Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Aryurdvedic Kapha Tea

The Medicine Buddha teachings have a dovetail with Aryurvedic teachings. Although Aryurveda is associated more with Hinduism (Santana Dharma), it is an integral part of Vajrayana Buddhism (Arya Dharma). There is a section I hope to share more about some time where the three dosha of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha emerge from the three poisons of the mind (addictive craving, condemning negativity, and obscuring delusion). This can be represented as vata>wind>craving, pitta>fire>negativity, and kaptha>earth and water>delusion. There are seven dosha types, strong vata, strong pitta, and strong kapha, then the mixed pairs of each, and then the tri-dosha (this is considered a state of healthy balance and is the ideal, though I guess it is possible to have a near death state where all the doshas are equally aggravated, that would then make 8 types) of all three together. This kind of understanding serves as a basis of an integrated mind-heart-body healing approach. This fits in with Amritayana Buddhism's belief that aging and death are not necessary, but are due to causes and conditions that we can potentially master and cure.

I found a Kapha Tea which helps dissolve excess Kapha. This tea is very simple:

1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon dill seed
1 clove bud
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek
1 cup of pure water

Mix ingredients together, bring to boil, simmer (or steep as in the original recipe, the simmering is for the extra herbs mentioned below) for five minutes, and it is done.

I have made a few modifications to this formula to tweak it a little. I do 1/8 teaspoon dill seed and 1/8 teaspoon of dill weed powder instead of 1/4 teaspoon of dill seed, do about 3 clove buds ground, grind the fenugreek, add 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom, half a stick of cinnamon (which can be used a number of times) and add 1/2 teaspoon of sencha green tea about halfway through the simmering period. Once the green tea is added, it is important to strain the liquid to remove the leaves in about 5 minutes, because more tannins enter the water after this. It makes a subtle and important flavor difference between a mellow more alkaline tea and a bitter more acid tea. I finish off this formula with two drops of liquid stevia as a sweetener and one drop of lemon oil as a support for the cardamom. Ginger powder seems preferable to fresh ginger root. I am noticing as I study that these two states of the same ingredient have different warming properties. Each has their place but do not function identical to each other. Ginger powder is more consistent in potency and is a very good warmer. I do find that the proportions of this tea are important, especially with the ginger.

Thanks to Aryurvedic chef Patti Garland for this recipe:


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Brain Blend

I have been exploring a combination of herbs that help the brain. There is a book called THE EDGE EFFECT by Eric R. Braverman. The book proposes that there are four major chemicals in the brain that we need to keep in balance in order to have optimal brain health and longevity. The book, in general, confirms my theory that we need to keep our brain healthy in order to achieve biological immortality. The four key chemicals are dopamine, acetyl-choline, GABA, and serotonin. These chemicals can sometimes be taken directly, but in terms of supplements they are usually delivered indirectly through taking metabolic precursors, chemicals that get converted to these four main chemicals. GABA can be taken directly. Serotonin usually comes from tryptophan, dopamine from tyrosine, and acetyl-choline from carnitine and a few other compounds.

I have been exploring getting these four key brain chemicals from herbal sources, rather than through supplements. I tried supplements and found that I did feel something, but found that herbal nutrients seem to have a better deliver system to get these nutrients to where they are needed in the body, even though theoretically they sometimes have less of these nutrients that a pharmaceutical pure powder. It could be that herbs have built in metabolic co-factors that the body is used to expecting from millions of years of evolutionary adaptation.

I am not against the use of pharmaceutical products, but want to be realistic about them as an option. There are some disadvantages. One is that there is a testing gap in scientific research about them. The nutrient tested in the research may not be identical to the actual product being used by people. I have run across a few consumer studies which have shown that what is labeled a certain chemical sometimes does not even have any of the chemical in it. There are also additives, fillers, and shelf life to consider. Even when you have the right purity and a good company behind it, very often they cannot afford to duplicate the original studies. I came to the conclusion I was only going to keep using stuff that I can feel working with at least a subjective sensation of feeling at least a little better and healthier. Even when considering the possibility of a placebo effect, many products have failed to meet this level, even when I have taken the product with some sense of optimism about the possible results. There is some danger of a misread, like perhaps something like a temporary caffeine boost that makes you feel better but does not in the long term. But I find that it is possible to use personal experience here and just keep sensitive in the long term to see what the effects are. I feel that the body can sort out temporary boosts from long term health strategies. There is also the herbal traditions on the past to check with in this regard. We have collective history experience to check with.

