Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What is Argan Oil?


Have you been hearing a lot about argan oil recently? Have you been wondering: What is it? Why is
it so popular all of a sudden? And, why so expensive? Well, argan oil is one of the things we are going to explore on the Vegan Fusion Feast for the Senses Moroccan trip in May. Here's some information to get you filled in and in the know about this amazing oil.

Argan oil iis an oil that is pressed from the nuts of the Argania spinosa tree. These endangered trees are native to, and grow almost exclusively in the Atlas mountains of southwestern Morocco. The tree is important for economic, environmental, and ecological reasons, it is a tree that serves many purposes. It supports local populations and livestock during drought periods; The fruit sustains goats, the leaves provide forage for camels and sheep, whilst cattle live off the press cake that remains after the oil is made and the casings are used as kindling or as fuel in clay bread ovens.

The Argan tree grows wild in arid, semi-desert conditions. There it also plays an essential ecological role by protecting the soil against heavy rain and wind induced erosion. It provides shade while its roots bind the soil helping to protect against further desertification. During times of very low rainfall it has the ability to lie dormant, and to regenerate when the rains come also surviving temperatures of up to 120°F. Because of the recent popularity of argan oil these endangered trees are now protected.

The Argan forests are integrated into the life of the Berbers who live in this part of Morocco. They are typically divided up into small sections amongst the Berber families that live in the area. Almost all of the oil processing is done by hand through women's cooperatives. It takes 10–12 hours to crack enough nuts to obtain sufficient seeds to yield one liter of oil but this provides good jobs for the women and money for educational programs, schools and health programs.

Argan oil is used for both cosmetic and culinary purposes. It contains twice as much vitamin E as olive oil and is rich in antioxidants and EFA's. It is 80% unsaturated, containing eight essential fatty acids and is more resistant to oxidation than olive oil. Argan oil also contains rare plant sterols not found in other oils, which have anti-inflammatory properties, beneficial for arthritic or rheumatic conditions.

The nuts are roasted for the culinary oil which has a rich nutty flavor and, in Morocco, is used for dipping bread, as a finishing touch for cooked food especially grilled and roasted vegetables. It also makes an excellent salad dressing. A traditional dip for bread known as amlou is made from argan oil, almonds and peanuts, sometimes sweetened by honey or sugar. The unroasted oil is traditionally used as a treatment for skin diseases, and it has recently become the rage of the western skin and hair care market.

According to various sources its high vitamin E content helps to reduce wrinkles by restoring the skin's water lipid layer and it cools and soothes inflammation. Its antioxidant properties contribute to the neutralization of free radicals. The oil is also good for your hair as a moisturizer and conditioner. It revitalizes hair making it smooth and shiny. Traditionally the oil is used in Morocco to soothe dry eczema, chicken pox, acne and psoriasis, it can also help to reduce scarring and prevent stretch marks. It is a light oil that absorbs readily without feeling greasy.

Information take from Wikipedia, an article by Dr. Mark Nesbitt and Ruth Hajioff, and argan oil direct website.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Moroccan Pumpkin and Chickpea Soup

 Today we will use the Ras El Hanout spice blend that we prepared in the previous post. This is a
simple, delicious and warming soup good for winter days. The cinnamon and ginger give it a bit of a holiday feel as well as the exotic connection to Morocco. Once you have made it feel free to make variations to make it your own. I used sweet potato as I didn't have any pumpkin. It seems like it would be good with tomato added as well. I chopped some fresh and used them for garnish.
  • 1 lb.  fresh pumpkin, diced (1/2" pieces) could be sweet potato instead
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas
  • 3 - 6 Tbsp cilantro depending on how well you like it
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 medium to large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable stock (can use bouillon cubes)
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons honey, agave or sweetener of chocie (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Ras El Hanout (see previous post)
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger chopped or grated
    salt and pepper to taste. Also you can add chile if you like it spicy
In a small stock pot, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium-low heat until tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin, chickpeas, cilantro, broth, sweetener, spices and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, partially covered, about 15 minutes, until the pumpkin is just tender. At this point it can be eaten but you can simmer it a bit longer to let the flavors marry more completely. The pumpkin and chickpeas will continue to soften and the soup will thicken slightly the longer you cook it. When you feel it is ready, remove and discard the cinnamon stick.
If you wish to thicken the soup more, you can transfer several spoonfuls of broth to a bowl and allow it cool slightly. Add one or two teaspoons of cornstarch or arrowroot to the cooled broth and stir until the mixture is smooth. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the soup and simmer for several more minutes, until the broth has thickened. Or if you like you can puree part of the soup and add it back in. Or if you like a thick, smooth soup puree the whole thing. Adjust spices to taste.
Serve the soup hot or warm with a garnish of freshly ground pepper and nutmeg.
 Bon Appetit !

