How to Give the Gift of Food as Medicine: 5 Things to Make This Holiday Season

I have been driven by the idea that food is medicine since I was a teenager. I had health issues that were difficult to treat using conventional, pharmaceutical-based medicine   It became clear  to me that when we sit down to eat we have a powerful opportunity to nourish and heal ourselves with the foods we choose.  And I have dedicated a significant portion of my life’s work doing that through health coaching, and through our work with Fire Cider. One of my favorite things to do is share the idea of food as medicine with my friends and family especially during this time of giving. Here are my  five go-to make-at-home  ways to share the gift of food as medicine this holiday season.

herb-garden-window

Photo from thriftyniftymommy.com

Start A Window Herb Garden

A small window herb garden is easy to assemble and gives the gift of fresh, green herbs all winter long! Nothing brightens up a meal like a confetti of fresh herbs sprinkled on top or an oil infused with herbs picked nearby. For how-to resources on making a kitchen herb garden to gift, I used the post, “Tips for a Small-Space Kitchen Herb Garden” on thekitchn.com and on WikiHow.com “Start A Window Herb Garden” as resources.

Don’t have a green thumb? You can purchase ready-to-pick, plants at your local greenhouse, farm store or grocer. I like Basil, Parsley, Cilantro and Rosemary but pick what your recipient will use the most. Add handmade tags with simple care  instructions and a couple of your favorite recipes to complete the gift.

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Grinding cardamom for the spice mix.

Make A  Healthy Drink Mix

I love drinking sweet and spicy golden milk, especially in the winter when I can really use the benefits of turmeric. You can read more about “Golden Milk – A Calming Ayurvedic Health Drink” on the FireCider.com blog. This year, I’ll be giving out jam jars filled with my pre-mixed golden milk spice blend, milk not included!

Golden Milk Spice Mix to fill on 8 oz jam jar:

¼ cup dried powdered ginger

½ cup dried powdered turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

¾ teaspoon ground black peppercorns

Put everything in a 1 cup jam jar, seal and shake to combine! Decorate the jar, add an ingredient label and include a short and sweet recipe for Golden Milk:

For every 8 ounces of milk (whole dairy or coconut) use one teaspoon of Golden Milk Spice Mix. Whisk to combine and bring to a simmer for two minutes.

Add raw honey (or stevia/sweetner of your choice) to taste.  

I ordered all of the above organic ingredients from Starwest Botanicals but you can also find them in the bulk section of your local co-op or grocery store.

 

Give a Farm Share or Produce Delivery

Give the gift of nutritious, whole foods week after week! Find a CSA— Community Supported Agriculture or a store that has a weekly delivery service like Berkshire Organics in Dalton, MA.

For a list of CSA’s across the US, LocalHarvest.org is an excellent resurce.

 

Custom Teas for Health

“Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage.” —Okakura Kakuzō

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Photo by Briar from her Marble and Milkweed Etsy Shop

Winter is the season for tea so why not give the gift of delicious, medicinal tea for winter health? Make your own blends of tea using dried plants from your garden, local farm or bulk organic herbs and spices from Starwest Botanicals. I found a long list of tea recipes on adelightfulhome.com under the post, “52 DIY Herbal Tea Recipes” Package your tea in ball jars and add a tag with the ingredient list and steeping instructions.

Learn Together

Don’t feel crafty? Not sure what to make? Sign yourself and a friend up for a class  and learn how to make something together! The gift of an experience, especially one that’s shared, is sometimes the best gift.  Learn how to make your own bone broth, herbal tinctures, Thai food, etc by checking out classes near you—start with local farms, chefs and herbalists and see what’s happening in your town.

