Foundation for Advancement in Cancer Therapy

Non-Traditional Approaches to
the Theories, Treatments and Prevention of Cancer

Spice of the Month

October 23, 2012

Filed under: Spice of the Month — ggrieser @ 8:56 pm

spiceHumans have been sprinkling spices on their foods as far back as 50,000 B.C. But, beyond adding flavor, these dried seeds, fruits, root or bark can also add years to your life.

Spices are rich in phytonutrients and other active ingredients that protect against disease and promote healing. In worldwide studies, spices have been linked to the prevention and treatment of chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, Type II diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. And, unlike pharmaceutical drugs, spices can be used long- term without concern for side effects.

In short, spices are among the great gifts Nature has bestowed upon us.

We hope you’ll enjoy learning about them and partake of their life enhancing qualities.

Spices of the Month:

Spice of the Month: Chili Pepper

September 10, 2012

Filed under: Spice of the Month — ggrieser @ 7:14 pm

Whether spelled chili, chile or chilli, this is the hottest spice in the world! Chili peppers have a persistent heat that can range from tangy to tongue torching. And, clearly, hot is "in": chili is the most consumed spice in the world – 20 times more than any other.

Chile peppers originated in the Americas. When Columbus bumped into the New World on his quest to find a short cut to the "land of black peppers" off India, he "discovered" the fiery fruits. He called them "pepper" because they added zing to food, reminiscent of black pepper. Perhaps he was also being politically astute in choosing the word "pepper" – not having found a route to Asian spices as commissioned by his sponsors, at least he was able to come back to Spain with some kind of peppers, which, upon his return, became known as "poor man’s pepper" and were an instant sensation. It took about two centuries for botanists to realize that chile belonged to the genus Capsicum, a totally different botanical family than black peppers (Piper nigrum).

The trademark fire in chile comes from capsaicin, its primary healing compound, concentrated inside the seeds and membrane. The more capsaicin, the more intense the heat, and it’s indestructible – neither cold, heat or water will douse the fire. The fire is so fierce that it can literally incinerate a variety of disease conditions. All chiles have healing properties, but the hotter the better, therapeutically speaking. In the last 20 years, thousands of scientific studies have been published on this spice, providing potent evidence of its effectiveness as a pain killer, a fat burner, in treating and preventing cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, digestive disorders and much more.

Buying and Storage

There are over 3,000 varieties of chiles, available fresh, whole dried, crushed (flakes), powdered, canned or jarred and pickled. The taste difference between fresh and dried is considerable, though the heat and healing powers are of generally equal value. It’s like the difference between a fresh tomato and sun-dried. While fresh chiles have a distinct heat and sweetness, dried develop a more full-bodied, complex flavor with varying degrees of heat and smokiness.

Fresh chiles come in different shapes, colors, heats levels and sizes – less than an inch long to 8 inches or more. When buying, look for firm pods with smooth, glossy outer skin and good color. They should be dry and heavy, not limp, dull or discolored. Wrinkled skin means they’ve started to dry or were not fully ripened on the bush and are not desirable. Store fresh peppers in a plastic bag left partially open in the fridge about 2 weeks; they also freeze well in a freezer bag. Important: the smaller and redder the chile, the hotter it is.

Whole dried chiles can be found in vast variety, sometimes sold in plastic bags, or on a garland – the line on which they were dried. Look for still vivid color. If pale, the chile’s probably have lost some flavor, too. These keep indefinitely in a dry, dark storage area.

Ground chile comes in several incarnations and is very convenient for cooking. Generic "chile powder" is not pure chile pepper, but rather ground chiles mixed with spices like cumin, oregano, salt – most famously used in chile con carne. Cayenne powder is pure chile and fiery hot. Asian, Indian and Latin markets often sell other pure chile powders that range in temperature depending on the proportion of seeds used when the chiles are ground. The hotter varieties are more orange than red.

Medicinal Properties

Pain killer. The more capsaicin consumed, the more tolerance is built up to nerve pain as the more somatostatin, a hormone that cools inflammation, is released. This is probably why "chile heads" can calmly down copious amounts of the spice, while neophytes writhe in an agonizing burn. Studies have found that capsaicin cream rubbed into the skin at the source of pain will at first produce a warm, burning sensation, but with repeated use (usually over 3 days) will numb pain and promote healing. Zostrix, an FDA approved capsaicin cream has been shown effective for some of the most painful events, such as nerve pain associated with mastectomy or post-operative amputation. The only downside might be the initial heat reaction that can cause skin redness and irritation in some people.

Research has found that the cream relieves osteoarthritis pain, as well as lubricates joints and increases flexibility. High dose capsaicin cream significantly reduces chronic, debilitating nerve pain associated with shingles, diabetic neuropathy, neck pain. For headaches, the cream can be effective applied to the nostril on the same side as the headache.

Fat burner. Capsaicin raises body temperature, thus increasing perspiration and boosting the metabolic rate which raises the rate at which calories are burned – an effect that can

last anywhere from 20 minutes to 6 hours after eating. A capsaicin supplement taken 1 hour before aerobic exercise can increase fat burn. Studies have also found that chiles, especially eaten early in the day, decrease appetite.

Heart health. Worldwide epidemiological studies reveal that people living in traditionally chile-eating countries have lower cardiovascular disease than those in countries with relatively bland cuisine. According to research, about an ounce of chiles daily works to prevent blood clots, lower cholesterol, reduce LDL ("bad" cholesterol), increase HDL ("good" cholesterol), reduce resting heart rate and improve performance on heart stress tests. Animal experiments have shown that capsaicin works like a calcium blocker to prevent arhythmias and reduce the damage of heart attack, stimulating nerves in the spinal cord which, in turn, activate important heart muscle nerves.

Cancer prevention. Many studies have found that capsaicin kills tumor cells in test animals and human cell cultures. At one time it was suggested that chile might be implicated in stomach or colon cancers, but new research concludes the contrary: chilies are kind to the digestive system. Over 100 test tube and animal studies noted a strong correlation between eating chilis and cancer prevention, including breast, esophageal, stomach, liver, prostate, brain and leukemia. Very promising research is underway with prostate cancer.

Stomach friend. Chiles have been mistakenly believed to cause irritations in the digestive tract, such as ulcers or hemorrhoids. However, scientific research has confirmed that capsaicin in chiles actually helps heal and prevent ulcers, as well as protect the gastric lining from alcohol-related damage or excess aspirin stomach problems. Italian researchers reported in New England Journal of Medicine that chili powder reduced symptoms of functional dyspepsia, chronic digestive disorder.

Psoriasis. Capsaicin cream helps reduce the redness and itching of psoriasis, an inflammatory skin condition.

Type 2 diabetes. People who regularly eat meals containing chiles have lower blood sugar after the meals than those who eat a bland diet.

Nutritional powerhouse. Chiles have, ounce for ounce, over 9 times more Vitamin A than green pepper, twice as much Vitamin C as an orange. They’re also a rich source of minerals, especially potassium and magnesium. Red chiles are full of beta carotene.

Mood booster. Some people experience a perfectly safe "high" when eating hot chile- spiked foods. Scientists theorize that in response to the discomfort produced by the chile "burn," the brain releases endorphins, substances that, at high enough levels, can create sensations of pleasure.

In the kitchen

People are passionate about chiles! Consequently, a huge hot sauce industry has developed producing myriad brands claiming all manner of unforgettable "hot," along with clubs, magazines, and, of course, websites all devoted to the spice.

Chiles play a key role in the cuisine of India, Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Mexico, Central American and the U.S., especially South and Southwest. In India curries contain chiles with an infinite variety of flavor, aroma and hotness – from mild to "bird peppers," arguably the hottest on earth, usually tempered by the cooling side dish raitas with yogurt and cucumber. One of the hottest dishes in China is Kung pao chicken in which chile plays a key role. Cajuns and Creoles in the deep American South and Jamaicans claim to make the most searing hot sauces, but Mexicans are probably best known for their advanced chile culture, elevated to an art! Mexico is home to over 150 varieties of the pepper. In the 1980’s, thanks to Mexican influence in the U.S., salsa has surpassed ketchup as the favorite condiment. In the hot countries of the Caribbean and Africa, chiles are added to starchy staples like rice and peas, beans, grains, yucca, producing a sweat which works like a natural air conditioner in the relentless heat.

