What superfood? Its all Greek to me – Wild herb tea

IMG_0395

A selection of herbs from the greek stall at Borough Market

My holiday in Greece a couple of years ago,  inspired me to read about the inhabitants of Ikaria (a Greek Island) who have a very high rate of longevity. In fact they are part of the blue zone , places where the majority of people live above 80-100 years old. This in turn got me thinking about our own quest for health and our recent obsession with super foods and fad diets.  I wonder what the old folk in Ikaria would say to a suggestion that their daily diet would be vastly improved with some chia seed pudding or a smoothie with added macca and moringa powder.

Don’t get me wrong I too have a selection of these things in my cupboard, although I am slowly trying to replace them with cheaper and more sustainable options.  I too have been seduced by the promise of longevity and funky packaging of acerola and baobab fruit.  And then I start to wonder,  what are all the Peruvians eating if we are tucking into their quinoa and goji berries? How do the farmers in chocolate growing regions feed their families if all the land is taken up with the ever-growing demand of premium raw cacao?

 So going back to the centenarians on Ikaria, what makes them live so long?  Well diet plays a role for sure, and most of the inhabitants do in fact grow their own vegetables.  Due to the temperate climate and rich soils, produce grows very well here.  Pulses and vegetables are the corner-stone of their diet, add some olive oil, foraged greens, raw goats milk, honey and a little bit of meat and that’s what they mainly live on.  They also consume a large amount of wild mountain tea and some red wine. I also see a great absence of refined sugar and pre packaged food.  Diet isn’t the only factor though, in fact the Peoples in the blue zone all share some common life style characteristics, which I’ll delve into some other time.

So how can we learn from this and how can we add some super foods to our diet, without buying expensive packets from Peru?

My guess is that the consumption of these wild herb teas, combined with raw honey contributes somewhat to their longevity.  Herbs in their wild form are vastly superior due to their high volatile oil and medicinal substance content, however any cultivated herb is better than no herbs at all.  We are now starting to realise that wild food is an important part in our diet and herbs are an easy source of wild food.  It is literally like drinking your medicine, and you can sweeten the tea with raw honey to make it more palatable for children or even ferment it cold, using my ginger bug or mead recipe.

IMG_0569

Elderflower and Rose make excellent teas

Last year in March,  I attended an herbal first aid course in beautiful Dorset, and came away with a renewed inspiration for what nature can provide for free.  And if you don’t know how to forage yourself, you can either grow a selection of herbs or buy them dry from a reputable source.  There is an infinite combination of herbs, each with their unique qualities, depending on what you are using them for.

I’ve given a suggestion for three different teas here, but once you get started using herbs on a regular basis I’m sure you’ll fall in love with them as much as I did.  The invitation here is to experiment and to listen to your body, it will be your best guide.

Tea 1 – DIGESTION 

Nettle, Peppermint and Fennel seeds

Fennel and peppermint are known digestive aids and nettle is very high in iron and a very nutritious herb.  Any of these herbs on their own are delicious, but combine them for an after dinner drink, in equal quantities, and your digestion will thank you.

Tea 2 – A Coffee Alternative

Dandelion and Burdock root roasted, with cardamom pods and orange peel

In case your sensitive to coffee but want to keep the bitter flavours going, here is a great tasting alternative. Dandelion and burdock stimulate your liver and cardamom is a warming and soothing herb.  The orange adds zing and lifts this tea up. For a large cup, I use: 1 tsp dandelion and burdock root roasted (you can buy this premixed in most health food stores), 1tsp whole cardamom pods smashed and a large slice of fresh organic orange peel.  Put everything into a tea bag or strainer and leave to steep for a good 5-10 minutes. I like to use my tea thermos with inbuilt strainer and leave it to steep for a good hour.  I drink this with milk but it is just as good without.

Tea 3 – Relax

Lavender, lemon balm and chamomile

All of these herbs have calming properties and combine to a very exquisite taste sensation. A nice cup before bed time, or after work instead of a glass of wine. The lavender is very strong so I would suggest 1tsp of each chamomile and lemon balm and 1/2tsp of lavender per cup.  I often use this combination in my mead or water kefir for a truly delicious fizzy drink.

