April 22nd – The Best of Bitterness

As promised, some notes on my research on bitter plants and their healing properties.

I wonder if the bitter flavour is under-represented in most folks’ diets simply because it’s harder to identify than sweet, salty, spicy and sour? Or if it’s more of an evolutionary accident because too much bitterness often indicates something is dangerous or poisonous? Whatever the reason, I, like many, haven’t been getting enough of the important active ingredients in bitter plants, and this might be at the heart of some of my inner and outer problems.

Signs of toxicity in the skin, under-active digestion, gathering weight and joint pains – these are all indications of a system not operating at peak function – and it’s been fascinating for me to understand the relationship between my body’s complex functions and the active ingredients of some of the humblest plants in the garden!

 

Photo by Yamtan for Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

We need bitterness in life! This shouldn’t surprise the balance-minded gardener at all. To everything there is a season…

(Before we go any further, I feel obliged to shock you by revealing that I’m not a doctor. I have a very sad digestive tract which is finally getting some TLC, so my foray into bitters is just a journey of discovery – and not in the least bit backed by qualifications! If you’re not sure what a plant is, don’t taste-test it. Lots of things that are bitter are in fact really quite bad for you! I’m not going to mention the dangerous ones, because I don’t need to enter into real apothecary territory, I just want to boost my daily diet! So if you want to get more bitters, do your research!)

What are bitter plants?

 

 

Even the shortest glance at the list will start to form a familiar picture – these are standard apothecary plants, whether you’re visiting a health shop, or looking at the ingredients in an over-the-counter digestive aid in any pharmacy: aniseed, fennel, licorice, peppermint…

If the medicinal ones are more familiar to you as medicine rather than every day food, it might be a sign you’re not getting enough either.

Leafy greens,
chicory,
artichoke leaf,
basil,
fennel (seed and plant),
endive,
kale,
spinach,
chard,
rocket (Arugula across the pond),
dandelion leaves, (that’s why I grow them deliberately, all over my lawn, obviously. Ahem),
bitter melon and gourd,
turmeric,
fenugreek seeds,
barley,
nettle,
lettuce,
aloe vera, etc, etc

Some bitter herbs and spices: ginger, pepper, cardamom, thyme, marjoram, lovage, rosemary, tarragon, bay leaves, sorrel, sage.

Really, we should be getting bitters into our meals every single day for a happy, healthy gut and a functioning digestive system, and up until relatively recently, the only bitter I was getting every single day was coffee. And I’ll stand by that. Life is nice with coffee.

So, how have I been experiencing the joys of bitterness?

Some things, like camomile tea and salads, are easy no-brainers. But home-cooking is the best way. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the East, where digestion is frequently the main focus of a meal.

ICHItsukemono-56a30e743df78cf7727ba01fSanbaizu Tsukemono (Japanese Pickle)
Image from: The Spruce.

From memories of my time in Japan – when I felt so good eating pickles and rice for breakfast – I’ve taken the idea of eating pre-meal ginger, and accompanying teas. The meals in a traditional Japanese onsen reflect the practice of separating the elements of a meal and letting the eyes feast first. An appreciation of food before scoffing it is more than an ascetic concern, it is a practical aspect of healthy digestion!

 

(Horribly blurry photos from my 2012 Japan trip – but especially worth sharing for vegans because Japan is a delicious place to visit!)

 

From India and Ayurvedic medicine I’ve gathered some gentle and wholesome recipes that help a struggling gut to get back on its feet, and in my own garden I’m starting to plot out a dedicated bitters larder!

I know there are some wonderful cooks out there, so if you have any recipes to share using bitter plants, do let me know!

Below are just a couple of quick recipes I’ve either tried, or will be trying soon (Including a rather pleasant unisex anti-bacterial face mask!)

I hope this has been interesting to you- and if you do have any tips, please share them!

If you’re interested in especially gentle-but-satisfying recipes for sad digestion, do let me know. I have found some in my searches which I quite like and I’m supremely lazy about cooking, so they’re nice and easy too!

Recipes


To Start

An Ayurvedic Appetizer

Eating this 20 mins before meals increases the digestive process – also bitter and astringent tastes battle bad bacteria so it’s a good way of preparing the guts for efficiently digesting food rather than dealing with internal weeding!

Ingredients: 

  1. 2 inches of fresh ginger
  2. 1 whole Lime
  3. 2 Pinches of salt

Prep:

  1. Slice ginger into long, thin strips & place in a jar
  2. Cover with lime juice & salt to marinate
  3. Eat 1 strip 20 mins before meal

 


 

Main Course 1

Nettle Pesto

You can use nettles in place of any green veggies like spinach and kale, so there are hundreds of recipes to utilise these free and abundant greens!

