Blood Building Syrup

Blood Building Syrup

All systems of traditional medicine make extensive use of the medicinal properties of both fresh and dried fruit, cooked with water to make a compote, or prepared as medicinal jams and syrups. Ayurveda maintains a large class of medicinal jams called lehyas, which means ‘to lick’, referring to the method of administration. While they aren’t exactly like deserts, compotes, jams and syrups are a very pleasant to get the medicine down, and are particularly suited to both vata and pitta conditions. The following ‘Blood Building Syrup’ is an excellent preparation to help build up the blood in anemia, infertility, exhaustion, and immunodeficiency, or when recovering from chronic disease, medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy) or surgery. Although it is prepared as a syrup in this recipe, to prepare as a compote simply stew the fruit with the herbs and serve it without processing it further.

½ cup chopped dried figs
½ cup dried goji berries
½ cup dried prunes
½ cup Chinese red dates
1 oz shatavari root (tien men dong or asparagus root)
1 oz cured rehmannia (shu di huang)
1 oz astragalus root (huang qi)
1 oz American ginseng (xi yang shen)
2 quarts (4 liters) water
2-3 tbsp ghee
2 tbsp pippali powder
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
½ tsp clove powder
¼ tsp pink salt
1 cup organic molasses (approximately)

Add the dried fruit and herbs (shatavari, rehmannia, astragalus, American ginseng) into a pot along with 2 quarts of water, bring to a boil and simmer until it is reduced to a syrup-like consistency and the fruit and herbs are squishy (about 1 hour). Allow the fruit-herb decoction to cool and then mix in a blender until smooth. Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer into a measuring cup, taking note of exactly how much liquid you are left with. In a separate pan, melt the ghee on medium heat and add the pippali, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and pink salt. Cook for a minute and then add the fruit-herb decoction to this, along with an equal part molasses. Cook on low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour into a clean, dry glass bottle, seal and store in a cool location. Dose is 1-2 tbsp twice daily, with warm water.

Since this post was published a few years back, I have received a number of inquiries where these herbs can be obtained. First off, it’s not absolutely necessary you use exactly the same ingredients. All of the recipes in Food As Medicine are designed as a starting point, and are easily modified based on your needs. That said, this formula in particular has been very successful at resolving anemia, and if possible, measures should be taken to replicate it as closely as possible.

Locating the Chinese herbs is easy if your region or city has a local Chinatown. Here in Vancouver, we have lots of Chinese influence, and it’s easy to find Chinese herbs. My favorite location to send folks here is Kiu Shun Trading Company, down on Keefer Street in Vancouver. When I have international orders, however, for which shipping bulk herbs across the border isn’t so easy, I have a number of online recommendations:

For TCM herbs
Five Flavor Herbs
Springwind Dispensary

For Western herbs
Mountain Rose Herbs
Starwest Botanicals

For Ayurvedic herbs
Organic India
Banyan Botanicals
Vadik Herbs

Feel free to post your favorite resources!

The ever-present problem of plastic…

The ever-present problem of plastic…

We’ve all heard of the North Pacific Gyre and the enormous island of plastic garbage that floats there. An island made of tiny pieces of plastic, each at one time part of whole that represented an idea – a promise in the form of convenience or necessity that was so convincing that we failed to comprehend the result – what would happen when we kept buying, using and discarding all that plastic? But while we worry about an island of plastic, and even admit it as a badge of shame, the reality is that problem is much bigger. It’s not an island that’s the issue – the problem is that we are literally swimming in an ocean of plastic every day.

Plastic is all around us. Much of the clothing we wear today contains or is exclusively made of synthetic fibers – clothing for example that that contains neurotoxic polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) – at least judging from the fact that dryer lint is the single greatest source for everyday exposure [1], [2]. But it’s not just clothing – PBDEs are found in carpeting, electronics, mattresses, bedding and furniture, permeating our home and work environment as a fine dust that we eat and inhale everyday. PBDEs are classified as a persistent organic pollutant (POP), with environmental contamination doubling every five years. Children in particular are targets for the neurotoxic effects PDBEs, which is alarming considering that their brains and nervous system are still developing. And that’s just PBDEs…

Perhaps the biggest concern these days is food storage, with a lot of media attention focused on bisphenol-A (BPA). And while many of you probably choose ceramic or glass containers over the old margarine tubs and tupperware that my grandmother had stacked so neatly in her cupboards, the fact is that plastic is found in so many other sources that this probably isn’t anything except a feel good maneuver unless you are also careful about other things like canned food, tetrapaks, milk cartons, and basically any food stored in plastic – from oil and milk, to meat and vegetables – you will have to work hard to avoid it.

