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 for pregnant women 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?


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Health benefits and uses of less well known mints

Eight less well known mints

Eight less well known mints. Left to right, top to bottom from top left: Australian mint, Brisbane pennyroyal, cornmint, Hart’s pennyroyal, horsemint, red mint, slender mint and water mint.

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

I’ve already dealt with a number of different mint species including peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, ginger mint, Corsican mint and (European) pennyroyal. But there are a number of other species in the Mentha genus, most of which are used less frequently and are less readily available in nurseries. Of course, the availability will depend on where exactly you live. In Australia, you’re probably more likely to find at least two of these “less well known mints” as I’m calling them here, since they are native to Tasmania and the Queensland coast. I expect the same goes for some of the others in different parts of the world.

All mints are species in the genus Mentha and have some things in common. They all have a minty fragrance and flavour, they all prefer a richer soil than you’d use for most other herbs, they all attract bees, butterflies and similar wildlife while deterring rats and mice, and they all have a strong tendency to become invasive if you don’t take steps to prevent this – the normal method being to plant them in a big flower pot (bottomless if you like) and then plunge that into the soil. Even then, some of the more prolific seeders and the ones that lean over and root from the tips of their stems will need to be watched like a bunch of naughty school children, or they’ll get out of control and start running all over. All the mints on this page also like a moist soil, in fact some will thrive actually in the water, if it’s not too deep.

For medicinal use, gather leaves just as the plants come into flower to use immediately or for drying. To dry them, lay them out in a single layer in a cool, dry, airy place out of direct sunlight, turning now and then until completely dry, then store in an airtight jar (preferably made of dark-coloured glass), label and store in a cool, dry cupboard.

Please note that none of the herbs covered in this post are suitable for internal use by pregnant women.

Australian mint

Australian mint

Australian mint aka river mint, Mentha australis. Native to Australia including Tasmania, where it is listed as a threatened species.

An erect or sprawling herb reaching a height of 50-75cm (20″) with long thin lance-shaped toothed fairly hairy leaves up to 6cm x 2cm. Found growing wild by streams or in clay depressions. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

Not often used in cooking, but may be used as a substitute for other mints when these are not available.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal aka bush mint, creeping mint (or native pennyroyal in Australia), Mentha satureioides. Native to Australia.

A mat-forming herb which reaches 30cm x 1m with leaves up to 35mm x 7mm and hairy stems, found growing wild on riverbanks, open forest and pasture. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used as a general tonic, for muscle cramps, high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Cornmint

Cornmint

Cornmint aka field mint, wild mint (see horsemint which is also called wild mint), or pudina in ayurvedic medicine, Mentha arvensis syn. M. austriaca. Native to Europe including Britain, northern Asia and the Himalayas, naturalised across much of northern USA.

An erect or semi-sprawling herb which reaches 60-100cm x 1m with hairy toothed leaves up to 65mm x 20mm and hairy stems. Found growing wild in moist heathland and woodland edges. Suitable for any dry or moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses. It is used in ayurveda as an appetiser and for gastric disorders.

Cornmint is the most likely essential oil you’ll find apart from spearmint and peppermint. However, it’s not actually used in aromatherapy, but mainly by the pharmaceutical industry.

As with all essential oils, cornmint essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Hart's pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint (see also water mint), Mentha cervina syn. Preslia cervina. There is a variety with white flowers: Mentha cervina alba. Native to Algeria, Morocco and Southwest Europe. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.

This plant is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A semi-evergreen herb which reaches a height of 30cm with narrow lance-shaped greyish-green leaves. Found growing wild in damp places. Suitable for any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves contain high levels of pulegone, which is poisonous, so this plant is not edible raw, though toxicity is reduced by cooking.

The essential oil in the leaves is antiseptic, but also toxic.

Horsemint

Horsemint

Horsemint aka biblical mint, buddleia mint, silver mint or wild mint (see cornmint, which is also called wild mint), Mentha longifolia syn. M. incana, M. sylvestris, M. tomentosa. Native across Europe, Asia and Africa, naturalised in North America, also cultivated.

An erect or creeping herb reaching 1m x 1m with slightly furry leaves up to 10cm x 3cm. Found growing wild in wasteland and roadsides. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can be used raw, cooked, in salads and chutneys, as a peppermint flavouring and for tea.

