Friday, April 11, 2014

Radically Natural Recipe: How to Butter a Biscuit

I made biscuits the other night for dinner, to accompany beef broccoli soup.  Our middle son, affectionately known as the butter fiend, demonstrated for us the proper way to apply butter to bread.  (Pardon the deficient photo, but I can assure you that all sides and the innards were coated.)  Note the tooth marks.  Dear Weston would be proud, I dare say? 

Soaked Sprouted Biscuits

3 1/2 cups sprouted grain (I used spelt)
2 cups raw kefir
4 T. melted butter/coconut oil/lard (I used coconut oil and butter)
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. baking soda

  • Mix flour with kefir, add remaining ingredients and blend into smooth dough.
  • Allow to sit for a few hours if possible.
  • Roll out on floured surface, cut out with biscuit cutter or a glass.
  • Alternately take pieces of dough, roll balls in palm of hand and flatten on baking tray (these are less attractive, but get the job done).
  • Bake on buttered baking sheet or use liner (silpat or parchment paper), 350ยบ for about 40 minutes.

Lather with butter and enjoy!

This was one of our "leaving GAPS" grain trials.  No one reacted badly to the biscuits except for me...but when the kids can tolerate a food, I cry success!  I am testing about three grain foods a week, making sure they are soaked and/or sprouted.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Radically Natural POV: A GAPS Testimony

My family's GAPS journey has been very educational, quite beneficial and certainly enlightening. We are currently phasing out of GAPS and testing appropriately prepared grains (a la the NT methods). I will write soon about those experiences.

Until then, I want to share the personal testimony of a good friend (kind of like a daughter to me) who decided last summer to pursue the GAPS protocol...for both she and her husband. The following is her story (yes, I'm the pushy wife she mentions, LOL):

I was raised on genetically modified food (GMOs), industrial food, and pesticide-laden "food," including but not limited to: box cereal, skim milk, Kid Cuisine frozen dinners, Easy Mac, hot dogs, nachos, McDonald's Happy Meals, and Pepsi and Dr Pepper. Growing up with a single mom, I was often left with no other choice, as she could not afford any other food...granted, she didn't KNOW there were other options.

In contrast, how many of us know of the dangers around us, disguising itself as "food," yet choose to turn our head the other way? What have we come to?

I would like to think ignorance is bliss, but unfortunately, I am becoming more convinced that we are willingly killing ourselves slowly in the name of "convenience." What is the message our culture believes? That there is nothing more convenient than driving your car up to a window and ordering packaged meals to feed the whole family for less than $20. We've convinced ourselves that we don't have time to actually prepare and cook food these days. Most people don't do it, so most people don't know how much time it takes to prepare a home-cooked, nutritious, Real Food meal. I would venture to say it is twice, if not three times, as long to prepare one meal compared with a drive-thru window.

But why would we willingly put something into our mouths...and worse, feed it to our children...if we are completely blind as to what the ingredients are? Do we trust our government and the food industry so much that we are willing to let them dictate what we can and cannot place inside our bodies? Apparently so, myself included.

This is my story. I already spoke of what I was raised eating, so fast forward to college. Broke college students can't afford Real Food, right? Right. The stereotypical "ramen noodle" college student didn't apply to me, but pasteurized cheese, Saltines, sandwich meat, white bread, pasteurized cottage cheese, corn chips and salsa, and box cereal/oatmeal did. Fried chicken and fries when going out to eat with friends, or gallons of coffee for pulling all-nighters. Birth control pills, NSAIDs, Sonic Happy Hour every day (medium cherry vanilla Dr Pepper!), and NyQuil. Stress and class deadlines. Those were my typical inputs.

And the effects on my body? Sore throats, mucus drainage every morning, flu every year, and tonsillitis. I simply believed it was the "norm" for a college student to never get enough sleep, to always be sick, and to drink coffee. Little did I know, I was killing myself slowly (trying not be TOO dramatic). Sure, I'm still alive, but not in optimum health and am diligently working to undo all of the damage I have done the last 25 years of my life - some self-inflicted, some not. Sure, I would exercise, and try to pay attention to how much food I was eating, but fundamentally, I was malnourished. I was trying to compensate for my malnourishment by exercise, while paying little attention to WHAT I put into my body. I was focused on the "how much," not the "what."

