Elderberry used both for food and medicinal purposes

Like many other plants, the elderberry has a long and interesting history which incorporates both folklore and fact, and in some cases it is hard to decipher which it is.

One thing becomes evident – ancient peoples used all parts of the plant for survival which demonstrates their extraordinary ingenuity. The wood was used to fashion musical instruments and household items (but never cradles since this might bring harm to the baby); the flowers were dried and brewed into teas, while the berries produced a black hair dye and were concocted into a tincture to ward off colds and infections (in fact one herbalist of the 17th century called it a remedy “against all infirmities whatever.”)

While modern herbalists obviously shrug off information on the elderberry’s power to keep away evil spirits, they perk up their ears when it comes to healing properties since peoples of the past often have tried – and – true knowledge pertaining to remedies for common ailments. Research has been conducted but more needs to be done to validate what anecdotal reports and studies have shown. It should be stated that elderberry shrubs are not the place for the amateur herbalist to engage in experimentation since the roots, stems and leaves contain a toxic substance. Ripe cooked berries are perfectly harmless and in fact, quite delicious in jams, jellies and pies.

That said, the elderberry is not a common shrub in Canada, although some species do thrive in northern climates. The shrub is quite beautiful during blossom time with its white or off – white feathery flowers which produce clusters of deep purple or black berries (or amber berries in some lesser – known species), so we may well see more plantings in the future.

Growing in the wild

Across North America, the elderberry is known mostly for its culinary uses – and often the fruit used in commercially prepared jams, chutneys and wine is the species known as “black elder,” common in Europe where production of various food commodities is well established. The use of supplements and syrups for therapeutic purposes is also more advanced.

As more research is done on American elder species, there is a good chance these berries will be used more extensively – both for food and medicinal remedies. When settles arrived in the New World, they brought with them some of the “home remedies” – and a recipe for wine – based on elderberry and were overjoyed to find an elder species growing in the wild; they found to their delight that native Americans, too were using the plant for medicinal purposes. Currently small orchards have been established in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

It is quickly apparent that elderberries are healthy, containing similar nutrients as more common berries such as raspberries, blueberries and cranberries, but often in larger quantities. These include vitamins A, C, and B6 and iron. In addition as is evident by the berry’s deep purple colour, it is an excellent source of anthocyanins (part of a whole group of plant chemicals known as polyphenols) – a substance widely reputed to have antioxidant potential. In other words, it neutralizes free radicals which cause cell damage leading to cancer.

Some tests have shown that elderberry extracts (that is, concentrated juice) could  boost the immune system, guarding against the influenza virus and colds. This is likely due not only to polyphenols but also to its high vitamin C content. It should be noted elderberry as other berries have a range of bioactive components that are available in greater proportion in the processed product (juice or extract) than in the fresh berry. Thus look for extracts or syrups, and a salve which has been used to mitigate pain from sprains or rheumatism. It is interesting to note that some common herbal teas include dried elderberries or its flower in their mixtures (check the label).

Oil of oregano noted for health benefits

What is the first thing you think of when the herb oregano is mentioned? Chances are it is pizza or perhaps an omelette or meat dish with tomato sauce. For Canadians generally the most important use of oregano is to give flavour to dishes of Italian or Mexican origin—they rarely consider its nutrient or medicinal value.

Indeed, oregano, a close cousin of marjoram, makes a significant contribution to the culinary world. It is also a nutritious herb, named as an excellent source of vitamin K and a good source of fibre, iron, calcium and vitamin E. However, even though it is nutrient-dense, most people would find it difficult to eat enough of the fresh or dried leaves of the oregano plant to make a substantial difference in health.

That is why experimentation has been done over the years to find ways to distil herbs in order to extract their essential goodness which can then be consumed or applied in small quantities. The early Greeks and Romans made poultices from wild oregano leaves and placed them on sores, aching muscles and spider bites. No wonder the herb was called “oregano” which means “joy of the mountain” since it added beauty to the hillsides where it flourished in wild purple masses and, in addition, seemed to impart medicinal qualities.

Oregano came to North America with early European colonists where it was regarded at first more for its curative than its culinary characteristics. The leaves were infused into a tea or the oil extracted and used for chronic coughs and asthma.

