Tag Archives: nature

Cooking Like a Farm Wife

Recently my husband asked me why I hadn’t made a certain dish in a while. My answer was that I was trying to cook like a farm wife by focusing on the ingredients from our farm, whereas the dish he wanted featured spinach, which I don’t have great luck growing. My husband and I run a small organic farm, Downstream Farm Organic Produce, about 8 miles west of Fayetteville on Clear Creek. We mostly grow food for ourselves and sell the extra produce to friends, restaurants, and Ozark Natural Foods.  We raise chickens and grow vegetables like okra, tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, and too many others to name.

Oyster Mushrooms, Wood Ears, Coral Fungus, and Boletes. FYI, I didn't eat all of these mushroom varietes

Oyster Mushrooms, Wood Ears, Coral Fungus, and Boletes. FYI, I didn’t eat all of these mushroom varieties.

Recently, my husband found a bounty of wild mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms, so I made a special dish to feature them. My venison and wild mushroom stew also included our venison, radish greens, fresh herbs, and tomatoes. Not all ingredients have to be from the farm. For instance, this farm wife happened to have some red wine around. The carrots and potatoes were also from the store since we had run out of our own a few months ago.

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I know that everyone can’t grow as much of their food as we do, but you can still incorporate some of my thinking into your own cooking by focusing on local and seasonal ingredients. Local foods can be fresher and therefore higher in nutrients. Seasonal ingredients tend to be more affordable and often shipped shorter distances so fewer resources are used to get them to us. I try to avoid buying certain summer foods, like melons, in the middle of winter when the only ones available have been shipped from South America or even further away. And these foods aren’t necessarily appropriate for our bodies during the winter. It makes sense that we need cooling foods like melons and cucumbers in the summer and warmer, higher calorie foods in the winter. Part of my process is to be creative with substitutions. For instance, I still look at recipes to get a basic framework for a dish, but readily add or subtract vegetables and other ingredients based on what is available at that time of the year.

I also focus my cooking on nutrient dense foods, as in foods that provide a lot of our necessary vitamins and minerals per calorie. Or in the case of the wild mushrooms, add medicinal benefits to the dish. Nearly all culinary mushrooms strengthen the immune system and help reduce inflammation. Oyster mushrooms may also help lower cholesterol. Consumption of mushrooms like these may help prevent cancer, partially because of the beta-glucans they provide. Oyster mushrooms are fairly commonly available in stores, so you don’t have to find them on a log after the rain like my husband did. And you can grow your own using a mushroom kit or mushroom logs. Since some mushrooms are poisonous don’t eat wild ones unless you know them well like my husband does.

Herbs of the Ozarks

I believe that if we know the local herbs in any region well enough, we can rely on them nearly exclusively to treat most common complaints. This holds true for the Ozark region, where many classic American herbs grow and many introduced species also tend to flourish. In fact, the Ozarks are part of the native range for herbs in very high demand—like goldenseal and American ginseng.

Another well-known plant from this part of the country is black cohosh. This herb is found in nearly every blend for menopausal symptoms, but it is most effective for women that have a particular constellation of symptoms, such as hot flashes, depression, and achy muscles or joints. Studies are showing that black cohosh may reduce the hormone surges associated with hot flashes. Black cohosh might also have constituents that act similarly to the medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which could explain its possible mood benefits. Furthermore, black cohosh also has pain-relieving attributes that make it an ideal herb to choose for discomfort and complaints not related to menopause. It contains analgesic and inflammation modulating constituents that make it a promising consideration for joint and muscle pains. Women can use it to address menstrual cramps because it relaxes smooth muscles, such as those found in the uterus. Black cohosh is also an herbal option for men who have low back and knee pain, especially if they also have prostate issues or are under a lot of stress.

 Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1991. Southern wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. South National Technical Center, Fort Worth.


Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1991. Southern wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. South National Technical Center, Fort Worth.

Japanese honeysuckle is a plant that is probably known to every Arkansan, but few know about its health benefits. Japanese honeysuckle isn’t native to the Ozarks. It was introduced and is now invasive, but one way to combat invasive plants is to harvest them for herbal medicine. The flowers of Japanese honeysuckle are antimicrobial, antiviral, inflammation modulating, and mildly detoxifying. The most common traditional use of honeysuckle flowers is as a component of Chinese herbal blends for colds and flu. A modern use of honeysuckle flowers is as an addition to pharmaceutical or herbal antimicrobial agents to increase their effectiveness. Additionally, Japanese honeysuckle flowers can help block the pumps that harmful bacteria use to disseminate the antimicrobial agents out of themselves. Apart from supplementation, Honeysuckle flowers are also mildly cooling and can make a refreshing summertime iced tea.