I have found that Macuna Puriens is a good herbal source for dopamine. Nettles, walnut oil, sesame oil, figs, walnuts and tahini are good sources for serotonin (through tryptophan, though Nettles does seem to directly give some serotonin). For GABA, Kava seems best with a GABA Oolong (Oolong cured in a nitrogen environment or high mountain Oolong) as also being very good. For acetyl-choline, soy lecithin is one possibility (which is oddly enough found in chocolate bars, if you take the 88 percent dark it is very low in sugar and has no dairy). I am still exploring the last one some to see what options I have. It seems that Rosemary, Fenugreek, Horsebalm, Gotu Kola, Gingko, Dandelion, Mung Bean, Fava Bean, Brazil Nuts (but sometimes these can carry a mold if not transported or preserved well), Nettles, and Willow all seem to help in some way.

In addition to those mentioned, Ginseng seems to be very helpful. There was a legend of an herbalist who lived in China that lived to about 256. He taught, at least according to one author, being vegan, doing Chi Kung (the Eight Silken Brocade or Jam Jung exercises), doing Chi Kung breathing, and taking Ginseng, Foti, and Gotu Kola. Ginseng was so important and powerful by itself that when he chose to let go of his body he could not die until he had stopped taking Ginseng for two weeks. There is some mention also of the Reishi mushroom in some formulas connected with him. I do not know if this was integral to his formula or not. It may have been his general knowledge of Taoist herbal medicine which is meant to be used as well.

I found when scanning the literature for "immortalist herbs" that several have appeared, from White Tea, Reishi, Ginseng, Ephedra (Ma Huang), Gotu Kola, Foti, Licorice, and Aloe. There are a few others that seem to come up from time to time. I hope to at least footnote the promising ones. I have found a number of herbs that have a positive effect on the brain and on mood, from Saint John's Wort, Kava, Ginseng, Mugwort, Chamomile, Ephedra, Macuna, Ashwaganda, good quality Green Tea, wild mint, Valerian, Cardamom, Gingko, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Pineapple, and Coconut Milk. Some of these are not potent by themselves, but help other herbs. Kava has many healing alkaloids and some of them extract in hot water, some through pineapple enzymes, and some through coconut milk. Kava can be very potent in a green smoothy with banana (potassium), cucumber (alkalizer), pineapple (enzymes), rice protein powder, and Vita-Mineral Green (or anything with dehydrated greens, though this is the best one that I have found).

There is a tricky part to this exploring, because I find I do not always have time to fully extract the potencies of the herbs. I suspect that mere pill popping of vitamin pills also has a similar limitation. Some herbs combine well with each other, others need special separate extractions. Roots tend to combine well and need more boiling time to extract their potencies. Too much boiling of leaf herbs can even weaken the formula (too long a boil and more tannins come out of Green Tea, ideally you bring to boil for about one minute and steep for about five minutes, and then take the leaves out of the water). I have learned to treat herbal brews with the same attitude as gourmet medicinal food cooking. I have been able to standardize the formulas some, but not perfectly yet. I am still working out an ideal set. I almost always improvise in practice, adding a few extra things according to some temporary felt need. If I am getting a cold during the winter because of "moist damp chi" energy in the Oregon rains, then I might add more thermogens. I like Ephedra a lot, but have to measure it carefully as it is very strong. My brother gets a racing heart if he takes too much. I have used it more over a longer period of time and my body has adapted to the herb. However, I have to be careful of hidden synergists and how they may multiply the potency of each other. I suspect that Bitter Orange synergizes very well with Ephedra and makes the former have an effect similar to Ephedra. While this is good for me to have, my brother may need to take an even smaller dose of the two combined than when they are separate. I put Ephedra is a salt shaker type bottle and only sprinkle a little into a brew, one shake for every cup.

