The famous Angostura bitters, first made in Venezuela in
the early 19th century. "Photo by Clément Bucco-Lechat -
Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

At this time of year – deep into summer heat and humidity – plus during the Spleen time ruling digestion, there’s a wonderful beverage you can make to help you now: Bitters! The bitter flavor is cooling and dispersing, but it stimulates the release of bile, aiding digestion and elimination. All of these functions are especially perfect for August and September. So roll up your sleeves, pick your herbs, and make some bitters.

But first, what is a bitters drink?

Bitters refers to an alcoholic beverage that’s flavored with herbal essences with a bitter or bittersweet flavor. Bitters were supposedly first compounded in Venezuela in 1824 by German physician, Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, as a cure for sea sickness and stomach maladies. Historically, monasteries throughout the world made them. Then many were marketed as patent medicines. Now they’re considered digestives or even cocktails.

There are dozens of brands of bitters available today stemming from the original monastery names. Most are alcoholic although it’s possible to find some non-alcoholic ones. Typical herbs include gentian, orange peel, cassia, and quinine (from cinchona bark), although other bitter herbs may be used, such as yarrow flowers, wormwood leaves, dandelion root, artichoke leaf and blessed thistle leaves.  

Bitters benefit digestion because the bitter flavor stimulates the release of bile, helping the breakdown of fat and stimulating peristalsis in the intestines. This in turn helps resolve indigestion, food stagnation, constipation, and poor appetite in those with heat and excess (a tiny bit may be taken by others if balanced with warming or Blood-tonifying herbs).

Following is a simple bitters formula, although you can personalize your bitters and make them to taste using various herbs and spices as desired. There are many recipes available of varying complexity.

To Make Bitters:

Herbs: dandelion, yarrow, chamomile, citrus peel, ginger (this combination is good for weak digestion, constipation, and poor appetite).

Amounts: Use 4 oz. dried whole, cut or powdered herbs, or 8 oz. fresh, to 1 pint alcohol (vodka works well for light bitters; rum or brandy for dark bitters)

  1. Make a standard tincture by first powdering herbs and placing in a glass jar. Pour alcohol over the herbs and cover tightly. Shake the jar daily for two weeks. Strain through cheesecloth, keeping liquid and tossing herbs.
  2. Pour liquid into a bottle or small decanter with lid.
  3. If desired, cut the bitters with water: measure amount of resulting bitters and add half that amount in water.

13. Pour final bitters mix into a dark bottle, label, and store in a cool dark place. Keeps several years.

To Make a Bittersweet Bitters:

Make a syrup and then add the above tincture to it until the desired taste is achieved, up to 25% of the final volume. Syrups could be made with wild cherry bark.

Syrup for Bittersweet Bitters:

Amounts: Use 1 quart water, 2 oz. herbs, and 1 cup honey. Yields about 1 pint syrup.

1) Make tea of desired herbs, either infusion or decoction as appropriate.

2) Slowly simmer tea until only half remains, about a pint.

3) Strain. While simmering on very low heat, add 1 cup honey. Stir until dissolved.

4) After cooling, pour into bitters, mix, bottle, and cap tightly.

Dose for Bitters: Typically bitters are taken anywhere from several drop doses up to 1 teaspoon, 30 minutes before eating. As well, a dash may be added to another drink for flavoring.

To feel healthy, strong, vibrant, and vital each day sets the stage for all the other virtues, hope and interest. We will all eventually pass away sooner or later, but we owe it to ourselves to feel as good as we can each day we are alive. Since I happen to believe that good (non-fanatical) nutrition is the basis of health and well-being, and I’ve made it thus far to a pretty youthful and vibrant three quarters of a century by May of this year, I’d like to think I can discuss a thing or two about preserving wellness in the long haul.

Gratitude

Find something to be thankful for. I actually have a large printed sheet stuck to the ceiling over my bed that says "Gratitude" to remind me of this virtue.

