contains lignans which are used as chemopreventives as well as to lower cholesterol levels and treat atherosclerosis. These are also found in flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and cranberries. It also contains acetylcholine which is involved in the transmission of nerve impulses in the body. There are also lectins or viscotoxins present, which behave in a similar way to snake venom. Bioflavonoids such as quercetin are also present in mistletoe and so it can help lower blood pressure and heart rate as well as ease anxiety and promote sleep.
   It is also thought that mistletoe may help improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, so perhaps the Druids weren’t wrong when they thought of this parasite as a universal healer.


This is a heart-warming winter recipe full of vitamins and minerals to help ward off colds and flu. It’s good cold in summer to with the addition of a little yoghurt.

½ kilo spinach washed well and leaves stripped from stalks
2 slices dried bread cut into cubes and fried in oil until golden brown
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
fresh cream or butter to taste

Put leaves in a pot with a little water and boil for 10 mins.
Allow to cool then blend.
Pour the chicken stock into the pan with the blended spinach and stir to mix well.
Cook for 5 mins. When the liquid starts to boil add salt.
Remove from the heat and transfer to a serving bowl topped with the croutons (fried bread cubes), black pepper and cream.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


There are different types of vervain that grow around the world. Verbena officinalis is indigenous to the British Isles and Europe, while Blue vervain also known as Traveller’s Joy and Wild Hyssop, or Verbena hastate is native to the US. Vervain also grows in the Caribbean, two species being Burry vervain and Verbena jamaicensis. Verbena officinalis is the herb under discussion here.
   Vervain or Verbena officinalis is also known by the following names, Herb of Grace, Herba Sacra, Herba Veneris, and devil’s bane, formerly as it was believed that it would banish evil spirits. It was held sacred to the goddesses Diana and Venus by the Romans and could be burned like incense in temples and was used in them and in homes to make the air sweeter and more hygienic. The Egyptians dedicated vervain to their goddess Isis. It was given the name the venal herb because it has aphrodisiac qualities and stimulates the libido.  It is known as Herba Sacra because of the use made of it by the Romans in sacred rituals. It was believed in Mediaeval times that it had flourished on Mount Calvary where Christ was crucified and had helped to staunch the blood from his wounds as he hung on the cross.
   In Britain it was used by the Druids to connect them to the spirit world, and was used as a healing herb and almost had has much influence for them as mistletoe. The word vervain comes from the Celtic words, fer meaning to drive away and faen a stone. An amulet of the bruised herb was worn around the neck to protect from venomous bites and evil as well as just for good luck. It was passed over the Beltane fires and used to protect animals in the winter. At Midsummer it was strewn in fields to ensure the soil was fertile so that the crops would grow. It is said that it is best to gather the herb at Midsummer and dry it immediately for later use.
   The Druids on the other hand, believed that it was at its most effective when gathered during the waning period of the moon when Sirius the Dog Star was rising. They used it in and infusion and sprinkled their homes with the water to banish any evil lurking in them. In the old language of flowers, vervain symbolized enchantment and was used in love potions and to protect from the witches who made the potions.
   The Romans and Greeks used it for diarrhoea, and as it contains tannin it was probably effective, and would chew the root to strengthen the teeth and gums. The infusion of the herb actually makes a good mouth wash for ulcers and gingivitis.
    It has also been used for nervous disorders and is still used by herbalists for soothing nervous disorders, such as anxiety and stress and to promote relaxation and sleep. It has sedative properties, as well as astringent ones, and can be used as a diuretic, or to promote sweating in cases of fever. It has been used as an antispasmodic for stomach cramps and is used for symptoms of PMT (PMS) and the menopause. It is also used for promoting good eyesight and poultice made with a tincture of vervain have been used for headaches, rheumatism and neuralgia among other ailments. It leaves the skin a slightly red colour when used in this way and people thought that it brought the blood to the surface of the skin.
   For a decoction you need 2 ounces of the dried herb or 4 of fresh to 2 pints of water and boil until the liquid has reduced by half.  This can be used for piles and as a purgative. It can also be used for skin irritations. The tisane is good to stave off colds and flu, and it is a healthy drink as it contains bioflavonoids such as quercetin and kaempferol etc.
   Modern medical research has shown that it can inhibit the Hepatitis B virus, which agrees with one of the ancient usages of this herb as a liver tonic. It is also effective as a calming nerve tonic and helps as much as St John’sjohn's Wort does in soothing stress and anxiety. It is an antidepressant which is as useful as rosemary, lavender, mugwort and St. John’s Wort.
   It enhances lactation in breast feeding mothers and helps in childbirth as it induces contraction of the uterine muscles, making childbirth easier. It should not be used during pregnancy for this reason. 
    Vervain can also be used as a diuretic, and sachets of the dried herb can be kept in clothes to make them smell good and to repel insects. You can put it in your bath to help you relax and to help get rid of any skin problems.
   The tisane will help pep up a jaded appetite and promotes digestion. It can also be used to dress wounds and sores. Mostly it is used to calm the nerves and has a reputation for being an aphrodisiac, presumably because of the actions of the bioflavonoids and its sedative properties which will lower inhibitions.
1 tbsp dried herb or 2 tbsp chopped fresh herb, flowers and leaves.
1 cup boiling water

Pour the boiling water over the herb and leave to steep for 15 mins. Strain and drink.
Three cups a day can be taken but remember that it is a diuretic.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).