Never use chile alone as a spice. It’s best as background to other spices that add flavor to the heat. You can turn down the heat in fresh chiles by discarding some or all of the seeds and cutting away membranes – the hottest parts. Dried chiles should be soaked: cover in warm water about 20 minutes or until soft, pliable. Chip and use. Seeds can be removed from a dried chile by breaking it and tapping it on its side to knock out seeds. When cooking, heat can be toned down by adding fat or oil, as in coconut milk or cream to the dish. Sweetness also tames the heat, as does the starchiness of a chopped potato added for a half hour, then removed. Or, just allow the dish to mature, i.e.,"calm down," in the fridge overnight.

On guard! Capsaicin in chile is volatile and can burn on contact. (This is why capsaicin is the major ingredient in pepper spray, which can cause intense stinging and temporary blindness if aimed directly at the eyes!) Sensitivities vary and it’s best to be on the safe side. Consider using a paper towel or wearing thin plastic gloves when handling, making sure to keep your hands clear of your eyes, lips or other sensitive body parts. Some chiles, like the habanero, are so intense, they’ve been known to cause blisters in the skin of sensitive individuals. Avoid breathing the fumes. Many cooks have a special cutting board and knife just to work with chiles, as, even after washing, some capsaicin residue remains. If you’re disposing of chile seeds and parts in the sink garbage disposal, be sure to run it with very cold water. Hot water will give you a backlash as heat diffuses into the air.

If you’re not intimidated by all this, then, YOU are ready to experience the joys of cooking with chile peppers. Go for it!

Sources:
Encyclopedia of Spices
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD (Sterling Publishing)
Organic Facts
The Herbalist
The Healing Powers of Peppers: With Chile Pepper Recipes and Folk Remedies for Better Health and Living by Dave Dewitt, Melissa Stock, Kellye Hunter

Spice of the Month: Horseradish

June 26, 2012

Filed under: Spice of the Month — ggrieser @ 7:05 pm

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana), native to the lands around the Mediterranean, made it’s way North in the 15th century where it became hugely popular, especially in German- speaking countries. The Germans called the root meerrettich, sea radish (meer, German for "sea" because it grew by the sea, and rettich, from Latin radix, "root"). So what do horses have to do with it? It’s theorized that the English, hearing the Germans rave about the spice, confused "meer" (sea) with "mare" (as in female horse), and called the spice "mare radish." By the time it got to America it was horseradish! (Actually, the spice is listed as poisonous to horses.) In any case, today, horseradish is very American: 85% of the world’s horseradish is grown in the U.S. where 6 million gallons of the stuff are consumed every year!

Horseradish may be the ugly duckling of spices – a coarse, colorless, odorless, gangly root, but when cut into, wafts of heat are released that can clear out the nasal passages in a flash! Consequently, before becoming a food, it was used as a medicine to treat colds, kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and hoarseness. In the American South some folks still swear by horseradish rubbed on the forehead to relieve headaches.

A member of the celebrated cancer-fighting cruciferous family (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc.), horseradish is loaded with phytonutrients, like isothiocyanate (ITC), a powerful natural antibiotic, along with many other medicinal compounds. In fact, horseradish has ounce for ounce more healing compounds than most any other spice, which makes it very useful in treating upper respiratory problems, reducing inflammation, thinning mucous, checking cell-damaging oxidants, relaxing muscles, stimulating the immune system, etc. According to Dr. James A. Duke, renowned botanist and botanical medicine specialist: "Horseradish is as useful in the medicine chest as it is in the spice rack."

Buying and Storage

Horseradish is sold fresh, but more often found "prepared" – grated mixed with vinegar. Dried, flaked and powdered are also sold, forms which retain pungency more fully than the grated in vinegar. The best fresh roots are thick and well formed; thin and undeveloped roots, besides being hard to use, are inferior in pungency. Japanese horseradish, or wasabi, is a pale green powder, similar in flavor to horseradish, but made from the tuber of a different plant, the herb (Wasabia japonica).

Fresh horseradish can be grated quite easily, but the root should first be trimmed and scraped under running water to remove soil. There’s not much flavor in the central core, which can be discarded. The whole root will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks, while grated in vinegar can a few months in the "fridge." Powdered, dried and flaked should be stored in a cool dry place and reconstituted as needed by mixing with water. Be sure to allow enough time before serving to develop full flavor.

Medicinal Properties

Natural antibiotic. The volatile oils in horseradish have been shown to have antimicrobial activity. In studies, a German preparation of horseradish and the herb nasturtium (called Angocin Anti-Infekt N.) was found effective in treating bronchitis, ear infection, gastrointestinal illness caused by food contaminated with E. coli bacteria, pneumonia, sinusitis, strep throat, urinary tract infection and other serious illness involving bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, such as cellulitis, impetigo, scarlet fever. In many cases, this preparation worked as well as pharmaceutical antibiotics. It was also found to have a preventive effect on individuals with recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI).

Cancer fighter. Horseradish is an important member of the anti-cancer crucifer family (broccoli, watercress, mustard greens, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, etc.). These vegetables are effective because they contain the plant kingdom’s largest supply of isothiocyanates (ITCs), compounds that have been shown to protect against cancer. But ITCs would not exist if it weren’t for another compound: gluocosinolates. When the flesh of a crucifer is broken, torn, cut or chewed, glucosinolates are activated to produce ITCs. Researchers have found that horseradish contains the most glucosinolates of all the crucifers – more than 10 times the amount in broccoli, considered king of the crucifers! So a little horseradish goes a long way. One study discovered that ITCs in horseradish inhibit growth of colon and lung cancer cells – the more ITCs, the more weakened cancer cells. Besides ITCs, the spice has been found to contain over 2 dozen other anti- cancer compounds, currently under investigation.

Lower Cholesterol. The ITCs also promote heart health by helping control two risk factors: blood fats cholesterol and triglycerides. When researchers fed mice a cholesterol- rich diet with and without horseradish, after 3 weeks, they found that the horseradish

group had much lower cholesterol levels, theorizing that horseradish blocks the production of cholesterol.

Nasal decongestant. A popular old home remedy for colds uses a teaspoonful of grated horseradish mixed with a little raw honey to quickly clear the nose. A folk medicine for hay fever involves taking daily copious amounts of horseradish before the onset of the pollen season to clear the sinuses.

These remedies comport with recent studies showing that horseradish is unique among crucifers not just because it has higher levels of ITCs, but it also contains another compound thiocyanate – a rare substance found in only 2 other spices, mustard seed and wasabi. When the flesh of the horseradish is cut or chewed, it’s the thiocyanates that send the pungent zing of heat into the nasal cavity When eaten, the moisture in the mouth releases thiocyanates into the air, up nasal passages; if there’s congestion, the nose runs and eyes water, while the heat rapidly dissipates.

Stomach helper. Horseradish, richer in Vitamin C than orange or lemon, is also a gastric stimulant and, thus, an excellent condiment to aid digestion of rich or fatty foods. It helps benefit the system by correcting imbalances in the digestive organs.

In the Kitchen

The Northern Europeans have a long horseradish tradition. Germans prefer to grate and serve it fresh so that it’s potent tang cuts the fatty flavor of their sausages and other standard meats. Consequently, they have a multitude of recipes for horseradish sauce featuring a wide range of ingredients like vinegar, lemon, bread, whipped cream, beer or green apples. The Norwegians grate their horseradish and whip it with sweet and sour cream, sugar and vinegar to serve with cold salmon and other fish. The Danes freeze creamed horseradish and serve it like sherbet in a chilled sauceboat. The Poles grate beets into horseradish to make a purple-red condiment served with ham. Horseradish soup is a Polish Christmas Day tradition.