Fast forward to marriage as my husband and I were confused about nutrition and eating habits, but also wanted to save money. We ate lots and lots of tofu, and ate out a lot when it was cheap (99 cent tacos and burritos!). Four months into our marriage, a positive pregnancy test ended in a "late period" four days later. This would be our first miscarriage, but we had no thought of what we might be able to do to change anything. Two months later, we met a couple who was serious about the GAPS protocol and suggested that if we did GAPS, it could help my fertility problems.

We kept that in the back of our minds, and learned and read about it, but we were so addicted to our sugar, our convenience, and our industrial food dependence that it took us nine more months before we committed to GAPS. We slowly started weaning ourselves off soda first of all, by replacing it with Kombucha. We then stopped eating out, and I started learning to cook at home. Within a whirlwind of Nourishing Traditions, GAPS, this couple pushing us to wean ourselves from our dependence of detrimental substances, and developing a relationship with the wife who would ultimately push us off of the cliff into GAPS land, we jumped in.

We started GAPS Intro for the first time 7 months ago. I experienced die off, suffering terrible dry mouth and bouts of brain fog. My mucus production decreased significantly, and my husband's eczema flared up and cleared (in a continuous flare up pattern). For the first time in my life, I was aware of my body and what I was placing into my mouth.

I recently heard this saying: "Everything you put in your body is helping you fight disease or giving you disease." In all my 25 years of life, I had never once given thought to that concept. Now I do. I now think, what will this do to my body if I eat it? Is this meant to be inside of me? Will this nourish me? Will this make me sick?

Two weeks into GAPS Intro, a positive pregnancy test led to another miscarriage eight weeks later. This would be our second miscarriage in almost 2 years of marriage. But it was my first pregnancy in more than a year, and I take that as a positive sign.

I do not tell you about my two miscarriages for sympathy, but to explain that my carelessness in what I have fed myself (and what I was fed growing up) led me to these fertility difficulties. I have suffered two miscarriages, low thyroid, mucus drainage, adrenal fatigue, infertility, highly abnormal cycles, and who knows what else...

On the bright side, I have lost 20 pounds, and my husband has now lost 60 pounds, by simply transitioning into GAPS Intro and Full GAPS en route to a traditional nourishing diet lifestyle. We feel ourselves detoxifying. And I have learned so much! I never knew that nightshades make my nose run and my husband's eczema flare up, that beans are NOT supposed to make you gassy, that you ARE supposed to have a daily bowel movement, and that it does matter what your stools look like! I never knew that gluten could cause sinus infections, or that sugar could make my tonsils swell and mucus drain. I never knew that what I was eating and drinking, all along, was actually hindering my future to bear and raise children.

I never knew that it actually mattered what you put into your body; I just thought it was how much you put in (caloric intake). I never knew macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, protein) were not what nourishes you, but that whole Real Foods do. And that it is saturated fat (coconut oil, palm oil, nuts, olive oil, animal fats) that nourishes your hormones, cells, brain, heart, and all bodily systems.

I never knew that it wasn't normal to be sick. I never knew that God wanted me to be healthy and well. Most of all, I never knew that I was shaving time off my lifespan, simply by being ignorant (willfully or not) of what I chose to place into my mouth.

My challenge to you is this: pay attention to what you eat. Sacrifice for yourself, your family, and your home. Desire that everyone in your family be well! Think for yourself. Learn. Read. And do what is best for your body, your loved ones, and yours and their future health. You will learn and grow more than you can ever imagine.

I don't know if I will bear children in the future, but I do know that this journey I am on is not a mistake. I will diligently pursue this course until my body is healed, and I have undone all the self-inflicted damage I can.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Vaccination and the "Scientific Method"

I read this week one of the most succinct, thoroughly researched presentations on the continually raging vaccine controversy.  I wish I had written it!  LOL 

The author highlighted numerous important aspects of this issue, including individual rights, medical efficacy and scientific veracity.  She echoed sentiments and research I have presented, and she emphasized a key component to the controversy: the illegitimate "scientific method" used in vaccine safety trials.  The double-blind placebo controlled trial is the empirical standard of medical science.  But vaccine trials don't use this method.  

You see, vaccines are not research effective because they are not subjected to double-blind placebo controlled studies using a saline solution that is the standard for evidence-based medicine. Vaccinations are tested against other vaccinations, adjuvants, and complex vaccinations – this not only yields inaccurate results but altered and inaccurate safety data. How can you know if something is truly safe if it is not tested against a placebo? -- Megan Heimer,
It seems to me that even people who trust that pharma companies are using honest, objective scientific methodology to test their drugs (I am not one of those people) would assent to the falsity of the vaccine safety test methods.  Other drugs are not (supposed to be) tested thus.