My main meditation practice these days is a kind of Tumo Yoga where I visualize Hreeh in red at the base of the spine, Ah in silvery blue at the heart, and Om at the 3rd eye in white. This is not exactly the usual practice but is a valid derivation of the principles when linked to chanting Om Namo Amida Buddha Hreeh and calm abiding in the primordial state as a support. I have recently concluded that an "herbal tumo support" is possible with a skillful combination of herbs, some thermogens to support the hreeh, some brain nutrients to support om, and some lung openers for ah (the aromatics, cardamom, and hawthorn berry).

I have recently been exploring Gynostemma which has similar potencies to Ginseng but, being a leaf, can grow more easily, cheaply, and productively. Because it is a leaf, too, it can brew with other leaves in the same pot and matures in about the same amount of time. It synergizes with Gingko and Green Tea. I am suspecting that it is not a perfect replacement for Ginseng, but may substitute for a certain amount. It could be that while the active ingredient is similar that the root has more grounding properties. It could be that adding some licorice, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and burdock to the three synergists just mentioned may help the ginseng like active ingredient in gynostemma. I would recommend only a small amount of each of these so as to not overwhelm the brew (so that all five together in mass is equal to only one third of the total mass when combined with the three leaves). And maybe a pinch of Ephedra...

Green tea varies in quality a lot and it is worth finding something organic and loose. I would shy away from the tea bag herbal blends. It is more affordable to buy in bulk. I have been very happy with Mountain Rose Herbs in Eugene, Oregon, but I am sure there are other sources. I have a friend who wild crafts herbs, especially Nettles, and who finds some very good ones in this local region. I prefer using herbs fresh when possible, but drying them, tinturing them, or refrigerating them is useful for the seasonal downtimes. Mugwort seems ideal for winter hibernation and needs to be dried and preserved for then. It makes a "lucid dreaming tea" when combined with "calming herbs" like chamomile, Saint John's Wort, Kava, and Valerian (the last one is very strong and you do not need very much, just a few pinches, in its essential oil form, one drop per a pot in enough and is very strong, take it only when you are ready to fall asleep within 30 minutes). Young leaf Green Tea is naturally low in caffeine. I have found that some caffeine seems essential to deliver the herbal potencies to where we need it in the body and so staying totally away from caffeine is something I would not advise. Powdered Sencha tea is very very good, but also is a little expensive (worth it).

In another blog I would like to go into some cleansing herbs and routines. I wanted to write this entry in more stream of consciousness fashion and give a sense of some of the considerations I have been processing in my mind about various brain, health, and longevity herbs that I have found useful and where my research edge is. I feel I am gaining a lot of useful knowledge about herbs, but it is not as linear as simply saying herb X is good for problem Y. There are issues of best preparation, seasonal changes that alter how much some herbs are needed, some need to sense what you need from time to time, what kind of key herbs work best together, and which support herbs are worth adding or omitting according to need. I think there is some room to experiment and find out what works best for you, especially with the safe herbs. I think there are also herbs that are too potent to be too experimental with unless one is extra conscious, like Ephedra and some possible thermogenic synergists like Bitter Orange. I do feel that having a meditation practice is integral to herbal medicine and makes all the herbs work better and visa versa. I would suggest that one put aside experimenting with anything more than a pinch of Ephedra unless you really feel you know what you are doing and/or check in with a health professional who can monitor you.

I am planning on mentioning a number of formulas and have shared some already. The above represents the general flavor of my research. Blessings.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Some Diet Notes or Raw Pea Soup

This morning I decided to make one of my favorite recipes. It is a raw pea soup. It is made by putting one small bag of frozen peas in a blender with enough water to cover it and about an inch more. Blend until creamy. This may necessitate pausing the blender and stirring occasionally (make sure the blender is really off before you stir!) and even adding a little pure filtered water. Then add a 1/3 cup of tahani and blend. Then add one zucchini and blend. Then add a small bowl of salad greens (baby romaine is what I used) and blend. Then sprinkle a small amount of Celtic or Himalayan Salt (these have some ionic and colloidal minerals). Then add about two tablespoons of lime or lemon juice. Blend. More tahini can be added to make it creamier. Pour the soup base into a container (half full). Then add Hecho Talent Salsa for thick chunks and/or finely grated peeled sweet potato (there is a device I have that makes it have the texture of spaghetti and which can be further softened by a quick blanche, just dipping them momentarily in boiling water). Then add some flax oil for some Omega 3's.