With Love x

IMG_0396

Oh Honey, honey…..its mead time!

13332932_10209719216434156_1927675038559568983_n

Exquisite raw local honey

 

So its been a while since I’ve written on here, and I’m aware that a lot of the time its simple procrastination that keeps me from writing.  Recently I went back to New Zealand for a trip and it was while I  was away, that I realised how important it is for me to share the many things that are constantly fermenting in my head.

So while I was away on this trip, I started various cultures, as I do, and led a fermentation evening. It was there that I realised that the ferment people usually like best, is mead.  Yes you heard right, mead!  Honey wine, our most ancient fermented treasure.   

Mead is really nothing more than water and honey left to do its thing.  Very little hands on time and plenty of waiting time.  Mead is a perfect ferment to start your fermenting journey with. Reject the cult of expertise and start experimenting, remembering that only two generations ago everybody knew how to do this stuff! Get all your senses involved, and start collecting a memory bank of skills to pass on to your kids.  It’s also a great idea to do seasonal foraging for the herbs and fruit you’re wanting to add. Elderflower, rose, dandelion and nettle are seasonal just now, if you live in the northern hemisphere, that is!

There are many variations of this ferment and traditionally it was used as a medicinal carrier of herbs.  In fact mead was our only source of alcohol for a very long time and it was revered as a sacred drink.  Recent studies have found that mead, made from raw honey, has antibiotic properties, and because the honey has passed through the gastrointestinal  system of bees, it contains yeast as well as beneficial bacteria from their system.  There are so many health reasons to drink mead and it also tastes damn fine.

IMG_0038

a simple ferment with apple, bubbling after about 5 days

I like to flavour mine with herbs, and my current drinking  brew contains rose, chamomile and lime flowers.  You can make the mead strong by using a low dilution (1:4)  or relatively  light  by diluting it more (1:16).  I tend to use a dilution of 1 part honey and 5-6 parts water.  I also add a quartered organic apple, core and all, as this imparts some more flavour and acidity.  When I brew my mead, I usually only go for a short 7-10 day brew using an open top jar.  This will ensure that the mead is still a bit sweet and only very low in alcohol, my kids love it that way.  Once its finished brewing (you will have to taste it at this point to see if its ready) strain the mead through a cheese cloth and then bottle it in glass clip top bottles.  You can drink it straight away or leave it in the fridge for 1-2 weeks.  This will slowly keep fermenting it, making it less sweet and more bubbly. If you want to properly fortify it, i.e. create more alcohol, you will have to put it into a glass demijohn  for 2-4  weeks.  Then bottle it and drink it straight away.  If you want to bottle it and keep it for longer, like months or years, please ferment it for longer in the glass demijohn, otherwise the remaining sugar might build up too much pressure and explode your bottles.

 

So for some basic honey wine pleasure here is what you need

Ingredients

  • 3 l open top glass vessel
  • 300-500g raw honey
  • 2.5 l filtered water
  • any fruit or herbs ( I like to brew a strong tea from lavender, chamomile, linden flowers, rose )

Currently I am making a mead from rose, boysenberries and elderflower.  All the flowers and fruit are immersed in the mead for 5 days or so, then I will strain them out and leave the ferment for another 5 days.

Method

  • In your glass jar mix the water and honey
  • If your flavouring it with herbs make a strong tea and add as part of the water allowance (rose by itself is delicious as is a combination of lavender, linden flowers and chamomile) or add the fresh herbs straight to the ferment
  • If you’re adding fruit, add them now (I always add a quartered apple but ripe summer berries or peaches etc are also delicious)
  • With a spoon stir the ferment everyday, until it starts to bubble
  • Keep monitoring and tasting it to see when its ready.  It should have a much richer flavour profile than the original honey water, slightly acidic, less sweet and a little effervescent.  You want to avoid a vinegar taste.
  • After 5 days or so filter out the fruit and/or flowers if they were added and continue to brew the mead
  • Once the brew is ready either continue fermentation in a glass demijohn (with an airlock) for another 2-4 weeks or drink green (green in this sense means a very young ferment with very little alcohol content, I expect less than 2%) as it is.  I usually bottle my mead after the 10 day period in glass clip top bottles and leave it to mature in the fridge for another 1-2  weeks.  This will make it more bubbly and less sweet as fermentation slowly continues.
13418720_10209719211794040_8490852378628335778_n

Blackberry, rose and elderflower mead, day 2.

