Monday, 26 March 2012

Herb Spotlight: Catnip - Nepeta cataria

So how is Catnip, our cat's favorite herb, useful for humans?

Catnip may put cats into a frenzy but for humans it is a relaxing nervine. That means it helps put you into a calm state. It reduces tension and headaches, as well as soothing menstrual cramps. It relieves nausea or indigestion caused by nerves or tension, as well.

It can help digestion in other ways, too. Catnip is a naturally antacid herb so it helps with heart-burn, and it's bitter which means it helps your organs to produce more gastric juices for digestion. It can sooth IBS, indigestion and flatulence.

It is so gentle that can be given to young children for help with fevers, diarrhea, colic, and calming down hyperactivity. Mothers can drink a tea of this herb to help breast-feeding children sleep (probably a better idea than another folk remedy-- wine)

Catnip is a great source of minerals especially potassium. This is a great quality if you have a fever and are dehydrated as potassium is a water soluble vitamin. Water soluble vitamins can be lost in urine.

How to take it? Try it in a tea, tincture or even in your salad. For a tea:
Cut the top six inches off the plant to harvest. Dry it upside down. Then steep one to two teaspoons if the herb in a cup of hot but NOT boiling water. Boiling water will evaporate some useful volatile oils in the plant.

For tinctures and more on Catnip:

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Recipe Review-- Slowcooked meats and Brownies

Salsa Chicken Crockpot style from Simply Sugar and Gluten Free

Twenty minute to prepare! I skipped the tortillas (being gluten free n all) and instead served this with rice and black olives on top. I put half the sauce in the crockpot, added chicken breasts, put the rest over and cooked on high for 4 hours. Then I added cheese and let it melt into yumminess.

Black Bean & Avocado Brownies from Cara's Cravings

Believe it or not, these are absolutely delicious. While making these a friend dropped by and waved off the batter covered spoon I offered to him. "I'm on a diet." Well guess what you can have your brownies and eat them, too. These taste like the chocolate mousse type variety. Another friend would not stop talking about these after he tried it, and the ingredients are inexpensive. Be careful not to eat the whole thing, as beans and avocado might have a loosening effect! I replaced the sugar with equal parts palm sugar to make it even better for you. Instead of espresso, I added spicy hot chocolate mix I had in the kitchen.

Slowcooked Carne Asada from Faithful Provisions

I recently bought this dish at a Mexican restaurant and didn't realize it was not a slowcooked dish. So when I saw that Trader Joes sells premarinated carne asada for $6 a pound, I got a package of the sliced version and decided to make it myself. This recipe is a bit similar to the salsa chicken above, however it doesn't need any cheese, instead I topped it with fresh avocado. It was the perfect cool addition to this spicy dish. (If you don't buy the trader joe's version, I would recommend marinating the meat in your favorite spices first for extra flavor).

Crockpot Meatballs from a Year of Slowcooking

I am an Italian food snob. This month I craved meatballs and so I set out to make a gluten free version that I can eat. I made these marvelous things in about half an hour and I froze them. Next time I definitely will make an extra batch so I can have meatballs anytime. These are so good. I used a larger can of tomatoes and added onion, carrot and celery so there would be a delicious sauce with it to put over rice pasta and peas. Yum yum yum!! (FYI you probably only need a third of a cup of flour to coat the meatballs, not the 1 cup this suggests)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Astralagus (Astragalus membranaceus)

Astragalus is an herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine that helps strengthen the body, prevent disease and sickness, and level out the effects of stress. In fact there is so much to say about it that cutting this draft down from pages has been real hard.

It may protect us from cancer and diabetes because the plant contains antioxidants that protect from free radicals (like pomegranate, acai and the hip Indian gooseberry). Astragalus is used to protect and support the immune system, for preventing colds and upper respiratory infections, to lower blood pressure, to treat diabetes, and to protect the liver. Studies have shown it to be anti-viral, and it is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Thus, it's great topically for wounds, too. It may even help with seasonal allergies!

In the United States, researchers have looked at astragalus as a possible treatment for people whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy or radiation. In these studies, astragalus supplements seem to help people recover faster and live longer. Research on using astragalus for people with AIDS has produced mixed results.

Read more at the University of Maryland Medical Center

A Note About Safety

At low-to-moderate doses, astragalus has few side effects. However, it does interact with a number of other herbs and prescription medications. Astragalus may also be a mild diuretic, meaning it helps the body get rid of excess fluid. (So watch your potassium level!)

There is not much evidence about whether astragalus is safe for women who are breastfeeding or nursing. Talk to your doctor before taking any medication, including herbs.

If you take any of the following medications, you should not use astragalus without first asking your doctor:

Drugs that suppress the immune system -- Astragalus may interfere with how these drugs act. If you have an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, or take cyclophosphamide, a medication used to reduce the chances of rejection in transplant recipients, or corticosteroids, do not take astragalus.

Lithium -- Astragalus can make it harder for the body to get rid of lithium, so dangerously high levels of the drug could build up.

University of Maryland Medical Center
Pictures from Hierbas Medicinales and Methow Valley Herbs