Original “fire cider” for nausea

Original “fire cider” for nausea

A few weeks ago I had a visit from a family who brought their senior-aged mother to see me, complaining of a relentless nausea. No cause could be ascertained, and she had already spent a couple days in the hospital on IV, but with no respite. When I examined her, the poor lady was very pale and cold, barely coherent, and was listing in her chair, almost falling over. Her family was obviously very worried, but I was confident that I could restore her rather quickly, my optimism based on a little remedy I discovered about 15 years ago. While she and her family waited, I excused myself and made some up. I measured out a dose and diluted it in warm water, gave it to the mother, and then continued talking to the family about ways they could restore her electrolytes and digestion. Within a minute or so, the mother’s pallor changed notably, and she began to sit upright, and answer questions easily. Her eyes were clearer and brighter, and by the time she left a few minutes later, she easily walked out the door on the arm of her daughter.

I knew this remedy would likely benefit her because I have had occasion to test it many times. The first time I found this remedy was when I was searching for something I could give a young female patient that had suffered from intractable nausea for an entire year, as a complication of appendix surgery. She literally could not get out of bed, and had not attended school in the last nine months. Her mother was at her wit’s end, and told me she had tried everything: pharmaceuticals, herbal remedies, homeopathics and acupuncture – nothing had worked so far.

During this period I was also clinical director at a herbal college, and was teaching a course on Physiomedicalism, an early evolute of Western herbal medicine in North America. It was a practice derived from the techniques of a folk herbalist named Samuel Thomson, who is notable not only as the first multi-level marketer in North America, but because he introduced several herbs into the materia medica, including lobelia (Lobelia inflata) and cayenne (Capsicum spp.). For Thomson, cayenne in particular was a herb that was unmatched when it came to holding the “heat” of the stomach, synonymous with good appetite and digestion. In Ayurveda, the stomach is the primary site of kapha, or ‘phlgem’, and when the cold, heavy and congesting qualities of kapha increase, there is a commensurate decline in appetite and digestion. Think of trying to burn wet leaves: instead of heat (digestion), all we get is smoke (nausea). Thus nausea is essentially a disease of kapha, and the primary method for resolving this is to burn away the mucus and congestion by activating the digestive fire. In this way, cayenne can be used for any type of kapha issue, including viral rhinitis and influenza, where the symptoms are characterized by nausea, coldness and mucus congestion. For active fever, however, this is remedy is too heating and should be avoided in favour of gentle diaphoretics such as yarrow, catnip, or elder flower tea.

Capsicum_frutescensWhile cayenne was Thomson’s standby for digestion, I explored further and came across a specific formula in King’s American Dispensatory called “Anti-emetic drops“, comprised of apple cider vinegar, cayenne, salt and water. I decided to try it out and mixed up a batch. I gave it to this young woman and her mother, and within a day I got a report back that the nausea was gone. Cautiously optimistic, I suggested she continue, and let me know how she was doing in a few days. A week later I heard from her mother that she was back at school, hanging out with her friends, now living the life she missed out on for the last year. Although I never saw them again, I received a letter from her mother several years later, telling me that her daughter had finished university – something she said wouldn’t have been possible without my help, and of course, the help of this very useful remedy.

Here is the recipe for King’s Anti-emetic Drops (approximated, using kitchen measurements):

  • 1/2 ounce (15 g) of powdered cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp (2 g) of salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water

Dose: One tablespoon, given as often as required.

The original fire cider?

Lately there has been a bit of a furor over a company that has trademarked the name “fire cider”, which is a combination of vinegar, habanero peppers, and other herbs. Perhaps because I live in Canada, I had never heard of the term “fire cider”, although I am obviously familiar with the ingredients. It seems that some folks are irritated that the company has taken a folk remedy and claimed it as their own. As we can see, the basic formula goes back more than a century, mentioned in the 1898 edition of King’s American Dispensatory, so it is hardly unique. Patents are used to protect inventions, whereas trademarks are used to protect marketing terms, such as product names. And unlike patents, which are supposedly novel inventions, it doesn’t matter how stupid an idea is to get a trademark to protect it. You just need to be first.

While the trademark application itself seems weak and could be challenged, it’s important to point out that there is no limitation on anyone making “fire cider” and calling it such, just as long as they don’t also sell it as “fire cider”. However, I can’t see how this little company is going to be hiring big city lawyers to put small time herbalists out of business at their local farmer’s market.  Particularly if everyone does it: bring on World Wide Fire Cider Making Day!

Anyway, in the context of our free market, capitalist economy, it’s hard to fault the company: this is the way the system works, for better or for ill. It was probably a bad business decision on their part not to pick a unique name. Fortunately, herbalists are generally not proprietary folk, so regardless of the name, this and similar remedies should continue to remain part of the commons for a long time to come.