Some people might agree with the unscientific vaccine testing protocol, excusing it by saying it would be "unethical" to withhold a "necessary" medicine from a child (I read this in the comments section on Megan's post).  Hmmmm...are vaccines truly necessary?  The jury is certainly out on that one.  Consider that there are thousands of unvaccinated children in this country alone...many of them by parental choice...not to mention the unvaccinated adults.  No child died after a well-check from not receiving a vaccine, but children have died after receiving their vaccines.  I do not believe it is acutely life threatening to withhold a vaccine, so a legitimate study, even a short-term acute reaction study, could certainly be done.  

Kudos to Megan for her Response to Eliminating Vaccine Exemptions!  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Radically Natural Remedies: Tincture Making 101

Information abounds online about how to make herbal tinctures.  At the risk of re-inventing the wheel, I wanted to share my basic "quick" method for tincture making.  Creating herbal medicine is both an art and a science.  Various schools of thought exist regarding tincture making and achieving consistent and efficacious potencies.  To learn the secrets of master herbalists and achieve greater botanical medicine wisdom, please study the resources I'll list at the bottom of the post.

This is my alcohol tincture method (most herbalists use the term "tincture" to mean an alcohol extraction)...glycerites are another form of herbal extraction and will be another post for another day.  Why do we tincture in alcohol?  Some botanical constituents are not easily released into water (such as alkaloids, essential oils, resins, etc.); alcohol is the best solvent for extraction.  Alcohol is also a natural preservative, extending shelf life of your tincture.  And, alcohol as a vehicle gets the medicine into the bloodstream and directly to the liver fairly quickly.  The amount of alcohol you ingest when dosing with tinctures is fairly low, and lower still if you dilute your tincture in water when taking it.

When tincturing with alcohol, you want your menstrum (that's the liquid you use for tincturing the herbs) to be at least 40% alcohol, so an 80 proof vodka or brandy is a good choice (proof is the measurement of ethanol in an alcoholic beverage).  I want to use the best quality alcohol I can find when making medicine.  I want to avoid GMOs in my medicine, to say the least.  Because vodka is made from grains, the GMO concern is very real, not to mention the horrors of chemical farming.  Brandy is made from grapes, but I have little expectation that those grapes are not chemically treated in some way (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, etc).  I have researched organic alcohol options, but found that the shipping to receive the product costs as much as the product itself, making organic a very expensive option.  My compromise has been to use vodka brands that claim to be GMO-free and alternate vodka with brandy. It's not a perfect solution; if you can't afford organic alcohol, you'll need to choose your rock or hard place, or distill your own alcohol.  LOL

When tincturing your herbs, you want to maximize release of the botanical constituents.  If you are using bark, roots and hard bits, you will end up with more potent medicine more quickly if you grind or blend those bits first.  This allows the plant matter to more efficiently release medicinal and nutritional constituents into the menstrum.  If using leaves and flowers, this step is not necessary, but would not be harmful in the least.

Directions are slightly different when using fresh plant material versus dried because of the amount of water naturally occurring in fresh plant matter.  Fresh herbs require a higher alcohol content because the water released by the herb while tincturing will dilute the menstrum.  Some herbs are more effective if tinctured with fresh material (like Shepherd's Purse, a hemostatic herb), while some react better after drying (like Hops, a sedative herb).  To learn more, see the resources below.  Learning to identify and wildcraft herbs is a wonderful activity, as is growing your own herbs; if you do not have access to good herbs, ordering them from a reputable supplier like Mountain Rose Herbs is your best option.

Herbal Tincture How-To

  • If using fresh plants, tear/chop your fresh leaves/flowers into little bits and stuff a quart mason jar 3/4 full.  If using fresh roots/bark, first grind them and fill jar only halfway (these plant parts will expand in the menstrum).  For dried leaves/flowers, fill jar only halfway (crumble leaves/flowers into small bits).  Dried roots/bark should be ground first; fill jar up to 1/3 full (expect some swelling).
  • For fresh plant matter, use minimum 100 proof alcohol; for dried plant matter, use minimum 80 proof alcohol.  Pour alcohol into jar, almost to top...leave an inch of breathing room, but make sure all plant matter is covered.  Place lid firmly on jar.
  • Label jar with herb name and date; place in dark, cool place for 6 weeks minimum (the longer the herbs tincture, the more potent the medicine will be).  Check jar to make sure herb matter hasn't swollen too much, requiring more menstrum.  The herb matter should be moving freely within the menstrum in your jar when you shake it.
  • Give your jar a good shake every day.
  • When ready, strain the liquid out of the herbs (using a potato ricer, or pouring the tincture through cheesecloth into a bowl/large pyrex measuring cup...squeeze as much liquid out as possible).  Bottle your tincture; store it in a cool, dark should last for years, though potency fades over time.