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The Greenest Wrap

One of my favorite ways to eat more greens is to use them in place of bread or crackers.  Nothing against burger buns or sandwich bread but you can skip the processed wheat and grab a bunch of crispy Romaine or collard greens instead.  I use Romaine lettuce like a taco shell- fill it up with whatever you like- sliced avocado, tomato, homemade mayo and bacon for a healthier B.L.T.   Bibb lettuce is soft, flexible and makes for a great little wrap.  Want to eat that salad with your hands?  Wrap it up in the biggest lettuce leaves from the outside of the bunch.  Look at you, doubling down on your veggies!lettuce leaf B.L.T.

Using large collard leaves makes for a sturdier wrap that can hold such awesome summer foods as cheese burgers or the ultimate sunny seed hummus wrap.  You can use the leaves raw or lightly steamed — these are best for hot foods or for bigger wraps.  The folding is easy and unlike regular wraps, these stay sealed. The only prep work you need to do is to carefully trim them rough stems.

Cut the end of the stem off and then lay the collard leaf flat and slice off the rough stem that sticks up, so that the leaf is flat and entirely flexible, like in this photo from MindBodyGreen.com’s tutorial on how to use collards like a wrap!

MindBodyGreen.com collard trimming for wraps

Don’t worry if you tear the collard leaf a bit, you’ll get the hang of the stem trimming and can fold around any small tear.

If you want to steam your collard leaves so that they are more flexible and easier to use and eat, there are a few methods that work well.  This video from Plant Powered Kitchen.com has my favorite technique for when you just want to make up a few wraps.  Get some water boiling in your kettle and open the spout so you’ve got a nice stream of steam coming up.  Hold your raw collard leaf by the stem and wave it over the spout of steam, lightly steaming the whole leaf until it’s bight green and soft enough to fold.  Then trim off the stem as described above.  Repeat until you have enough wraps.

Or, follow the quick blanch method I found on Mind Body Green.com– bring a wide shallow pan of water to a simmer.  Take your de-stemmed collard leaves and give them a 10 second dunk in the pan, one at a time, using tongs to get the collard leaves in and then out and into an ice bath.  Dry in layers using tea towels. Once you’ve got all your wraps ready, fill as desired!

The wrapping part is easy, and there are a number of ways to do it, but this photo tutorial from Honest Fare.com is easy to follow:

HonestFare.com collard wrap- wrap up in 4 photos

Add your filling to the center of one or two overlapping leaves.  Fold the sides in to contain the filling.  Then, starting at one long end, roll the leaf over the filling and keep rolling, making sure the ends stay tucked in. Slice in half and enjoy!

bareburger collard wrap                                                  Above, a collard wrapped Bareburger – it’s as good as it looks!

Diatomaceous Earth for Candida Balance

Spring is finally here and if you dug yourself into a health hole this winter, don’t worry,  you are not alone!  This ‘recipe’ is for a simple, daily detox you can drink first thing in the morning to help give your whole digestive system a fresh start. I’ve been drinking this every morning for two months now and I think you might want to try it too!   The main ingredient?  It’s dirt!  Not just any dirt, for this healthy dietary supplement you want to get food grade diatomaceous earth.  You may have seen the non food grade stuff for sale at a garden center or hardware store.  There are a lot of ways to use D.E. around the house, garden and even on your pets.

diatomaceous earth

I want to focus on the long list of health benefits associated with drinking a teaspoon to a tablespoon of food grade diatomaceous earth daily, mixed in water or juice.   According to DiatomaceousEarth.com: “Food grade DE contains about 14 trace minerals. “Trace” means up to 1 percent, so each of the trace minerals are present in that amount. This means that food grade diatomaceous earth is largely made up of amorphous silica, which comprises about 85 percent of food grade diatomaceous earth. There is some research that suggests possible health benefits from silica. The health benefits listed below are ones reported by other people who have used DE in their diet:

  • – better digestive health
  • – more regular bowel movements
  • – detoxifies
  • – healthier colon
  • – reduced cholesterol
  • – better food absorption
  • – better night’s sleep
  • – clearer skin
  • – stronger teeth and gums
  • – healthier hair and nails
  • – less joint and ligament pain
  • – helps arthritis
  • – less sickness
  • – more energy
  • – soothes burns
  • – insect bites
  • – clears skin rashes
  • – less acne
  • – possible antiparasitic
  • – could lower Candida levels”

