Before industrialization, people used to have their main meal earlier in the day, rather than as the last meal - this was probably the practice in most cultures and places. People everywhere were more tuned into the cycles of nature that we’re a part of. In Ayurveda, this is framed as the digestive 'fire' mirroring the peak of the sun in the day. So you might think that digestion is stronger in the summer with the more intense sun, but actually the opposite is true.
It's the digestive fire that generates a bigger appetite in winter. It’s stronger when there's more need for warmth in the body’s core and to help digest heavier, richer foods that add a warm layer (which nature helps to shed in spring with light, cleansing greens).
In the summer, the heat moves to the surface and out through sweat which cools us down, so the digestive fire is weaker. The complicated thing is that we're naturally going to want coolness, but too much coolness in our gut further dampens the digestive fire. And that could result in congestion in the gut or lungs, which can lead to summer colds or to greater susceptibility to colds a few months later. Inadequate digestion of food results in gunk, known as ama in Ayurveda, which is the starting point for discomfort, and if it builds up over time, for more serious disease.
Even plain, room temperature water dampens digestive fire, which is why people who are trying to manage their appetite better may be advised to drink water if they feel hungry between meals. Many fruits are also energetically cooling even if they are not chilled, as are salads - things people are drawn to in warmer months.
This is why in India people often add some kind of warming spice, like black salt or cumin, to fruit or water in summer. The Indian version of fruit salad has salt and black pepper at minimum, and often has some cumin and red chilli also. Raw food - with the exception of ripe fruit and very light greens - is harder on the digestive system for many people, so that's another thing to be wary of. Balancing energetically cool things with warming spices, or bean or roasted veg salads are good ideas, as is limiting the amount of chilled food and drink - but fine to have sometimes!
Preston Park, Brighton BN1 6SD
Sunday April 28th 2-4.30pm
Wild plants serve important functions for insect and other wildlife, but many can also serve as food and medicine for us! Come along to this walk in Preston Park and skill up in another way to reduce waste. Some of the plants considered weeds, and sadly subjected to pesticides, have traditionally been used as food and medicine around the world. The fact that they are so abundant and resilient means that with care and respect, they can be responsibly harvested. Some are like vitamins, which could replace the supplements that comes in packaging and don't offer the bioavailability that fresh whole plants do.
Even just small amounts of wild plants into our food and drink injects some more vitality, or prana, into us, and at this time of year is really important to do to break up the heaviness of winter. We'll also look at some useful medicinal plants, and explore the elements and how they shift with seasons, and how we can shift accordingly to stay more balanced. Ayurveda is about living in alignment with nature, so connecting with the local nature we are a part of, and seasonal changes, is key!
The meeting point is in Preston Park - location details will be sent to registrants. There are pay-it-forward options to help fund the same types of walks for a group of local refugees with an interpreter. You can book here.
Other events will include similar plant walks at different points in the year, and also rituals to connect more deeply with plants. Sign up here to stay updated.
On a related note, stop by Infinity Foods as soon as possible and fill in this postcard by Pesticide Action Network to tell all candidates in the local election to make Brighton pesticide-free! You can leave the postcard in the box at the shop, so super easy.
About a year ago, I began to notice that my knees sometimes hurt when I went down stairs (I live on the third floor (US)/second floor (UK)), but I didn’t pay too much attention to this - it wasn’t particularly painful, but it was something. Everyone has a certain mind-body constitutional make-up with unique areas of resilience and weakness - and for highly vata people like me, joint problems are not uncommon. This is because high amounts of vata - associated with air and space - can dry out lubrication in the joints. So, for example, my knees have clicked when I crouch down since I was a teenager, painless, but embarrassing!
Anyway, back to last year...later in the year, a volunteer at a community garden I was involved with mentioned she could tell whether it was raining out just by how her knees felt. Now, I’m sure you may have heard of older people complaining about this, but neither of us were remotely near that category, so I made a note to see if this happened to me. But last summer turned out to be first proper summer in England in a long time - it didn’t rain until some time in August.
