Tuesday, June 24, 2008

...anti-aging properties?

I've noticed so many things are touted as having anti-aging properties. I just put together a booklet on goji berries -it is free and available at our office - and a lot of information about goji berries mentions anti-aging properties. People even talk about acupuncture as having anti-aging effects (what's so bad about aging, anyway?!) So I thought I'd talk about it here, and a little on what is meant by that.

First...aging. Really nothing wrong with that! It's happening to everyone, every moment of the day and night. People often come in with symptoms and explain that it's just "aging", even their doctors tell them that (as in, "there's nothing you can do about that back pain (or whatever), it's just your age..."), and they honestly don't expect that their symptoms could possible go away. But if age actually caused symptoms, then everyone who reached a certain age would have those symptoms. And there are people who live actively and healthfully into their eighties, nineties and beyond (I love Helen and Scott Nearing's books on The Good Life, about their homesteading life in Vermont and Maine.) So, it's not aging, per se, it's a particular person's body being unable to keep up with the waste-clearing and repairing that is necessary for optimum health and well-being.

This happens for many reasons: not enough rest, improper diet, excessive manual or mental work, emotional and psychic/mental trauma, etc. Toxins build up in the tissues and organs and over time we have signs and symptoms that are chalked up to "aging."

So why, then, would an herb like Goji berries, (gou zi zi in Chinese)or acupuncture treatments, or a raw foods diet be helpful in reversing these symptoms? Because they support bringing the body to balance, allowing the body to rest, energize and clear out the toxins and regenerate itself.

The herb gou qi zi (goji berries) supports the liver and kidneys. In Chinese medicine, the liver and kidneys help cleanse toxins from the body and the kidneys are the root of all the body's yin and yang (it's root energy, or qi.) As the kidney energy gets depleted, we get signs that we correlate with aging: sore back and knees, arthritis, eye/vision problems, ear/hearing problems, memory loss, fatigue, menopausal symptoms, insomnia, drying of body fluids, ringing in the ears, gray hair. Sometimes these symptoms come when we are still relatively young, in our twenties, thirties or forties, people come in with "early menopause" or premature graying of the hair. That could be because constitutionally our kidney energy is weaker (so supporting it with nourishing food, acupuncture, herbs and proper lifestyle will be incredibly helpful), or our lifestyle is depleting the energy.

What is very interesting to me - and a lost concept in our culture - is the concept in Chinese medicine that when we age our physical energy may get depleted, but the spiritual energy of the kidneys increases, and the spiritual energy of the kidneys is wisdom. That is why in traditional cultures people often show great respect for our elders, though in this culture, since that spiritual aspect is lost, when our physical vitality decreases our worth is thought to decrease as well (thus the emphasis on "anti-aging" products.)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, if you hear or read about something with "anti-aging" properties, it usually means it is supportive to the kidney energy: and will often help strengthen the back and knees, will help the functions of the ears and eyes, help energy and memory, will support the body enough that the hair will be nourished, ending hair loss and premature graying of the hair, etc.

In fact, gou qi zi, or goji berries, which are known to be incredibly beneficial to the eyes, are found to be very high in the bioflavanoid zeaxanthin, which is crucial to the good health of the eyes. Goji berries are high in anti-oxidants, vitamins A, C and many B complex vitamins, and contain 19 amino acids (the building blocks of protein), including all eight essential amino acids. Goji berries are actually 10% protein.

All this information (and more) is in the booklet: Goji Berries, Chinese Herb and Superfood, along with great recipes and recipe ideas for using goji berries. (The booklet is free and available at The Birch Center.) Now at the Birch Center we carry raw organic goji berries, as well as handmade goji berry treats such as the Superfood Trail Mix and Goji-Date-Nut balls, (both recipes are also in the booklet.)

We hope to see you soon, and that you are having a great summer! If you can't get to the Birch Center but would like a booklet, you can email us at birchcenter@yahoo.com, but we should also have it available as a free download soon. And of course, I will let you know as soon as the complete book on Goji berries - full of amazing recipes - is finished and available!


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Foraging Friday (Sunday edition) - Mulberries!

It's mulberry season!

