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Feel Your Best - Part 2

Amanda CrawfordLast week, Master Herbalist Amanda McQuade Crawford introduced us to the natural path to health. This week, she expands on the subject with recipes, advice, and natural healing tips for bone, skin, joint & digestive health!

When you feel your best, you feel amazing – full of life and vitality. October is Women’s Health Month at Blessed Herbs – celebrate with us and keep your inner glow burning strong with these natural tips for skin, bone, joint & digestive health!

Skin Healthy Delight - Avocados

AvocadoIf your main experience of avocado is a guacamole dip for chips, you may be surprised at how an avocado a day for a family of four adds delicate flavor and health benefits from head to toe: circulation, heart, digestion, and especially, glowing skin.

And the creamy green fruit helps frazzled nerves, too, since avocados are naturally rich in essential fatty acids. Since many people are looking for alternatives to fish oil for their Omega-3’s, plants with healthy fats are getting the attention of researchers, gourmet chefs, and everyone interested in natural health.

The main oil is oleic (heart-healthy), while 1 cup (an average avocado peeled and sliced) yields about 150 milligrams of Omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid.

Since the autumn in the northern hemisphere is often drying to skin, fall is a terrific time to add essential fatty acids to a meal. Avocados have protein, and the all-important fiber that makes its fat content good for the heart as well as the skin. The mix of oils raise our own “good” cholesterol, and delivers skin-healing nutrients such as carotenoids for repair and moisturizing.

Being Choosy: Avoid avocados with dents and a mushy feel. The best are firm, but can ripen in your kitchen to perfection. The best nutrients are right beneath the skin, so use that thin, darker green layer right under the peel.

October Fat-Burning Avocado Smoothie

  • 1 avocado, peeled
  • 1 cup water, almond or other plant milk
  • ½ orange or lemon (remove seeds and peel)
  • 1½ cups frozen organic fruit (we like mixed berries)
  • 1-4 ice cubes, if desired.


Blend avocado and liquid first; add frozen fruit and ice, then blend again. The protein and healthy fats help our bodies handle the fruit sugar better, and it feels like a spa treatment that works from the inside to brighten skin and open the eyes.

Skin Health Antioxidant Miracle Fruit - Pomegranate

PomegranateOne of my favorite foods for skin is pomegranate. When the late-summer berries are gone, nature provides antioxidant-rich pomegranate seeds, to toss on salads or steamed squash, or to simply eat straight from inside the scarlet-leather rind.

The juicy ruby-red seeds are abundant with the antioxidant ellagic acid. Ellagic acid protects skin against sun damage, and helps our natural ability to make collagen, the firming element that keeps skin from wrinkling. It doesn’t hurt that pomegranate is also anti-inflammatory. When those seasonal chills and winds remind us to wear more layers, pomegranate is aiding the flexibility and comfort of our hips, knees, and other joints.

In an unexpected way for a fruit that stains like pomegranate, eating the seeds on a regular basis during their season (late summer through winter months) helps clean teeth. The Vitamin C-rich fruit is also rich in polyphenols that fight bacteria responsible for plaque buildup, so gums and teeth are healthier.

Being Choosy: A perfect pomegranate is heavy with juice, but with little to no splitting or shrink-wrap appearing skin. Variations is color reflect the many varieties we can choose from. Aim for a heaping tablespoonful or more a day.

By the way, a small pomegranate tree is easy to grow, makes brilliant spring flowers, and even in cold climates can be grown in a 5 gallon container in a sunny, indoor location. As ancient a symbol of vitality as you could ask for, pomegranates are “skin food as medicine” for the future.

Bone & Joint Health Defense - Dark Cherries, Tomatoes and More

Dark cherriesFor every sugary soda you skip, you reduce your risk of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. The epidemic in our culture of arthritis and thinning bone can be blamed squarely on the "Western Standard" table laden with meat, commercially-cooked vegetables, enough table salt and buttery sauces to put back flavor, and washed down with a can of soda (whether zero-calorie or fully loaded with white sugar, it makes little difference).

To make your skeleton sing instead of clicking and groaning like Halloween decorations, switch to snacking on a dozen dark cherries a day. Cherries and cherry juice are known to lower the flare-ups of arthritis and to help kidneys flush out uric acid, one of the triggers for gout.

The key to bone health and pain-free joints is not a shot of cortisone in the elbow, but the everyday way we eat. -- Amanda McQuade Crawford

Spaghetti for Joint Health

Chronic inflammation is often the real culprit behind illnesses, from arthritis and heart disease to other degenerative conditions. Simple prevention starts in the kitchen, and it turns out, immunity can be as simple as spaghetti sauce. The classic herbs for marinara include, to each one’s own taste preferences:Antioxidant Spaghetti for joint health

  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Black or other fresh, cracked pepper
  • Fennel seed

I often start with an organic, medium red or yellow onion, sauteed in 1 Tablespoon with non-GMO oil that can take a little heat, such as sesame or olive oil. Grinding a teaspoon of each as my fancy and my herb shelf dictates, I toss dried herbs in, saving garlic and fennel seed for last. I want their distinctive aromas to survive a slow cooking of 8 large tomatoes or one 16 ounce glass container of tomato pieces or puree.

