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Cilantro: An Amazing plant

Cilantro is an plant that grows worldwide and has some amazing health benefits.  Cilantro, or Coriandrum sativum, goes by many interchangeable names.  It is a member of the parsley family, Apiaceae, which gives us a hint as to why it is often called Mexican Parsley and Chinese Parsley. The parsley-like leaves are the main part we like to eat, but the seeds of the cilantro plant are a spice called coriander; hence the Latin name Coriandrum.  Coriander is a major spice in India where it makes up one of the three base spices for creating balanced and healthy curry: 3 parts coriander, 2 parts cumin, 1 part turmeric. I like to think that the confusion in naming this wonderful plant can be seen as a tribute to its wellness benefits.  If varied cultures across the globe have all found it useful for thousands of years, I feel like its worth taking some time to learn more about it myself.

Health benefits: Ancient and modern research both seem to point to several positive benefits of cilantro. Many of those benefits have to do with improving digestion, detoxification, and helping to process carbs and sugars throughout the body. In addition to aiding in these important functions, cilantro provides many valuable vitamins, antioxidants and essential oils.

For general use at home, it is most helpful as a nutrient filled cooling summer herb. Have you ever noticed that cilantro is very often included in salsas? The leaves aid digestion and increase pungency without increasing the acid levels of the salsa. They bring cooling energetic tones and flush out the taste profile of the salsa making it healthier and tastier.

Growing and Harvesting: Here are just a few tips to get you started with growing your own. We can grow it here in central Wisconsin easily, but if that’s not of interest to you, you can always pick it up at the local supermarket. Growing cilantro yourself keeps a steady and cheap supply available all summer long.

1: Scar the seeds a bit to improve the rate of germination; their husks are quite tough.

2: Plant it in cooler areas with semi shade to slow down the speed of bolting. Hot temperatures trigger it to change its growth pattern to making seeds instead of more delicious leaves.

3: A simple plan that includes multiple sowings and regular harvest can keep your cilantro habit going all summer. Try planting cilantro every 4-6 weeks. It only takes about 2 weeks after planting before you can harvest the leaves, so trim the plant heavily every 14-10 days to keep it providing lots of fresh leaves.

4: Most common pests will leave it alone, so the leaves are often very healthy and easy to prep for eating. The only issue is that they are often dusty and collect dirt, but that is easily remedied with washing.

Cold Maceration Of Peppercorns and Almonds

A traditional way to prepare several herbs and spices is by soaking them in a small glass of water overnight. This method of preparation is called a cold maceration. When we do this, we are either looking to soften some of the harder to digest spices and nuts or we are looking to pull some of the plant compounds into the water like a tea, but without using heat. Typically the process is very quick. Place your herbs or spices into a cup and pour tap or bottled water over it. Cover with a small plate to keep airborne particles from falling into your cup while it sits on the counter overnight.

There are many ways to prepare herbs and spices. Many herbs have compounds that are harder to extract and thus require more intense processes than just a cold soak. Various levels of heat are often used, but crushing, pressing, oils, and alcohol extractions are sometimes needed to get at the plant compounds we seek. Cold macerations work simply, gently, and require little in the way of tools or preparation time.

1: Peppercorn Maceration – Pepper is a pungent spice that warms, dries, and stimulates digestion. By soaking five whole peppercorns overnight in water you make them easier to digest. Drink the liquid and swallow the peppercorns whole like a vitamin. Use them to help burn up mucus or to awaken a sluggish digestive system. Sometimes I will do this when I know I am going out for pizza. All that cheesy goodness is a bit hard to process. I will prepare my peppercorns in the morning and drink them before going out that night. This is great for reducing mucus caused by colds as well. It is also wonderful for stimulating digestion if you are overeating. A few peppercorns help to diminish some of the negative effects of overindulgence by enhancing our body’s ability to process all that excess food.

2: Almond Maceration – Almonds help to nourish, replenish, and ground us. Almonds are high in protein, zinc, and good fats and if you’re interested in learning more about their benefits they are often recommended for calming the nervous system, sexual depletion, smooth muscle health, and as a healthy snack option for weight loss. They are excellent for building up fluids in the body, including male sexual fluids. In that vein they are often recommended for men that are trying to conceive.  The practice would be to soak three to five almonds overnight and then eat them as a daily supplement to replenish sexual fluids specifically, but also to nourish and restore the body in general.

Both of these examples are very forgiving to beginners. Give them a try just for fun!