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Exotic World of Moroccan Spices: Ras El Hanout

One good way to try out the spirit of this exotic sensuous trip to Morocco is to begin looking into the culture. What better way to get into the heart of Moroccan life than to explore the foods and spices. Today we will begin with a spice blend known as Ras El Hanout. Ras El Hanout, which means the best of the shop, is a complex, aromatic spice blend.

Most Ras El Hanout recipes include cardamom, nutmeg, anise, mace, cinnamon, ginger, various peppers, and turmeric, but 30 or more ingredients could be used and like most good ethnic spice blends every family has their own particular take on the matter. So there is no one true recipe only variations on the theme. Typically the blend is prepared by grinding together whole spices, dried roots and leaves. And if you have spices in their whole form on hand by all means do this as it will give you a deeper, richer flavor. But, if you don't keep things simple by using ground spices. In this case I used some whole spices, which I ground in a coffee grinder, and some already ground spices. This spice blend is used by some Moroccans in daily cooking, while others reserve it for specialty dishes. tomorrow I will give you a recipe for a lovely pumpkin and chickpea soup using this warming spice blend.
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground mace
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground anise seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
Blend all of the spices in a bowl. Transfer to a glass jar, and store in a dry, dark place.
Use Ras El Hanout to season tagines, stews, soups and vegetables. It keeps well for several months.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Living with Eczema

Recently I had an email from a Greensong client who has a 6 yr grandson with eczema. She was distraught because he had scratched his rashes into weeping sores that had become infected with staph and she wanted to know if there was something natural that she could use to treat him with that would be ok for a 6 yr old.

 I have to say this is probably the most common question I get - how to deal with eczema. So instead of writing about processing lilikoi, which is what I was going to write about, I thought I would share my response to her question here in case there is anyone else out there who might benefit from this information. Next time I swear I will tell you all about the lilikoi.

Dear Jami,
Having suffered pretty much all my life from eczema I can totally relate and sympathize with your grandson and the distress it causes you both. Once staph has become involved it may be necessary to bring in antibiotics in some form, either orally or with neosporin or some other antibiotic ointment, for the staph infection as it is not something to take lightly. Some of these ointments also have things to decrease itching which can help bring quick relief in the short term. Then, I use a cortisone cream to kick back the rash. This is what I do if I am in the middle of a flare up. It is hard to treat the eczema when it is in the middle of an angry flare up so I first kick the symptoms back and then work on the situation from a holistic framework.

I will say that I have had some success treating staph using a tincture called wild indigo root, also called Baptisia tinctoria, though it may be to strong an herb to use for a 6 yr old. It is often combined with myrrh and echinacea but again these may be too much for a small child. And this addresses the infection not the eczema.

Eczema, as I am sure you are learning, is not a simple thing to treat. There are many things that cause it to flare up and this varies from person to person. For me - my skin is super dry - so anything like water, soap, my own sweat, heat all can make me break out in a rash. Then there are countless things I am allergic to that can cause problems as well. I'm sure you also know that there is a very strong emotional component to eczema. Extreme emotions can trigger a flare up and being stressed makes it all worse. So, I do my best to keep my body temp cool, and to calm myself with breathing and meditation when I have rashes or if I'm feeling a systemic reaction come on  after being exposed to any of the things I have mentioned above. It is important to figure out which things trigger a reaction in your grandson and to stay away from those as much as possible. It can be food things, plants, animals, or like for me - water, and soap, and dry skin.