The concern is that chemicals found in food-grade plastics migrate into food during storage and heating [3], [4], [5]. Some of these chemicals including bisphenol-A (BPA)[6] and phthalates [7] have only recently been found to be endocrine disruptors [8], suspected of playing a role in breast cancer [9], prostate cancer [10], obesity [11], asthma [12], neurobehavioural issues [13], male infertility [14], uterine fibroids and endometriosis [15]. And while some manufacturers applaud themselves for no longer using chemicals like bisphenol-A (BPA), the fact is that BPA was used for more than 50 years before its negative effects were realized. This should raise very serious concerns that a host of other compounds in plastic have not been adequately recognized or tested. This includes the supposedly benign polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used in a wide variety of food storage and also polar fleece clothing, which has only recently identified as an endocrine disruptant [16]. But instead government agencies and industry assure us with confident claims about the safety of food plastics – but the reality is that they don’t really know what the effects are and especially the synergistic effects of all these plastics in our bodies [17]. Recently there was a blog post passed around on facebook that identified companies that produced canned food with cans that are BPA-free. This is a good thing, except that the substitutes being touted as safe may be no better. Instead of BPA, these cans are lined with an “oleoresinous c-enamel”, which contains a hydrocarbon resin trademarked as Neville LX-782 for which there is no sufficient safety data for chronic exposure. The same blog post also suggested that polyethylene (LDPE/HDPE) is safe, used in tetrapaks and milk jugs, but once again, there is very limited safety data on this. Furthermore, we need to include that plastics like polyethylene don’t just contain polyethylene, but also a host of additives, residues and decomposition products.

Since 100% plastic avoidance is next to impossible nowadays, I guess we should all bank on evolutionary processes to provide us with the capacity to adapt to the nanoparticle soup of plastics floating in our bloodstream. But it still makes sense to avoid plastics and petrochemicals whenever possible. This means avoiding non-stick aluminum cookware (e.g. polytetrafluoroethylene), and getting all of your food as fresh as possible. Always prefer glass over any plastic (and even stainless steel, which contains nickel and other heavy metals that migrate into your food), and learn to make things like yogurt and sour cream at home. Also, avoid all plastic water bottles, tetrapaks dripping with synthetic dyes that migrate into your organic almond milk, and especially avoid all canned food – BPA free or not – there is NO evidence that any of these are safe for human health. An absence of data should not inspire confidence.

Much of the research for this post comes from my book Food As Medicine: The Theory and Practice of Food. If you have any comments or contributions to the discussion I would love to hear them!

