Friday 24 April 2015

What to do with dandelions?

Every herb lover has their own favourite story about dandelions (Taraxacum officinale). Brigitte Mars has written a whole book about the plant. Susun Weed has an entertaining chapter written in a French accent in her original Menopause book about dandelion and virtually every herb book mentions it either as part of the materia medica or in passing.  It is a versatile and valuable plant.

Dandelion is native to both Europe and Asia as part of the Asteracea family. There are many, many species which live happily side by side. You may be lulled into thinking the leaves and roots are the only parts used since the various actions of digestive, bitter tonic, diuretic, mild laxative, cholagogue, depurative, anti-inflammatory and antilithic are only applied to those two areas of the plant.

Historically, this may have been the case, along with applying the flower stem sap to warts, but there is one other part, the flower which also has a variety of interesting and beneficial uses. Spring is the time when flowers burst upon the scene in all their golden glory but it is still possible to come across them in sheltered corners at the edge of winter.

If you want to harvest dandelion roots at their most bitter, dig them in early spring when all the sugars gathered during the summer have been used. The roots can be tinctured fresh or dried or can be stored as dry roots for a tea or decoction through the year. If you are drying the roots it is best to slice them into one inch lengths and half them if the root is particularly thick.

I like to harvest my roots in autumn when they are fat and sweet. My favourite recipe is to make a bitter. You can also make dandelion root vinegar and eat the pickled roots in salads.

Dandelion Bitter
Take a mixture of roasted and fresh dandelion roots. Add a handful of fresh or dried orange peel, 1tsp dried ginger or ½-1 inch diced or grated root ginger plus a small handful of either brown or green cardamom pods for added warming effect.
Fill a glass jar with chopped root, peel and spices, cover with vodka for 3 weeks in dark cold place, strain and use. Dose is ½ -1 tsp. 15 minutes before eating or after a heavy meal to release stagnant feeling.

The root is mildly laxative and acts as a bitter digestive and liver tonic, enhancing both appetite and digestion, increasing the flow of digestive juices and aiding absorption.  Where there are no obstructions, it supports the liver in its function as a major detoxifying organ. Dandelion is recommended in liver and gall bladder problems, hepatitis and problems associated with a sluggish liver which may manifest as tiredness, irritability, headaches and skin problems.  

Dandelion’s ability to stimulate bile secretion means that it is contra-indicated if you have an obstruction in the bile duct or gallbladder. I know to my cost that taking a bitter during an inflammatory gall bladder attack makes the pain much worse!

It has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to treat arthritis and rheumatism. It is thought to increase the flow of insulin from the pancreas so may be helpful in supporting people with diabetes.

Dandelion leaves support the kidneys. Their diuretic properties make them useful in water retention, cellulitis and urinary tract infections. Unlike pharmaceutical diuretics which leach potassium from the body, sometimes in dangerous levels, dandelion leaves have a high potassium content, pleasing that lost through increased urination. The leaves can also dissolve stone and gravel, improving the elimination of uric acid, thus making it a helpful remedy for gout.

If you want to harvest leaves, it is best to gather them before flowers appear as the bitterness of the leaves becomes stronger and makes them less palatable. If you want to make a dandelion leaf soup with other vegetables, look for the youngest, sweetest leaves, but even the oldest can make a fresh accompaniment to strong cheese sandwiches.

Dandelion’s ability to increase elimination of toxins and waste products through the liver and kidneys, make it a wonderful ally for skin issues.  It can be used for spots, acne, boils and abscesses often through applications of both leaf and flower infusions. Do be aware that the milky latex in the older leaves and flower stem can cause dermatitis in some people.

Dandelion flowers make one of the first flower essences of the year. Their energetic signature brings joy throughout the year.

Dandelion flower essence
Fill a glass jar or bowl with spring water, cover with dandelion flowers and leave in the sun for three hours. Remove the flowers with a twig or clean spoon and measure 50ml of infused liquid into a jug or glass bottle. Add an equal amount of brandy to preserve the infusion. This is the mother essence and can be diluted further to make a stock essence. Dose is three drops under the tongue three times a day or every half hour in a crisis. Drops can also be added to a glass of water and sipped.