Mixed with milk

Today, oregano oil from wild species is still recognized as having health benefits. Commercial extractions have become much more sophisticated so it is readily available in natural health or health food stores. It must be kept in mind that it takes about 200 pounds of oregano to produce one pound of oil. So although a price is exacted for a bottle of oil, it is reduced to such concentration that a drop or two will go a long way.

So what are the benefits of oil of oregano? Generally, the ancient Greeks were correct in believing the herb contains potent antibacterial and antiviral qualities. This is due largely to volatile oils including thymol and carvacrol. Thus oil of oregano—two or three drops mixed with a glass of milk or juice—may be taken to calm upset stomachs and aid digestion.

It can be taken in the same way to relieve sinus congestion and soothe a sore throat or thwart a cold when you feel it coming on. You may need to drink the juice-and-oil concoction three or four days in a row for relief.

Oil of oregano can also be applied topically to the skin to treat infections and itches and rubbed on the gums to soothe an aching tooth, but again, remember a little goes a long way. One drop of oregano oil should be mixed with a small amount of olive oil or coconut oil before applying to the skin or gums.

Anyone taking oil of oregano should be aware that the substance may reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron. This means regular users should consider an iron supplement. It is recommended that pregnant women avoid the oil since it can weaken the lining that surrounds the fetus in the womb. People with allergies to other herbs in the same family such as mint, sage or thyme may be sensitive to oil of oregano.

Are you getting enough vitamin D?

A disturbing new study indicates that Canadians – particularly women – are not getting an adequate amount of vitamin D. Since the best source of vitamin D is summer sunlight, one can guess what might be the reasons for a deficiency—we have a short summer. For the other half of the year, Canadians are bundled up from head to toe and even if there is some skin exposed, winter sunlight barely registers.

One problem in summer is for years people have been warned about the dangerous nature of sunlight in causing skin cancer and thus are doing what they have been told—slathering on sunscreen (which blocks the body’s ability to make vitamin D), covering up or staying out of the sun completely.

How important is vitamin D to health and if sunlight is not our main option what are other sources?

What has come to light in recent years is that a deficiency of vitamin D may be one of the factors in chronic conditions such as osteoporosis, muscle and joint pain, high blood pressure, colon cancer and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D also helps regulate blood sugar levels and immune system responses, and supports cognitive function especially in older folk.

It is common knowledge that vitamin D helps in the absorption and storage of calcium which, in turn, keeps bones strong. This explains how a shortfall of the vitamin would increase bone deterioration and lead to rickets (in serious cases) identified by thin and misshapen bone, arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Why lack of vitamin D is a risk factor for cancer and hypertension is not entirely understood.

Required by the human body

With recent research showing that vitamin D is more important to optimum health than previously thought, Health Canada concluded requirements had been underestimated and thus recently raised its recommended intakes. Today recommended daily intake for everyone over the age of one is 600 to 1000 international units (IU).

Direct sunlight is by far the best source of vitamin D (what actually happens is that the vitamin forms under the skin in reaction to sunlight) – and it only takes 10 to 15 minutes a day for an adequate amount. Canadians should not be afraid to get that amount of sunlight during summer. However, from October to March the sun doesn’t get high enough in the sky to stimulate production.

Another important source of vitamin D are those foods that have been fortified such as milk and some breakfast cereals (check the label). Other sources are fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, sardines and lake trout) and eggs. Of these, fatty fish is the best source (400 IU per 6-ounce serving of wild salmon) followed by milk (100 IU per 8-ounce glass). This again poses a problem because fish is not everyone’s favourite food and tends to be expensive, and many adults don’t drink milk.

One thing to remember is that vitamin D is fat-soluble which means excess amounts are stored in the body, ready for use on the days when intake is low. This also means that vitamin D can’t be absorbed without fat; thus diets should provide a certain amount of healthy fat (that is unsaturated or polyunsaturated fat found in plant-based foods and fish).

Because it is a challenge for people living in northern climates to get enough vitamin D from the sun, and it might be difficult to get adequate amounts from food, many nutritionists recommend a supplement, at least in winter. Many older folk grew up with a daily dose of cod liver oil which supplied the “sunshine vitamin” whether they knew it or not. Currently, vitamin D is offered in easy-to-swallow capsules or liquid drops.