A traditional remedy for bad breath and with vinegar for dandruff, recommended in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water is used for asthma, coughs, colds and other respiratory conditions, stomach cramps, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion and headaches. It is also used in many places as a gargle and mouthwash to treat disorders of the mouth and throat. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Red mint

Red mint

Red mint aka red raripila mint or rust free mint, Mentha x smithiana syn. M. rubra. A hybrid between Mentha aquatica, M. arvensis and M. spicata. Native to Northern and Central Europe and with a reputation for being resistant to mint rust.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1.5m with red stems and red-tinged foliage. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves are excellent used raw, cooked, for tea, and as a spearmint flavouring for desserts, ice cream etc.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. It can also be used externally as a wash for skin infections, cuts and grazes. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Slender mint

Slender mint

Slender mint (or native mint in Australia), Mentha diemenica syn. M. gracilis. Native to Australia including Tasmania. Found growing wild in grassland and forest habitats. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.A prostrate or upright herb 10-25cm x 50cm with flat hairless leaves up to 20mm x 12mm. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Water mint

Water mint

Water mint (see also Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint), Mentha aquatica syn. M. hirsuta. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, naturalised in New Zealand and the USA, cultivated in Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1m. Found growing wild in swamp, marsh, fen and any wet ground. Suitable for pond edges or any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade. Can grow in water (up to 4 inches of water above the growing medium).

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.


Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon health benefits: super spice, but not superfood

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon bark is a tasty and healthful spice

Cinnamon, the inner bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree (syn. Cinnamomum zeylanicum and Laurus cinnamomum), is a spice used for many centuries throughout the world – originally only by royalty, due to the price. The origin was kept secret from the West until the early sixteenth century, when Portuguese traders landed in Sri Lanka.

Although cinnamon trees are grown commercially in many parts of the East, even as recently as 2006 90% of the production of cinnamon was carried out in Sri Lanka.

Left to right: cassia, cinnamon: low quality, regular, best quality

Left to right: cassia, cinnamon: low quality, regular, best quality

Obviously, unless you are lucky enough to live in one of the areas with a similar climate, you won’t be growing your own cinnamon tree. But you can still use it by purchasing good quality cinnamon, which is easy to tell from the inferior cassia if you buy it in “quills” rather than ground (see picture left). It keeps better like this as well.

If you do live in a cinnamon-producing area, you are still probably better off purchasing rather than growing your own, which involves coppicing cinnamon trees, removing the bark from the resulting branches, immediately discarding the outer bark and drying the inner, which rolls up as it dries to form the characteristic quills.

Edit: I just came across this YouTube video on Reddit, which seems to demonstrate beyond any doubt that cinnamon works as an effective ant-repellent.

Don’t believe propaganda that says a teaspoon of cinnamon contains as many antioxidants as a half cup of blueberries or a whole cup of pomegranate juice. This seemed extremely unlikely to me, so I researched the actual nutrient content of each. I’m afraid that you still have to eat those blueberries or drink that pomegranate juice. Cinnamon does contain quite a lot of nutrients, for sure, in particular manganese, calcium and iron, but a teaspoonful a day is not going to fulfil your antioxidant requirements, or go anywhere near doing that, sorry.

Having shot that fox, there is strong research evidence that cinnamon is very helpful to people suffering from diabetes – as little as a half teaspoonful a day lowers blood sugar levels, as well as cholesterol and triglyceride in Type 2 diabetics not taking insulin. Other studies show the same quantity can lower LDL cholesterol in the general population.

Cancer patients would also do well to supplement with cinnamon: studies have shown that it is active against colorectal cancer, melanoma, leukemia and lymphoma. In my view, it’s worth supplementing with cinnamon whatever type of cancer you may have, given the broad spread represented by the ones researched so far.

Copenhagen researchers gave arthritis patients a half teaspoon of cinnamon powder mixed with a tablespoon of honey for breakfast every day, and within a week, their pain was significantly reduced – after a month they could walk without pain.

It’s also prescribed in Germany for appetite loss and indigestion.

Other conditions which are helped by cinnamon include COPD, poor circulation in hands and feet, all kinds of digestive disorders including infantile diarrhea, high blood pressure, muscle cramps, athlete’s foot and medication-resistant yeast infections.

For athlete’s foot and other external fungal infections you can use a wash – make a standard infusion using a half teaspoon of freshly ground cinnamon to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water, allow to cool before use. For other purposes, you can add a half teaspoon of cinnamon to honey (like the Danish study did), or you could just chew the powder and swallow it (as Chinese herbalists often recommend), or make a standard infusion and drink it (hot or cold). Another method would be to obtain empty capsules from a herbal supplier and fill each one with a quarter or half teaspoon of cinnamon so that you can take one or two in the morning or at night along with your regular supplementation. There are also ready made cinnamon capsules available, see below.

I offer powdered cinnamon, cinnamon bark and cinnamon bark 350mg capsules in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

There are two types of cinnamon essential oil: bark oil, which is toxic and should not be used for aromatherapy under any circumstances, and leaf oil which can be used diluted with carrier oil for skin infections and as a stimulant to increase blood flow and sexual appetite. Do a patch test before using on the skin and use in moderation. It can also be used neat (wear gloves) to kill mosquitoes and their larvae, and in an oil burner as a room freshener and mosquito repellent. Even the leaf oil is irritant and should be avoided by pregnant women. Never use internally, even in cooking.

As with all essential oils, cinnamon essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.