Dandelion flowers also have an affinity with breast tissue and can used to break up benign congestion through appropriate massage. NB Always get any abnormality in breast tissue checked first! The oil can also be used for light muscle massage to relieve pain.

Dandelion Flower Oil
Pick an amount of dandelion flowers and divide into two. Place half of the herb inside the inner pan  if you are suing a double boiler or inside a glass jar or plastic bowl if you are using a slow cooker and cover with sunflower  oil (or your oil of choice). Replace the lid firmly and place inside the other saucepan or slow cooker which is about half filled with water. Heat the external saucepan so that the water gently boils. Do not let the pan boil dry! Boil for about 2 hours, then remove the inner pan and strain off the oil, squeezing the herb if you can to remove as much oil as possible. Place the rest of the herb inside the inner pan and pour over the oil from the first infusion. Replace the lid firmly and heat the oil in the outer pan for a further two hours. Strain the oil into a heated glass bottle or jar and cap with a screw top lid. If using fresh herb, let the infused oil sit for about three days to make sure any water content separates out. Decant oil. If water drops are left in the infused oil it will go off more quickly. Label the oil with the name and date that you made it.

Make a salve by heating 1oz of beeswax with 8-10 fluid ounces of infused oil. Pour into clean jars but do not seal until cold.  A mixture of dandelion and violet leaf oils make a really nice breast tissue massage medium.

Dandelion flowers also make delightful syrups either on their own or mixed with hawthorn flowers and red clover  in spring or rosehips and sloes in autumn. 

Derbyshire Delight
Pick an amount of fresh dandelions, red clover flowers and stalks and hawthorn flowers. Remove the dandelion petals and centres from any green bits. Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Strain and measure liquid. Clean saucepan. Return liquid to the pan and simmer with the lid off until the liquid is reduced by 7/8s. Add honey in the ratio of 1pint to1lb honey. Stir gently until honey is dissolved. Pour into heated, sterilized bottles. Seal when cold. Label and date.

Whatever the season, dandelion will be by your side to offer comfort, healing or joy in the world around you.

Thursday 16 April 2015

What to do with Bramble?

Brambles (Rubus fruticosus) grow everywhere. David Attenborough once called them the most efficient and aggressive coloniser of any free space. The perennial bush produces biennial stems which arch or trail along the ground bearing large thorns to deter predators. Blackberries are produced from the second year stem and have been eaten by animals and humans for thousands of years.

Many people consider brambles to be vicious and unforgiving. I thought the same until I began using different parts of the bush medicinally. Now I count it a useful resource available all year round. It’s astringent properties are often ignored by herbalists in favour of its domesticated cousin, raspberry, (Rubus idaeus) but it has many similar properties and is free!

Bramble foraging begins in winter, when the roots can be harvested for vinegar along with general woodland, hedgerow, field or garden clearing. It is a useful remedy for diarrhoea and has been known to give relief from the pain of IBS flare-ups. I’ve used it to calm my digestive system down when faced with a stressful day which began with a long car journey, especially when time was tight and did not allow frequent comfort stops.

Bramble vinegar
Dig up at least six bramble roots. Cut the new leaves from any briars before discarding. Remove excess soil from roots then scrub in cold water until all soil is removed. Rinse roots in fresh water and chop into small, 1 inch pieces with secuteurs. Place bramble leaves in a large glass jar (2lbs) and snip with long scissors. Add the root pieces and cover with cider vinegar. Poke well with a chopstick to remove air bubbles and fill the jar again so no part of the root or leaf is exposed to the air. Egg shells can be added if you want extra mineral content. These will disappear over time as they are dissolved by the vinegar. Label and date the jar.

Place in a warm, dark place for three weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain off all the roots and leaves, squeezing leaves to remove excess vinegar. Strain the vinegar again through a fine sieve or kitchen paper to remove any soil. Pour into clean bottle with screw top lid. Label and date the bottle.

Use in salad dressings, when making stock to extract minerals from bones or with honey and boiling water to make a soothing drink. If taking medicinally, add 1tsp of vinegar to a small amount of water (I usually add 1-2 tsps. to a shot glass full of water) and sip.

Brambles in spring
It can be a privilege handling the spring roots of bramble. You see the old, hard wood of the previous year and new, red-tinged shoots. It provides a totally new perspective on spring and on this plant. It can be a wonderful experience sitting on a warm patio in the sunshine stroking the velvet softness of new leaves and combing through the root hairs with your fingers prior to scrubbing.