Being fully hydrated all the time is something that has made a huge difference in my experiences with eczema. As soon as I learned about this and started keeping myself hydrated everything turned around. For me this meant drinking 3 liters of water everyday along with whatever else I was drinking until I was fully hydrated. This took about a month as I was apparently severely dehydrated when I started this process and had been for years. Then a maintenance level of 2 liters per day, everyday, forever.

For a child of 6 it looks like 1.5 liters a day is what is recommended. This can include juice and herbal teas also but not soda. It helps to put a little bit of juice with the water so the cells are more inclined to take it in. This one simple thing has made the biggest difference in reducing the flare ups for me.

Nettle is a helpful herb that acts like a natural antihistimine. I drink nettle mint tea often for all my allergies. Mixing it with a little licorice root makes it sweet and the licorice is helpful for the adrenals which are overactive when there are allergies. Use only a little licorice though as it is strong. And, it may be necessary to keep his skin nourished and moist with lotions and creams. I don't know if dry skin is an issue for him but it can be a factor. Lubriderm may work, it does for many people. I had to try many lotions before I found ones that worked for me and it is not one in the commercial market it is something I mix for myself. If this is an issue I can direct you to the stuff I am currently using or your pediatrician or dermatologist may have something that works for you.

Next look at the situation overall. Our skin is our biggest organ of elimination so there is a relationship between outbreaks on the skin and the liver which is the organ that detoxes things for us. Supporting the liver is very helpful. One sort of fun way to do this is to make a root beer because many of the roots in root beer are liver herbs. I will put a recipe at the end of this email. Teas and tinctures of these roots are simpler to use but may not be so tasty and appealing to a 6 yr old.

Beyond the things I have already mentioned building a strong immune system helps to keep the body in balance and keep flare ups from happening as much and when they do happen they heal faster. This means making sure there is a balanced diet with enough vitamins and minerals. Not always and easy thing to do with kids. Probiotics in some form are very beneficial to the digestive system which helps everything else in the body. Incorporating probiotics into the diet at an early age will make a tremendous difference in overall health for the rest of his life. There is a lot of evidence that most allergic responses are caused by incomplete digestion which can result in things ending up in the bloodstream that shouldn't be there and then the body getting over reactive. So probiotic foods,- kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha or there are probiotic capsules as well. I always think it is best to get as much from your foods as possible, if it is possible.

I find that 1 Emergen- C a day is very helpful. I think they have a kids version of that. So high amounts of Vitamin C and E, adequate intake of B vitamins and extra EFA's. I used evening primrose oil, fish oil and borage oil for years. I took them in capsules everyday multiple times a day. If you can find some source that your grandson will take these are also very important for reducing reactions and incidence of flare ups. Here is an article I was looking at talking about various different options for kids How_to_Choose_an_Essential_Fatty_Acid_or_EFA_for_Children. I guess there was something to that cod liver oil that used to be pushed on us. Cod liver oil is great for us it's just a bit hard to get down.

In general don't use any harsh soaps on the skin. Super gentle soaps and use them minimally as soap dries the skin out and reduces it's own ability to protect itself.