The French, generally not "into" fiery foods, make an exception with horseradish. They serve a dipping sauce which combines the spice with vinegar and oil. In England, standing rib roast with horseradish sauce is a national tradition. And, of course, horseradish is always on the Seder table – the meal that celebrates the Jewish holiday Passover – it’s one of the bitter herbs (maror) that symbolizes the suffering the Israelites endured in Egypt.

Horseradish arrived in America in the 1600’s, but didn’t really take off until the mid 1800’s with the influx of German and Polish immigrants who brought along their beloved punchy spice. One of these new Americans, Henry J. Heinz, had the idea to mix horseradish with vinegar in bottles and peddled it in Pittsburgh to much acclaim. Heinz Horseradish became the country’s first mass-marketed convenience food!

Americans add horseradish to ketchup to make cocktail sauce for seafood or steak. It’s also a popular addition to a Bloody Mary, the tomato-vodka cocktail. Collinsville, Illinois, self-proclaimed horseradish capital of the world, hosts the annual International Horseradish Festival, including the Little Miss Horseradish beauty pageant.

Grating fresh horseradish can be a tough job. The vapors hit your nostrils like a punch in the nose, so you may prefer to work outdoors or in a well-ventilated room. Once grated, flavor rapidly deteriorates, so you will be forgiven for taking the easy route: buy prepared horseradish with vinegar. It won’t give quite the same zing, but has equal healing powers and lasts several months in the refrigerator. Brands with just basic ingredients – horseradish, distilled vinegar, salt – are most versatile. You can squeeze the vinegar out with the back of a fork to get a purer taste.

There are also granules or flakes, which must be rehydrated. Generally, horseradish relishes and sauces are not cooked as heat destroys pungency, which is really the whole point.

Here’s some more ways to put horseradish into your life:

  • Add a dollop to potato salads, slaws, dips
  • Add a tablespoon horseradish to 1/3 cup sour cream – a nice topping for fish. Sprinkle with chives.
  • Mix horseradish with sour cream and whip into mashed potatoes.
  • Basic cocktail sauce: equal parts ketchup and horseradish. Add a few splashes Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice.
  • Dipping sauce for seafood: 2 tablespoons homemade mayo, 1 tablespoon sour cream, 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish, ¼ teaspoon mace and mint.
  • Traditional horseradish cream for roast beef: beat ½ cup heavy cream until slightly stiff. Fold in 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish. Add 3 tablespoons lemon juice, a little seasalt and black pepper. Chill an hour before serving.
  • Mix horseradish with yogurt as a topping for baked potatoes.
  • Horseradish mixed into butter is excellent with broiled fish or meat.

Sources:

The Encyclopedia of Spices
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD (Sterling Publishing)
Horseradish.org

Spice of the Month: Ginger

Filed under: Spice of the Month — ggrieser @ 7:04 pm

Ginger (Zingiber officinale), not a root but the underground stem (rhizome) of a plant, gets its name from the Sanskrit stringa-vera, meaning "with a body like a horn," as in antlers. Confucius (551-479 B.C.) mentioned ginger in his writings and, named in the Koran, it was known in Arab lands as far back as 659 A.D. One of the earliest spices in Western Europe, introduced in the 9th century, ginger was so popular that it soon became a table staple, like salt and pepper. In England, barkeepers put out containers of ground ginger to sprinkle into beer – the original ginger ale! Queen Elizabeth I, a great lover of ginger, is credited as the inventor of the gingerbread man and often presented visiting dignitaries with one shaped in their likeness.

For thousands of years, traditional healers have used ginger to help calm that queasy feeling – nausea, a prominent symptom of many diseases. Ancient doctors also recognized ginger’s diaphoretic qualities, meaning causing one to sweat, which is why Henry VIII ordered its use as a plague medicine. Mentioned in the Kama Sutra, the spice has been ascribed aphrodisiac powers, while in some Asian countries it’s chewed to expel evil spirits.

Researchers today are seriously interested in ginger. It’s rich in phytonutrients, especially gingerols which have impressive antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, in short, anti-disease properties. By increasing digestive fluids and saliva, it helps relieve indigestion, gas pains, diarrhea, stomach cramping; it loosens and expels phlegm from the lungs to treat respiratory problems like asthma, bronchitis, etc. As an anti-dote to nausea related to motion or morning sickness, ginger’s been found more effective than many over-the-counter drugs. It also reduces pain and inflammation from arthritis, rheumatism, muscle spasms, stimulates blood circulation and is cleansing to the bowels and kidneys, while nourishing the skin.

Buying and Storage

The knobby buds – thumb-like protrusions – of a ginger stem (rhizome) are called "hands," and are available in most markets in a variety of forms: fresh whole, sliced, diced or preserved in brine, dried sliced, ground or crystallized.

When buying fresh, look for hands that are firm and swollen-looking, with smooth skin, color-wise a soft beige with a slight hint of pink and knobs tinged yellow-green. Fresh ginger produces the most intense flavor from the gingerols, though taste varies depending on where and how it was grown: from tangy, sweet, spicy to mild or hot. Jamaican ginger is mild and ideal for cooking, though some cooks prefer ginger from Nigeria or Sierra Leone which is the most pungent. In the U.S. most ginger comes from Hawaii, which is somewhere in the middle of mild to pungent.

Peeled, sealed and refrigerated, fresh ginger keeps about 2 weeks at peak flavor. But frozen in a freezer bag, it lasts indefinitely. Freeze it peeled and sliced; thaw before using. Or, you can slice or grate a piece of still frozen ginger. Keep unpeeled ginger in a cool, dry place, as you would onions and garlic.

Ground ginger lacks the rich aroma of fresh, but the typical flavor remains. Crystallized ginger is processed with sugar, but now, in most health food stores, cubed organic ginger with cane sugar can be found. To cut the sweetness, you can soak in water for an hour or so. Both ground and crystallized keep in a cool, dry place for up to a year.

Medicinal Properties

Contraindications: Ginger is a blood thinner so, if you’re taking conventional blood thinner medication, don’t take medicinal doses of ginger. Also, pregnant women should avoid high supplemental dosage of ginger, as it can stimulate the uterus. Normal culinary use, however, should pose no problem.

Motion sickness. Ginger has been found to be as effective for prevention and treatment of motion sickness as many over-the-counter and prescription medications and without the significant side effects like dry mouth, lethargy, drowsiness. It seems that ginger limits the release of vasopressin, a key hormone that regulates levels of water, salt and blood sugar believed to play a role in nausea from motion sickness. Ginger also causes the blood vessels to dilate (warming effect) and blocks serotonin receptors in the stomach that cause nausea.

Morning sickness. Morning is the worst time for 50-80% of pregnant women during the 1st trimester. A team of researchers in Annals of Pharmocotherapy analyzed nearly 40 years of studies on ginger and concluded: "Ginger has been shown to improve the symptoms of nausea and vomiting compared with placebo in pregnant women." Fresh ginger (in food or as tea) is recommended or maximum supplemental dose: 250 mg. capsules with dried ginger 4 times daily for short periods (no more than 4 consecutive days).

Nausea after surgery. A daily dose of 1,000 mg ginger was found to reduce the likelihood of postoperative nausea and vomiting, as reported in American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Arthritis. Studies at the University of Miami confirm ginger’s significant anti- inflammatory ability to relieve pain and reduce inflammation in conditions like arthritis, rheumatism, muscle spasms, as reported in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism.

Cancer. Dozens of studies have shown that ginger has anti-cancer activity, specificially in lung, breast, prostate, skin, bladder, kidney, pancreatic, colon and ovarian cancers. For instance, ginger extract was found to activate genes ("tumor suppressors") that lead to the death of human colon, kidney, breast and pancreatic cancer cells. Animal studies suggest that a ginger extract, zerumbone, could help prevent bone lose in breast cancer, a common problem, and might also be useful in osteoporosis. Another study found that zerumbone could "down-regulate" a gene that plays a role in metastasis, the spread of cancer beyond the initial site.