I like nettle pesto because I’m quite a lazy cook, basically. I also used to drink nettles in hot water instead of green tea, because nettles have a much subtler flavour and I found it a lot less astringent and drying.

 

Nettles by Yamtan for Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

 

I go to my nettle lardar (ahem) and pick the freshest, broadest, brightest leaves – wearing gloves of course – and cut them from the plant into a bag or a colander. Wash them with gloves on too. The sting is neutralised by either cooking them, or by crushing of them. For the pesto, either blitz them in a blender or a good old fashioned pestle and mortar if you’re feeling like it.

Add your favourite oil, lightly toasted pine nuts, maybe some garlic and/or almonds, or a cheese like parmesan (there are vegan parmesan alternatives that are actually more pungent than the real thing!) and hey-pesto!

It’s nice and simple and takes virtually no effort at all. Like all the weeding you didn’t do which allowed you to be nettle rich the whole summer through…


 

Main Course 2

Slow-cooked Fennel with Lemon
from Waitrose

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I’d love to eat seasonally all the time, but lemons really do brighten life up! If it’s still cold where you are, this warm, roasted wholesomeness and bright, fresh lemon plate of loveliness is just what you need to blow the cobwebs!

Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus cooling
Cooking time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus cooling
Serves: 6

Ingredients
3 large fennel bulbs (about 300g each), trimmed, fronds reserved
2  lemons
75ml olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
3 bay leaves
4 tbsp roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
3 mint sprigs, leaves picked

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C, gas mark 4. Halve the fennel bulbs lengthways through the core, then cut each half into 3 wedges, keeping the core intact. Put in a roasting tray in a single layer. Pare large strips of lemon zest over the fennel, then squeeze over the lemon juice. Pour over the olive oil and 50ml water, then add the sliced garlic and bay leaves; season.

2. Give the tray a shake to coat the fennel in the juice, then cover tightly with foil. Roast for about 1 hour, until the fennel is soft, removing the foil 10 minutes before the end of cooking time. Set aside to cool.

3. Spread the cooled fennel on a serving plate with its juices (discard the bay leaves). Sprinkle over the chopped parsley, mint leaves and fennel fronds.


 

Aprés!

Don’t forget your face!

If you’re not getting enough bitters, you’re likely showing it in your face, with break-outs due to toxic build ups, age spots, and all sorts of crummy stuff.

This topaz daydream is what I’m putting on my face once a week (after I’ve given it a shake obviously).

Photo by Yamtan for Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

 

Three ingredients:

  • 1/2 Cup of Extra virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup of water

The water dilutes the grease of the oil and the acid of the vinegar,
the oil hydrates and balances the skin
and the vinegar kills bacteria and sorts out discoloration.

Don’t leave this on as a moisturiser! You’ll be tempted by the lush feeling, but you’ll smell like a pungent salad dressing… (which this is also excellent as by the way!), but wash it off after about 10-15mins with tepid water, and pat yourself dry very delicately.

Don’t you feel much better about putting things on your skin when you know you can safely eat them as well? Who needs chemicals and preservatives when you can use your lunch to make you gorgeous?

 

 

April 19th 2018 – Bliss

Well, a blistering 26 degrees isn’t exactly seasonal for an English Spring – but who cares, when you can throw off a bad day along with your shoes and socks and glide blissfully into lush grass, with the hidden kiss of cool clay on your naked feet…

I am never more aware of how very lucky I am, or how gentle life can be, than when I sink into the garden.

And this week has been all about the benevolence of the garden, as I’ve been researching the healing properties of bitter plants. Hopefully I’ll get a more detailed post up at the weekend, but I couldn’t let today go by without a few cool-hued photos for anyone feeling the heat!

 

 

 

 

April 12th 2018

Apologies, dear reader, for missing last week’s posts – I have but two words by way of explanation: root canal.

As someone who has spent more than their fair (time)share in the dentist’s chair, it seems anathema to civilised society that one should have to pay so much money, to have so much pain inflicted on them.

But every cloud, as they say…

With another few hours ahead of me tomorrow, I can crack on with garden reading. I was going to say something about calming frayed nerves, but perhaps that’s a little close to the bone…

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As ever, the garden herself offers much in the way of soulful comforts.

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Of course, you take the rough with the smooth.