I decided to give this a try when I learned it could help with Candida, on top of all those other nice side effects.  I started with a teaspoon and slowly worked my way up to a heaping tablespoon per day in water first thing in the morning.  I had some detox symptoms (headache, feverish, nausea) in the afternoon and evening of the first day, but was able to avoid more symptoms by very slowing increasing my dose over several days.  Not everyone experiences detox symptoms, I had a hunch that I would since I have digestive Candida issues.  I have noticed that my digestion is better, I get less of a reaction to foods containing carbohydrates and sugars, fewer Candida symptoms overall and yes, my nails are stronger, my skin is clear and my knees are not complaining about running outside again!

From left to right: powdered psyllim husks, coconut oil, diatomaceous earth and liquid bentonite clay.
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So, you know what it can do for you, but how does Diatomaceous Earth work in your digestive system?  Here’s a quick explanation from EarthWorksHealth.com:

“Diatomaceous Earth is quite hard. On the hardness scale where diamonds are a 9, Diatomaceous Earth is a 7. This is very important because as those millions of tiny, hard and sharp Diatomaceous Earth cylinders pass through the small and large intestines, they “scrub” the walls. After only a few months of taking Diatomaceous Earth, the intestine wall is no longer coated with mucus and molds but CLEAN!!”

Want to try drinking dirt?  Mix a teaspoon or less into 8 or more ounces of water or juice first thing in the morning.  D.E. has no taste, so it’s easy to drink.   Try it for a few weeks and see how you feel.   I like to add a teaspoon of powdered psyllium husks and a tablespoon of bentoite clay to the mix for the first week to help clean my digestive system and pull out toxins.  If you add the psyllium, make sure to drink more water or hot tea (8 oz or more) afterwards to give the psyllium enough water to absorb.   You can buy D.E. from the Pittsfield Health Food Center on North St. where they also sell bentonite clay and psyllium husk powder, or order online from DiatomaceousEarth.com

I like to add coconut oil to hot tea and drink that following the clay, D.E., psyllium mixture since coconut oil has lots of caprylic acid in it, great for combating excess Candida.

 

Fire Cider: Food as Medicine for Candida Overgrowth

Candida Overgrowth is something that you may have been hearing more about lately, or maybe you’re like me, and have had a personal experience with too much Candida. Candida Albicans is a naturally occurring type of beneficial yeast found in every body’s mucus membranes. Under certain conditions the Candida mutates into a fungal form. This fungal Candida grows roots and can penetrate the walls of your intestines or other areas of the body causing all kinds of symptoms. Unfortunately, the conditions that can cause Candida to multiply in it’s damaging fungal form are all part of a typical American lifestyle: use of synthetic hormone based birth control, antibiotic consumption/use, too much stress, not enough movement and deep breathing, a diet high in processed sugars, alcohol and/or carbohydrates and the consumption of processed foods and body products loaded with chemicals, hormone disruptors and antibiotics.

you-are-what-you-eat1

The symptoms of Candida Overgrowth are many but here are the highlights: sugar cravings, bloated abdomen, gas and digestive pain, especially after consuming carbohydrates or sugary foods, IBS, weight gain, joint pain, feeling sluggish or tired, brain fog, itchy skin, chronic vaginal yeast infections, bladder infections, jock itch and/or thrush which usually means a white or yellowish coating on the tongue. Not everyone has all the symptoms and Candida Overgrowth can overlap with other imbalances. It’s best to get tested and properly diagnosed before treating yourself for any health issue. The test for Candida Overgrowth should include an in depth medical history and a lab test on saliva, blood and stool samples.

food heart

The good news is that the way to get Candida back into balance is all about using the food you eat everyday as medicine, no drugs or prescriptions necessary! My blog, The Candida Diaries, is dedicated to sharing delicious recipes and remedies so that you can eat your way back to health. The Candida diet is actually pretty simple and similar to the Paleo or Atkins diets: no sugars, no carbohydrates, yes to lots of green veggies, fresh herbs, organic proteins and fats, nuts and seeds and naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut, crème fraiche and raw apple cider vinegar. These fermented foods help to repopulate your digestive system with beneficial organisms that help support a healthy internal balance.