If you want to make a different vinegar, add half roots and half newly emerging shoots to your jar.

Bramble shoots, seen before the leaves fully emerge can be harvested and either eaten raw or lightly sautéed in butter to make a delightful addition to a foraged meal. They have their own unique flavour – a mixture of “green” and nutty – which is both unexpected and very pleasant. Don’t try to eat fully formed leaves as they have barbs on the underside.

Both the leaves and the insides of brambles with the thorns and hard exterior removed can be made into a stomach calming tea which is particularly helpful for children.

Blackberry Flower Essence
When blackberry flowers emerge, a flower remedy can be made from them. All you need is a clean glass bowl, jam jar or drinking glass, enough flowers to cover the top and spring or purified water. Fill the bowl with water and sprinkle the flowers on the surface of the water so it is entirely covered. Leave the bowl outside in sunshine for three hours. Remove the flowers with something other than metal or your hand e.g. a stick and pour 50ml of fluid into a clean dark bottle. Add 50 ml of brandy. Label the bottle and date. 

Blackberry Flower Essence helps to translate goals and intentions into action by connecting someone more effectively with their will. The soul has many lofty visions and desires but may be unable to manifest what needs to be achieved. Such people are often quite perplexed about the gap between their aims and what they actually accomplish. They give much consideration to their intentions but lack the ability to organize these thoughts into specific priorities, or to manifest and execute such goals.

On an energetic level, such people often have a great deal of light around the head, which does not radiate and circulate throughout the body. The blood is often sluggish, as is the entire lower metabolism. As the light comes more into the limbs, the soul feels greater inner power to take real action in the world and to translate what is spiritual into actual change in the world. Blackberry flower essence helps to chanel this radiant, awakened light to the will-life of the human soul.

As summer moves into autumn, blackberry flowers mature into drupes and produce the familiar blackberry. Not every black berry is the same as there are over three hundred varieties of both blackberry and dewberry, several of which can co-exist and hybridise in the same field.

Blackberries are an ancient remedy for combatting diarrhoea and dysentery. I learned my home nursing from my mother. She taught me to starve anyone with a tummy bug for 24 hours and then gradually introduce dry and easily digested food whilst offering suitable fluids throughout to keep the sufferer hydrated.

If symptoms don’t improve after three days, seek medical advice (earlier with young children). Whole blackberries shaken with powdered cinnamon can be helpful in managing loose stools. The eclectic American herbalist, Ellingwood used to offer a blackberry cordial, made in a similar fashion to elderberry cordial, as a drink.

If you are looking for some thing to help improve access to vitamin C either for yourself and your family, a tasty syrup can be made from blackberries and rosehips.

Blackberry and Rosehip Syrup
Small bowl of blackberries and rosehips (1/2lb of each)
1 inch of fresh ginger root peeled and chopped (or you could grate it whole)
3/4  whole nutmeg grated
1 cinnamon stick broken up
4 cloves
runny honey
Juice of a lemon
alcohol of your choice (brandy, sherry, a good whiskey, vodka etc)

Wash the blackberries and rosehips. Place in a heavy bottomed saucepan and cover with water. Simmer over a low heat for half an hour. Mash the blackberries and rosehips to a pulp with a potato masher and cook on the lowest heat for another 15-30 minutes. Strain the liquid through a plastic sieve and measure the volume. Wash out the saucepan. Return the liquid to the pan together with a lb of runny honey for every pint of liquid. Heat gently until honey is dissolved. Add juice of a lemon. This can now be poured into clean, sterile bottles and sealed and kept in the fridge to use with children and anyone who doesn't like/can't have alcohol. To preserve the syrup without keeping in a fridge (but in a cold place) add alcohol to taste. Using 1/4pint alcohol to every pint of original liquid should be an adequate preservative.

You can make jams, jellies and pies with blackberries on their own, but the flavour is very strong. Blackberries reduce the amount of sugar/sweetening you need to add to apples and makes a better flavour combination and texture. If you are cooking for anyone with crumbling or sensitive teeth it is better to sieve the blackberries before adding to any cooking.