Accentuate the positive

In the morning and at night before bed, take a moment to offer at least the possibility of giving and receiving love and blessings to anyone with whom you may be in conflict. Remember, at some level, we are all just actors on the stage of life. If you keep wanting tragedy and discontent, focus on the negative emotions of jealousy, resentment, hurt, envy, and so forth; if you want joy and happiness, focus on love, light and a joyous heart. This is important, but it need take no more than a conscious minute or two.

Make time to meditate

This could be as little as five minutes in the morning and before bed.  For meditation I have found a wonderful app called Insight Timer. Set any amount of time you wish to meditate to the sound of Tibetan gong bells. It also has a number of excellent guided meditations that you can use. Currently I do anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes each morning, but just taking a moment to tune in and touch the source of all that is ever present at the base of your consciousness each day, once, twice or more often, is arguably the most empowering act you can do for yourself.

Exercise

Perform some simple yogic, tai chi or qi gong stretches – whatever you have time to do. As time permits I may also put in some aerobic activity: a jog of a mile or two, time on the elliptical, a walk, whatever.

Start the day with a dynamite smoothie

Now for the fun and delicious part: my ever-evolving breakfast health smoothie. In the recipe below I’m also sharing the point values for anyone following the Weight Watchers weight management plan.

You will need the following:

  • Almond milk, unsweetened or one cup of non-fat milk (1 or 2 points)
  • Paradise ORAC Energy Protein and Greens.  "ORAC" stands for "Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity." This is, in my unsolicited opinion, the best superfood combination I have found on the market. It combines the antioxidant power of over 24 servings of non-GMO, pesticide-free, certified organic vegetables and fruits, supplying complete amino acids and 22 grams of protein based on green peas per each two scoop serving. (3 points)
  • Walnuts, 6 halves (2 points)
  • One banana (0 points)
  • Berries, any kind, fresh or raw (0 points)
  • Chia seeds, 1 tsp (1 point)
  • Red Star brewer’s yeast (1 point)
  • Local bee pollen (optional)
  • Whole milk yogurt, 1 tablespoon (optional)
  • ¼ tsp each cinnamon, ginger, clove, cardamom, nutmeg powders: These spices not only add flavor but counteract the cold energy of the other ingredients and assist digestion and assimilation.

Blend these together and enjoy. Take each morning or more often as desired.

For a total of only eight Weight Watchers points and the satisfaction of knowing that you have satisfied your vegetable needs for the day and enough protein and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids from the walnuts and chia seeds to satisfy your daily requirement of that important fat nutrient. It is unlikely that you will be hungry again until at least until the middle of the afternoon and you can snack on some seeds, almond or make another smoothie with different ingredients such as soy milk, pineapple, mixed fruits, peanut, almond or cashew butter.

This is the most high-density protein and nutrient food-drink you can make and either starting the morning with it or using it as a restricted food for a week, will melt pounds off of your body and build health and wellness.

This sure works for me. If you try it, leave a comment and let me know what you think!

scaledudeThe word is finally getting out. Approximately one third of Americans are overweight. As a result, they suffer from a number of metabolic diseases such as arthritis, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The health problems arising from this condition result in literally billions of dollars in additional health care costs.

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, beginning at 5:30 PM PST I will offer a free 1½ hour webinar on safe, balanced weight loss. Please register in advance for participation.

In advance of that webinar, I would like to offer a few ideas that you might find useful and that we will talk further about during the webinar. Even incorporating a few of these into your daily routine can make a big difference in your ability to shed those unwanted pounds over time.

Foods and food quality

 Eat whole, pure foods. Before you reach for that extra fatty, sugary, starchy something ask yourself the questions, "Is it worth it?" and "Am I willing to wear it?"

Eat as many fresh vegetables and fruit as you can.

Everyday, be sure to eat quality protein, such as a 3-ounce serving of meat, 2 eggs, dairy including milk and yogurt, or beans.

Satisfy cravings with proteinaceous foods such as nuts, hard boiled eggs, and non-fat yogurt.

Try to eat more slowly, giving your appetite time to catch up with your hunger.