Migraine. Medications for migraines have serious side effects, so the Headache Care Center in Springfield, Missouri conducted a study to see if the herb feverfew and ginger would be effect. The results: "Two hours after treatment, 48% were pain-free, with 34% reporting a headache of only mild severity." Researchers reported that nearly 60% of those who took ginger and feverfew said they were satisfied and 41% felt the supplements were equal to medication.

Asthma. Researchers in the UK were concerned that drugs prescribed for asthma often produce "sub-optimal" results and have many short and long-term side effects, so they sought a non-drug approach. A natural formula with 130 mg ginger extract or a placebo was given to adults with mild to moderate asthma. After 3 months, those on the formula had more "clinical improvements" in symptoms, overall better health, less coughing than jthe control group.

Digestive distress. In Taiwan research, ginger was found to speed digestion in the stomach by increasing the production of digestive fluids and saliva. The stomachs of those taking 1,200 mg ginger were emptied in half the time as those on a placebo, thus, lessening the chance of heartburn, as well as bloating, belching, flatulence, diarrhea, cramping. Ginger also improved the appetite of those with loss of appetite due to chemotherapy or post surgery.

Cholesterol problems. A study of people with high "bad" LDL cholesterol, high total cholesterol, high triglycerides and low "good" HDL cholesterol was divided into 2 groups: 1 group took 1,000 mg. ginger 3 times a day; the other, a placebo. After 45 days, the ginger group had a significant drop in LDL and increased HDL compared to the placebo group.

Heart attacks and stroke. Studies have shown that ginger is a blood thinner, decreasing platelet aggregation – clumping of blood components that can trigger artery-clogging blood clots that cause most heart attacks and strokes.

Sexual activity. Ginger’s alluring fragrance and ability to increase blood circulation maybe responsible for its long reputation as an aphrodisiac.

In the Kitchen

Ginger is integral to the cuisines of India, China, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam – primarily in savory dishes, as in the way Americans rely on garlic and onions. The Japanese love their shoga, grated fresh ginger, or gari, a pickled version, which aids digestion and warms the body after eating cold dishes like sushi. In Yeman, ginger is added to coffee. In the West, the spice is most commonly found in desserts, jams and drinks, like ginger ale and tea.

Ginger is a jack-of-all trades in the kitchen – good in almost anything! Keep in mind that fresh and dried (ground) differ in intensity and flavor. They can be interchanged, but dried is not as intense. Today the accent is on fresh. Peel ginger with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, then slice or grate to add in cooking. Fresh ginger has a strong flavor, but it mellows in cooking.

Here are some ways to use ginger in your cooking:

  • Fresh ginger is great with fish. Add grated ginger and dried mint to melted butter to serve as a dipping sauce.
  • Sprinkle grated ginger and a little honey or maple syrup on acorn squash or sweet potatoes before baking.
  • Rub into meat before cooking to tenderize and add flavor. Let sit a few hours or overnight in the ‘fridge before cooking.
  • Ginger works well in white sauces and dessert sauces or syrups.
  • Sprinkle ground in applesauce or use it in fruit pie fillings.
  • Grate fresh into cheesecake batter.
  • Finely chop crystallized ginger and sprinkle atop whipped cream or ice cream. Or, just toss some small chunks into yogurt for a delicious snack and tummy pick-me-up.
  • Make ginger syrup: 1/4 pound peeled, diced ginger with 1/2 cup honey and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then simmer 30 minutes. Strain and cool.
  • Ginger rice: Cook brown basmati rice. When done, quickly stir in finely chopped garlic, ginger, green chillies and fresh cilantro leaves – a burst of flavor and fragrance that will dazzle your senses!
  • Ginger spiked juice: peel a piece of fresh ginger and put through your juicer, along with carrots, a stalk or two of celery and an apple.

Grow Your Own Ginger

Here’s the best way to always have fresh ginger at your fingertips:

Take fresh ginger and break off a piece at least 2 inches long. Place it in a pot filled with sandy soil, such as cactus soil. Water occasionally to keep it slightly moistened. The root will start to grow in 4 -5 weeks. After a few months of growing, it should be available for use. So, whenever you need ginger, just dig up the root and break off a small portion. Replant and the root will continue to grow.

Sources:

The Encyclopedia of Spices
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD (Sterling Publishing)
Organic Facts

Spice of the Month: Vanilla

May 22, 2012

Filed under: Spice of the Month — ggrieser @ 6:59 pm

Vanilla (Vanilla fragrans) gets its name from Spanish vainilla meaning “little pod” because it comes from the thin, seed-containing pods of an edible tropical orchid plant. Possessing one of the world’s most enticing flavors, it is the world’s next most expensive spice after saffron and cardamom. It is also among the most popular – 10,000 tons a year – not enough to satisfy demand, which is why imitation vanilla has become a market necessity, though lacking the potency of the real stuff.

The orchid is a very sensuous flower and has an ancient reputation for enhancing romance. Hence, vanilla was often recommended as a tonic for virility, fertility and for aromatizing perfume, cigars and liqueurs. Native to Mexico, the Aztecs treated it as a medicinal charm, prescribed for hysteria and depression (so-called “women’s troubles”), as well as for patients coughing up blood. In 18th century Europe it was popular as a nerve stimulant. 19th Century American medical texts praised its powers to “exhilarate the brain,…increase muscular energy, and stimulate the sexual energies.”

Today, especially in the last two decades, vanilla has been the subject of much scientific investigation because its seeds contain over 200 phytonutrients – bioactive plant compounds which have healing potential for many conditions. Its most studied main constituent, vanillin, which produces the mellow fragrance, has shown promise in cancer and sickle cell anemia. True to its ancient heritage, the spice also has proven aphrodisiac ability – in treating impotency, frigidity, erectile dysfunction and loss of libido – and is valued as an anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory and for its general relaxing and calming effect on the brain and nerves, relieving anxiety and anger.

Buying and Storage

Vanilla is sold in two forms: dried whole bean and extract. The bean has the better flavor, but quality varies depending on origin. French or bourbon vanilla is generally considered the best with the strongest aroma and most vanillin. This is the type found most in the U.S. Mexican vanilla, though full-bodied, lacks the depth of French and Indonesian and has a spotty reputation quality-wise. West Indian vanilla has low vanillin content and is not considered suitable as a culinary spice; it’s mainly used in cosmetics.

Beans are usually sold in cylindrical tubes. Look for dark brown (almost) black beans, moist to the touch and pliable, like a piece of licorice. Top quality beans may have a dusting of sugar powder, called givre, on the surface.

As for extract, buy pure (or natural) vanilla extract. Beans are chopped, soaked in alcohol, aged and strained. Alcoholic content affects quality: the higher the % alcohol, the stronger flavor (minimum by law 35%). (Note: It’s quite easy to make your own and less expensive; see recipe.)

Store beans or commercial extract in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Both keep for about 18 months. Homemade extract lasts longer.

Medicinal Properties

Cancer: Numerous studies have demonstrated that vanillin, the major component of vanilla, has anti-carcinogenic properties, killing human cancer cells, limiting metastasis (movement of cancer cells from the original site to the rest of the body), inhibiting angiogenesis (creation of new blood supply for tumor). Bromovanin, a vanillin derivative, has been found to stop the advance of a broad spectrum of human cancers. Research at New York University School of Medicine concluded that vanillin is antimutagenic – in human cells it reduced by up to 73% the ability of toxins to mutate DNA in 64 genes that may play a role in cancer.

Sickle Cell Anemia: This inherited, incurable condition warps the round, flexible shape of oxygen-carrying red blood cells into rigid, sticky “sickles,” slices of cells like crescent moons. Misshapen cells snag and stall in the bloodstream, choking blood and oxygen flow, producing pain and fatigue, the main symptoms of the disease. In studies at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a vanillin-derived drug on mice with the disease “significantly reduced” the % of sickled cells. Human studies are in the works.