Blackberry and apple puree
Peel, core and slice 2-3 large cooking apples and add to a saucepan together with 1-2 large handfuls of washed blackberries. Add sugar and a dash of water (put saucepan under cold tap for one second) then heat the saucepan gently with stirring and simmer until the apples are soft. Sieve the mixture to remove all pips and serve as a fruit fool (by adding ½ pint cold puree to ½ pint cold thick custard to ½ pint double cream), with natural yoghurt, cream or custard. The puree freezes well.

Blackberry and apple pie
Fill the bottom of a pie dish with peeled, cored and sliced cooking apples and blackberries in the ratio of 2/3:1/3. Sprinkle sugar over the top and a small amount of water. Put a pie centre in the middle of the dish. Make approximately 4oz of shortcrust pastry (4ozs flour, 1oz vegetable fat or lard plus 1oz margarine or butter). Roll out the pastry. Cut a ½” strip of pastry to sit on the top of the pie dish edge then brush this with milk. Lift the remainder of the pastry to cover the pie dish and crimp the edges together with the strip of lining. Brush the top of the pie with egg wash and cook in a medium oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Blackberry and apple crumble
Peel, core and slice 2-3 large cooking apples and place in the bottom of a pie dish together with 1-2 good handfuls of washed blackberries. Sprinkle with sugar and add a small dash of water into the bottom of the dish. Make the crumble topping by rubbing together 4 ozs. flour with 2 ozs. of margarine or butter until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add 2 tblsps sugar and mix well. Pour the crumble over the fruit, knocking the edges of the pie dish carefully with your palm to ensure the crumble is evenly spread. Do not push the crumble mixture down firmly with your hand or a spoon. Cook in a medium oven for 15-20 minutes until done.

Blackberry and apple jam
4 lbs blackberries
1/2pt water
1.5lbs cooking/sour apples (prepared weight)
6lbs sugar
Pick over and wash the blackberries, place in a pan with 1/4pt water and simmer slowly until soft. Peel, core and slice apples and add the remaining 1/4pt water. Simmer slowly until soft and make into a pulp with a spoon or potato masher. Add the blackberries and sugar, bring to the boil and boil rapidly, stirring frequently until a setting point is reached. Pour into sterilised jars and cover. (Makes about 10lbs jam.)

Blackberry and apple jelly
4lb blackberries
2lbs cooking or crab apples
2pts water
Wash the blackberries. Wash and cut up the apples without peeling or coring. Put the fruit in the pan with the water and cook for about 1 hour until the fruit is really soft and turned to pulp. Strain through a jelly cloth overnight. Measure the extract and return it to the pan with 1lb sugar to every 1 pint liquid. Heat gently and stir until all the sugar is dissolved then boil rapidly until the setting point is reached. Remove any scum with a slotted spoon before pouring into small, sterilised jars and seal.

Sunday 12 April 2015

Of burns and bereavement

When a blogger fails to post for a long time, regular readers may wonder what is happening in real life to cause such silence. I rarely post about family events but on 9th February my mother died, following a long, debilitating struggle with ischaemic dementia which left her unable to move, speak or see. Death is a journey we all face alone and those who watch and share and wait can only wonder and hopefully grow through their own lessons offered during this time.

In my last paid employment, I spent eight years travelling around England training various organisations, including community nurses and army welfare officers, how to cope with loss and bereavement. I learned a great deal from the stories people shared and was able to make suggestions about things to look out for following bereavement.

The first was the lowering of immune health by grief which often causes the first twelve months to be fraught with viral infections and other more serious conditions, especially if a carer has neglected their own health to look after the person during the final period of their life.

The second was a propensity towards accidents and other events caused by a lowering of attention span or inability to be “sensible” or even to process information.

You could say that my gall bladder issues have stemmed from providing support to my parents over the years and neglecting my own health. On Thursday, March 26th 2015, I managed to burn/scald myself by tipping an overfull pan of boiling bolognaise sauce over my left thigh whilst trying to keep our back door from flying open in the wind. Whilst I was more concerned about losing half the contents of the saucepan, the accident provided a wonderful opportunity to learn about treating burns at home with herbs and other household products.