So we don’t necessarily have to search exotic lands for our medicinal herbs. Instead we can use our local plants provided by Mother Nature to help our environment and ourselves.

And you can check out my recent appearance on a local Harrison TV station talking about some other common herbs found here in the Ozarks.

Knowing When to Use Goldenseal

Goldenseal is probably one of the best-known herbs, but its fame has contributed to overharvesting, and it is now considered to be an at risk plant. Therefore, it is important to know what conditions goldenseal works best for and when to choose another herb. For instance, one of goldenseal’s active components, berberine, is responsible for much of its immune stimulating and antimicrobial benefits. Oregon grape root is also rich in berberine and can be used as a more ecologically sustainable substitute for many conditions such as colds. Oregon grape root also shares many of goldenseal’s gastrointestinal benefits. Both of these herbs increase the production and flow of bile from the liver and gall bladder, making them useful for improving the digestion of fats. Oregon grape root and goldenseal also can act as a mild laxative. It could be these combined properties that earned goldenseal a reputation for being a great detoxifier, but I consider this to be mostly myth.

Where goldenseal really stands out compared to other herbs is as a mucous membrane toner. Its astringent qualities make it a good choice for chronically irritated sinuses, especially if the tissues are pale. In addition to taking it internally for issues like these, goldenseal can be added to a neti pot for direct nasal irrigation. Goldenseal can also be useful for sore throats and middle ear infections, especially chronic cases. When you do choose to use goldenseal, it is important to always buy organically grown goldenseal. This is one of the few ways to ensure that native populations aren’t being further diminished.

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Black Walnut: Powerful Herbal Warrior

On our farm on the western edge of the Ozarks, we have several magnificent black walnut trees. This is one of the native Arkansas plants I missed when in lived in Washington State. I came home to visit one fall around this time and actually carried a few of the freshly fallen nuts home with me on the plane. Other people may curse the black walnut trees in their yards because other plants have a particularly hard time growing in their shade. Black walnut trees practice chemical warfare by producing substances that inhibit the growth of many other plants so they can maintain their dominance. This attribute of black walnut gives us insight into the role this tree can play in our health.

Just as the black walnut trees fight off other plants, the black walnut hulls are used to help reduce the growth of pathogenic organisms, especially in the gastrointestinal tract. While black walnut hulls may be best known as part of an “anti-parasitic” formula, it may actually be better as an antifungal agent. It can also be applied topically to the skin. Black walnut hulls can have a fairly strong laxative effect on the gut, and in larger doses, can induce vomiting.

The green outer hull of the nut is the part of the black walnut that is used by most herbalists. The green hulls can either be used fresh or made into a tincture. If you want to work with the hulls yourself, consider using gloves because they can stain your hands. It is also worth going through the effort of cracking the very tough shell to get to the nuts. These have a very distinct flavor, but can be used like any other nut. When it comes to using the hulls, be cautious. This is a very strong herb that should only be used short term or under the supervision of a medical profession.

 

 

Nature Deficit

I spend so much time picking okra on our farm that one of my friends gave me the nickname “Okra Winfrey.” It is hard work because the okra plants are very prickly and I have to wear long sleeves and gloves in this August weather. But it has its reward. If I am harvesting in the morning, I get to watch as the lovely okra blossoms open up. You can tell by the flower that okra is in the mallow family like hibiscus and Rose of Sharon. While I am harvesting, I will occasionally see a small tree frog perched on the leaves. I don’t need a study to tell me that the surge of joy I feel at seeing a tree frog is good for my health. Harvesting is a also decompression time for me when I can peacefully think about things like new blog ideas. You might have experienced the health benefits of being in the outdoors also. Have you ever taken a walk and felt better?

Some people consider nature to be an essential nutrient like protein or water. The term nature deficit has been coined for our common modern condition of reduced interaction with the natural world. Studies are showing that this deficit can contribute to attention difficulties, cognitive issues, reduced impulse control, poor stress response, and emotional and physical illnesses. On the other hand, researchers found that as little as five minutes in a natural setting improves mood, self-esteem, and motivation. In another study, a walk in the country reduces depression in 71% of participants. Studies also indicate that we recover from stress faster when we are in a natural setting. Experiencing nature can lower heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Outdoor activities are great for family bonding also. For inspiration and tips, go to the website for the Children & Nature Network.

And don’t forget to ask yourself, “Have I taken my brain for a walk today?”