I'm really sorry I don't have a quick and easy answer for you. I have been going to dermatologists and doctors for this my whole life and I never really found them to be of any help. So how to live with eczema  has been a lifelong quest for me. These are the things I have learned over many years of research, trial and error. I don't think it is possible to be cured from the condition but it is possible to live pretty peacefully with it. I  rarely have flare ups these days and haven't for many years after doing all of the things I've mentioned above but I also minimize my contact with things that cause me to flare up. I drink 2 liters of water every day (my water bottle is my constant companion). I keep my immune system strong. And I try to keep myself pretty peaceful and calm. If I would have known all this when I was 6, my life might have been very different. So maybe working with your grandson and helping him to develop these things as healthy habits will help him have a life that is relatively clear of the misery of eczema. Here is the root beer recipe

For this root beer syrup you will need:
  • 2 Tablespoons sassafras root
  • 2 teaspoons sarsaparilla root
  • 2 teaspoons burdock root or dandelion root
  • 2 teaspoons licorice root
  • 5 or 6 tongues of astragalus root (or small handful of cut/sifted if slices not available)
  • 1 gallon of filtered water
  • 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar (remember this is a syrup to which you will add seltzer water when you drink it)
  • a gallon jar and a large pot
Put 1/2 gallon of filtered water in a large pot. Add your roots. (Feel free to add different roots or omit any of these you don’t enjoy. This is just a recipe to get you started.) Bring the water to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes. Stir in your sugar or other sweetener. Turn off the heat.Continue to steep for about 4 hours.
Taste what you’ve created. Does the root beer taste seem strong enough? If not maybe you want to  add more roots or steep bit longer. (This is not an absolute process.) When you are happy with the flavor strain it out.

Pour this liquid into a  jar and keep in the fridge. Add a couple of tablespoons to a glass and fill with sparkling water. Adjust to desired taste. You can get the herbs you need to make this at Mountain Rose herbs if you like. They are a good source that I use regularly or you may have a favorite herb store in your area. Drinking this root beer is beneficial for the liver, blood and immune system in moderate amounts as it is a lot of sugar.

 I hope this is helpful to you. I know it is a lot and not what you were expecting probably. But it is the reality with eczema there is no easy fix or pill you can take to make it all go away. I so wish there was.

Let me know how it goes and if there is anything else I can help you with,


Monday, July 28, 2014

Musings From a Plant Based Life - Episode #1

Cocona, Lilikoi and Lava Sauce
July 28, 2014

Summertime at Lokelani is full of lots of plant motivated activites. Today, for example was a day for processing some of the gorgeous riches of lilikoi, cocona, peppers and bananas we have an abundance of at the moment. Some of these fruits, like cocona, might not be something you see everyday, if ever. I certainly had never seen or heard of it before my husband proudly displayed the exotic seed package he had ordered from some tropical plant nursery somewhere. I must say, it is an interesting plant which fruits prolifically which also means it was necessary for me to figure out what to do with so much of it. So, first, some research:

Cocona - Solanum sessiliflorum is a big furry leafed relative of the tomato.
It is a native of the Amazon and Orinoco regions of South America. Also called a peach tomato, or Orinoco apple. The fruit is about the size of a tomato and deep, dark burnt red sort of color. When you cut it open the flesh is reminiscent of a tomato in both texture and flavor but is a bright golden color. Because the fruit doesn't appear so often outside of these areas of South America there didn't seem to be a lot of recipes on the internet discussing what to do with an abundance of fruit. There was some suggestion that it could be made into a drink of sorts and that it is often used as a salsa or hot sauce in Peru. Taking these suggestions to heart Roland incorporated some cocona puree into this week's round of kombucha (around here known as “the booch”). We will see what that comes out like in a couple of days. And, that gallon of fermented goodness didn't even use half the batch that had been picked. So, hot sauce was next on the agenda.

To make the hot sauce I started by putting all the cocona in a big pot just as they were, skins, stems, fuzz everything. I then filled the pot about ¾ full with water, put a lid on and turned the heat on med high. I simmered them for about 20 minutes until the skin was shriveled and the insides soft. After letting them cool, I slit them open and scooped out the flesh inside into a bowl. I ended up with about 6 cups. Now, just so you know, you can use them raw for like a salsa fresca kind of thing. Just cut them in half and scoop out the flesh. It could be used most places you would use tomato but it is defintely more tart so adjust accordingly.