The general UK advice about treating burns can be found here It  says
  • Stop the burning process as soon as possible. This may mean removing the person from the area, dousing flames with water or smothering flames with a blanket. Do not put yourself at risk of getting burnt as well.
  • Remove any clothing or jewellery near the burnt area of skin. However, don't try to remove anything that is stuck to the burnt skin because this could cause more damage.
  • Cool the burn with cool or lukewarm water for 10 to 30 minutes, ideally within 20 minutes of the injury occurring. Never use ice, iced water or any creams or greasy substances such as butter.
  • Keep yourself or the person warm. Use a blanket or layers of clothing, but avoid putting them on the injured area. Keeping warm will prevent hypothermia, where a person's body temperature drops below 35ºC (95ºF). This is a risk if you are cooling a large burnt area, particularly in young children and elderly people.
  • Cover the burn with cling film. Put the cling film in a layer over the burn, rather than wrapping it around a limb. A clean clear plastic bag can be used for burns on your hand.
  • Treat the pain from a burn with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always check the manufacturer's instructions when using over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Children under 16 years of age should not be given aspirin.
What it doesn’t tell you is anything to aid the cooling or healing process. Nor does it identify first (reddened skin) or second (blisters) degree burns but only tells you when to head for hospital for
  • large or deep burns – any burn bigger than the affected person's hand
  • full thickness burns of all sizes – these burns cause white or charred skin
  • partial thickness burns on the face, hands, arms, feet, legs or genitals – these are burns that cause blisters
  • all chemical and electrical burns
Also get medical help straight away if the person with the burn:
  • has other injuries that need treating
  • is going into shock – signs include cold clammy skin, sweating, rapid shallow breathing and weakness or dizziness
  • is pregnant
  • is over 60 years of age
  • is under five years of age
  • has a medical condition such as heart, lung or liver disease, or diabetes
  • has a weakened immune system (the body's defence system), for example because of HIV or AIDS, or because they're having chemotherapy for cancer
Although my burn measured the distance from my knee to a hand’s width up my thigh with two blisters measuring 1” by ½”, I decided I preferred to stay at home rather than spend up to four hours in a crowded A&E department.  It’s been a while since I looked at first aid treatments for burns so I was unaware of the advice to cover with clingfilm. I did know the aim was to keep the skin intact if possible to reduce the chance of incurring infection.

After dropping the saucepan I removed my socks and trousers and rushed upstairs to kneel in the bath with my thigh under a running cold tap for as long as I could. I moved, reluctantly, when my toes told me they were developing frost bite. Then I sliced off two large aloe vera leaves from the triffid which sprawls over our upstairs window and lay on the sofa daubing the juice from the centre of the leaf onto the entire area of the burn.

It is amazing how aloe vera removes heat from burns. It is also really important NOT to treat a burn with any oil or salve until ALL the heat has gone. This is because oil traps heat underneath the application.

If you don’t have any aloe vera plants or juice then look to other cooling herbs – elderflower, rose, chamomile, bergamot (preferably wild monada fistulosa). These can be applied as a tea, herbal water or diluted infused herbal vinegar.

After a couple of hours, I used a St John’s wort salve that I had to hand since St John’s wort is specific for healing burns. I covered the burn area with clean cotton fabric (I use a piece of old sheet for most of my first aid treatments!) fastened at each end with micropore tape. I wanted the burn to be open to the air so it didn’t become soggy.

I didn’t take any painkillers because the soreness disappeared after the first night of sleep and the burn itself was only painful thereafter if pressed.

I continued treating with St John’s wort for three days. I was concerned that the blisters were still filled with liquid, so on the fourth day decided to try a honey poultice. I mixed calendula (for skin healing), St John’s wort and yarrow( to reduce any inflammation) oils with a teaspoon of honey (a gift from Cornish herbalist, Nick Jones, last August) and spread it over the wound. When using an oily poultice like this you do need to add a plastic backing unless you want stains all over your clothes!

Two days after applying the honey poultice, all the blisters had dried up and the burned skin area was diminishing. I then made up a salve from calendula, St John’s wort and yarrow and this has been applied twice daily ever since.

It takes at least three weeks for a burn to heal. I’m really pleased with how my burn is progressing.  It itches occasionally which tells me new skin is growing.  I try very hard not to scratch!