Yogurt trumps milk in supplying health benefits

Yogurt has slowly but steadily worked its way into the Canadian diet over the last few decades. That it took so long may seem surprising since fermented dairy products were already being consumed thousands of years ago in places such as the Middle East; however, it is only in the last 50 years that food ideas have been shared around the world through modern technology. Today consumers in North America look for the cup-size containers of yogurt for an easy snack, but also purchase the 500 or 750-gram sizes when larger quantities are needed for cooking, desserts or dips. In fact, the dairy aisles of most supermarkets have enough variety in yogurt pertaining to milk fat content, flavour and brand to make a shopper almost dizzy.

Essentially, whether consumers are aware of it or not, all yogurt is healthy since it contains the same vitamins and minerals that milk—from which it is made—does. That is, yogurt is very good source of calcium which is imperative for the development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth, and a good source of protein, the building block of body tissues, and as well, supplies important nutrients such as iodine, phosphorus, zinc, potassium and several B vitamins.

It is true that a small percentage of individuals do not tolerate diary products which may include yogurt—and obviously they will need to avoid these foods; however, for the rest of the population, yogurt can make a very valuable health contribution.

One basic factor to keep in mind when purchasing yogurt is fat content, and for the most part, 0 or low-fat is promoted by nutritionists since it contains all the nutrients whole fat yogurt does without adding saturated fat to the diet. Contrary to what many consumers believe, the consumption of dairy products—particularly the low-fat variety—can actually help people lose weight which seems to have something to do with calcium intake. Tests show that a cultured food such as yogurt promotes more fat loss than straight milk. Parents should take note that if children tend to be overweight, the best snack might be a daily serving of yogurt (along with the restriction of pop, chips and candy items).

Mitigate the tang

The second ingredient to consider is sugar which is usually added to yogurt in some form to mitigate the tang of plain yogurt. It’s perfectly fine to eat sweetened yogurt with fruit; simply be aware this adds extra calories. It’s wise to get into the habit of purchasing plain yogurt, then adding fruit or a minimum of a sweetener at home.

One question that often comes to mind when talking about yogurt is, does it have any health benefit that milk does not? The answer is yes. It appears cultured food such as yogurt contains beneficial or friendly bacteria that aids digestion, and as well bolsters the body’s efficiency in protecting against infections of all types including pneumonia.

Yogurt that contains probiotics or additional strains of micro-organisms—always stated on the label—seems to have yet another edge, adding even more health benefits. Before consumers get nervous about ingesting bacteria, it should be noted that our intestines contain a large number of friendly bacteria that perform some amazing roles. By ingesting probiotics we are assisting the bacteria already in a healthy stomach to do its work.

Some of the health benefits of probiotic yogurt are improving the body’s cholesterol profile (lowering the “bad” or LDL cholesterol and raising the “good” or HDL cholesterol), guarding against arthritis (even more so than regular yogurt) and mitigating the effect of stomach ulcers.

No doubt, readers are wondering whether Greek yogurt, a newcomer that seems to be taking over, is a healthier option than its conventional counterpart. In brief, the answer is that while Greek yogurt contains a little less calcium per gram, it is higher in protein, and lower in carbohydrates (sugar) and sodium. It is available in low-fat and probiotic versions.

It should be noted that probiotics can be purchased in capsule form which is particularly convenient to keep the gut healthy when travelling or other situations when yogurt is not readily available.