So when it’s all said and done, mead is like the most beautiful girl at the party…everything about her is wonderful and intoxicating and you can’t take your eyes off her.  Mead is the stuff of life, and   as far as ferments go, mead is a wonderful mistress.  It’s hard to let her go and she will have her way with you.

 With love x

The humble courgette is back in town…dressed up to impress of course!

13055590_10209360578628435_5751780220560502519_n

I’ve noticed that courgettes are one of those vegetables that really divide people into lovers or haters, of courgettes that is of course.  Im a lover, because the almost bland taste of courgettes lend it to such a variety of uses.  For anyone who has grown these precious beasties in their garden, knows how easy to grow and how prolific they are.  In fact my organic vegetable box has already started to include courgettes, meaning there will be a steady supply from now until summer.

Courgettes are excellent at helping the body metabolize protein and carbohydrates, digest fat, contribute to sex hormone production and lower blood pressure.  They are a very cooling and sedative food, and are very helpful at treating frayed nerves and adrenals.  They can be eaten raw as well as cooked and once you have a few uses under your belt, you’ll look forward to the inevitable courgette glut!

The trend for “pasta” that isn’t pasta has been steadily growing and like with most trends it takes me a while to catch on.  I am a sceptic, and just because something is supposed to be good for me, doesn’t mean I’ll eat it.  In my books food has to be delicious, fairly easy to prepare, mostly seasonal and nourishing for my body.  So with that in mind I finally took to trying out courgette pasta, and what can I say I’m loving it.  It’s delightfully light and delicious.  I slather it in homemade coriander pesto and roast tomatoes, which I keep in the fridge ready to go. Instead of eating the courgette pasta raw, I like to briefly heat it up in my trusty skillet with a bit of olive oil.  I find heating it up gives it a nicer texture and I also find them more satisfying when cooked.  Know thyself is key here, have your condiments ready in the fridge and get yourself a spirilizer, its that simple.  Courgette pasta can be eaten as a side dish or as a light main dish. Please do not go out and buy ready spirilised vegetables of any kind in the supermarket! Do it yourself.

Courgette pasta with coriander pesto and roasted tomatoes

  • 1 large courgette serves one person
  • olive oil
IMG_0335

heating courgette spirals in the skillet

Spiralize your courgette and heat it up in a skillet (heavy cast iron pan).  Then add any condiments you like. I’m really ejoying it with pesto and tomato at the moment and the recopes for those are following.  Simply stir 1-2 teaspoons of pesto through the pasta and top with parmesan cheese and roasted tomatoes if you wish.

 

Roasted tomatoes

  • Two bunches of baby tomatoes
  • oregano, sea salt and olive oil

Place the tomatoes, stalks and all, into a roasting pan .  Add a pinch of oregano and salt and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Coat the tomatoes well and slow roast in an oven at 120 degrees celsius for 3-4 hours.  The tomatoes will have their skins intact but will be wrinkly looking and maybe a bit bronzed.  If you haven’t got 3 hours to spare, you can roast them at a higher temperature, 180 degrees for 30 min.  Slow roasting will make them sweeter however.  Once tomatoes are cooled down place them in a glass jar and add good quality olive oil to cover. Keep in the fridge, they should keep at least one week if not longer.  These tomatoes are great in salads or smashed on toast with avocado or in wraps.

