Bananas are a popular fruit

It’s amazing what a banana can do for you

Bananas are a popular fruit

Bananas are a popular fruit

I promise you’ll be shocked when you find out what a banana can do for you, but first some background information you might not know.

Although most people believe that bananas grow on trees, in fact the plant which produces this fruit is a (large) perennial herb. Bananas themselves are classified as berries!

There at least 50 different species of banana, but only one variety (the Cavendish) is usually sold commercially in the West. You might see other fruit that looks like bananas in ethnic markets, but these are almost all what we call “plantains”, not sweet and intended for cooking.

A boost for the ‘active man’

Bananas are a great energy boost often eaten by top athletes, as for example tennis players, which have been shown to improve mood, increase oxygen flow and improve performance. They also contain bromelain, particularly important for male sexual function, increasing both libido and stamina.

The reason athletes eat them is because they provide a consistent energy release before, during and after exercise. Two bananas have been shown to provide enough energy for a 90 minute workout – of whatever type you have in mind!

Bananas are also a source of fiber, high in magnesium and manganese (both minerals which many men are deficient in, but which are important for prostate function) as well as potassium, vitamin B6 and C. They are very low in sodium and saturated fat (less than 0.5g per banana!) and contain no trans fats or cholesterol.

The nutrients in bananas help regulate blood flow, resulting in a better and longer lasting erection.

Please note that excessive levels of potassium can be dangerous, so it’s best to obtain it from natural sources, rather than supplements. You should only consume bananas or other high potassium foods in moderation if you are taking beta blockers, as these medicines can cause potassium levels to rise.

Bananas in the garden

Bananas are a popular house plant in cool areas, and in tropical places make a wonderful garden plant. Banana skins are very useful as a compost material, and can be added directly around the base of flowering or fruiting plants or included in the compost heap.

If you’re going to eat the fruit, it’s important to use organic growing methods because they soak up whatever is sprayed on them. It goes right through the skin and into the fruit. This includes fertiliser, weed killer and any other chemicals used on them.  For the same reason, when you’re buying bananas, look out for organic ones.

Bananas and physical health

Nutritional profile
A ripe medium banana (about 118g) contains 105 calories and an estimated glycemic load of 10 (about 10% of the daily target), 0.29g/3% DV* protein, 27g/12% DV carbs, 0.39g fat, no trans fat, no cholesterol, 3g/12% DV fiber, 10g/17% DV vitamin C, 0.4mcg/22% DV vitamin B6, 3mcg/10% DV biotin, 0.3mg/16% manganese, less than 1% sodium, 422mg/12% DV potassium, 0.09mg/10% DV copper. Also contains useful amounts of riboflavin, folate and magnesium.
*DV = daily value. Source

There are many reasons bananas should be included as a regular part of your diet:

  1. The vitamin content makes bananas helpful for avoiding macular degeneration.
  2. They are rich in potassium, which is important for regulating blood pressure and healthy kidney and heart function. Bananas are well known for their high potassium content, which combined with negligible levels of sodium makes them ideal as part of a low sodium (low salt) diet.
     
    Sodium and potassium are held in balance within the body, so if you have high levels of sodium, you need to increase potassium intake to offset this. The best way to do this is by eating bananas or other natural sources.
     
    As well as offsetting sodium, potassium is also a vasodilator, which makes it useful for lowering blood pressure. High potassium intake protects against kidney stones, preserves bones and muscles and reduces calcium loss through urination. This means that eating bananas as a regular part of your diet can protect you from the risk of developing osteoporosis.
     
    The US FDA recognises bananas for their ability to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.
     
