Archive for December, 2011

Winter Sunset on Brimstone Hill

As we go through the darkest time of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere) and have fewer hours of sunlight to help regulate our metabolic processes, we turn to foods that nourish our bodies and tonify the kidneys.  Not surprisingly, black foods are a part of many traditional diets in winter.  Perhaps it is our body’s need to balance lack of sunlight with richly pigmented foods that contain anti-inflammatory antioxidants called anthocyanins among other things that help support immune function.  Many are iron rich and help nourish the blood.

Here are some powerful black foods you can add to your diet this season:

Black Sesame:

Black sesame seeds are a good source of calcium, high in protein, phosphorus, iron and magnesium.  Black sesame tahini is interesting to experiment with (reputed to keep hair from turning grey), but I like to roll rice balls in black sesame seeds for a tasty treat.

Black Cumin:

Revered in the Middle East as a cure all, this seed and its oil are reputed to be good for digestion, asthma, eczema and psoriasis and when combined with garlic and honey a potent anti-viral.  It is used as a pickling herb in Persian cuisine, which probably makes its healing properties more available.

Blackstrap Molasses:

Blackstrap molasses is iron rich and a source of folate, B vitamins, magnesium, calcium and potassium needed for heart health.  This is a food version of a vitamin pill.


Wild blackberry, black raspberry and raspberry

Blackberries are high in tannins, polyphenols, fiber and anthocyanins, phytochemicals that are touted to have anti-cancer effects.  They also grow wild in many different part of the country and are a great resource for foragers because they are easy to identify and oh so yummy! This is the only food I’m writing about that isn’t in season in winter, but worth obtaining nonetheless.

Black Mission Figs:

Perhaps the most sensual of all, Black Mission Figs have a strawberry colored interior that contrasts beautifully against a dark skin.  Full of fiber, calcium and iron, these dried figs are a delight in winter.

Black Walnuts:

Native to eastern North America, black walnuts are rich in fatty acids.  The green husks are incredibly fragrant with a distinctive black stain.  Fesenjoon, a traditional Persian winter dish is made with ground walnuts, chicken and pomegranate paste.  It hits the spot.

Black Lava Salt:

Sea salt infused with activated charcoal contains essential trace minerals and is reputed to be a natural detoxifier.  It also has great flavor.

Black Beans:

The “king” of black foods, black beans support colon and cardiovascular health, regulate blood sugar (combination of high protein and high fiber) and reduces inflammation.  Just make sure to soak overnight and throw out the soak water as it contains phytates that can lower nutrient availability.  In Chinese medicine, the black bean is associated with the kidney meridian as demonstrated by its shape.

Black Truffles/Dark shiitake/Black Trumpet/Morels:

Worth their weight in gold as far as I’m concerned, all types of black mushrooms, especially wild, although I don’t have the guts to gather them, are beneficial.  Research has indicated these fungi may stimulate the immune system and have anti-viral properties.  When I feel run down, I make my “Immunity Soup” which contains copious amounts of shiitake and other dark mushrooms.  As for truffles, their scent and flavor is heavenly and considered an aphrodisiac, something to help us through long winter nights!

Black Tea:

Persians drink copious amounts of black tea, sweetened by biting into a date (possibly another black food) while sipping.  While green tea has enjoyed popularity as a healthy beverage, researchers are finding out that black tea is a close runner up.  Black tea is the mature green tea leaves that have been fermented.  I consider black tea to be another fermented food source.  Always brew the loose whole leaves, the best quality tea has long strands.  Persians brew their tea in teapots that are set on top of a source of steaming water, like a kettle.  This concentrates the tannins, flavanoids, color and flavor!

Alaskan Black Cod:

Rarely do I want to do backflips for a cooked fish, but Alaskan Black Cod or Sablefish is an exception.  Sweet and silky, melt in your mouth when grilled to perfection, this ice water fish is very high in long-chain omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA (as much as wild salmon) and the good news is that its population is not threatened and it is sustainably fished.

Organ Meats (liver, especially):

Organ meats like liver, kidney and heart are dark and mineral rich which nourish the blood and counter anemia.  They are also nutrient dense full of B and fat soluble vitamins AND vitamin D to make up for fewer sunlight hours in winter.  The best source is from pastured poultry and grass fed beef or lamb like the delicious Hudson Valley foie gras I had recently.


Sambucus nigra as it is know by its Latin binomial can be used to prepare a wonderful elixir that helps ward off and fight viruses.  Instead of the store bought extracts, consider making your own with organic dried berries, either wild gathered or purchased and 100 proof (50% alcohol) vodka.  Or make a syrup with some raw honey.  A teaspoon a day keeps the doctors away, or so they say!

Here are other black foods to try, and there are many more . . . my next installment will be about how to incorporate BLACK into the external care of the body.  Stay tuned!