Aphrodisiac: Since the time of the Aztecs, vanilla has been considered an aphrodisiac, now confirmed by science. A systematic administration of vanilla essential oil to patients with impotency, erectile dysfunction, frigidity, loss of libido, etc., has been proven to relieve these conditions. This oil stimulates secretion of certain hormones like testosterone, estrogen, etc., which can help bring about normal sexual behavior, as well as promote arousal. The oil has also been shown to regularize menstruation by activating certain hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

Anti-depressant: Vanilla essential oil with its soft, rich aroma is an effective mood up-lifter. Perhaps this is why “plain” vanilla ice cream is the most universally popular flavor!

Sedative: The essential oil of vanilla soothes all types of inflammations and hyperactivity in body systems, particularly the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, nervous and eliminations systems.These relaxant properties can alleviate insomnia, as well as lower blood pressure. In general, the oil has a calming effect on the brain and nerves, giving relief from convulsions, anxiety, stress, anger, hypersensitivity, restlessness, etc.

In the Kitchen

In Europe and the U.S., vanilla is traditionally found in sweet dishes, though vanilla itself is not sweet. It’s gentle, full-bodied fragrance enhances puddings, cakes, custards, creams, soufflés, ice cream, even liqueurs like Crème de Cacao and Galliano. In Africa and other tropical countries, however, it’s used more in savory stews than sweet treats. Western chefs are just beginning to catch on, adding vanilla to sauces, mostly for fish.

If possible, use fresh beans instead of extract, though both can be used in cooking. To prepare the bean, slit the pod and scrape out the seeds; both pod and seeds can be added. Here are a few different ways of cooking with vanilla:

  • The spice is exceptional with lobster, shrimp, scallops. Make a cream sauce and spike with vanilla beans.
  • Vanilla marries well with butter. Add a little to butter sauces for savory dishes featuring fish or chicken.
  • Use vanilla to round out stronger flavors in salsa, chutney, curries.
  • Steep a vanilla bean in coffee, cover and chill. Serve with whipped cream and grated nutmeg.
  • Add vanilla to fruit compotes with apples, gooseberries, rhubarb.
  • Add a drop or 2 of vanilla extract to holiday eggnog or when whipping fresh cream.

So don’t be fooled by the common appellation, i.e., put down, “plain vanilla.” Clearly, there’s something special going on or the spice wouldn’t be in such demand. Other flavors come and go; they can only dream about having the universal staying power of vanilla!

Sources:
Encyclopedia of Spices
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD (Sterling Publishing)
Organic Facts

Spice of the Month: Black Pepper

April 23, 2012

Filed under: Spice of the Month — ggrieser @ 6:50 pm

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) bears the royal pedigree, “King of Spices.” In early times, it was more valuable than gold. Only the wealthy could afford it; dowries were endowed with it and many bribes for special favors were paid with it. Black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II, part of the mummification ritual after his death in 1213 B.C. In classical times, both Attila the Hun and Alaric I the Visigoth insisted on pepper as a large part of Rome’s ransom. In 1492, demand for it was one of the main reasons Queen Isabella sent Columbus west in search of a new route to the Indies. As fate would have it, he ended up discovering a new continent, but 8,000 miles off from the “land of peppers” – India’s Malabar Coast where the spice has thrived for over 4,000 years.

So why all the hoopla? Pepper hasn’t the instant allure of a juicy, aromatic fruit or berry, nor the glitter of gold or other precious stones. The one irresistible quality of this drab, wrinkled little bead is its particular pungent flavor that can perk up the dullest of dishes and, thereby, unleash it’s considerable curative powers. In pre-modern times it was believed to alleviate a whole host of ills, from constipation, earache, insect bites to hernia, gangrene, arthritis, heart and lung disease.

Today researchers are learning that the ancients were onto something. The sharp flavor and healing prowess come from piperine and other volatile oils in the pepper. It’s the piperine that zaps the taste buds, often triggering a sneeze when it hits the nerve endings inside your nose. Studies are finding that piperine can be effective in treating a vast array of conditions, including cancer, digestive disorders, heart disease, high blood pressure, loss of hearing, quitting smoking, and more.

Buying and Storage

Pepper is the fruit of a vine filled with peppercorns on a twisty stalk, like shiny beads. Black pepper is picked unripe, then dried to bring out the flavor: sharp, full-bodied and fiery. White pepper starts out the same as the black, but is allowed to ripen more fully on the vine. It’s less pungent, more expensive, hotter than black, but slightly sweet. Green pepper is from the same fruit, but harvested before mature. It has a milder, cleaner, fresher flavor.

Piperine is in all peppercorns, but most plentiful in black. While India is no longer the world’s largest supplier, its pepper is still the best quality with the highest piperine content.

Black pepper is available whole, cracked or ground. For the best taste and health benefits, buy whole and grind as needed in a peppermill; cracked or ground looses oils more quickly. Look for large peppercorns with dark brown to jet black rough skin and a dull patina. Shiny patina means inferior quality. Gray-looking corns are best because they include the whole berry with its white core. If the corns are too black, there may be too many hollow berries without the core and, therefore, missing oils and flavor complexity.

Whole black peppercorns keep for years if stored in an airtight container away from sunlight, but, under the same conditions, ground or cracked looses its aroma and heat relatively quickly.

Medicinal Properties

Digestion: Piperine stimulates the taste buds, triggering the pancreas to start producing digestive enzymes. It also tones the lining of the intestines which boosts digestive power in numerous ways, including more efficient absorption of foods and faster transit time. In a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, gastroenterologists found that 1.5 grams of black pepper (about 1/20 ounce) sped up the time it takes for food to move all the way through the GI tract. Slow transit time is linked to many problems, from constipation to colon cancer. The researchers concluded that black pepper “is of clinical importance in the management of various gastrointestinal disorders.” Black pepper has also been shown to relieve flatulence and calm nausea. (Precaution: black pepper is not recommended post abdominal surgery or for ulcer patients.)

Cancer: Lab studies have shown that piperine may play a role in preventing or treating cancer. Researchers discovered that regular use of black pepper inhibited growth of human colon cancer cells. In animal studies on lung cancer, piperine changed the level of several enzymes, producing an anti-tumor effect. Black pepper extracts added to the diet of mice with breast cancer increased lifespan by 65%.

Arthritis: Korean researchers found piperine reduced compounds that worsen inflammation, especially in rheumatoid arthritis, and eased other arthritis symptoms.

Prevent Alzheimer’s: In Thailand researchers found that piperine extract given to animals with Alzheimer’s-like brain changes “significantly improved memory impairment and neurodegeneration [destruction of brain cells].”

Better brains: The same team discovered that piperine had “anti-depression-like activity and cognitive-enhancing effect” when fed to lab animals, leading them to conclude that piperine may “improve brain function.”

Improve balance in elderly: Japanese studies found that sniffing black pepper oil stabilized the ability to stand, lowering the risk of falling in people aged 78 and older. As reported in the journal Gait and Posture, “Olfactory stimulation with black pepper may improve postural stability in older adults.”

Help post-stroke swallowing: After a stroke many people suffer from dysphagia – difficulty swallowing. The same Japanese team discovered that sniffing black pepper oil for 1 minute improved swallowing. They concluded in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society: “Inhalation of black pepper oil…might benefit older post-stroke patients with dysphagia, regardless of their level of consciousness or physical or mental status.”

Aid brain-damaged children on feeding tubes: The same Japanese researchers found that sniffing black pepper oil could stimulate the appetite of neurologically damaged children on feeding tubes, helping them eat more solid foods.

Quit smoking: Scientists at the Nicotine Research Laboratory in Durham, NC, discovered that the craving for cigarettes decreased after smokers puffed on a vapor containing black pepper essential oil. In the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependency, they wrote: “Cigarette substitutes delivering pepper constituents may prove useful in smoking cessation treatment.”