Fermented Quinoa Chocolate Cake

Fermented Quinoa Chocolate Cake

Although I generally don’t eat desert, with a family of three kids and a wife, my mostly dessert-less perspective on the issue is seldom shared. So, yielding to the demands of the masses, I included an alternative to regular cake, made from quinoa, in my book Food As Medicine.  Many people with celiac disease and sensitivities to gluten find that they can tolerate it quinoa much better, but even still, quinoa may contain the same prolamins as wheat, and in sensitive people like celiacs, can cause a negative reaction. One way to avoid this issue is to ferment the quinoa, by soaking it in water for 24 hrs at an even temperature , around 80-90°F (28-32°C). I use a ceramicbowl and a small seedling mat that you can easily pick up at your local gardening store. Ideally, you want to ferment it with an active culture, so every time you ferment grains, save a little of the soaking water, and use this to inoculate your next batch. Fermenting your cereals with an active culture will help to reduce those toxic prolamins and other antinutrient factors that interfere with absorption.My wife made this chocolate quinoa cake for me, on my birthday, earlier this year. I took a photo of a little piece I had before dinner, with the leftover butter-jaggery icing.

¾ cup quinoa (fermented, drained p. 126)
1 ½ cups water
¾ cup butter
¼ – ½ cup milk (or almond milk, or water)
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup jaggery (gur)
1 cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp aluminum-free baking powder
½ tsp baking soda

Drain soaked quinoa, rinse, bring to a boil in twice the volume of water and let simmer for 20 minutes. Allow to cool, fluff with a fork. Melt the butter and set aside to cool, greasing two 8-inch round baking pans and preheating the oven to 350°F. In a blender combine the milk, eggs, vanilla and cooked quinoa, and blend to a custard-like consistency. In a separate bowl whisk together the jaggery, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and a pinch of salt. Mix well then add the wet ingredients to the dry, mix well, and then pour into two cake pans. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Serve with fresh whipped cream sweetened with a little maple syrup, or homemade strawberry-rose ice cream.

Soup stock

Soup stock

Every traditional system of medicine including Ayurveda, Chinese medicine, and Western herbal medicine maintains as a core principle the idea that heat represents the vitality of life. According to 19th century herbalist Samuel Thomson, this “heat is maintained in the stomach by consuming food; and all the body and limbs receive their proportion of nourishment and heat from that source; as the whole room is warmed by the fire which is consumed in the fireplace”. In this way, all the care required to restore digestion utilizes the same knowledge it takes to build and maintain a fire. And if you have ever built a fire, then you know that there is more to it than just holding a match to a log. You know that you need to ‘enkindle’ the fire, using light, easily combustible materials such as paper and thin strips of kindling. Only once you get this little fire going can you throw on progressively larger pieces of wood to build a nice big roaring fire.

In the same manner, the digestive fire is best enkindled by light, easily digestible foods, and for this purpose there is no better food than soup. To make such a soup, we need to have some base ingredients, and these can include anything and everything including vegetable trimmings and peelings, Chinese dried brown mushrooms, seaweed, and/or animal bones. Simply throw all these ingredients into a pot, cover with water, and let simmer for 12-24 hrs. Especially for stocks containing animal fats, make sure to avoid boiling the stock for any length of time as this will cause the fats to peroxidize and produce undesirable off-flavors.

Most frequently I use soups as a medium to build and restore the skeletal system, using ingredients such as chicken or turkey bones, lamb bones, and marrow bones. These bones contain valuable nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, glucosamine and chondroitin that our bodies can use to build and enhance bone health, to prevent and treat osteoporosis and arthritis. To render these constituents bioavailable, add in a little vinegar to create a slightly acid medium that will pull these minerals into the broth. Likewise, to make them more flavorful, you can roast the bones in the oven for 30 minutes. To boost the nutrient profile of these bone soups, I frequently recommend adding in seaweed such as kelp or dulse. Sea vegetables are truly one of nature’s super foods, not only as the single most abundant source of minerals compared to any land-based food, but also to boost metabolism and promote detoxification. In addition, there are any number of medicinal plants that can be added to boost the healing properties of the soup.

Ingredients (non-vegetarian option)
3-5 lbs. of bones
one handful crushed seaweed
vegetable trimmings and peels
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Ingredients (vegetarian option)
one handful crushed seaweed
vegetable trimmings and peels
4-5 Chinese brown (shiitake) mushrooms

Place ingredients into a large stockpot and fill to the top with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 12-24 hours for the bone broth, between 4-6 hours for the vegetable broth. When done, strain and then store in the refrigerator.

When the stock made with animal bones is cool, the fat will rise to the top and should be skimmed off, especially when using fatty bones such as marrow bones. The skimmed fat, however, can be used later as a cooking fat or added back to the diet as a nutrient, such as using marrow fat (majja) for vata disorders including immunodeficiency and weakness.

I frequently recommend soup stocks, especially for women to ensure fertility and to maintain bone density, and frequently include herbs that assist in this process including shatavari, peony, dang gui, rehmannia, American ginseng, codonopsis, ashwagandha, goji berry, astragalus, Chinese red date, horsetail, and nettle.