Black Olives, Black Pepper, Black Quinoa, Squid Ink pasta, Dark Miso, Tamari (fermented soy sauce), Black Vinegar, Black Licorice (although the FDA has issued some kind of warning . . . ), Black Cherries, Black Raspberries, Black Lentils, Dark Chocolate (85% cacao) or raw Cacao Nibs, Poppy seeds, Chia seeds, Black caviar, Black Rice, Black garlic.

Any other favorites?

This blog post is part of the Food Renegade “Fight Back Friday” series:

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Water, though hydrating when taken internally, is actually drying to the skin, especially when soap is used.  Soap and water strip the skin of it’s natural protective oils (sebum) and not only dry out the skin, but lead to oily breakouts, because the skin compensates for dryness by creating more oil.  Soap and water also change the pH of the skin, oddly enough creating a favorable environment for bacterial growth.  This increased production of oil combined with bacteria can result in acne.  The only way to break the cycle is to “fight like with like”.  Oils dissolve dirt and makeup without disrupting the sebum and pH balance established by the skin.

Why is maintaining the skin’s sebum layer so important?  The skin is the largest and heaviest organ:  constituting 15% of your weight and covering 12 to 20 sq ft.  It is 70% water, 25% protein and 5% fat.  It is the interface between the body and the environment.  It helps rid our bodies of toxins and can absorb up to 60% of certain things that are applied, however, this is dependent on  molecular size, weight and transdermal delivery system.  Our skin produces oils that protect it from heat, wind, ultraviolet radiation and bacterial invasion.   Constantly washing the skin rids it of this protective mechanism.

Water based cleansers change the pH of the skin which invites unfriendly bacteria to inhabit the surface of our bodies.  Oils maintain the skin’s slightly acidic, protective mantle so healthy probiotic colonies can flourish.  The cells of our bodies are 1/10th human and 9/10 bacterial, the majority of which inhabit the skin’s surface, mucous membranes and intestines.  We are learning more about how friendly flora actually help us stay healthy which makes proper skincare that much more important to our total body health and not merely a cosmetic fix.   Sebum also has a certain sun protection factor (SPF) that helps repel harmful rays while allowing our body to metabolize sunlight and produce immune supporting vitamin D.  I would suspect over washing could make one that much more susceptible to absorbing harmful UVA/UVB rays, although I have not read anything to that effect (it is purely my intuition).  All of these are reasons why oils have been used traditionally to care for the skin.

Plant based oils have a long history.  In addition to their culinary use, oils like olive oil were used medicinally, as well as in ritual purifications (anointing).Ancient Greek athletes covered their bodies with it, believing it gave them strength (probably the polyphenols delivered transdermally). They also cleansed with oils using strigils to scrape the excess and exfoliate dead skin cells as depicted in this image: Ancient Egyptians would place scented oil cones on their heads that would gradually melt and cover their skin with fragrant unguents.   Ayurvedic medicine uses oils to heal and balance the body.

The oils I use come from cultures that have included them in their diets for centuries, have been grown organically and extracted using traditional cold pressed methods.  Proper extraction preserves the phytonutrients and prevents early oxidation.  Olive oil from the Mediterranean, shea butter from West Africa, argan oil from Morocco, neem oil from India, marula oil from South Africa, virgin coconut oil from the Philippines, macadamia and kukui nut oils from Hawaii, rose hip seed oil from the Andes.  The use of oils in traditional cultures around the world is ubiquitous.

So what is the best way to cleanse the skin?  I have devised a unique routine I call Water-Free Oil Cleansing (TM).  Unlike the typical oil cleansing method (OCM), my method does not use water which ultimately defeats the purpose of using oils to cleanse in the first place.

Before retiring at night, pump some oil onto two cotton pads (or the corners of a clean washcloth) that have been sprayed with toner.  The toner helps “activate” the oil so the cotton won’t stick to your skin and dirt/makeup/dead skin cells are are loosened.

Gently press and roll the cotton pads/over the entire face and eyes, not forgetting the neck.  If you have eye makeup on you will have to work a little harder to remove it and if a little gets in your eyes, it’s ok, it won’t hurt.

Blot excess with a tissue.

Follow with a spray of toner.

Go to bed.  Do not use creams or night creams as they can block the pores that are working so hard to eliminate toxins through respiration at night.

In the morning spray toner onto face.  Run a clean wash cloth under hot (not scalding) water.  Always use a freshly laundered washcloth because used washcloths are breeding grounds for bacteria due to the moist environment which allows microorganisms from sloughed off skin cells to proliferate (YUCK!).  Wring out and place on face.  Repeat three times so pores can open.

Scoop out some moisturizer using spatula (this reduces the introduction of bacteria), distribute onto fingertips, then pat, pat, pat all over your face, neck and decoletee.

For women, I recommend doing a light circular breast massage with the cleansing/body oil at this time.  It helps increase circulation throughout breast tissue.

Allow moisturizer to settle in before applying makeup.  I usually get dressed at this time.

Cleansing with oil can be done all year and is beneficial for all skin types, especially oily!  It is probably the single most important step towards maintaining lifelong healthy skin.

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