Don’t be afraid to discard or donate excess food. For many of us in our time and place, overeating is more of a problem than starvation and the earth is always ready to renew itself with our discarded waste and food. Parents: don’t eat your children’s leftovers. This can be the bane of many parents who fail to lose weight.

Restaurants are notorious for large portions. In most cases, you can easily eat only half of what is given and save the leftovers for a delicious meal the following day.

Whenever possible, share desserts.

It is often better to have a small bite of something that may not be so good for you in your adventure in weight loss than to struggle with unsustainable self-denial.

Do snack. Studies have shown that eating small amounts throughout the day charges your metabolism. For such occasions, carry a bag of seeds or nuts to help satisfy some of those hunger cravings for things that are not so good.

Don’t miss meals! Having said this, while breakfast is usually considered the most important meal of the day, if you are not hungry or have overeaten the previous day, you might wait until midmorning brunch and or have something light such as fruit or a low-calorie high-protein fruit smoothie.

Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Whenever possible, drink first and eat later, or better yet, learn to recognize the difference.

Accountability

Keep a diet diary or use one of a number of online diet diary calculators. Most of us get fat because we lose awareness and control over what we eat.

Check the scale regularly, one to three times weekly.

If you begin an exercise routine, keep in mind that muscle weighs more than fat; with added muscle, the body tends to have higher metabolism and burn calories more efficiently. Do not get discouraged because the scale does not reflect weight loss. Instead, use a tape measure to measure your abdomen, arms and thighs and track your progress that way.

Lifestyle

Adequate sleep is vitally important to any weight loss program. One of the reasons we eat so much is because we are chronically tired and we learn to use food as a temporary metabolic stimulant. I think this is one of the biggest reasons many people are over their healthy weight.

On the other hand, make it a habit to get at least 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a day. Gardening, by the way, is fabulous exercise. Find ways to get more movement in your life such as taking the stairs rather than the elevator. Consider listening to audiobooks while exercising, jogging or walking.

Triphala and Garcinia

Triphala and Garcinia cambogia are traditional and the best supplements to use for weight loss and weight maintenance. I’ve put these two herbs together in Planetary Formulas’ Triphala-Garcinia Program. I know the research doesn’t support the extravagant weight loss claims attributed to the use of garcinia, but taking three 1300 mg tablets of this formula along with an 8-ounce glass of water a three times a day, a half hour before meals is an effective supplement when accompanied with a comprehensive dieting and lifestyle program.

Among Triphala’s myriad uses as a key treatment in Ayurvedic medicine is weight regulation through whole body detoxification. Triphala, comprised of three fruits, amla (Terminalia emblica), haritaki (Chebulic myrobalan) and bibhitaki (Beleric myroblan). Each fruit corresponds to each of the three doshas or humours of the body, harmonizing, detoxifying and eliminating all excesses in a balanced way. It is the most effective herbal antioxidant and among its many uses, it optimizes digestion, assists liver detoxification, prevents accumulation of fatty deposits throughout the body including the circulatory system, and normalizes bowel function with no dependency.

Garcinia inhibits the liver enzyme that turns carbohydrates into fat. It also quells hunger.

The basic strategy for the use of herbs for weight loss is to help digestion and promote detoxification. Additionally, many overweight people have an underactive thyroid gland, which causes low metabolism. Because of its iodine content, kelp or bladderwrack provide the essential nutrients necessary for the production of thyroid hormone. These are all found in Planetary’s Triphala-Garcinia Program.

 

Kichari: An Ideal Food for Balanced Weight Management

Kichari is an ideal food for all healing and is especially useful for promoting balanced weight loss, treatment of insulin resistance, Syndrome X and diabetes. It makes an ideal food consumed occasionally or as a mono-diet over extended periods of time.

Kichari, commonly known as "mung dahl" in Indian restaurants basically consists of split yellow mung beans and white basmati rice cooked with the three basic spices of turmeric, cumin and coriander, rock salt and ghee or clarified butter.

This basic recipe can be served alone or with the addition of complementary spices such as asafetida, and various vegetables to make a stew. As such the combination of carbohydrate and beans make a complete protein with which the addition of ghee and spices are easily digested.