When I was first diagnosed, I worked with my doctor to come up with a list of supplements, herbs and medicinal foods to help me recover. I started by complimenting a no sugar, no carbohydrate diet with a lot of immune support. I took high does of Vitamin C with Quercetin as well as Osha, Ecchinacea and started eating more fresh green herbs, bone broth, raw sauerkraut and aloe vera juice. After I was on the diet for a few weeks, eating well and supporting my immune system, I added in antifungal foods and supplements: raw garlic, oil of oregano, pau d’acro tea or tincture, chaparral tincture, digestive enzymes and caprylic acid aka coconut oil. There are many anti fungal, anti viral and anti bacterial plants out there so you can easily rotate your foods and herbs for maximum effect and support.

Me with Unsweetened Fire Cider in front of a wall of food starch packing peanuts (yes, they are biodegradable!)

Me with Unsweetened Fire Cider in front of a wall of food starch packing peanuts (yes, they are biodegradable!)

 

In 2009 my husband Dana introduced me to a vinegar and honey based health tonic that he had been making for his seasonal bouts of allergies and bronchitis for the past 10 years. Without adding the honey in at the end, this tonic is a mix of a lot of the foods I had been eating for their anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and immune boosting properties: organic, raw apple cider vinegar, citrus, onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, horseradish and habanero peppers. I used Dana’s tonic, now known as Shire City Herbals Fire Cider® and also called master tonic, plague tonic, etc, as a digestive aid after meals to reduce excess Candida, gas and bloating. It also helped me to avoid getting sick all the time during the winter.  Unsweeteend Fire Cider was a life changing experience and I have been using it daily ever since to keep my Candida in balance and my immune system supported. In 2011 my husband, brother and I decided to start Shire City Herbals so we could make Fire Cider on a large scale and share this traditional remedy with as many people as possible.

I have also found a lot of non food things to support my health, like loving what I do for a living! A regular yoga practice, deep breathing, getting exercise outside, these activities keep me grounded and help me manage stress. Keeping a food journal and working with a naturopath have been tremendously helpful. A holistic approach to health and wellness is one that recognizes that everything is connected, you food, your environment, your relationships, your job, everything! Using your food as medicine is a great way to start reconnecting with your healthiest self.

Coconut Love Bombs

This is my new favorite sweet treat.  It’s just five organic ingredients and is super simple to put together.  This raw, vegan treat is packed with lots of energy from coconut oil and shredded coconut.  Did you know that a tablespoon of coconut oil contains 1050 mg of Candida fighting Caprylic acid?  Yep, these love bombs are a great way to get plenty of nourishment and an anti-fungal treatment!  I added in some other variations at the end.  I’m sure there are even more to try.  Recipe can be halved or doubled.  So get going and make some Coconut Love Bombs to share with the ones you love!

 

coconut love bombs

 

Ingredients for 32:

  • 1 Cup Coconut oil – room temperature works best, it should be a little soft, like cream cheese and easy to blend.  Liquid oil needs to be cooled in order to work well in this recipe.
  • 1 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Coconut flakes
  •  a few drops of Vanilla Stevia
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract (If not using vanilla Stevia)

Method:

  1. Mix everything together well.
  2. Use a 1 Tablespoon scoop to shape the dough into little half moons.
  3. Place on a baking sheet and freeze for about 30 minutes.
  4. Keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator and serve cold.

Variations:

Substitute 1/2 cup of coconut oil for 1/3-1/2 cup peanut butter or coconut manna.  I used Peanut butter and they came out better than Butterfingers!