A goose beheaded a couple of tulips – but I daresay she had no idea I’d been waiting so many months for them to arrive.

And since she didn’t actually eat the damned flower, I can only hope she meant to take it as a gift for her broody sister who is currently refusing to leave her nest. I’m sure it ended up trodden into a puddle of s**t quite by accident…

 

Anyway.

There are flowers in the garden!

We have blossom in the Japanese garden:

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Star magnolia (magnolia stellata) being all stunning and beautiful (this one’s had a troubled past – it’s a veritable garden hero!):

 


The star theme continues rather decoratively in the little centres of the Forget-Me-Nots. These native superstars romp along in joyful abundance in our garden. I admit, I can’t actually remember when they hit their best (I recall blue skies above and blue clouds below, but not the temperature for clues alas), but I know they’re on their way to blooming into full carpet, because the advance guard have started to arrive, in an extraordinary range of blues, pinks, and purples…

Sadly my camera battery was failing as I took these, but I think you can still just about see the promise. Blue will follow, but the early flowers in our iron-rich clay are girlishly demure…

I can’t wait for those effulgent clouds of blue to erupt and take over – the anticipation is definitely half the fun!

To be honest, most of the garden is a frightful mess. (The moss garden needs a good weed… like everywhere else!) All my energy has been going into the hedge-gone-wild, because I don’t just want to cut away the dead, I want to try and transplant the healthy plants to other areas, and that’s both time-consuming and rather hard-going.  To quote an Orc – ‘the trees are strong, their roots go deep’.

I don’t go to the gym, I garden…

How are you all getting along now the Winter King has finally unleashed his worst?

 

 

March 29th – Easter week

Everyone’s getting excited about the Easter break – a beautiful four-day holiday. Gardeners all over rejoice…

I’m trying not to over-plan it. Instead I’ll enjoy the opportunity for seasonal reflection.

 

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Easter as a holiday gets a bit of an ambivalent response, I’ve noticed. It’s not the big annual blow-out like Christmas, and it doesn’t have the party spirit of Halloween. I’ve always thought it was a bit mysterious: for a start it shifts around the calendar so you always have to ask someone when it’s going to happen. It’s all linked to the moon, which adds to the silvery elusiveness of the whole affair.

You also have the deeply somber mood of Good Friday, which when we were little was somewhat laden with doom as we expected the sky to go black at about 3pm, and I’m sure I’m imagining it actually doing it – but Friday was spooky and glum (my sort of day altogether) when you have to eat special food and not go anywhere.

 

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Saturday is plonked in the middle with nothing happening, then Sunday is the Spring festival in all its glory.

Never mind Easter Egg hunts, it was the Easter tree I looked forward to: a branch of something like willow brought into the house and hung with little painted eggs, surrounded with bunnies and treats That tree became very important to me: the old green corduroy fabric Mum used to lay out to look like spring hills; the miniature birds’ nests and fuzzy yellow chicks…

 

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I’m not sure what the weather’s got planned this weekend, but as long as we bring Spring inside, I’m sure we’ll capture the strange Easter spirit. And before Sunday comes, I’ll take the opportunity for some deep inward thinking.

I’ve always thought it’s important for seasonal celebrations to reflect the darker, quieter, sadder aspects of life as well as the fantastical and joyful. We can never suppress the minor key altogether – think of all the beautiful melodies we’d lose out on if we did.

 

 

 

 

March 22nd – What a Difference a Week Makes!

 

It still doesn’t mean I’ve been out in the garden though!

We’ve had everything here – dogs at death’s door, wind that’ll take your hair off, the kind of lethargy that sucks even the most productive of wills down to bare brittle bones, and last but by no means least – the wild kind of writing immersion that really demands all you’ve got.

I dug a bit of mud over, and spent too much time sitting watching the billion birds at the feeders, but in terms of visible difference, this week’s a bust.

I’ll do better next week, honest guv.

 

 

March 14th – a slight anomaly…

Do you know what I was lying awake thinking about last night?

Non-hierarchical data systems.

Why? Well, bear with me, it’s a gardening thing.

I work as something of a creativity aid – what I’m hired to do is listen to client’s jumbled information and assemble it into attractive, persuasive words and images. But what I actually do is try to nudge their own creativity into the fore – like an undercover creativity Mary Poppins! My personal and professional goal is to make myself unnecessary, which now I’ve written that down…

Anyway, one thing I keep butting my head against is a deep-seated problem about how information begins and ends on any page. If the subject or process I’m writing about is non-linear (dynamic, cross-disciplinary, multi-layered), what makes you decide on the where you start? And doesn’t that effect the position and absorption of the following information?