The soup is thick enough to make a creamy salad dressing, especially when dill is added.

Plan on eating all this soup within about 3 days. It is a raw food and it is high in enzymes which will keep breaking down the compounds (in a good digestive way).

The main advantage of eating raw is that the food in high in enzymes. I find that raw food diet to be very cleansing and would recommend that people try strict raw food for about 3 to 6 months.

There are some challenges to the raw food diet that are worth mentioning and are the reasons why I am not 100 percent raw:

(1) Cooking does sterilize the food well. When you are eating raw, you need to make sure the food is well cleaned. Blanching quickly is a good idea or soaking in a solution that removes pesticide or herbicide residues. Even if something is organic, there is some chance of contamination, since raw food can be trucked along side conventional food, sometimes over hot stretches of road, with truck exhaust filling the air. I usually go more raw in the spring and summer. It is not because raw food is too cold for the winter. It is possible to "warm without wounding". The food is still raw and uncooked if the temperature of the heat merely warms the food to the hot coco level. But I find that I prefer being on raw foods when I can get fresh local farm produce that is harvested in the morning of the day it is sold and handled with care. This food feels superior to most truck and grocery raw food. In the winter time, the harvests of this fresh food are less (with the exception of kale). It is also important to consider what kind of composting technique is used by organic growers, especially when fecal matter of certain animals and/or humans is used. There is a way of super heating the compost so it is fully broken down and nutrient rich. There is also a sloppy way of doing this where live parasites may be transfered to the food, and if not sterilized by cooking, and can have a severe impact on health.

(2) Raw food, especially if you do not use dried and frozen food (both methods can keep the food essentially raw, but do reduce the enzyme content by about 50 percent, both have methods of cheating, of using too much heat to dry them faster and thus making it less raw or blanching with too much heat before freezing), spoils fairly fast, which means that you have to plan better and prepare food more often. While this is possible, modern life is very busy and routines are easily upset by periodic emergencies. I found that food would often spoil. I eventually compromised by having a stock of frozen food and cultured food (like olives, sauerkraut, kombucha, coconut milk kefir, and organic soy yogurt). These food, while not strictly raw, have raw food properties, since live cultures are active or were active in many of them. These things help the intestinal flora too.

(3) There are some bigger challenges when you are traveling and being raw. You can usually find places with salad bars. The food is fresh, though the salad greens are usually soaked in sodium bisulfide, a preservative. It is a relatively safe chemical compound, but sometimes these compounds induce an allergic reaction. A few place have smoothies and fresh juices that can keep one going. You can bring fresh carrots and apples, some raw food health bars, and Vita-Mineral Green powder (mixed in water gives a lot of nutrients). A cooler filled with good stuff helps, especially on short trips. You eventually run out. I found that I would stop at grocery stores and get some apples and carrots, and occasionally get lucky by finding some other things.

(4) Some food seems to process well cooked, like tomatoes and like the legume family in general. It seems that cooking does make legumes more digestible. After trying a lot of sprouting and soaking methods to get them to taste good, I decided that cooking them was okay, at least some of the time. Legumes are the main protein source when you are vegan and are leaning towards more raw food.

(5) I have found a lot of value in herbal teas and feel they are very compatible with a raw food diet. I would not water to deprive myself of their benefits just to be completely consistent with a dietary rule. The only rule I am very consistent with is to not eat animals or animal products (eggs and dairy). This is more for ethical reasons.

I find that if I am going to describe my diet using modern labels, it comes out like this:

mostly organic
gluten free
low glycemic
semi-raw food

with herbal teas
with pranayama breathing
with microclustered water
with himalayan salt

The raw food pea soup covers nearly the whole spectrum.