Get Regular

This post is for mature audiences. However, even if you are a "millennial" (born between 1982 - 2002) you could benefit from this information, considering the sorry state of the average American diet.

At his most recent colonoscopy, my husband Rick was diagnosed with diverticulosis, a symptomless condition of the intestines which seems to be common in our aging baby boomer generation. The suggested lifestyle change for people with diverticulosis is to add more fiber to the diet. Untreated #diverticulosis can become the painful diverticulitis, so it is important to prevent the condition from worsening.

NOTE: The Harvard School of Public Health recommends that children and adults consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories of food they eat each day. For an adult male between the ages of 19 and 30 who eats about 2,800 calories per day, that means 38 grams of fiber per day; for an adult female of the same age who eats about 1800 calories per day, that means 25 grams.

Anyway, the list of recommended foods for increasing #fiber in our diets which the doctor handed us didn't vary much from what we already eat, so that was a dead end. And our daily green smoothies also provide high amounts of fruit and vegetable fiber. But the doctor also recommended supplementing with "Konsyl", a #psyllium (pronounced "silly-um") soluble fiber powder. I liked the fact that he had suggested a natural product with no added sugar or artificial ingredients; psyllium is derived from the seeds of a plant called plantago ovate. Following the doctor's advice, we bought powdered psyllium at our local drug store. Since then I have been using a psyllium grown organically which seems to be ground a little finer too.

The instructions on the powdered psyllium said to mix 1 teaspoon with water or juice, one to three times per day… but it's a bit tough to swallow! I started thinking about how to make this fiber supplement more palatable. I had made a couple of candy truffle recipes, and I figured the powdered psyllium could be incorporated with nut butter, sweetener, cinnamon, and other good tasting ingredients, similar to the truffles. So I've created a recipe for a raw fiber bar, easy to make, which tastes like a piece of candy… and is delivering the daily recommended amount of psyllium fiber. My measurements were based on making an easy-to-eat daily portion of the fiber supplement, equivalent to 1 tablespoon (= 3 teaspoons) per day.

(makes 28)
My preferences for ingredients in red type in my recipes are further explained on the "ingredients" page

1 c psyllium powder
1 cup almond flour (or very finely ground almonds)
2/3 c nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter, etc.)
2 T carob powder* OR unsweetened cocoa powder
2 T honey
2 T coconut oil **
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients in a food processor until completely blended and crumbly. Remove mixture and pat into a ball. Cut the ball in half. On waxed paper, form each half into a rectangle, about 2" x 6" x 3/4" thick. Make one cut lengthwise, then evenly space 6 cuts across the rectangle - this will create 14 pieces for each half of the dough. No need to break them apart; just scoring them will make it easy to break one off once they are refrigerated. Eat one piece every day, remembering to drink lots of fluids. It sort of sticks to your inner mouth and teeth, so remembering to drink is not usually a problem!

Refrigerate one of the 14-slice bars, and slide the other into a zip back and freeze until ready to use. Taking one daily, you now have approximately a one-month supply. This bar will help make you more regular, and could decrease the likelihood that you will develop painful diverticulitis. The recipe is #gluten-free also.

* I use #carob powder, which has a chocolate taste and no caffeine, but, more importantly, it is a source of soluable fiber and reputed to improve digestion, with other nutritional benefits.

** Coconut oil is solid when refrigerated, so it helps make the bars firm. I like the health benefits of coconut oil also. Olive oil can be substituted.


Mother Nature's Timing

All these tiny seeds from one poppy!
If you've been saving seeds from your own plants, you might have encountered the terminology "cold stratification." This is a process which mimics what Mother Nature does in the wild to control the timing of new seedlings. It is a necessary "pretreatment" for certain seeds (but not for all seeds), which will not germinate otherwise.

Cold stratification subjects the seeds to cold and moist conditions for one to three months (varies with species), either outdoors in the natural environment, or in similar conditions you create indoors. Without this exposure, the seeds will not germinate, so this requirement dictates the timing of next season's growth.

Take wildflowers as an example. If my wild poppies flower in May, I will leave the spent flower on the plant to create seedpods which ripen in late June. The pods bend over and dump hundreds of tiny seeds on the ground. If these seeds were to germinate right away, new young poppy plants would start growing right away and flower again in a month or two. But Mother Nature didn't intend these wild poppies to be flowering again in late summer. To prevent the dropped seeds from germinating immediately, cold stratification is required before wild poppy seeds will germinate. So they must be exposed to winter weather, sitting dormant in the soil before they can germinate and begin to grow the following year. So if I gather those seeds in June, store them in my 60°F basement in an envelope until next spring, they most likely will not germinate when I plant them.

For this reason, I commonly sow my wildflower seeds between September and December, directly on the soil where I want them to grow. I'm not fussy about this, since they'd normally just drop off the plant, so the most I might do is to rake the soil to roughen it, then throw the seeds out of my hand. This is how I scatter my collected wildflower seeds - poppies, black-eyed susan, oxtail daisies, blanket flower, larkspur, columbine, Mexican hat and others. This gives me a great crop of little seedlings in late winter, and they are strong little plants by the time the spring temperatures warm up.