Two things I might have done differently would be to have applied a cooling vinegar or flower water after the aloe vera and not applied the salve until before bedtime (around 12 hours after the accident).  Knowing now how effective the honey was, I would have applied the poultice sooner and maybe made two applications (one per day) for two or more days.  If the wound had been worse I could also have applied a marshmallow root poultice to keep the area moisturised.

This summer I am also going to make a burns honey from apothecary’s rose, bergamot and evening primrose flowers. I made a jar several years ago when Kiva Rose Hardin first posted her recipe but no-one suffered with any burns so I ate the honey instead! Kiva Rose recommends the honey for burns where there is a chance of infection. Given how successful ordinary honey is at drawing moisture from a burn blister, I can see how an infused herbal honey would be even better.

Everyone hopes accidents will not happen but if they do, they provide a useful opportunity to learn new skills.

Saturday 4 April 2015

Dealing with Gout

Before approaching any condition, it’s as well to understand what is happening in the body before starting to treat.  Gout is one of those which affect joints but is not a form of arthritis. It is incredibly painful, can occur at any age and usually reoccurs unless changes to lifestyle and diet are adhered to.

Historically it has been associated with overweight, red-faced old men who love their roast beef and port and there are many depictions of such people in both eighteenth and nineteenth century cartoons and later novels. The sufferer’s pain has been seen as a cause of hilarity and general dismissal.

Put simply, gout is caused by an inability to process lactic acid which leads to a precipitation of uric acid crystals in joints instead of being excreted in urine. This may come from a genetic insufficiency. It is often caused by a diet rich in purines (a component of protein) coupled with large body mass and an underactive digestion.

Gout can happen to anyone, male or female at any age. It can occur in any joint but is most frequently experienced in toes or hands.  In my experience, gout usually occurs 

a)    after a lifetime of “good living” (lots of heavy, meat-driven meals accompanied by alcohol)
b)    after excessive stress or
c)    as a side effect of medication.

Treatment needs to consist of a four-pronged approach

  • pain relief,
  • anti-inflammatories,
  • something to break up and eliminate the uric acid crystals
  • lifestyle changes

They are all equally important. Once the initial attack is over, it is tempting for the sufferer to return to his or her previous lifestyle and ‘just avoid the food which triggers an attack.’ 

Unfortunately it is not that simple. Just because you are not in pain does not mean you are now effectively processing lactic acid. Uric acid crystals may still be building up in your joints and causing damage. It is best to make some long-term lifestyle changes and develop strategies to ensure your good health unless you are content to develop a chronic condition.

Let us look at the four areas in turn 

      Pain relief 

      Perhaps the most effective painkiller for gout is potato juice, 4-6 fluid ozs of juice made from uncooked potatoes taken every hour. It tastes dreadful and must be drunk fresh but does the trick. More palatable may be cherry, blackcurrant or blueberry juice (unsweetened). The dose is 6 to 8 ozs of “black/blue” fruit a day (fresh or frozen).  Taken for two weeks, this dosage will lower uric acid and will help to prevent attacks by reducing levels of uric acid.

      Cherries and other dark red berries (hawthorn berries and blueberries) contain anthocyanidins which increase collagen integrity and decrease inflammation.  You could also take 8 to 16 fl ozs. of cherry juice per day. A lower, maintenance dose of 4 fl ozs. per day can be continued as a preventative measure to guard against new attacks.  A supplement with high levels of proanthocyanadins can be used in addition during crisis or instead of cherries and blueberries during non-crisis times. 

      Reducing inflammation and eliminating uric acid crystals

These two factors need to be tackled together. When my husband developed gout in his hand following an incredibly stressful time at work, the doctor only prescribed anti-inflammatories which, to me, seemed worse than useless so I went to my herbs and he recovered quickly.

I used David Hoffman’s tried and tested formula of equal parts celery seed, burdock and yarrow. Wild carrot is another herbal diruretic which could be used. A gout sufferer needs to increase water intake significantly to help eliminate the uric acid crystals, so I made the celery seed (1tsp) and yarrow (1tsp) into a tea and added 1 tsp of burdock tincture as that was all I had available. Ideally alcohol should be excluded completely from the diet during an attack but I didn’t know this at the time. This dose is taken three times a day.

The principal reason for increasing liquid consumption (think 6-8 glasses per day) is to try to dilute the contents of the blood so that uric acid has less chance of precipitating out and depositing in the synovial fluid around joints.

