Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Outlander Gardeners - Start Your Seeds!

Fans of Diana Gabaldon's popular series of Outlander books are eagerly awaiting the start of the Starz TV series based on the saga, which will premiere in summer, 2014.

In the meantime, what's a fan to do? Why not plant a garden this spring, featuring some of the plants mentioned in the Outlander books?

Here are some suggestions, with links to the seeds offered by Botanical Interests.

Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis sp.) This is the little plant that started it all. Claire first spotted this plant when she and Frank visited the standing stones. She returned later to collect the flowers, got a little too close to the cleft between the stones, and the rest is historical fiction.

Foxglove (Digitalis sp.) This colorful biennial has long been used as a heart medicine. Enjoy the flowers but do not eat any part of this plant.

Garlic chives (Allium sp.) Garlic has been used as an antibiotic for centuries. The time to plant regular garlic is mid-summer, but you can get the benefit of the medicinal properties of this plant family by using garlic chives. Chives are perennials - they reappear early every spring.

Watercress (Nasturtium officianale) Claire and Jamie's adventures often have them living off the land, foraging for plants like watercress. Watercress grows wild in the Highlands of Scotland. If you happen to live elsewhere, you can plant these seeds, cultivate your own patch and enjoy these peppery greens in salads.

For more about plants featured in the Outlander books, visit my blog, Outlander Plant Guide.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Can Curry Relieve Joint Pain?

Absolutely! I discovered this by accident after I had a bad fall on the sidewalk and wrenched my knee. Fortunately, nothing was broken, but for a couple of weeks my knee was swollen and sore. In fact, for a few days, it hurt too much to bear weight on it and I had to use a cane.

About a week after the fall, I had a craving for red curry. I was still in quite a bit of pain and it hurt to walk. So rather than hobble into a restaurant, I made a batch of curry at home. I noticed that about 20 minutes after I ate a big plate of it, my knee felt a lot better. Several hours later, the pain started coming back, which led me to wonder what was going on.

A little research showed that turmeric, an ingredient in curry, has long been used in Chinese and Indian (Ayurvedic) medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent. Curcurmin, the volatile oil that gives turmeric its intense yellow color, has the advantage of relieving pain and a host of other conditions, without side effects.

I have arthritis and have found that Western pharmaceuticals don't work for me. They simply don't relieve the pain. They do have a long list of side effects that would make them unacceptable to me for regular use, even if they did work. 

Since this discovery, I have been adding turmeric to soups, stews - wherever the flavor might be complementary - to keep my joints feeling better.

I also add cayenne pepper for its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. I don't need a lot. I substitute it for black pepper in dishes like scrambled eggs. Just a dash will add a slight bit of heat and a whole lot of benefits. (If you are sensitive to nightshade plants, however, you might want to forego the cayenne.)

If you want to try this at home, red curry is very simple to make. I "cheat" and use bottled red curry sauce. If I use the Thai Kitchen brand, available locally at PCC stores, I add more turmeric, cayenne and ground ginger to it, because I like more spicy flavor. I also use Trader Joe's red curry sauce which doesn't (in my opinion) need much extra spice.

I start by sauteing vegetables. I like onions, garlic and red peppers, but you could use matchstick pieces of carrot or celery, whatever you like.

When the vegetables are softened, I add the curry sauce and let the mixture simmer until the vegetables are cooked through. Then I add shredded cooked chicken or shrimp, stir and simmer another minute or two.

While the sauce is simmering, I make rice and steam some broccoli. By the time the rice is done, everything else is ready to put onto the plate.

I like to put down a layer of rice, top it with the curry, put the broccoli on top and then garnish with a generous amount of chopped cilantro. If I have a lime handy, I squeeze some juice over it all.

And there you have it - As Hippocrates said, "Let your food be your medicine."