Pittsburgh is so full of mulberry trees, it is amazing. Though the really amazing thing is that no one knows about them. When you find a tree, it is likely to be full of ripe, unpicked berries, waiting just for you! They look just like blackberries, (but they are on a tree). The seeds aren't nearly as big as blackberries though (so don't get stuck in your teeth) and mulberries are even more sweet. When you come across an area of ground stained with purple berries, look up, because you've likely found a mulberry tree. There are lots along the river trail on the south side (between 18th street all the way to Hot Metal Bridge). If you are unsure about identifying them, please consult a guide book, or ask someone who knows. I am available to lead wild edible walks...if you and some friends want me to come and show you what is edible near you, just check out our services page. I love doing these walks, they are really lots of fun.

I just wrote all about the herbal uses of the mulberry tree in our June newsletter (just sent out). If you'd like to be added to our mailing list, click here.

Here is an excerpt:

In Chinese medicine, the mulberry (the actual berry), sang shen, is considered a blood and yin tonic - very nourishing and strengthening overall. It is used to treat dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), insomnia...and premature graying of the hair. Other parts of the plant are also used medicinally: The leaf - known in Chinese as sang ye - is used to treat cough with sore throat and fever, while the mulberry twig - sang zhi, is used to treat painful joints/arthritis, especially in the upper extremities. The bark, sang bai pi, is used to stop coughing and wheezing while also promoting urination to treat edema. Finally, the silkworm, whose only food is the mulberry tree, is also used as an herb in Chinese Medicine. Silk Worm, or jiang can, is used to treat seizures and facial paralysis, especially in children.

In Chinese Medicine, most herbs are used dried (versus fresh from the tree - mainly for the convenience of having herbs at your disposal year round) and in formulas, which are prescribed by an acupuncturist or herbalist and filled at an herbal pharmacy. You then cook the herbs into a strong tea called a decoction, and drink a cup twice a day (unless other specific instructions are called for.) When you have fresh mulberries on hand, there is nothing better than eating them right from the tree!

Also included in the newsletter was an article about the fire element (Heart and Small Intestines) and how to keep it in balance, and an article about goji berries.

Below is a picture of Dave and Ella picking mulberries from a tree in Polish Hill (taken two years ago! Time flies...)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Goji Berries: Chinese Herb and Superfood

The important Chinese Herb Gou Qi Zi, also known as lycium, goji berry and wolfberry, is now considered a superfood in nutritional circles, due to its high nutritional qualities (very high in vitamin C and beta carotene/Vitamin A) and its property of strengthening the blood.

In Chinese Medicine, we think of this herb as a Kidney (Yin) and Liver (Blood) tonic. It is gentle enough to be eaten daily as a food (raw or cooked into soups or porridges), yet powerful enough to treat conditions such as anemia, dizziness, poor eyesight and other conditions of the eye, back pain, knee and leg weakness, even impotence and other weakness of the reproductive organs in men and women. Used this way, it is often prescribed in formulas and cooked into powerful herbal decoctions (strong teas.)

Rather than ordering from an herbal pharmacy where the products are often sprayed with sulphurs and other chemicals, we order organic raw goji berries from Love Street Living Foods, a Pittsburgh based company which ships all over. We can also find them at the East End Food Coop and Whole Foods.

Other ways you can work them into your daily diet:

  • They are perfect as a snack food as is. They are sweet, but not quite as sweet as raisins.

  • I put them into a "camping mix" of nuts and dried fruits along with raisins, sunflower seeds, dates, cashews, Brazil nuts, etc.

  • Blend in a food processor with dates and nuts like pecans or cashews, then mold into balls for cookies! You can get quite creative with these little treats, adding raw cacao, shredded coconut, almond butter, the sky is the limit! Just get the texture right for rolling into balls, you'll need to experiment (I'll make a batch later today - or sometime soon - and post exact measurements.

  • put on top of cereal with any other fruit or topping you normally add

  • add to oatmeal - either cook them in, or add them raw on top after, or both

  • use in scones, cookies, etc. In fact, any recipe that calls for raisins you can use 1/2 raisins and 1/2 goji berries (since goji berries aren't as sweet, it's best to keep the raisins in there, too, until you get to know them. Then you can adjust as you like.)