Lower blood pressure: In the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology Pakistani researchers presented studies showing that piperine lowered blood pressure in lab animals.

Help prevent heart disease: Scientists in India found that lab animals fed a high-fat diet and black pepper or piperine had much less oxidation – a crucial step in the process that turns dietary cholesterol into artery-clogging plaque. They concluded: “Supplementation with black pepper or piperine can reduce high-fat diet induced oxidative stress to the cells.”

Protect hearing: Korean studies noted that piperine protected cells in the cochlea (the sensory organ of hearing in the ear) from chemical damage. Cochlear damage leads to hearing loss.

Reversing vitiligo: Vitiligo is a skin disease caused by a malfunction in pigment- producing cells called melanocytes, leading to irregular patches of pale skin. For centuries, traditional physicians have recommended black pepper as treatment for this condition. Recently, UK researchers found that piperine promotes growth of melanocytes, concluding in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology:” This finding supports the traditional use of black pepper in vitiligo.”

In the Kitchen

Next to salt, black pepper is the world’s most versatile and indispensible culinary spice. Cooks down through the ages have discovered that a few grinds of a peppermill can elevate a so-so dish to star quality, as well as salvage the most uninspiring plate of food.

The robust taste of black pepper is most closely associated with strong-flavored dishes. Apply liberally to red meat, game, seafood, beans and lentils; use it lightly on more delicate foods. You can grind black pepper on pretty much anything, even fruit. Berries, apples, pears, cheese, as well as soups, stews, fish and poultry all sparkle with a few grinds.

You might want to keep white peppercorns on hand for those dishes that need a pepper bite without an overpowering pepper fragrance. Always add pepper to liquids and sauces at the last minute. If added too early, it can loose it’s unique aroma and leave a bitter taste that’s hard to balance. Keep peppercorns in a metal, plastic or glass grinder – not wood, which will leach pepper of its volatile oils.

A few more pepper tips:

  • Rub coarsely ground peppercorns into red meats before roasting or braising. Be generous; it can take a lot.
  • Add whole to marinades, stocks, and dishes being pickled.
  • Slice strawberries over watercress and sprinkle generously with black pepper. Dress lightly with olive oil/lemon vinaigrette.
  • Add cracked pepper to homemade salad dressings. (Whole corns can be cracked using a mortal and pestle, or a rolling pin.)
  • Keep a peppermill, rather than a shaker of ground pepper, on your table. (People have been known to bring their own peppermills along when they eat out, just in case they should be confronted with, horror of horrors, a shaker of ground!)

Sources:
The Epicentre: Encyclopedia of Spices
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD (Sterling Publishing)
Organic Facts
“Black Pepper Offers a Powerful Boost to Overall Health at a Very Low Cost” – NaturalNews.com

Spice of the Month: Nutmeg

March 20, 2012

Filed under: Spice of the Month — ggrieser @ 4:34 pm

Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), a nut-like pit or seed, got its English name from Latin nux, meaning nut, and muscat, musky. From the 14th-18th centuries, nutmeg was at the center of the bloody spice wars as the Dutch, Portuguese, French, and English fought over the “spice islands,” the Moluccas in Indonesia, until the English realized they could grow nutmeg trees on their own turf – the Caribbean. Today the Moluccas and Grenada are the largest world suppliers.

Nutmeg has a taste unlike any other in the world. Its intense, musky-sweet flavor comes from myristicin, a volatile oil also found in plants (carrots, celery, parsley), but most abundantly in nutmeg. Today, this oil and other compounds in the spice are the subject of much scientific research, thus far showing promise in pain relief, lowering cholesterol, improving memory and sexual desire, relieving anxiety, indigestion, even reducing wrinkles.

Nutmeg also has a reputation, now confirmed by animal studies, as an inexpensive narcotic (”a cheap high”). However, to feel any effect one would have to consume a heck of a lot: about 2 ounces, an impossible amount to eat in normal food where a teaspoon suffices for a whole cheesecake – which is probably why we never hear of drug enforcement raids on spice cabinets! It’s also why experimentation is a very bad idea – there are more than a few cases of fatal nutmeg poisoning in people who did!

Buying and Storage

The large evergreen nutmeg tree produces two spices – mace and nutmeg. Nutmeg is the seed kernel inside a yellow, peach-size fruit and mace is the lacy covering (aril) on the kernel. A single mature tree produces up to 2,000 nutmegs a year, collected with a long pole with a basket, resembling a lacrosse stick.

Whole nutmeg has more flavor than powdered, but quality can vary. Most come from Indonesia, but those from Grenada are considered the best. Look for nutmegs that are

unbroken, slightly wrinkled, dark brown on the outside, lighter brown inside. Whole nuts will keep for several years in a tightly sealed jar in a dark, dry place and can be grated as required with a nutmeg grater. If kept too long, the whole spice will dry out and loose its volatile oils. Ground keeps about a year under the same conditions.

Medicinal Properties

As mentioned, large amounts of nutmeg can be toxic. It is considered safe, however, when used for culinary purposes, even in generous amounts.

Pain relief: Nutmeg oil is an excellent sedative and anti-inflammatory. Massaging with the oil helps ease muscular and joint pain and sores. It’s very effective for reducing the painful swelling of joints in arthritis, rheumatism, lumbago, etc.

Indigestion: Used in small doses, nutmeg can reduce flatulence, aid digestion, improve the appetite and treat diarrhea, vomiting and nausea.

High cholesterol: Animal studies have found that nutmeg reduces total and LDL (”bad”) cholesterol.

Cancer: Studies have shown that nutmeg extract killed human leukemia cells.

Anxiety: Nutmeg is a relaxant, used in folk medicine to relieve anxiety and depression. Animal studies in India found that nutmeg had an effectiveness similar to common anti- anxiety drugs in alleviating symptoms. The spice also “significantly improved” learning and memory.

Wrinkles: Of 150 plants tested, nutmeg was one of 6 plants found to contain compounds that could inhibit elastase, an enzyme that breaks down elastin, the protein fibers that keep skin youthfully taut and flexible (if elastin breaks down, skin sags). When added to cosmetics, the researchers, reporting in International Journal of Cosmetic Science, concluded that nutmeg has “anti-aging effects on human skin.” A Korean study, found nutmeg protected skin from the sun’s damaging UVB rays.

Sexual desire: Nutmeg is a central nervous stimulant. In ancient Greek medicine it was considered an aphrodisiac, as it is today in India and Pakistan. Investigating this premise, researchers in Journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that when experimental animals were fed nutmeg, they went nuts: “The resultant significant and sustained increase in sexual activity indicated that extract of nutmeg possesses aphrodisiac activity, increasing libido.”

In the Kitchen

In Merry Old England, nutmeg was integral to pease porridge, served hot or cold or 9 days old! Today, in the U.S. and British Isles, the spice is used mostly to flavor sweet dishes and beverages – especially alcoholic favorites like eggnog, hot rum, mulled

wine, and other drinks, like cocoa, milkshakes. In the Caribbean, nutmeg goes into just about everything: jerked meats, curries, spice mixes, syrup (with sugar and rum), ice cream, sweet potato pie, chicken, rum cocktails. The French use it to cut the richness of sauces like béchamel, potatoes au gratin, while the Germans add it to standard daily fare – puddings, potato dishes, dumplings, chicken soup. The Indian variety of nutmeg is slightly stronger and more oily than Grenadian or Indonesian. It’s used to flavor vegetables, some desserts, garam masala spice mix. Nutmeg is also the main ingredient in Indian betel leaves, rolled tightly and chewed like chewing tobacco for its digestive and stimulant effects.

The peak of flavor for a nutmeg is the moment you grate it, so it’s best added toward the end of cooking or just before serving. Nutmeg injects a sweet spiceness to savory dishes, like a braise, a slow-cooking casserole or curries made with coconut milk. It adds a new layer of flavor when sprinkled over potatoes or cooked vegetables such as cauliflower, onion, eggplant, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach. The spice cuts through the fat of milk, cream, eggs, cheese and custards, so it makes a perfect marriage with dairy, as well as nut milk soups or smoothies.