    Studies have found that a high potassium intake reduces the risk of dying (from all causes) by 20%.
  3. Vitamins B6 and C, magnesium and fiber are beneficial for the health of your heart, and
    • The vitamin B6 content combined with a low GI helps protect against type II diabetes and aid weight loss.
    • Vitamin B6 also strengthens the nervous system and is helpful for anyone suffering from anemia. It’s vital for the production of red blood cells (hemoglobin) and important to the immune system.
    • Vitamin C is an antioxidant, helping fight free radicals which are known to cause cancer.
    • Magnesium is very important for the regulation of blood sugar levels and blood pressure, maintenance of muscles and nerves, helps regulate the heart, keeps bones strong and maintains a healthy immune system.
    • Fiber is an important part of the diet which reduces the risk of colo-rectal cancer. There are two types of fiber in a banana, the ratios varying according to how ripe the banana is. The water soluble fiber increases as the fruit ripens, and the insoluble fiber reduces. Because of the fiber content, bananas are easily digested and do not impact greatly on blood sugar levels.
    • Part of the fiber in bananas is pectin, which is also known for its ability to remove contaminants from the body including heavy metals, and as a drug detox.
    • Fiber is a natural way to avoid or treat constipation.
  4. Bananas are rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which help maintain the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut, supporting digestive health and improving absorption of calcium.
  5. A banana will help to protect against muscle cramps from working out and night time leg cramps.
  6. Bananas are a good source of electrolytes after a bout of diarrhea, and also soothe the digestive tract, acting as a natural antacid and helping to prevent acid reflux (heartburn or GERD). They are one of the few fruits that can be eaten without distress by people who are suffering from stomach ulcers.
  7. For those trying to lose weight, bananas are a great low calorie snack to satisfy sweet cravings. If you replace candy or other snack foods with a banana, you’ll be getting lots of nutrition and fiber, a delicious and satisfying sweet treat, and all this for only 105 calories!
  8. Irritated skin, insect bites, psoriasis, acne and similar problems can be relieved by rubbing with the inside of a banana peel. You can also use it on warts: rub the inner skin onto the wart, then use a bandage or sticking plaster to hold it in place; replace daily until the wart has gone (about a week).
  9. Bananas are safe during pregnancy and help avoid morning sickness by keeping blood sugar levels steady.

Bananas and mental health

  1. A recent survey by the charity MIND found that many people suffering from depression felt better after eating a banana. This is thought to be because of the tryptophan content. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin by the body, increasing relaxation and improving both mood and memory. It also helps to relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and PMS.
  2. Bananas also contain dopamine, but this does not cross the blood/brain barrier, acting instead as an antioxidant. Although the dopamine in bananas does not work directly to improve mood, recent research has shown a link between inflammation and depression, so the antioxidant action of dopamine and other constituents which act to reduce inflammation may indirectly help to improve mood.
  3. A banana and berry smoothie is apparently great as a hangover cure (if you can stand the noise of the blender while hung over).

I truly think it’s amazing what a banana can do for you. Didn’t I tell you you’d be shocked?


American Basswood health benefits: for migraine and arteriosclerosis

American basswood is a large tree

American basswood is a large tree

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

American basswood, Tilia americana (formerly Tilia caroliniana, T. glabra, T. heterophylla and T. mexicana), is also sometimes called American lime, American linden, basswood, bast tree, beetree, Caroline basswood, linden, Mexican basswood, spoonwood, white basswood and wycopy. It’s closely related to the common lime/linden, the small leaved lime/linden and the large leaved lime/linden but not to the (citrus fruit) lime tree, Citrus aurantifolia.

American basswood is a full size tree, so if you don’t already have one, it’s probably going to take quite a while to grow one – though you may be able to source a sapling from a local grower. It’s not terribly fussy about location, dappled woodland shade or full sun is fine, and soil is not a problem so long as it’s moist. It won’t put up with maritime winds.

Parts used in medicine are the inner bark, bark, roots, leaves and flowers.

You can make a standard infusion of bark, inner bark, newly opened flowers, leaves, or flowers and leaves together. Use 30g (1 ounce) of bark, inner bark or leaves, 15g (a half ounce) of flowers or 15g (a half ounce) each of flowers and leaves to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water as appropriate. Allow to stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours, then strain off the solid matter and discard.

A decoction can be made with roots and bark either together or alone. In each case, use 30g (1 ounce) of material to 600ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) cold water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half then strain off and discard the solids.

To make a bark poultice, make a decoction of bark in the same way and using the same quantities, mixing this with cornmeal after straining while it’s still hot.

A poultice of leaves is made by mixing the leaves with very hot water.

Poultices are wrapped in fine bandage and applied to the area to be treated, refreshed in hot water as required.

Dosage for both infusions and decoctions taken internally is up to 1 US cup a day, split into 3 doses. Please note that an infusion using flowers is only for occasional use, as prolonged use can damage the heart.