Aloe Vera Found to be Healing Agent

It is usually not possible to pluck one’s own medicine from a windowsill to apply to a burn or a small wound. However, one house plant that lends itself to this very well and is more and more often seen in Canadian homes is aloe vera.
This intriguing plant is characterized by its rosette of long spiky pale green leaves that is not unattractive on the sill. While it does not tolerate cold weather and thus in northern hemispheres is grown inside buildings, in warm arid or semiarid regions such as northern Africa, South America, southern Florida and Texas, aloe vera can be planted outdoors and may grow to several feet tall. Smaller species commonly decorate patios and rock gardens.
In fact, my first real encounter with the aloe plant was on a holiday in a warm climate, where the plant grew in pots surrounding the patio where we ate our breakfasts. Thus every morning I pinched off a spike and broke it open to rub some of the mucous-like sap found inside onto a skin abrasion I was suffering with at the time. I had not expected to be treated for the wound on the holiday, so this was a bonus!
Preserve beauty
Aloe reaches far back in time as a healing agent. Already 2000 years ago, Greek historians recorded its usage in healing wounds, clearing blemishes and maintaining healthy skin. Legend tells us Cleopatra applied fresh aloe to her skin daily to preserve beauty and the wife of the emperor Napoleon used a lotion prepared from a mixture of milk and aloe for her complexion.
People even believed the gel from the leaves prevented hair loss and so rubbed it on their scalps and took it internally for stomach disorders, insomnia and kidney ailments.
As is often the case, the healing properties of aloe have both folkloric and scientific backing. Enthusiastic stories of its effects abounded through the years until scientific clinical trials revealed there is indeed some truth to its reported healing efficacy. It is now common knowledge that aloe has anesthetic, antibacterial and tissue restorative properties. Aloe gel does help to heal burns from the sun, fire and radiation—often without leaving a scar—and has a soothing effect on rashes acquired by touching poison oak or ivy.
Variety of creams
Since not everyone has access to an actual plant, or perhaps tending one in the home isn’t practical, it should be noted that aloe has been added to a variety of creams and lotions that are used to relieve sunburns as well as radiation burns from cancer treatment. Aloe is also added to a tincture used as an antiseptic and a protective coating on blistered skin and cold sores.
Research is being done on eye drops containing aloe which seems to be effective in absorbing damaging ultraviolet rays. This has led to a theory that people with cataracts or degeneration of the retina may be helped by aloe eye drops, but more tests need to be done.
It should be noted aloe vera juice appears to have a similar ef¬fect on internal tissues as it does on skin; this means the juice has a healing effect on the digestive tract and thus is used as a rem¬edy for stomach ulcers, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, it has been shown to boost the immune system in fighting a variety of viruses.
While aloe vera is 99 percent water, the remaining 1 percent is a powerful mixture of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, sugars and amino acids.

Is spelt a 'miracle food'?

Most consumers have heard of spelt, but few have actually eaten it or know much about it. Is it a miracle food of such high nutritional quality that it may be considered a cure-all? Is it merely an alternative to other grains such as wheat and oats, but preferred because it is raised organically?
It is clear that there has been a surge of interest in this so-called ancient grain over the last few decades. Currently spelt is available locally in the form of whole grain or bulgar (coarsely chopped) which is eaten as rice or breakfast cereal and as flour used for baking.
However, the question remains: why use it at all, considering the many varieties of grains in diverse forms available to Canadian consumers? Are there any benefits spelt offers that other grains do not? If so, why has it only recently appeared in the market?
A brief history
A brief history lesson is in order. Native to southeastern Europe and Iran, spelt—a distant relative of wheat— goes back seven or eight thousand years when it served as a staple grain to ancient civilizations. In the 1800s European settlers brought the grain to the United States where it was cultivated until the beginning of the 20th century when farmers turned their attention to raising wheat. This is easy to understand since cross-breeding had resulted in wheat varieties that gave more consistent yields, didn’t need to be dehulled (as spelt does) and could be made into wonderful breads and cereals.
During the late 1980s, spelt reemerged as a “health food” across North America, and is fast on the way to becoming mainstream. What lies behind this phenomena?
Those interested in experimenting with “new” and alternative foods say they bake with spelt flour simply because it tastes great. It is true that the grain has a distinct rich “nutty” flavour which has been described as the “toasty taste of whole wheat flour mixed with a sprinkling of ground peanuts.” For some, using spelt and other heirloom varieties of grains and vegetables is an important way to keep a link to the past alive.
Spelt is also a very versatile grain that may be used without fuss and bother in many diverse ways. Spelt flour can be substituted for a portion of wheat flour in most recipes including yeast and quick breads, cookies, waffles and pancakes (although spelt dough involving yeast is fragile and must be handled more delicately). The whole grain (known as berries) can be cooked and eaten as rice with a tomato or meat sauce, as a breakfast cereal, or used as a stuffing for poultry.
Health attributes
One of the reasons some people have turned to spelt is because of wheat-related allergies, particularly an allergy to gluten. It must be noted that while spelt flour contains gluten as does common wheat flour—which gives dough both “stretchiness” and “elasticity”--it seems the proteins are present in a different balance to make gluten easier to tolerate.
While spelt is a good source of B vitamins as most grains are, it is a particularly good source of niacin (vitamin B3), which aids in energy metabolism and improves circulation. It also offers a higher amount of minerals such as iron, manganese, copper and magnesium than other grain samples.
In addition, spelt contains more soluble fibre than standard wheat flour which means one of its important benefits is helping to lower blood cholesterol and regulating blood sugar levels.
Is spelt a miracle food? The answer is no. Is it a food which can add interest and a healthy component to the diet? The answer is a definite yes.