Sure enough, on those rainy days, I realized that my knee pain on the stairs wasn’t random at all - I only had it on the rainy days. By accident, I also discovered a way to avoid having it. One day, I ate breakfast much later than usual - it ended up being more like a brunch. This was not deliberate, it just happened. On that rainy day, I didn’t experience any pain when I descended the stairs. Pondering what was different, I realized that I had inadvertently extended my overnight fast from 12 hours to something more like 16 hours. Of course, one day could just be chance, so I made a note to do an experiment the next time we had a prolonged stretch of rain - this being England, it was bound to happen at some time. I had to wait a while, but it happened - it was the first time I looked forward to weeks of continuous rain.
Happily, following the days I did a 16-hour overnight fast, my knees were fine on the stairs; 13-14 hours of fasting wasn’t enough. Everyone is different and has a different internal ecosystem, so effects of fasting will vary. For some people, an even longer overnight fast might be better. Moreover, not all joint pain is linked to rain. However, beyond my own personal experience, research is building up on the impacts of intermittent fasting on inflammation (which is a factor in nearly every chronic disease), detoxification - via autophagy (a way the body cleans out damaged and dead cells) and ketosis (which increases glutathione, a detoxifying agent), appetite and blood sugar regulation, and the body’s stress response (Longo and Mattson, 2014; Tello 2019).
Fasting is useful both to preserve health if one is fairly healthy, and to help improve health for those who may have particular problems. Yet it is not right for everyone, and at any rate, it’s best to try slowly - perhaps extending the overnight fast an hour at a time - and see how your body responds. If you’re not already doing a 12-hour overnight fast, then that’s a good practice that is fairly safe for everyone. This would look something like stopping food and drink intake (except for plain water) by 7pm and then not eating or drinking 7am.
The usual cautions exist - if you’re on medications, discuss with your doctor first. It’s also not something one should try while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Tello, Monique. Intermittent Fasting: Surprising update - Harvard Health Blog. June 29th, 2019. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/intermittent-fasting-surprising-update-2018062914156
Longo, V.D. and Mattson, M.P. (2014) Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications Cell Metabolism 19(2): 181-192
How sweet is this baby, slightly scraggly wild garlic (aka ramson) arising from the decomposing leaves of last fall? Every year, I mean to come look for it before it's out in full force in Preston Park, but never get around to it. This time I managed to. One week you can't see anything, and then suddenly these have erupted! I never fail to be awed by the seeming suddenness of spring growth. Of course, all kinds of activity goes on underground before our senses delight in the different shades of green and heady aromas of spring.
This photo is from a few weeks ago - I've been caught up in travel to the US to spend time with family - the wild garlic in Brighton is probably more lush now. It has been interesting to witness the drastic climatic differences between the NY metro area and Brighton - the snow here in NJ finally melted off the other day. In my 12 years of living in England and visiting the US, I hadn't yet come at this time of seasonal transition.
Alliums - the garlic and onion plant family - are somewhat polarizing in the world of Ayurveda. Ayurveda, like most herbal medicine traditions, recognizes the medicinal value of these plants (see below), but discourages consuming them as food. The reason being that they have certain properties which affect the subtle anatomy in less desirable ways. Garlic and onions, which are quite potent in flavor and smell, are thought to disturb the energy of the heart in particular. Whereas the ideal in Ayurveda is the state of sattva, or calmness and purity, garlic is considered rajasic - fiery and stimulating, and onions are considered tamasic - dulling. Most people are familiar with the sensory residue left after consuming alliums, which doesn't occur with other foods. However, some within the Ayurvedic community feel that there isn't a need to completely refrain from using garlic in food.
According to this pharmacological review, wild garlic, Allium ursinum, has many of the same properties as cultivated garlic (A. sativum):
- Reduces blood pressure (one study shows it's more potent than A. sativum)
- Inhibitory effect on cholesterol synthesis
- In vitro studies showed antimicrobial activity of A. ursinum extracts against:
Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, Proteus mirabilis, Salmonella enteritidis, and fungi: Cladosporium sp., Aspergillus niger, Rhizopus nigricans,
Geotrichum candidum, Penicillium expansum, Candida lipolytica, Mycoderma,
The highest amount of sulfoxides occurs in March & April, and the amounts of individual sulfoxides vary at various times in its growing season.