Next, I went out to our high tunnel screen house and picked a bowl full of the local red, little, sweet peppers we have lots of, and about 10 chocolate habeneros. I cut the tops off the habeneros and threw them in the vitamix and did the same with about half the red peppers. So the peppers filled the blender about half way up. I then poured in all the cocona juice/pulp (about 3 cups) and blended it all up into a smooth puree. It was pretty hot and tangy.

I poured out about 2 cups of the puree into a pot and set it aside as the blender was getting too full to add anything else. Then I added some sea salt, about 4 ripe bananas and blended again. It was almost there. I added a bit of tamari to deepen the flavor and to add a wee touch more saltiness. I also added maybe a tablespoon of sherry vinegar to keep it bright and balanced, blended it one more time and called 2014 Lokelani Lava Sauce #1.

As for the stuff in the pot I wanted to try a cooked version of the hot sauce and I wanted to use some of the many lilikoi that sat in the 5 gallon bucket next to me. I was thinking of something sweet and smoky so I poured in about ½ cup of lilikoi syrup that I already had on hand. I wanted more of a lilikoi flavor so I juiced the rest of the lilikoi and added in about 1 cup of lilikoi juice to the pot. I let this mix simmer for about 30 minutes. After turning off the heat I added about ¼ cup of honey and 2 tsp of smoked applewood salt. Et Voila, 2014 Lokelani Lava Sauce #2. And, it is pretty tasty if I do say so myself. It was especially good on the slices of baked plantains I had just made as a recipe test for Mark Reinfeld's upcoming Healing with Vegan Foods cookbook.

So that is how it rolls here on a July morning at Rancho Lokelani. I still have several cups of lilikoi juice to work on but I'll save that for the next post – lilikoi jam and lilikoi butter (vegan style). And then there's all things Vanilla to talk about as well. So many things to think about and work on here on this verdant slice of the tropics. Until next time.

Mahalo nui loa and Aloha,

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Changes at Greensong Botanicals

After several years of providing hand made herbal body products for sale here, we have decided to change things up!

At the the moment the product descriptions remain here for your information. I am in the process of providing the recipes for all of these products along with links for the raw materials and perhaps this will serve as an inspiration to make your own! The links go to Mountain Rose Herbs a company I have happily been using since the 80's. They have lots of integrity, use local sources as much as possible,otherwise look for organic, fiartrade and ethically wildcrafted suppliers. They contribute to local Eugene culture and economics and are just nice folks. Clicking through on the links takes you to their website and if you happen to buy anything there it also benefits me without costing you anything extra. In the spirit of honesty and transparency I wanted you to know this and in my view it provides a benefit to you, me, Mountain Rose and their suppliers which is the way I like to do business. If all business could be of benefit to all those involved inthe transactions the world would become a very lovely place indeed!

I will be offering a few new herbal items for sale. Also, I have been distilling some Kauai hydrosols made from plants our gardens such as ylang ylang flowers, white sage, lavender and Kaffir lime leaf.

our new labels

Vanilla beans have taken on a larger and primary role in our garden here on Kauai and so extract and beans from our own garden will be available. As well as, vanilla infused perfume and culinary oils which smell amazing.

I have been working on some hand crafted natural perfumes made from vanilla infused oil, of course, some of our own distilled essential oils and hydrosols and from flowers from our garden, such as jasmine, whose fragrances have been captured by an old technique called enfleurage. And finally there will be botanically inspired hand made jewelry to round out the new incarnation of Greensong Botanicals.

One last thing to mention is that I have started teaching again. I have joined Vegan Fusion as a certified vegan chef and I will be teaching teaching several 2-day vegan/raw cooking intensives on Kauai in August, in Oregon in October and possibly in Italy in November. I am also teaching 2 herbal classes in Paris in late October one will be on The Essential Nature of Plants and the other will be more of a hands-on making herbal concoctions and remedies focusing on things for Winter and holidays. You can find more information on these classes on the classes and workshop page.

Thanks for checking us out and for all your support these past years. I look forward to meeting up with you again and sharing with you the beautiful botanical bounty of this garden island of Kauai.