To Learn More

Making Fresh Herb Tinctures
Mountain Rose Herbs Guide to Making Tinctures
Making a Tincture by Susun Weed
HerbPharm FAQ about Tinctures

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Food Corporation Puzzle

Hopefully, you aren't ingesting any of this stuff.  But if you want to be in the know about how few companies really do run the "food" world, check out this graphic revealing the relationships within industrial food corporatocracy.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Radically Natural Remedies: Herbs to Correct Female Irregularities

Is an abnormal female cycle the new norm? My instincts and observations will be considered an anecdotal source, LOL, but I'm voting yes...sadly, the female reproductive system seems to be working less efficiently and normally as the decades pass. Truly, empirical data is slim. And infertility rate reports are misleading because they include technological interventions, such as in vitro fertilization, rather than just measuring the number of women who cannot get pregnant after a year of trying without unnatural means.

Clearly, young women are having more trouble getting and staying pregnant than their mothers and grandmothers. The impaired fecundity (problems getting and staying pregnant) rate is higher now than 20 years ago, and primary infertility affects about 20 percent more (married) women now than it did in 1965. It's easy to play with the numbers and manipulate much real scientific data do we have that can show us legitimate fertility trends? I think we need to start talking more to each other and women in our communities and searching out fertility stories and trends from the past.

Rates of infertility and irregular cycles are frighteningly high among the young twenty-somethings I know. Dysmenorrhea anyone? Menorrhagia? Oligomenorrhea? These are just latin terms for "your cycle is really messed up." How is this happening, ladies? Well, who hasn't read about the damaging hormones in industrial animal foods and endocrine disrupters in plastics and chemicals (like dioxin)? Consider that BPA exposure can increase miscarriage rates...and that's only one of the toxins getting media exposure...what else is lurking out there? Our hormones are increasingly suffering due to the industrial food supply and environmental toxins. It's not rocket science...though rocket fuel is probably a culprit.

Textbook "normal" cycles average 28 days, and the normal window is currently defined by cycles in length of 24 to 34 days. Your cycle begins the day you start your period. Ovulation "normally" occurs at midcycle, around day 14. The hormone dance that regulates your menstruation and ovulation, and affects sexual desire, include estrogen (specifically estradiol), progesterone, testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). The first half of your cycle is the follicular phase, and after the ovary releases the egg, you enter the luteal phase until your next period begins.

Of course there is variation in what should be considered "normal." But during the baby-making years of a woman's life, her cycle should be consistent and regular (fairly close to clockwork), not drop-dead painful and blood depleting, nor nonexistent. To have an unpredictable cycle, an irregular cycle, is certainly not desirable, nor healthy...but those cycles seem to be proliferating and redefining normal in our modern age.

Irregular cycles include:

  • Menorrhagia: excessive bleeding (often including clots and resulting in anemia), and or prolonged periods
  • Dysmenorrhea: excessively painful periods
  • Oligomenorrhea: irregularly long cycles (more than 35 days between periods with fewer periods in a year)
  • Metrorrhagia: irregular cycles with excessive flow and duration, particularly bleeding between periods
  • Polymenorrhea: short cycles (fewer than 24 days between periods with more total periods in a year)
  • Amenorrhea: infrequent and scanty menstruation (pretty much absence of periods)

Rather than drone on with a "know your cycle" lecture, I encourage you to study the subject and try to tap into older source materials and traditional/historical wisdom.  Perhaps query your grandmother or older women in your social circle about their menstrual histories. I will not delve into the varying causes of irregular cycles and reproductive organ ailments, but I encourage you to study the topic, such as ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids, the effects of excess prostaglandins, and how food and pollution negatively affect your hormone cascade.

In the meantime, let's look at some herbal helps that are intended to balance, tone and correct our cycle irregularities. Numerous herbalists have written on this topic and offer wonderful remedies. I borrow from many great healers and am thankful for wisdom passed down!

Chaste Tree
Some plants contain natural phytoestrogens (ex/ licorice and red clover), some promote the production of progesterone (ex/ sarsaparilla and blessed thistle), and others are adaptogens (ex/ siberian ginseng and ashwagandha) that nourish our adrenals and help our bodies deal with stress. Vitex (chastetree) is a female super herb, benefiting the pituitary gland, increasing progesterone levels, and helping to balance hormones. I recommend purchasing herbs through Mountain Rose. (If you purchase through that link or the ads on my blog, I may earn a small commission...thank you for your support!)