Other foods which can help are apples, black currants, watercress, kale, strawberries, dandelion greens, potato, potato broth, chicory, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, parsnips, celery, olives, rye, lima beans, rice bran, bananas, sprouts, watercress.

Fresh juices are also helpful such as cherry juice, potato juice, celery and parsley juice, celery juice, carrot and spinach juice, carrot, beet, and cucumber juice or carrot, celery, and parsley juice, potato peeling broth, dried olive tea, nut milk and liquid chlorophyll.

Juices start to oxidize immediately they come into contact with air, so should be made fresh every time. If you are making a juice from fresh cherries, remove the stones first before juicing, otherwise you will damage your machine. 

      Lifestyle changes

Peter Bryam, a Connecticut herbalist, believes that gout can only be successfully treated with a complete lifestyle change to reduce any excess body mass and to maintain a diet which reduces or removes the chance of uric acid precipitation. He recommends a diet comprised of

  •  Protein 70% of Calories
  • Fat 12 -15% of Calories
  • Fiber 5-18% of Calories

He also suggests short juice fasts, which include supplementation with "super food" complexes, followed by a diet very low in purines if you are trying to lose weight. He warns against any kind of fast where only water is drunk because this will cause concentration of toxins and precipitate a gout crisis.

Bryam has put together a set of dietary "standards" or rules for individuals with gout.

  • Eliminate homogenized milk as it may be a source of xanthene oxidase which will increase levels of uric acid.  It may be necessary to switch to soy or nut milks.
  • Significantly restrict or completely eliminate purines in the diet.  Purines are organic compounds that contribute to the formation of uric acid in the system.  Purines increase lactate production which then competes (and loses) with uric acid for excretion.

Foods with high purine content are:
"Red" meats of any kind: goose, organ meats (e.g. liver, kidney, sweetbreads), shellfish (e.g. mussels, prawns),  anchovies, sardines, herring, mackerel,  baker's yeast, dry peas, alcohol, mincemeat, vitamin B3, ketones, coffee (even decaf), tea , cocoa, cola, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates,

Foods with a moderate amount of purines are:
"White" meats, poultry, spinach, asparagus, beans, lentils, mushrooms, fish and shellfish not listed above.

In addition to avoiding the above purine containing foods, Byram recommends not eating any foods cooked in heated oils. This includes anything labelled “fried” including "roasted" nuts.  It also means staying out of most restaurants or fast food establishments. 

Bryam reasons that fats used for cooking, once heated even a little, will oxidize and turn rancid very quickly and even though they don't necessarily taste bad when this happens, he believes they “have become poison for an individual with gout”.  He says that rancid fats destroy Vitamin E which is a major antioxidant that the body utilizes in cleaning up oxidative damage in the system.  Destruction of Vitamin E triggers the release of increased uric acid into the system which will promote an attack. 

Recently, I have become aware of people who develop gout as a side effect of their medication. It is really important to read all the small print on any tablets you are taking and see if there is a mention of gout as a side effect. If it is there, it is worthwhile eliminating high purine foods and alcohol from your diet and increasing your fluid intake before you experience an attack, rather than waiting for the pain and then acting.

Finally, I would like to discuss the issue of food as medicine. I have noticed that when I suggest something to someone who does not normally include herbs as medicines in their diet, they try to interpret what I have suggested into something they can easily understand and incorporate into their current lifestyle rather than taking on board exactly what I’ve said.

One example of this was an elderly gentleman who was suffering with extreme constipation. I suggested he try including fresh or dried figs in his diet. Both he and his daughter looked at me with a slightly puzzled expression and said, “Would bananas be as good?”

My second example comes from the wife of a transplant patient whose extremely painful gout came from his numerous medications. His doctors could do nothing for the pain. I suggested fresh potato juice but instead of trying this, she reinterpreted my suggestion as “leek and potato soup”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her she would probably see no effect whatsoever from the soup except as a comfort food because the medicinal pain relieving aspects came from concentrated fresh potato juice.

Celery is another case in point. Eating the vegetable either fresh or cooked will help but the diuretic effects will not be as great as using a tea made from the dried seeds. Including celery in your diet can be greatly beneficial but when a gout attack happens, use the concentrated form – the seeds.