Add 1 teaspoon Chai spices to the original recipe

After freezing, dip in melted sugar free dark chocolate, freeze again til the chocolate coating is set.

The original recipe sounds good too, I found it on the side of my Nutiva Coconut Oil container:

coconut oil recipe

Leek Gratin

This is my new favorite way to cook and eat leeks.  My Dad made this on a whim, without a recipe, for Christmas dinner and it was amazing, no leftovers at all!  You can easily make double this recipe, which is what I did since I had a whole bunch of leeks from my Dad’s garden and wanted to cook them up all at once.  I cooked all the leeks, about 10 cups total, and baked half right away.  The next day I baked the other half for another dinner.  This is a nice addition to a pot luck dinner and if you do have leftovers they are great hot or cold.  Prepping the leeks takes the longest, especially if you are getting them from your root cellar and not fresh from the store.  Leeks are a great storage veggie, as you can easily peel off the less pretty outer layers and find a perfectly preserve leek inside!

leek gratin 1

Ingredients:

5 cups sliced leeks, white and light green parts only

Salt and pepper to taste

3 Tablespoons pasture butter

1 large egg

a shy 1/2 cup cream or half and half

Method:

Prepare the leeks: strip away any rotten or damaged outer layrs, slice off the root tip and trim the top to the light green part.  Thinly slice all the leeks until you have about 5 cups.

leek gratin 2

Preheat the oven to 355 degrees.

In a large sauce pan or pot, I used my enamel coated cast iron soup pot, add the butter, sliced leeks and sprinkle with salt, then add as much black pepper as you like.

Over medium low flame, sweat the leeks until they are just past bright green, cooked though and reduced dramatically in size.

leek gratin 3

leek gratin 4

Let the leeks cool.

Whip together the egg and heavy cream.

Combine the egg, cream and cooked, cooled, leeks in glass or ceramic baking dish, I used a 1.5 liter pyrex square.

Spead the mixture evenly and top with a sprinkling of cheese, Gruyere is my favorite!

leek gratin 5

Bake the gratin until it’s set and staring to brown around the edges, about 30 minutes.  You can brown the cheese under the broiler at the end if that sounds good to you.  Enjoy!

Zucchini and Basil Sautee

Zucchini chopped into bite sized pieces.

Zucchini chopped into bite sized pieces.

This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy all the zucchini that’s super fresh right now.  And it’s really easy, just some time and a few ingredients and you’ve got a healthy delicious side dish or meal to go picnicking with!

Ingredients:

Zucchini

Onion

Butter and/or Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Basil

Shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese

Method:

Chop up some onion, I usually use about a 1 to 4 ratio of onion to zucchini.

Add the chopped onion, a few pinches of salt (go easy on the salt if you plan to add cheese to the finished dish, which I highly recommend!) and a healthy dose of butter and olive oil to a heavy bottom pan, the wider the pan the better.   You’ll start with a lot of fat in the pan to cook the onions and then when you add the zucchini you can decide if you need to add more.  Cook the onions on medium heat.

While the onions cook, chop your zucchini.  I make some pieces smaller than others so when it cooks, the smaller bits get mushy and the larger bits keep their shape so you don’t end up with baby food.  Or maybe you end up with baby food, it’s really delicious either way!

Start with chopped onion and plenty of butter.

Start with chopped onion and plenty of butter.

When the onions begin to look translucent, add in the zucchini, some black pepper and saute, stirring all the while, til smushy and starting to brown on med to medium high heat.

Sautee the zucchini and onions

Saute the zucchini and onions

Once you’ve cooked the zucchini down, it will release a lot of water, so plan on stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes til you get a nice, thick consistency.  Take it off the heat and serve topped with fresh chopped basil and shredded hard cheese like Romano.  This tastes great warm or at room temperature and makes a nice take along meal for picnic’s or pot lucks.

Topped with cheese and ready to eat or take on a picnic!

Topped with cheese and ready to eat or take on a picnic!

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