Herbs: A Natural Remedy

Many people choose to take herbal remedies.  One of the main reasons people go with them is because they are natural.  But, what pros and cons does that term ‘natural’ come with?  I have read several papers arguing the pros and cons of herbs, and there are a lot of key points in a complete discussion.  We can begin that discussion by examining the word synergy.

Synergy can roughly be defined as, ‘individual components working better through their cooperation and association than they would apart.’  An Herbal remedy can sometimes have hundreds of unique plant compounds in a capsule, or a properly prepared tea.  Proponents for herbal remedies argue that when taken in their naturally occuring concentration and mixture, there are many benefits you gain compared to simply isolating the active ingredient. While we don’t have room for specifics here, many times there are naturally occuring buffers and catalysts that are found in the herbal mixture that turn on or off inside the body depending on our internal chemical balance.  These often act to soften the intensity of the herbs reaction on our body or to enhance its effectiveness when the proper conditions are there.  Many people describe this as a ‘natural intelligence’ that the herbs have to interact approapriately with our bodies.

To be fair, going ‘natural’ also has a few potential drawbacks that are important to know about too.  One such is that because an herbal remedy is taken from a living plant, the health of that plant and the health of the soil it was grown in can make a drastic difference in the potency and effectiveness of the herbs you buy.  Wine enthusiasts talk constantly about the climate and weather effecting the grapes used to make their wine.  They know how strongly these factors effect the flavor of the final product.  The same considerations affect the potency of the herbs.  Its incredibly rare that you can look at a bottle of herbs and learn anything about the growing conditions that the herbs in your capsule grew under.

Herbs have been used effectively for thousands of years, but we haven’t come close to scientifically validating all the effects their ingredients and their combinations have on our bodies.  The natural process is full of wisdom that we have yet to understand, but it also has much less precision and certainty.  These facts turn some people towards herbs and others away.

Remember: Herbal remedies are taken from living material.  When you choose to use them, you should know that you are getting all the pros and the cons of working with a ‘natural’ ingredient.

Caution:  Just because an herb is a natural ingredient doesn’t mean that the entire capsule you are taking is natural.  Pay attention to the fillers and other ingredients listed on the bottle.

Triphala: a traditional herbal formula Pt. 1

Triphala means three fruits.  It is an herbal compound made from three different herbs.  The herbs are from the subcontinent of India where Triphala has been a staple herbal medicine for thousands of years.  As a combination remedy, it has properties that act strongly on our entire digestive system and it is gentle enough to be good for all body types.  Its properties make it broadly applicable and easily usable by a large percentage of the population.

So what does Triphala do?  It stimulates bile, cleanses the blood, gently lubricates the colon and it enhances peristalsis or the movement of material through the intestines.  These factors have the combined effect of enhancing our digestive and eliminatory capacities.  Triphala is often recommended as a part of weight loss programs.  By enhancing several detoxification functions throughout our body, it paves the way for the release of unnecessary weight.

Putting it into Eastern language, it balances all three of the governing tissues: Vata, Pitta and Kapha.  These subtle tissues, when out of balance, overflow from their homes in the digestive system.  This ‘spilling out’ process pulls toxins out of the GI tract as well.  Once toxins are in the body, they build up and create health issues anywhere that they lodge.  Triphala is so highly recommended because it keeps our digestive system healthy; helping keep Vata, Pitta, and Kapha in their homes instead of spilling out into the body.  While the language is different between medical systems, the ideas are essentially the same.  Both systems say quite clearly that unhealthy guts are a significant way for bigger and nastier diseases to develop down the road.

Triphala commonly comes in two forms: tablets and powders.  We like the tablets in America much more than the powder because of Triphala’s taste.  However, it is traditionally served as a tea, where part of its medicinal power comes from tasting it.

CAUTION: Triphala packs intensely bitter and astringent tastes that take time to appreciate.  Prepare for it and don’t let it deter you.

Making Triphala Tea from powder is quite easy.  Start with either a teaspoon or a tablespoon of powder poured into a 12 or 8 oz coffee cup.   Fill it with near boiling water and let it steep.  Medicinal teas always steep longer then beverages, and while you can drink your tea after 20 minutes, in my personal practice I wait 8-12 hours.  By letting it sit a long time, the powder will settle to the bottom so you don’t need to mess with strainers.  When I need Triphala, I will drink two cups a day.  I make a cup after supper and let it sit covered on the counter to drink in the morning.  At breakfast, I will prepare my evening cup and leave it sit covered on the counter until then.

REMEMBER: Standard wellness theory has us looking for ways to halt the momentum of disease early.  Here is a great way to take the teeth out of disease early.