Traditionally, wild garlic has been used for:
- stimulating digestion
- antimicrobial action
- removing toxins
- preventing cardiovascular problems
- wound healing and chronic skin problems (applied externally)
My take on alliums as food
I think that one can use personal judgement and not be dogmatic about it. Certainly, if someone is feeling fiery in their psyche or body, then they might benefit from eliminating garlic (and maybe onions, too) and seeing if that helps calm things down. It may also be worth minimizing if doing some intense inner or spiritual work - most spiritual paths discourage garlic and onion consumption, understandably. You can also pair it with things that counter the stimulating, fiery aspects, like yogurt (plant-based or dairy).
To me, wild garlic seems somewhat less intense than garlic bulbs - I suspect it would take a lot of wild garlic to approach the rajasic level of cultivated garlic bulbs. On the other hand, subtle is, well, subtle, and I suppose if one really wanted to discern how this group of plants affects you, it would be useful to completely eliminate for a period and then reintroduce. I personally haven't yet done an experiment to see what happens - perhaps some day. It may well help to calm my somewhat fiery temperament! However, even if you choose not to consume garlic as food, it's lovely to walk into an area with wild garlic covering the ground and smell the distinctive, sulfury odor.
Apparently, one of the stories behind it being named Allium ursinum is that bears go for it when emerging from hibernation (ursus means bear in Latin). I don't know whether that's true, but it's fun to imagine.
Identification & ways to use
Wild garlic likes shady areas, and you'll often find it covering the ground in wooded areas. Make sure to gather the leaves from pollution-free and dog-free areas, taking a little and not stripping an area bare. Also be sure about the identity, as it can resemble the leaves of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) and crocus (Colchicum autumnale), which are toxic. In an area where it covers the ground, you should be able to smell the garlic in the air, but where less abundant, pick a piece and smell it to check. I like to blend wild garlic into pesto or add to salads and soups. You can find lots of recipes around, and Robin Harford has some great ones you can check out here.
Sobolewska, D., Podolak, I., and Makowska-Was, J. (2015) Allium ursinum: botanical, phytochemical and pharmacological review. Phytochemical Review 14(1): 81–97.
This is a video of a talk I recently gave for Brighton Natural Health Centre's series of community talks. It's around 40 minutes, so here is a little breakdown of what's in it:
1:01 - Context
5:30 - Macrocosm & microcosm reflecting each other
10:00 Paradox of institutions - Ivan Illich
14:30 - Forces/elements of nature (doshas) in us
20:19 - Biorhythms & Ayurvedic daily clock
27:43 - Common things people get wrong, and what to do instead
34:30 - Ayurvedic stages of disease
I'll be with Hearts and Flowers Brighton at their stall at Seedy Sunday, one of the biggest seed swap events in England, with lots of interesting stalls, food, talks, and activities.
We'll have winter plant and flower stuff and I'll have some flower-infused Ayurvedic treats.
Come along to get inspired, swap seeds, and learn!
Sun, Feb 3rd 2019
10.30 - 4
205 Dyke Rd, Hove
Weds Feb 6th 2019
Brighton BNY 1YD
Did you know that Ayurveda is the inspiration behind the golden milk and turmeric chai trend you may be seeing in many cafes? However, Ayurveda runs far deeper than spiced food and drink – it’s a way of life. A Sanksrit term, Ayurveda is often translated as the science of life or the art of living, and it provides a framework for living in alignment with nature and harmonising mind, body, and spirit. Dietary and lifestyle practices form the basis of maintaining balance in the universe that each human is, and they serve as the foundation for individuals to reach their potential.
In this talk, you’ll learn some basic concepts of Ayurvedic philosophy, the root causes of disease or imbalance, and some ways to prevent these and correct course when out of balance – which are increasingly being validated by biomedical research.
This talk will be held at The Brighthelm Centre. The event is FREE, but please sign up here to reserve your place as seats are limited.
Mon Jan 14th 2.30-3.30pm
1D Saint James's St Brighton
Book here - £5 (+booking fee) - All proceeds will go to the Brighton Migrant Solidarity Destitution Solidarity Fund
Ayurveda, a several thousand-year old health system, literally means the science of life - and is often translated as the science of longevity. It is a way of life, based largely on alignment with nature's rhythms and cycles - something that is increasingly being validated by modern biomedical science. Ayurveda is also considered the sister science to yoga.