Herbal Estrogen Tea

This tea is to be consumed during days 1 to 10 of your cycle (adjust for your lengths if you can estimate when you are ovulating...stop the tea a couple days before ovulation), and is meant to be consumed in conjunction with progesterone tea, below.

1 part licorice root
1 part angelica root
1 part peony root
1 part vitex
1 part red clover tops

Infuse one ounce of the herb mixture in one quart of just boiled water. Steep for 20 minutes. Strain and drink six ounces, three times daily.

Herbal Progesterone Tea

This tea is to be consumed during days 11 to 27 of your cycle (again, try to adjust dates for your irregularities...).

4 parts sarsaparilla root
2 parts blessed thistle
4 parts raspberry leaf
1 part ginseng root
1 part vitex

Prepare and consume as above.

Herbs for Painful Menstruation

The following herbs are helpful for cramps and discomfort during your period:

  • Cramp bark
  • Motherwort
  • St. John's Wort
  • Chamomile
  • Wild Yam root
  • Valerian root
  • Skullcap

Make an infusion with 1 tsp. each herb, steep for 20 minutes in 2 cups just boiled water. Add some peppermint leaf for flavor and additional analgesia. Alternately, try to find a tincture with those herbs in combination, or buy singles and mix them yourself. Take 30 drops in water as needed (every half hour during intense pain periods).

Essential oils that help ease menstrual pain include lavender, chamomile, clary sage, and marjoram. Herbal oils of St. John's wort and arnica combine with the EOs to make a soothing anti-inflammatory, analgesic rub. If you don't want to source and make your own, buy my product, Labor Oil, which has a following among my midwife mentor's clients as a help for labor pain and headaches.

Herbs to Help with Heavy/Excessive Menstrual Bleeding

  • Shepherd's Purse
  • Yarrow
  • Red raspberry leaf
  • Vitex

You can purchase separate tinctures of these herbs and combine them, taking 3 droppers full every 15 minutes until bleeding slows (for very heavy bleeding); use 2 droppers full every hour for moderately heavy bleeding. To make a tea infusion, combine equal parts of each herb, use one ounce to one quart of boiled water, steep 20 minutes, and drink as needed (teas are less potent than tinctures, so we use larger quantities of tea than tincture).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Is Your Grass-Fed Butter Really Pastured?

As a butter lover (fiend...pusher), I cannot sing the praises loudly enough of pastured butter.   You know what I'm talking about, fellow fanatics...The golden goodness of the nutrient-rich fat that is born of sunshine, green grasses, and healthy cows.  And we also know how rare real pastured butter is...that free-ranging, grass-fed non-franken milk cows are not a dime a dozen.  I, like many of you, have had a bit of a love affair with Kerrygold butter...second only to New Zealand, I believe, Irish pastures are green nearly year-round (don't quote me on that, though).

How might you respond if you discovered that your pastured butter wasn't?  That the grass-fed milk cows producing your butter were were living in a huge barn, eating delivered grass?  That the pastures weren't receiving the benefit of nature's most natural, nutritious, free fertilizer?  Welcome to the "zero grazing" grass-fed method.  

What defines pastured?  Is a "zero grazing" grass-fed dairy operation producing pastured milk?  Will that milk be sufficiently rich in vitamin D (are barn skylights enough)?  Is this a nourishing and sustainable option?

I'm not making any accusations, any statements about any brands of butter.  I have no knowledge of which companies are purchasing whose milk.  But the following video makes me wary of the grass-fed dairy products I might be purchasing.  I don't think the grass is the only important component in Real Milk products.  I suppose this is another reason that being far from our food production means lack of accountability and real consumer-driven quality control.

Observe the feeding method of this Irish dairy.  Sure, it's clean enough ... the cows aren't knee-deep in feces like typical feedlots or commercial dairy operations.  But is this really pastured dairy?  (And note the breed...the highly manipulated Holstein, bred for unnaturally massive milk production rates, and carriers of the troublesome mutated A1 protein.)

Contrast with this video of my friend's property, where they raise a few Guernseys (an "old world" heritage breed that naturally produces A2 milk, more easily digestible and less problematic for humans).  Are the differences between the "zero grazing" grass-fed model and the genuine pastured model significant?  You decide.