Coconut oil makes a comeback

Like many food products, coconut oil has had its ups and downs over the years. Many consumers will remember the ruckus raised in the 1990s when it came to light that movie theatres used coconut oil to prepare popcorn. At the time the oil was implicated for clogging arteries and raising cholesterol levels in the blood because of its high saturated fat content, thus increasing the risk of heart attack. Today, coconut oil is making a comeback as a fat that is not as unhealthy as once thought and one that can, in fact, add something unique to the diet.
So what happened to change opinion? What is the real story behind coconut oil? It must be noted that coconut oil does, indeed, have a high concentration of saturated fat, usually associated with animal fats such as butter and lard. Most vegetable oils have copious amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids which makes them healthy or acceptable for human consumption, depending on the balance. Canola and olive oils, for example, are thought have the most heart healthy profiles.
Antibacterial properties
However, research has shown that while coconut oil contains saturated fats, it is a type different from that in animal fats. The saturated fat in coconut oil is composed of about 60 percent medium-chain fatty acids including lauric acid which is thought to have antibacterial and antiviral properties, thus improving absorption of nutrients and bowel function.
While research seems to indicate coconut oil has healthful benefits, not enough research has been done to conclusively prove this. It is clear, however, that the tests that seemed to prove coconut oil is decidedly unhealthy were done on partially hydrogenated oil which contains trans fats that are more harmful to the body than saturated fat.
All vegetable oils—and there is a great variety ranging from the well-known canola, sunflower, corn and olive oils to lesser known types such as walnut, grape seed, avocado and cottonseed oils—add their own unique characteristics to the culinary field. Coconut oil, for example, is solid at room temperature (it becomes liquid above 75 °F) and thus may be substituted for butter, lard or margarine in baking. It is said to make a superior pie crust.
Adds mellow flavour
Coconut oil adds a lovely mellow coconut flavour to dishes, and thus is superb where that flavour is appreciated such as in coconut cream pie, vanilla custard, cakes and loaves (add a little lemon zest, shredded coconut and almonds for a wonderful taste experience).
Since the smoke point of coconut oil is relatively high (the saturated fat content gives it stability), it may also be used in sautéing vegetables—which absorb the sweetness and take on a delicate coconut essence. And one must not forget popcorn. There is a reason why commercial places such as theatres use coconut oil to pop their corn—it adds a rich creamy sensation (some call it mouth feel) without resorting to butter.
In purchasing coconut oil, look for the “virgin” or unprocessed product. The oil is quite stable at room temperature but may be stored in the refrigerator. To soften or melt, add gentle heat.
Another place coconut oil really shines is in hair and skin products. It is an important component in moisturizers, bath oils and skin scrubs since it is thought to have anti-aging qualities. It softens skin and a little oil rubbed into hair gives it shine and reduces protein loss. Soaps based on coconut oil lather very well.

About Good n’ Natural

Good n Natural

Good n’ Natural started as a small-family owned business in 1994. Our team has grown and diversified to include Certified Natural Product Advisers, a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, and a part-time Naturopathic Doctor. Our mission is to educate, inspire, and empower our customers to pursue a healthy lifestyle in order to achieve their wellness goals and in turn build a stronger community.

Steinbachonline.com is Steinbach's only source for community news and information such as weather and classifieds.