I avoid canned tomatoes, but sometimes that’s all one has. The cooked tomatoes provide anti-inflammatory and protective lycopene, while the blend of herbs boosts mood and energy while the days grow shorter. I may crumble a little dried seaweed in rather than salt, since sea vegetables provide all the minerals of the ocean, not just that old enemy of bones, excess white table salt.

Alternative Twist: Spaghetti Squash

To maximize the joint-healing benefits, skip the pasta and bake a spaghetti squash to serve with marinara. This flavorful vegetable can be cut in half before baking to scoop out the seeds, for a faster cooking time. It has a tough outer skin, though, so use a good knife. If you pierce it first you can bake it whole to make cutting easier, but either way, cutting it lengthwise gives the best “spaghetti” strands.

Cooked spaghetti squashAfter 40 minutes (cut halves facing down on baking sheet) or whole (closer to an hour) at 400 degrees or so, the fragrant, pale yellow squash yields up long pasta-like strands to a fork. This is the perfect once-a-week autumn meal for bringing back a spring to one’s step. It is gluten-free, too.

After such a virtuous dinner with leftovers for another lunch, the right closer is of course a piece of dark chocolate. A square or two (not a Halloween bag full or two) helps our brain chemicals sort out the weather change and our need to adapt sleep and waking.

In these days with electric lights and electromagnetic fields (EMF) flowing from laptops, cellphones, and gadgets galore, it is no wonder our brains are on overload with that familiar dragging down of energy. Happily, small portions of healthy carbohydrates including a little chocolate raise serotonin and other neurotransmitters for a renewed sense of inner joy.

A (rather obvious) Digestive Health Miracle: Salad

It seems simplistic to state, but is indeed true: foods closest to their natural forms create the greatest digestive health. By contrast, a cheeseburger with its heated oils (trans-fats), though it has protein, damages digestive linings and sets up inflammation. The emphasis these days on probiotic supplements is in response to how people have noticed how terrific they feel when they respect their gut feelings.Salad for Digestive Health

Only a few generations ago, the idea was considered laughable in conventional medicine: the good and bad bacteria in my digestive tract affects my physical health?! And mood?!! There is now ample evidence that eating delicious fruits and vegetables, whole grains such as brown rice, and a variety of proteins allows “good” bacteria in our intestines to flourish.

Most people stop short of meditating on the state of their gastrointestinal flora. But a simple way to reset the stage for feeling great is to use foods and herbs that support the natural self-cleansing digestive tract. It isn’t necessary to go on a fast, but dropping refined carbohydrates and baked goods can lift one’s mood. Start increasing greens as salad, steamed vegetables, or in soups during this season of cooler weather.

Alternative Twist: Blender Salad

An absolute winner in these on-the-run lives we lead is a blender salad. What you would choose to be in your salad bowl, place in the blender. Organic and local greens are best. Well, taking time to grow, harvest, and enjoy a relaxed salad might be best. But when Slow Food must make peace with “To Go” Food, this drives easily digested nutrients straight in for instant energy without a sugar crash and burn.blender salad

  • 2 leaves romaine lettuce or other greens
  • 1 sprig organic parsley (conventionally grown is loaded with pesticides)
  • ½ tomato
  • ½ carrot
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons olive or walnut oil
  • 1/3 avocado
  • Dash of paprika
  • Optional: 1 clove garlic, ¼ onion

Another simple combination that delivers a powerhouse of healing compounds is cabbage and coriander.

Blend these, adding a little tomato juice if needed to get the right consistency. This has all the fiber to go along with the juice. So it is cleansing as well as balancing blood sugar. Unlike store-bought juices or blended smoothies, this simple salad in a tall glass jump-starts digestive health.

Soul (soothing) Food - Brown rice with Cabbage or Coriander

Sometimes, October and the coming of the holidays signals a desire for soul-soothing foods. Simmering brown rice with added aromatic herbs such as basil and saffron makes a delicious base for a meal that starts healing through our sense of smell. Another simple combination that delivers a powerhouse of healing compounds is cabbage and coriander.

brown riceAdd a half-dozen to ten coriander seeds to a half cabbage, coarsely chopped, while it steams. Toss in before serving: ¼ cup or so fresh coriander leaves (also known as cilantro). In addition to making the cabbage less gas-producing, this dish is anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, cancer-preventing, pain relieving, and delicious, especially with a little ghee (clarified butter) or a drizzle of your favorite olive oil. The coriander is also useful for reducing allergies, so this is a food and an herb that treats the problem from deep within.

There is a reason why the leaves turn scarlet, and the harvests are golden brown. All of nature is conspiring (breathing with). The beauty of a cornucopia filled with apples, pomegranates, pumpkins, and, possibly local organic grapes, reminds us that to take a bite of the apple is to invite in the sweetness of Life.

Apples and grapes are at the top of the list for anti-inflammatory, healing foods that are widely available. From head to toe, and from the core digestive system outward to our very skin, fall is an opportunity to perfect that unmistakable glow of vibrant, vital, contagious health.

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