  • put them in smoothies (as is, or soaked first to soften)

  • soak, and then juice them with carrots, apples, and ginger (or any other juice combination your like!)

  • Below is a picture of one of the raw crepes I made this morning, using goji berries (and dates) in the sauce on top. The recipe is posted in my blog: Melissa's Juice Journal. Check it out!

Enjoy the taste and magnificent health benefits from Gou Qi Zi / Goji Berry!

For a wonderful source of raw goji berries, visit Love Street Living Foods, a Pittsburgh based company which ships all over. Thanks!

Love and Light,

Melissa Sokulski

The Birch Center for Health

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Dave has short hair!

We are back from a fun (though rainy and wet) camping trip! Dave now has short hair! I think he feels much more "at home" with short hair. Here is a picture we took a week before he cut his hair:

He had never had long hair before, had always wanted long hair, so at some point last year he decided he would not cut his hair until his next birthday. Those last few days were painful to him, as he wanted to cut it so much!

Thanks, everyone, for the happy birthday wishes!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thankful Thursday: Birthdays!

Tomorrow is David's 40th birthday! Happy Birthday to Dave. For those of you used to seeing him with his long locks...we may all be in for a surprise tomorrow because he has said he is shaving it off! We'll have to post his before and after pics if he does!

We are going to enjoy some outdoor living this weekend (camping), so if you call or email and don't hear back right away, that is why. We'll see you on Monday!

~ Melissa

Friday, June 6, 2008

Foraging Friday: Juice Feasting and Wild Foods

Below is a blurb from the blog I've been keeping to follow my juice feast: Melissa's Juice Journal. Today was the six week mark! The top picture below was taken today, the one below it was just six weeks ago, before juice feasting. If you want to know more about the what, why and how of what I'm doing, I hope you'll check out the blog.

Top: Today, after 6 weeks of juice feasting; Below is the before picture

Today's weight: 161 lbs
Starting weight: 182 lbs

Today's juices:

  • almost a quart juice of a bunch of oranges with water and bee pollen and chlorophyll.
  • 1 quart beet, carrot, apple and greens with hemp (very good)
  • 1 quart watermelon with chlorophyll
  • 1 1/2 quarts green veggie juice: greens (I'll write about them below), yellow pepper, ginger, garlic, onion, tomato, cucumber, celery, cilantro, parsley.

Above are my garden greens and weeds that went into my juice today. You will see some nice big red clover blossoms on top! Today I've included information about some of the herbal greenery that goes into my drinks: comfrey, plantain, borage, red clover, lamb's quarters.

Comfrey: Peter Holmes, in The Energetics of Western Herbs Volume II, writes: "There is no doubt that Comfrey has always held pride of place as the foremost botanical for promoting tissue healing." It is mainly used for treating bone fractures, hemorrhages, wounds and ulcers, as well as all types of lung ailments, especially bronchitis. It is also particularly effective in treating painful arthritis, gout and the like.

Plantain: In Holmes' book plantain is categorized as "clears heat and toxins, reduces infection, inflammation and relieves swelling; promotes detoxification, removes lymph congestion and benefits the skin."

Plantain: Plantago Minor

Borage: Similar to comfrey, borage also clears heat in the lungs. It also relieves constipation and promotes lactation (great for me!), supports the heart and lifts the spirit. Nice. I had some in my juice today...I'll be sure to add some more leaves tomorrow. (The blue star shaped flowers haven't bloomed just yet in my garden.)

Red Clover flower: According to Holmes, red clover flower promotes detoxification, clears damp (a term used in Chinese medicine), dissolves deposits, relieves eczema and reduces tumors; promotes urination and relieves irritation.

red clover blossom on the left, lamb's quarters to the right

Lamb's Quarters: my herb book does not contain lamb's quarters...but this is one of my favorite edibles! Here is what wildman's website says: "This European relative of spinach and beets, which grows throughout the North America, bears large quantities of edible, spinach-flavored leaves you can collect from mid-spring to late fall. It's one of the best sources of beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, and iron in the world; also a great source of trace minerals, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, and fiber."

close up of lamb's quarters