Sources:
The Epicentre: Encyclopedia of Spices
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD (Sterling Publishing)
Organic Facts

Spice of the Month: Juniper

February 15, 2012

Filed under: Spice of the Month — ggrieser @ 8:06 pm

The juniper berry (Juniperus communis) is not a berry at all, but a tiny cone from the evergreen-like juniper tree. In ancient times, the piney-scented “berries” were believed to ward off witches, evil spirits, curses and contagion. Early Greek, Roman and Arab physicians considered the juniper berry a medicinal fruit; Renaissance doctors prescribed it for snake bite, plague and pestilence.

Today, juniper berry is best known as the spice that defines the flavor of gin. In early 18th Century Netherlands, an apothecary developed the brew as an herbal tonic and called it jenever, Dutch for juniper. Due to its delightful flavor (enhanced, no doubt, by its alcoholic content), the remedy soon became a very popular drink. If you’ve ever enjoyed a martini or two – gin and tonic, Long Island iced tea or a Tom Collins perhaps – the next day you may have felt you were going to the bathroom more than usual. You would be correct. Juniper berry is an exceptional diuretic (a compound that increases urine output)! But the spice has other virtues, like fighting infection, relieving indigestion, arthritis, gout pain and dissolving kidney stones. It’s refreshing fragrance and antiseptic qualities also make juniper useful as an air freshener. At one time, the Swiss put the berries in heating fuel for schools to sanitize classrooms.

Buying and Storage

The juniper tree thrives in the Northern Hemisphere where it can grow anywhere from 6 feet (more like a shrub) to 33 feet tall. The berries take 3 years to ripen – first green, turning blue, then deep purple. Dried, they darken to blue-black. If you’re planning on picking them, wear gloves to protect your hands from the unfriendly spikes surrounding the berries. Also, make sure you’re picking the edible variety – some are poisonous!

Dried berries are generally available in food stores. The best ones feel moist and pliable to the touch, fairly easily squashed between the fingers to release the scent and healing oils. Sometimes you’ll find a cloudy bloom on the skin of some berries. It’s a mold and very common because the berries retain moisture, but those with excessive mold should be avoided.

Keep in an airtight container away from heat and light. If the berries become hard, they’ve gone bad and should be tossed out.

Medicinal Properties

Used in moderation, juniper berry should cause no problems for those in general good health. However, in excess the spice, which contains a potent, volatile essential oil, sabinal, can result in severe irritation, especially to the kidneys. Individuals with kidney disease or any other medical condition should consult with their doctors before using. Pregnant women should not use this spice, as it might cause uterine contractions.

Kidney health: Apothecaries once prescribed gin for kidney ailments. Today many medicines aimed at healing the urinary tract contain 1 or more compounds from the spice. Besides acting as a diuretic to increase the kidney filtration rate, juniper kills bacteria and helps clean toxic wastes, so it’s ideal against bladder, urinary tract and prostate infections. It also helps expel gallstones and dissolve kidney stones. Once again, it’s important to remember that large doses can be an irritant to the kidneys, so use moderately.

Inflammation and infection: Juniper berry possesses antiseptic properties that help remove waste and acidic toxins from the body, stimulating a fighting action against bacterial and yeast infections. Thus, it’s been found effective in treating various inflammatory and infectious diseases such as bronchitis, colds, asthma, cough, fungal infections, hemorrhoids, gynecological diseases and wounds. It’s also used to relieve pain and inflammation related to rheumatism and arthritis, as well as to regulate menstruation and relieve menstrual pain. In animal studies it was found to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving activity equal to Indomethacin (Indocin), a non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly prescribed for arthritis and other pains.

Stomachache: In Germany, juniper berry is officially approved for treating indigestion based on scientific studies which found it helps increase the flow of digestive fluids, improving digestion and eliminating gas and stomach cramping. In folk medicine, juniper berries or their extract are used to pique the appetite, as well as increase peristalsis and intestinal muscle tone.

Contraception: Traditionally, some tribes used the berries to prevent conception. Studies have shown that it can prevent implantation. Pregnant women should not use this spice, as it might cause uterine contractions.

To make a tea: steep a teaspoon of dried, crushed berries in a covered cup of water for fifteen minutes and drink, preferably one to three cups a day.

In the Kitchen

Juniper berry performs a unique role in meat dishes by contributing a freshening or enlivening effect, as well as a strong, hearty flavor. It cuts the gaminess of venison, reindeer, wild boar; reduces the fatty effect of duck and pork; and gives a nice kick to lamb chops, rabbit, beef and chicken, even seafood stews. Germans put it in pot roasts, fermented vegetable dishes such as sauerkraut, and white schnapps. French use it in patés and charcuterie.

Juniper is easy to work with in the kitchen. Just before adding, crush the whole berries with your fingers to release the oils. Less is more: one heaping teaspoon of crushed spice suffices in a dish for 4. It blends well with other herbs, especially thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram, bay leaves, allspice, onions and garlic, so use a few berries in a marinade or spice rub. Generally, juniper complements any dish with alcohol, such as coq au vin. Juniper works particularly well with purple fruits – plums blackberries, blueberries – but it’s piney flavor also harmonizes with fruit confections, like apple tart or peach pie.

Sources:
The Epicentre: Encyclopedia of Spices
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD (Sterling Publishing)
Organic Facts

Spice of the Month: Star Anise

January 15, 2012

Filed under: Spice of the Month — ggrieser @ 7:52 pm

Star anise (Illicium verum), with its sensual curves, firm body and alluring scent, wins the spice beauty pageant! And it’s beauty is more than skin deep.

The perfect 8-pointed star with slender pods, each pod cradling a seed, is the sun-dried fruit of native Chinese evergreens. Its most noticeable characteristic is it’s licorice aroma – much stronger, sweeter and denser than the more common Spanish anise seeds. This licorice taste comes from anethol, just one of this spice’s compounds that have been shown to possess healing powers for a wide range of maladies, such as fighting infections, relieving arthritis, colic, cough, indigestion and more.

Buying and Storage

Buy whole, broken pieces or ground. Intact stars are more for aesthetics than a matter of taste or freshness; broken pieces most likely indicate aggressive handling during shipping or packaging. A whole star should have no more than 8 points (carpals). You don’t want to confuse it with Japanese star anise which has more points and is poisonous – AND is not sold on the open market! The Japanese version also smells like turpentine or denatured alcohol, not licorice, so it’s quite easy to distinguish.

Best test for freshness: you should be able to detect its aroma immediately. No aroma means it’s past it’s time. Whole star anise has a long storage life: 5 years if kept in a glass jar with airtight lid in a cool, dark place. Ground keeps for less than a year, if stored in the same conditions.

Medicinal Properties

Infection Fighter: For thousands of years, star anise has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to fight flu by clearing mucous from the respiratory tract. Today, science has confirmed this capability. In fact, shikimic acid, one of the compounds in the spice, is a key component of Tamiflu, the most commonly prescribed drug for treating flu.

Studies have shown that the spice is effective in viral, bacterial or fungal infections and inflammation, including septic shock, an often fatal, system-wide infection; herpes simplex 1, reducing cold sores; eliminating 99% of streptococcus mutans, the bacteria found in cavities.

Coughs: Star anise enjoys a considerable reputation as medicine in coughs and chest infections.  A common ingredient in medicinal teas, cough medicines and lozenges, it’s especially effective in hard, dry coughs and whooping coughs.

Anti-Cancer: Various compounds found in star anise kill cancer cells and, in lab research, reduce damage to brain cells.

Rheumatism and Arthritis: The spice helps reduce painful inflammation. The Chinese prescribe a star anise tea to bring relief.