But if you want to harvest and store seeds which require cold stratification - many seed catalogs and other online sources can identify the plants which require this for germination - and plant them early in the next season, you can artificially simulate nature's cold stratification process. Here's how:

Wild Columbine

1) Clean the seeds so no other plant materials (leaves, pods, etc.) are mixed with them

2) Place cleaned seeds in a zip bag with a paper towel or sterile vermiculite or sand, slightly dampened moistened but not so wet that mold will form. A little powdered fungicide can be added.

3) Store the zip bag in the refrigerator, preferably in the veggie/fruit compartment (temperatures from 34 to 41°F are recommended). Do not put in the freezer. Length of time in the fridge varies; do you research online or mimic your winter conditions.

4) Check seeds regularly for fungus or mold or early germination

Read more about cold stratification and about saving heirloom seeds.


Grow a Zinger of a Plant

One of my favorite new plants in the garden this summer has been a flowering shrub called "Roselle Hibiscus." Did you ever hear of Red Zinger Tea? Part of this plant forms the main ingredient of the tea, and gives it the distinct red color. Roselle's reputed health benefits - lower blood pressure, weight loss, lower cholesterol, improved hair health, and more - are important, and it is high in anti-oxidant bioflavonoids. I'm a tea drinker and was intrigued to learn I could grow this unique and beautiful plant in my own garden.

The idea to grow my own Roselle came from a lecture I attended on herbs for boosting the immune system by herbalist Juliet Blankespoor of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was my source for heirloom seeds for Thai Red Roselle Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa). This is a sub-tropical plant, native to India and Malaysia, so I suspect it will grow as an annual here in my Zone 7 gardens. The seed company noted that, of the many varieties they tested, the Thai Red Roselle was the only one which began flowering by mid summer at their location in Virginia. Growers south of me have called the plant "Florida Cranberry" because of the tart taste and ability to substitute for northern cranberries. The seed company advises to grow Roselle with conditions similar to growing a tomato plant. Since I didn't learn about Roselle until March, I didn't start my seedlings until April. Only 2 of about 10 seeds I planted germinated, but two plants have turned out to be plenty for me. I started the seedlings indoors in a pot, in my south facing window.

The Roselle Hibiscus plant grows best in full sun, and I transplanted my 4" seedlings outdoors well after the last frost, into my new front yard edible garden, about 5 feet apart. Don't fertilize heavily or you'll get lots of leaves and no flowers. A bushy shrub with red stems and green leaves grew rather quickly for me, with lots of branching. A bonus to me is that the citrus-tasting leaves are edible, so I've been harvested the tender new ones for my green smoothies. The leaves can be added to salads and can be air-dried for later use too. Lovely pale yellow 2" flowers, deep red at the center, began blooming around mid July. Sadly, each pretty bloom lasts just one day, like other members of the hibiscus family. Even the spent flower is pretty though, with petals of pale coral soon dropping off.

The pod which grows after the flower dies is dark red and shaped like a big teardrop. This is the plant part which gets harvested. A developing seed pod is encased in this pod, in the "calyxes" (aka "calyces"), which are bright red points formed from the "sepals" of the flower. When these calyxes grow about 1-1/4" tall and full - which happens within a week after the flowering stage - they are harvested by snapping them off by hand or clipping them off so as not to damage the plant stem if they don't release readily. As of early October (our annual average first frost here is Oct. 15), I have harvested about 150 calyxes. The lovely shrubs, with a few stems now reaching 5 feet tall, are still flowering aggressively, so if I cover them on our coldest nights I can extend the season. I plan to leave some of the calyxes unpicked so the heirloom seeds inside can mature on the plant and I can save them for planting next year, even if I have to cut off a stem and let it continue to mature and dry indoors.

Iced Roselle Red Zinger tea - yummy!
Harvesting frequently increases the continued production of flowers. Commercial growers have hollow tubes to remove the inner pod, but, for my small harvests, I simply tear off the dark red calyxes at the base where they join the seed pod. (The seed pods are discarded or saved to dry for the seeds.) These tart, fruity pieces can be used fresh, frozen, or dehydrated. I boiled about 6 calyxes in a pint of water, simmering for 10 minutes, to make a fruity red tea. They've gone fresh into my smoothies too. I'm air-drying most of my harvest, to make my own tea blend, and I've tried freezing some in zip bags. I intend to try chopping some fresh calyxes to try substituting for dried cranberries in a quick bread recipe, so I'll let you know how that works. The plant naturally contains pectin, so it is often used to make jam or jelly.

I've started saving the Roselle Hibiscus seeds to share with friends, so let me know if you want some. I expect to have a few to sell or trade at our local Farmers Market plant and seed swap, coming up on Friday, Oct. 18 2013. Try growing red zinger in your garden next season!