In this short workshop, you'll learn a few simple pieces from the Ayurvedic (and yogic) lifestyle that are relevant for living well today - whether you are already living a healthy lifestyle or are looking to start living a healthy lifestyle and can use some guidance on where to begin. Raise your bar in 2019!
November 24th 2018, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve & Create Place
Join community herbalists Rasheeqa Ahmad (Hedge Herbs, Herbalists Without Borders (HWB) London) & Shumaisa Khan (HWB-Sussex, Phytology), for a community root harvest at the Phytology medicine garden, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve. The root stock will be made into medicine for refugees currently living in camps across France.
Rasheeqa will also guide participants in making a simple cough syrup for personal use over the winter months. There will be a shared lunch and collective sharing about winter remedies from our different cultural traditions.
10am – 11:30am
@ Phytology, Bethnal Green Nature Reserve
11:30am – 1pm
Medicine-making & shared lunch
@ The Create Space
29 Old Ford Rd
Book here: https://rootharvest.bpt.me
(No booking required to help harvest roots ~ 10am)
Updated July 5th 2019
In Ayurveda, getting the different tastes at meals promotes health for multiple reasons. Each taste stimulates a particular part of the tongue, which in turn corresponds to a specific organ, and activating all of the organs enables them to collectively function well. Different tastes also facilitate aspects of digestion and have effects on the doshas, or elemental energies. And of course, fermented foods contribute to a happy ecosystem in the gut. (I'll share more about taste and physiological effects in another post)
With this concoction, the ferment itself creates the sour taste; kale brings in the bitter; beetroot, carrots, and apple bring sweet; apple and turmeric bring astringent; the salt brings salty; and garlic, ginger, and chili bring pungent. I like to use whatever I have around - sometimes I throw dandelion greens into the mix. Having a spoonful with your meals enhances gut health and adds some zing!
Below is kind of the recipe to the best of my recollection. There's no need to be precise - it's all about experimenting and tweaking until you find what works best for you, and will probably be different each time. The following is just what I did on this occasion, and I ended up with about a quart, which I split into two jars just because I didn't have a big jar.
3 medium carrots
A few stalks of kale, de-stemmed
1 medium fruit (depending on where you are and season - apple, peach, etc)
1 medium beetroot
1 fresh chili
Fresh garlic and ginger
Turmeric (fresh or dry)
Dried chili or chili flakes
Other herbs to your taste (rosemary, thyme, cilantro, etc)
Fresh lemon or lime juice - optional
Core and chop cabbage and place in a large bowl (if you have a giant cabbage, you might want to just use half). Sprinkle some salt, massage the cabbage, and pound down to remove the air. Let this rest for at least 20 minutes and meanwhile chop up whatever else you'll use.
Add the other chopped veg/fruit to the cabbage, mix, and massage. Some people make a paste with chili, garlic, and ginger and massage this through. I wanted to make it more sattvic (calming) as my constitutional tendency is wired and stimulated, so I just chopped a little bit of fresh chili (seeds removed), ginger, turmeric, a little bit of garlic, and mixed this in rather than adding lots of garlic and chili paste. Do what you like! Cover with a kitchen towel and leave for about six hours, then pound down some more.
I'm trying a new thing for the actual fermenting part. After successfully using a regular old jar - not even a Kilner - several times (sterilizing of course), the last batch went off while fermenting. So when searching for a better setup and looking at reviews on Amazon (avoid as much as possible, but good for reviews), someone mentioned in the comments that he used a French press. What a brilliant solution! So I'm using this now...Place the mix in a cafetiere/French press and push it down so everything's submerged. Then put the jar in a tray or bowl to capture any fluid that might erupt during the process.
Every 12 hours or so, open up to release gas (although it should be released in the cafetiere anyway) and push down and make sure everything's still submerged before replacing lid. It will probably be ready in 72 hours, and you can taste some at that point, or you can leave it for up to 10 days or longer. When it's done, keep in the fridge. It can last a while, but the idea is to have some everyday. However, this, and fermented food and drink in general, is meant to be consumed in small amounts daily. More than that on a daily basis is probably going to throw something else out of balance in your internal ecology.