Digestive Aid: In Chinese medicine the seeds are chewed before meals to spark appetite or after to relieve gas and bloating. The spice is also used to combat colic, which may be caused by gastrointestinal problems, such as gas brought on by overfeeding or intestinal spasm. The seed pod can be chewed as a breath freshener. To make a tea: put 1-1/2 cups of cold water and 6-8 stars in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, turn off heat and let sit for 10 minutes. For digestive problems, drink a cup several times a day, if possible after each meal.

In the Kitchen

Star anise provides that je ne sais quoi – that intangible quality that gives a distinctive flavor to certain Chinese dishes, like Peking duck and spare ribs. The traditional Chinese cook wraps star anise in a muslin sack and puts it in “master stock” to which new ingredients can be continually added over months or even years.  A master stock recipe is generally kept as a family secret, passed on through generations.  In Europe, where the spice was unknown until the 17th century, it’s a popular flavoring for confections, jams, syrups and cordials.

This spice has a strong licorice flavor with a slight suggestion of cinnamon and clove. A little goes a long way! One whole star, or a pinch of ground, is enough to enhance a vegetable stir fry.  Too much makes a dish bitter. In whole form the spice is not edible, so many cooks remove the star from the pot after cooking and place it on the platter or plate as garnish. The powder and seeds are edible and have an intriguing nuttiness.

A few ways to use star anise:

  • In soups, stews and casseroles requiring long cooking, especially with beef or chicken.
  • Place in pan when making roast chicken or duck.
  • Add to stewed apples or plums.
  • Add to the liquid when poaching chicken or fish.
  • Rub the ground spice into poultry or game before cooking.

Sources:

The  Epicentre: Encyclopedia of Spices
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD (Sterling Publishing)
DigHerbs

Spice of the Month: Clove

December 12, 2011

Filed under: Spice of the Month — ggrieser @ 7:58 pm

ClovesCloves (Eugenia caryophyllus), the dried flower buds of an Asian evergreen tree, look like crude-shaped nails — so no surprise the word “clove” comes from the Latin clavus, meaning “nail.” The Chinese wrote about this pungent, slightly sweet tasting spice as early as 400 B.C., including records of courtiers told to keep cloves in their mouths to avoid offending the emperor while addressing him. Today, the custom continues in Asia where cloves are often used as an after-dinner breath freshener.

This is one of the most penetrating spices on the planet. Eugenol, the oil of clove, is so powerful, if you apply it to skin, you’ll get an instant rush of localized numbness, making it especially useful for toothaches. The oil is a mild anesthetic, as strong as benzocaine, the chemical commonly used to numb oral tissue before the dentist sticks in a needle. But clove has much more to offer than dental relief. A multi-purpose remedy, it is effective in an impressive array of situations like improving digestion, aiding childbirth, fighting infection and dissolving blood clots.

Buying and Storing

Cloves are native to the Malukus (“spice islands”) of Indonesia, but the best, penang cloves, come from Malaysia, followed by Zanzibar and Madagascar. In the U.S. most come from Madagascar or Brazil.

Freshness, however, is more important than origin. Buy whole and grind yourself. Once ground, they start to loose their volatile oil, which weakens their aroma and healing

powers. When buying, look for large cloves, that is, you can clearly make out the head and stems. In fact, you should be able to recognize the four would-be petals of the bud and the stamen inside them forming the nail-like head. You don’t want to buy cloves that look like little bits of sticks; those are just stems. Color should be reddish-brown. Whole cloves will keep for a year or more in an airtight container away from light and heat.

Medicinal Properties

Teeth and Gums: Eugenol (oil of clove) is formidable medicine against many forms of oral discomfort and disease. It acts as an analgesic to reduce pain, an anti-inflammatory to lessen redness and swelling, an anti-bacterial, killing germs. The oil fights gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease when gums are inflamed, and periodontitis, the later stage when gums recede and bone erodes. It’s also effective against stomatitis, a painful inflammation of the mucous lining of the mouth, caused by factors such as medications, poor dental hygiene, or ill-fitting dentures. Rub several drops of oil around a painful tooth or tissue so blood vessels near the gum dilate and circulation increases with a warm, soothing sensation.

Cloves are not, however, a cure for cavities. Use the oil for pain relief until you can make a trip to the dentist!

Fight Infections: Cloves are very effective in stopping growth of many types of bacteria associated with disease, e.g., E. coli (food poisoning), Staphylococcus (staph infections), proteus (bladder infection), Enterobacter (hospital-acquired infections), Pseudomonas (urinary tract infections). In many cases, the spice worked better than amoxicillin (Amoxil), a common antibiotic and without developing any resistance.

A hot tea made with cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon and majoram helps relieve bronchitis, asthma, coughs, as well as the tendency to infection. This combo is also effective against tuberculosis, altitude sickness, nervous stomach, nausea, diarrhea, flatulence, indigestion, dyspepsia, gastroenteritis, the side effects of lobelia, and depression.

Mosquito repellent: Clove oil beats citronella candles vs. mosquito bites. Thai researchers enlisted volunteers to stick their forearms into an area dense with mosquitoes. Only a few essential oils protected against bites, including citronella, patchouli and clove, providing two hours of “complete repellency.” When these oils were retested, only clove oil gave “100 percent repellency” for 4 hours.

Blood clots: Blood clots that plug arteries are the cause of most heart attacks and strokes. Clots are caused in part by platelet aggregation – plate-shaped blood cells become sticky and clump together. Danish researchers tested eugenol against two “blood thinning” medications that fight platelet aggregation – aspirin and indomethacin (Indocin) – and found eugenol more effective than aspirin and equal to indomethacin.

Anti-Cancer: There is growing scientific awareness that many spices possess anti- carcinogenic properties and clove appears to be among them. Studies on animals with lung and skin cancers show that eugenol can stop cancer cells from multiplying. More research is needed.

Digestive aid: for nausea, gas, diarrhea, bloating and colic. A simple digestive aid: add 1 teaspoon of powdered clove to 1 cup boiling water. Drink 3 times each day.

Women’s health: The antispasmodic properties of clove make it helpful in preparation for childbirth. The herb helps to relieve muscle spasms, make contractions stronger and aid in labor.

Skin problems: Due to its anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, clove oil is an ideal remedy for acne, warts and scars.

Type 2 diabetes: Studies have shown that consuming a clove or two a day can help normalize insulin function by lowering blood glucose levels, as well as reducing cholesterol.

Some folk remedies: For insomnia: drink a tea with cloves and water before bedtime. An aphrodisiac: in India, clove — eaten or smelled— is considered a powerful aphrodisiac. For headaches: clove acts as a stress reliever; a little salt is mixed with clove oil and rubbed on the forehead and temples. For earache: put a little warmed oil of clove on a piece of cotton and in the ear.

In the Kitchen

Clove is a common culinary spice around the world, especially in spice blends, such as five spice powder (China), garam masala (India), quatre épices (France), ras-el-hanout (Morocco), and baharat (Ethiopia). The French stud onions with cloves to flavor stocks and stews. Germans add it to pot roast and other long-cooking meat and game dishes, while the British put cloves in Christmas pudding and apple tart, mulled wine and cider.

In the U.S., where over 1,000 tons are imported every year, cloves are common in both sweet and savory dishes: to stud hams, in apple spice mixes, mulled wine and warm punches, pickled eggs, soused herring, homemade sausages and Christmas fruitcakes. Clove adds distinctive flavor to Worchestershire sauce and is reported to be one of the “secret” ingredients in Heinz Ketchup.

Less is more! Cloves have a distinctive, sharp woodsy, sweet and musty taste. Be careful not to overpower a dish with them. Takes only a few whole cloves in a pot of stew or ground to flavor pastry. Whole cloves should be removed before serving. One way to avoid a surprise clove crunch, stud a small onion with cloves and add to the broth; retrieve the onion at the end.

Clove Trivia

The largest share of the world’s cloves goes into the popular Indonesian cigarette called Kreetek. These contain 40% clove and give the cigarettes a crackling sound as they’re smoked.

Sources:

The Epicentre: Encyclopedia of Spices
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal, PhD (Sterling Publishing)
OrganicFacts.net

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