For much more on kichari, plus multiple recipes, please see my previous blog:

Kichari: The Food of the Gods

High-Protein Breakfast Smoothie

I often like to start the day with a breakfast smoothie using 1 cup of whole or non-fat milk (lower calories), or a nut milk such as almond milk.

Next I add a protein- vegetable- and fruit-rich powder. Often, I use two scoops of Orac’s Protein and Greens which contains 17 grams of pea protein. To this I add:

6 walnut halves

1 teaspoon of bee pollen

1 tablespoon of brewer’s yeast

1 banana

Berries, frozen or fresh

Perhaps an occasional mango

For digestion and metabolic warmth I might add ½ teaspoon each of ginger, cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg.

Starting the day off with this high-energy superfood will usually satisfy all my hunger urges for a half-day or more.

The next two meals might consist of a bowl of kichari.

Be sure to register for the weight loss webinar on Oct. 1 where I will present traditional natural approaches to weight management based on ancient principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and modern naturopathic approaches!

I don’t know what it is about the holidays and me, but when this time of year comes around I think about spices. It’s probably because of the season – winter, colder weather, Kidney time – and spicing up meals enhances all three of these. So once again I give you something about spices, although this time with a different twist -- I’ve found a perfect book not only for your kitchen, but as a lovely gift option as well.

Titled, Healing Spice: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Diseases, this fabulous book by Bharat B. Aggarwai with Debora Yost (Sterling, 2011) does exactly what it says: presents 50 spices along with their health uses, science, how to buy and use them, and my favorite part – recipes!

I was so inspired by this book that I completely restocked our spice cabinet, throwing out a lot of old stuff, cleaning up the mess and bringing in just those spices we wanted and would use. Now when I open the spice cabinet I can easily grab the ones I want. It has become a delight to use them rather than a burden to find them. As well, this book inspired me to create my own spice blends (another great gift idea, by the way).

How often do we think of spices as medicine? How many people know that our "lowly" kitchen spices are some of our most potent healing herbs? According to Aggarwai, "(W)orldwide scientific research has linked spices to the prevention and treatment of more than 150 health problems, including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s."

Many people know that ginger aids digestion and treats motion sickness, and turmeric is good for pain and arthritis. But how many know that caraway is a folk remedy to prevent and control blood sugar problems and that its daily intake for two weeks normalized blood sugar in rats? How many cooks know that a compound in star anise is used as the "starter ingredient" for Tamiflu, the most commonly prescribed drug for flu? How many realize that a vanillin-derived drug significantly reduced the percentage of sickle cells in rats, becoming a potential new agent for those with sickle cell anemia?

Do you cook with fennel, fenugreek, asafetida, juniper berry, ajowan or tamarind? All of these highly flavorful herbs also have tremendous health benefits. Many of these spices aid digestion, improving appetite and eliminating gas and bloating. Of course just a dash of spice won’t heal your arthritis, but continued use of these spices does have beneficial effects on health and prevents disease.

So go ahead – spice up your life this holiday and help others to do so, too! Here’s a spice recipe I love that you may enjoy, too. I made this so often recently that I decided to combine all the spices in one large batch for easy use in the future. However, if you choose to do so, keep the seeds separate from the powders; they brown at different rates. 

KORMA

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil or sesame oil
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground clove
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 Tblsp chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Directions:

1) Heat ghee or oil in a large pan and add fennel and fenugreek seeds. After heating for a few seconds, add the remaining spices. Cook for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring, until browned.

2) Mix in onion and garlic and sauté on medium heat until onion is near translucent.

3) Place yogurt and salt (and red pepper if desired) in blender. Cool spice/onion/garlic mix and then blend with yogurt/salt until smooth. Add yogurt to thin as needed.

4) Stir into or pour over warm, cooked meat (chicken, beef, lamb), and vegetables (I like to use one carrot, halved and sliced, 1 cup cauliflower florets, 1 cup fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces and/or one red bell pepper cut into pieces). Garnish with parsley.

5) Enjoy!

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