 

Coriander pesto

  • a big bunch of coriander (100g)
  • 1 cup cashew nuts
  • 1 garlic clove peeled , pinch of salt and enough olive oil to loosen pesto into a smooth paste or to the consistency you prefer.  If you like it runny like me it will take quite a lot of oil

Place the coriander into the bowl of a food processor along with the cashew nuts (you can also use pine nuts or almonds here), garlic and salt.  Pulse to process and then add olive oil with the motor running until you have the desired consistency.

With Love x

Let Food Be Thy Medicine – Divine Basil and Rosemary Pesto

11204936_10207282948088970_2215560636389184009_nOn a recent trip to France (Cap Ferret) with my daughter Sofia, I was inspired to write a blog about my food experiences here.  It wasn’t so much the cheese, wine and bread that moved me but more the deep awareness and care for food, I encountered here. There seemed to be a deep desire to eat seasonally and locally, with great care taken by stall holders to pick just the right tomato to be eaten for dinner that night.  There was a buzz around the food with very little pre packaged food and mostly fresh produce.

Eating seasonally is so important.  First of all its better for the planet, but it’s actually also better for your body.  Our digestive fire is weakest in summer (according to Ayurvedic principles). So in summer its best to eat fruit and vegetables which are of course in abundance.  It’s a win, win situation.  As the seasons change so does the food, and our bodies. There is a reason watermelons and other cooling fruit make their appearance in the height of summer, and don’t grace our christmas table.

It is also means you don’t eat broccoli and kale all year round, because no single food group can supply all the nutrients we need.  Which brings me to the second cornerstone of health, food diversity.  Our Ancestors’ pre agricultural food habits were very much based on hunting and gathering, which meant not only did they eat seasonally but they also ate on average 145 different types of food a year.  The average person now will consume about 20 different foods, if they are lucky.

So how do you incorporate some of this wisdom into todays agricultural/supermarket monoculture onslaught?  There are several strategies; The obvious is to go shopping at your local market, buying whats available at that time of year.  Another thing you can do is to start foraging for simple things like nettle, dandelions, elderberries and blackberries, to suggest just a few.  These wild plants pack a nutritional punch far beyond anything you can buy at the supermarket.  And lastly you can make use of herbs all year round.  Herbs have a very high nutrient density and are real powerhouses. Having herbs everyday in some form will vastly improve your health.  Either as a tea, tonic, in salads, dressings, essential oils or as pesto.

I kept thinking about what inspired me here in France, and one of the things I was really drawn to was the feel and smell of nature around me. The beautiful smells of the pine forests, the feel of the soft needles underneath my toes and the creamy taste of pine kernels. If I had to make a dish right now, right here, what would it be? It had to be pesto drizzled over local sweet tomatoes served with some crusty bread and a chilled glass of wine.

Pesto is one of those amazing staples which are so very versatile.  Eat it plain on toast, add it to your scrambled eggs, drizzle it over a tomato salad or add it to pasta for a very simple meal.  I’ve chosen a combination of Basil and Rosemary.  Basil fortifies the digestive and nervous system and can be a good remedy for headaches and insomnia.  Rosemary has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and adds a beautiful flavour to the pesto.  I used pine nuts because I love their rich, creamy taste and they are also a very good source of protein.  You could experiment and replace them with any other kind of nut.

Divine Basil and Rosemary Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 cup tightly packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup rosemary leaves (without the stem)
  • 3/4 cup pine nuts
  • enough extra virgin olive oil to bring it to a smooth consistency about 1/2 cup
  • 1 clove of garlic

salt to taste (a generous pinch)

Method

  • Put all the ingredients in a food processor (except the oil and salt) and mix until it resembles a coarse ground mixture
  • With the motor running add olive oil slowly until the desired consistency is reached
  • Taste and season with salt

This should keep in the fridge for at least one week and it can also be frozen.  As the seasons change so will your pesto, so for example in spring try adding steamed nettle leaves or fresh dandelion leaves.

I will leave you with a quote from my favourite herbalist.

“One must tread delicately on those lands, its palace is built on shifting sands; And so fragile, one cruel look or word – Would utterly smash that porcelain world”

Juliette de Bairacli Levy

With Love x