I’ve always kept within conventional forms before, but these days, I am desperate for more. And it was last night’s pondering that led me out into the garden realm and into the way plants can offer varying, inspiring solutions.

 

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We all know the tree system – the trunk is a subject, the branches can be fairly lateral, the leaves can intermingle – unless you have a rotating 3D model that brings in other dimensions, it’s hard to get away from a beginning and an end…

But what about the Rhizomes?

‘The word rhizome is used as a metaphor, to compare the growth and structure of rhizome navigation interfaces with the complex organic growth and structure of rhizomes, underground plant stems that send out roots and shoots from their nodes.’

 

running-bamboo-rhizome-lgImage from Bamboo Botanicals

 

Non-hierarchical?

But we still have the problem that we might be tempted to read from left to right, indicating a first and a last.

Why is any of this important?

An implicit hierarchy which is just generally accepted in information is one thing – on the most basic level, it really is just about reading information in its clearest form.

But data and information are worth big money to corporations, governments, companies and criminals for a reason.

Hierarchy of structure also reveals hierarchy in attitudes.

A general convention for the presentation of data can hide an implicit hierarchy in attitudes.

In a less sinister vein, flexibility is something humans need, in their bodies and their brains, as flexible attitudes, joints and open-mindedness all keep us younger for longer – so I assume that extends out into our greater communities; our work…

If I tipped a piece of paper on its side and rejected linear narrative information delivery, and created a dynamic structure where the reader decides their own path, how is information encountered? How is it absorbed? The answer might be: individually.

 

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Minakata Kumagusu created his own philosophy, called “Minakata Mandala,” collecting so-called cryptogam plants in the wild forests

 

We struggle to find the right word – people are paid thousands to hit the right subconscious notes, but I begin to wonder if the way to accessing all that potential in the minds of ourselves and others is simply to change things up. Access creativity. Expect creativity – allow creativity.

I can’t help but wonder, if the hierarchy falls away from how we write and receive a snippet of information, might it make lovely flexible ripples into the rest of our social norms and the way we communicate with and treat each other?

We might even stop clashing and rattling and start flexing and swaying!

 

download.jpgFedor van der Valk  – String Gardens

 

March 12th 2018 – Daniel Ost

I don’t know why I’m all arty-farty at the moment, but the day job is giving me headaches and it’s too wet to dig, so the mind ploughs a mile a minute.

I’m looking at the arresting sculptural forms of Daniel Ost and wondering… is this a rare example of genuinely reinventing the wheel..?

“Ost’ s works make us think not of ‘animal spirits’ but of ‘floral spirits’. Flowers and buds, new leaves and fallen leaves, the ‘floral spirits’ in them literally embody the life force. This is truly food for the soul; one can never tire of looking at such works.”

Hidetaro Sugimoto, owner and preserver of Sugimoto House

Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a matter of showing us familiar things in a way we could never imagine them.

 

lily of the valley

 

Obviously, these are more than ‘floral arrangements’. On one level it’s sculpture that uses flowers as materials, and we could look at it that way and think nothing of the fact they were once living things, or that the pristine lines and vibrancy and form will last only as long as these vegetable objects keep from rotting.

We might also think of Ikebana, which uses both the structure of living things and the negative space of the pause, the breath, the Ma in between – which is as essential to the rhythm of life as the rests and white spaces between the notes on a piece of music.

I feel certain that these amazing forms wouldn’t be nearly so arresting if they were made out of anything else, because no metal or textile or sculpted wood has the crisp vitality that is the newly burst life of a fresh-stemmed plant.

 

 

It is a sensory particular that gardeners understand on a foundational level – that green of spring and that squeak of life-full leaf, and that urgent, pushing, emerging brilliance.

To have captured that in an inanimate installation, in such a myriad of forms is what I would call (self-consciously) genius. There is no colour like living colour, there is no tension like the bend of a living thing, and there is no beauty like the beauty which we know to be fleeting.

That an artist would create so intricately with the full knowledge of pending destruction, I can only admire it. I am still in a state of fear about un-lasting things, but looking at these works, feeling if not completely dissecting the underlying ritual at work, helps me to realise there is so much more to life than simply living forever!

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P.S

Some weeks ago I said a veg patch wasn’t always a beautiful sight out of the window, and a very wise commenter pointed out that this was a woefully limited way to look at it, and she was right. So I’ve decided on the look for my new fruit-and-veg garden everyone… Many thanks, Mr Ost!

 

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