[1] Jones-Otazo HA, Clarke JP, Diamond ML, Archbold JA, Ferguson G, Harner T, Richardson GM, Ryan JJ, Wilford B. 2005. Is house dust the missing exposure pathway for PBDEs? An analysis of the urban fate and human exposure to PBDEs. Environ Sci Technol. 39(14):5121-30.
[2] Johnson-Restrepo B, Kannan K. 2009. An assessment of sources and pathways of human exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers in the United States. Chemosphere. 76(4):542-8.
[3] Goulas AE, Zygoura P, Karatapanis A, Georgantelis D, Kontominas MG. 2007. Migration of di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate and acetyltributyl citrate plasticizers from food-grade PVC film into sweetened sesame paste (halawa tehineh): kinetic and penetration study. Food Chem Toxicol. 45(4):585-91
[4] Cao XL, Corriveau J, Popovic S. 2010. Bisphenol a in canned food products from canadian markets. J Food Prot. 73(6):1085-9.
[5] Petersen JH, Jensen LK. 2008. Phthalates and food-contact materials: enforcing the 2008 European Union plastics legislation. Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. 27(11):1608-16.
[6] Vogel SA. 2009. The politics of plastics: the making and unmaking of bisphenol a “safety”. Am J Public Health. 99 Suppl 3:S559-66.
[7] Crinnion WJ. 2010. Toxic effects of the easily avoidable phthalates and parabens. Altern Med Rev. 15(3):190-6.
[8] Ghisari M, Bonefeld-Jorgensen EC. 2009. Effects of plasticizers and their mixtures on estrogen receptor and thyroid hormone functions. Toxicol Lett. 189(1):67-77.
[9] López-Carrillo L, Hernández-Ramírez RU, Calafat AM, Torres-Sánchez L, Galván-Portillo M, Needham LL, Ruiz-Ramos R, Cebrián ME. 2010. Exposure to phthalates and breast cancer risk in northern Mexico. Environ Health Perspect. 118(4):539-44.
[10] Prins GS, Tang WY, Belmonte J, Ho SM. 2008. Perinatal exposure to oestradiol and bisphenol A alters the prostate epigenome and increases susceptibility to carcinogenesis. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 102(2):134-8.
[11] Grün F. 2010. Obesogens. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 17(5):453-9.
[12] Bornehag CG, Nanberg E. 2010. Phthalate exposure and asthma in children. Int J Androl. 33(2):333-45
[13] Hajszan T, Leranth C. 2010. Bisphenol A interferes with synaptic remodeling. Front Neuroendocrinol. 31(4):519-30.
[14] Martino-Andrade AJ, Chahoud I. 2010. Reproductive toxicity of phthalate esters. Mol Nutr Food Res. 54(1):148-57.
[15] Weuve J, Hauser R, Calafat AM, Missmer SA, Wise LA. 2010. Association of exposure to phthalates with endometriosis and uterine leiomyomata: findings from NHANES, 1999-2004. Environ Health Perspect. 118(6):825-32.
[16] Sax L. 2010. Polyethylene terephthalate may yield endocrine disruptors. Environ Health Perspect. 118(4):445-8.
[17] Wagner M, Oehlmann J. 2009. Endocrine disruptors in bottled mineral water: total estrogenic burden and migration from plastic bottles. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 16(3):278-86

Some student feedback

Some student feedback

Recently I wrapped up teaching both Food As Medicine and an Ayurvedic workshop at Prana Yoga College. Usually I get very good feedback from students, but this recent batch I received was quite lovely and very much appreciated. I will be offering more Food As Medicine workshops and also courses on Ayurveda and herbal medicine though Prana Yoga and other locations in the new year, so please check back for more details.

Here are some of the reviews of my class:

“This course was extraordinary. Everyone was on the edge of their seats the whole time, questions were flying, old perceptions were shattered, and almost everyone decided to buy Todd’s book by the end of the course. One thing for sure is that we did not have enough time — another day (four hours) would have been perfect. There were so many questions and discussions that we didn’t come close to finishing.”

“I know that personally, this course had a profound influence on my life. And I witnessed a lot of dietary and health changes in the other students in the following weeks. I even ran in to some people that had attended the course that were not part of the 500-hour group, and they said it was one of the most amazing workshops they had been to. Food and nutrition has become a complicated subject only because of the kind of culture we live in and the modern food practices. Todd was a voice of reason in an otherwise confusing world of misinformation. This course was a class favorite and I can’t see any reason not to have it offered again, and hopefully lengthened. I think this workshop could draw a lot of people in from outside the 500-hour students — the general public is very interested in nutrition, and Todd really knows his stuff. This workshop should be more prominently featured and possibly held more often.”

“Todd was wonderful. He had so much knowledge to share, that he seemed to be a walking encyclopedia. He was able to answer almost every question anyone had, and there were a ton of questions. I’ve never seen so many students ask so many questions. He had the group’s attention the whole time, never acted superior, was patient with questions, and was passionate about the topic.”

If you are interested in holding a workshop, please send an email to Thanks for your interest and support.