All these remedies are used for different purposes:

An inner bark infusion is used externally for burns and irritated skin and internally for dysentery, heartburn (reflux) and lung complaints.

Use a bark infusion as a diuretic. A bark poultice can be used to draw out boils.

A flower infusion is used for arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure (hypertension), feverish colds, bronchial congestion, migraine and nervous stomach.

An infusion of leaves is used externally as an eyewash. A leaf poultice can be used to treat broken bones, burns, scalds and to reduce swellings.

An infusion of leaves and flowers is taken for colds, coughs, nervous headache, indigestion and sore throat.

A decoction of roots and bark is taken for internal bleeding.

A decoction of the roots is used to expel internal parasites.

If you have this in your garden, or you intend to grow one, please ensure that you use organic methods, to avoid the corruption of the essential constituents by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about organic gardening methods, visit the Gardenzone.


Slippery Elm health benefits: for boils and splinters

Slippery elm has quite craggy bark

Slippery elm has quite craggy bark

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Slippery elm, Ulmus rubra (syn. Ulmus fulva), is also known as American elm (though the true American elm is Ulmus americana), gray elm, Indian elm, moose elm, red elm, rock elm, soft elm, sweet elm and winged elm. It’s native to central and southern North America, although it may be found in other parts of the world by naturalization. Unfortunately, it’s not immune to Dutch elm disease, so numbers are much reduced.

This stunning picture shows the craggy bark from the most likely viewpoint unless you’re lucky enough to find one standing alone somewhere that hasn’t been hit by the Nederlandische beetles. A tree is a tree unless you can see the leaves, flowers, bark and so on, so take a look at the picture below where you can see the slightly furry twigs, a leafbud and a flower. Disappearing off to the right is a bud which has not yet opened, looking a bit like an unkempt tribble. The leaves are slightly lopsided, fairly typical elm leaves.

Slippery Elm twig with flowers

Slippery Elm twig with flowers

Obviously, unless you have a really big garden and are planning for your grandchildren, you can’t grow slippery elm for medicinal use from scratch (especially since gathering the bark is almost certain to kill the tree). If you do decide to invest for the future, it requires moist soil, but is otherwise not fussy at all so long as it’s not in full shade. However, powdered slippery elm bark is available for sale in most herbalists (probably not Chinese herbalists) and health stores. This is the inner bark, not the craggy outer bark visible in the picture above.

The main reason that slippery elm is included here is that it is the fourth and last major ingredient of the anti-cancer mixture, essiac. (The others are sheep’s sorrel, great burdock and Chinese rhubarb.) I have no opinion as to the value of this mixture, as there have been no double-blind tests, so far as I am aware.

Slippery elm is an old folk remedy which has been used for many purposes over the years, so let’s look at the various uses to which it was put before the tree was in danger of extinction.

Slippery elm food, a commercial mixture, was recommended as a first solid food for babies who had difficulties with milk. It makes up to a gruel which you can make as thick as you like, is much more easily digested than baby rice, and less likely to cause digestive problems than products based on wheat like baby rusks (babies under 6 months should never be introduced to wheat or any other gluten-containing grain, in any case, because it can cause long term problems if introduced too young). Having looked it up, I would not recommend slippery elm food for young babies, unless you use the 100% pure slippery elm powder sold in my store, as much of the product available is flavored with barley malt, another grain which may cause difficulties in the very young and also a gluten source, so unsuitable for celiacs and anyone with gluten intolerance. It can be used as a food for the elderly, invalids and convalescents, however. And there’s nothing to stop you making a very similar food from natural slippery elm (get the coarser variety if you have a choice), which you can flavor as you wish.

To make a cold infusion, mix 30g (1 ounce) of slippery elm bark with 480 ml (2 US cups, 16 fl oz) of cold water and allow to stand for at least an hour. The dose is 1 tsp, which can be repeated every 30 minutes as required.

A poultice (made by mixing 1 tsp with enough hot water to make a thick paste applied on a bandage) can be used to treat boils, wounds and scalds, soothe irritated skin and to “grease” splinters to make them easier to remove. A cold infusion can be used internally to treat heartburn, gastritis, peptic ulcers, sore throat, indigestion, diarrhea and dysentery.

Trees prefer organic cultivation, which is also important for any plant being grown for medicinal purposes. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.