Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"Natural Flavors"

I truly believe in the effectiveness of a whole foods diet, and that we should do our best to avoid processed foods. However, even products that we may think of as whole foods based (such as orange juice) have interesting ingredients. Realizing this has made me start to read labels more and more. Something I've noticed is that lots of food have “natural flavors” on their ingredients lists. In fact there are quite a few statistics showing that “natural flavor” is the 4th most common ingredient in most foods. However, very few of these actually let us know what food these flavors come from. So I decided to do a little bit of research and here's what I found.

What's “Natural”?

The FDA has released several statements about “natural flavors.” One of these says that “for purposes of ingredient labeling, 'natural flavors' means flavor constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products from these foods.” In short, the material must come from a plant or animal. So far it sounds good. Right?

Here's where it starts to get interesting. “natural favors” don't have to come 100% from a plant or animal. In fact, most of these “natural flavors” are made up of 50-100 different compounds, many of which are synthetic. These synthetic chemicals play different roles in the make up of the “natural flavors,” such as solvents, preservatives, and flavor modifications. In fact, most “natural flavors” are mostly made up of these chemicals.

Why flavor food?

Mostly it comes down to consistency. Each orange tastes slightly different from the last. One might be sweeter, one more tart. But when companies have a product that includes these oranges (like orange juice), they want their product to taste the same every time. This is where “natural flavors” come in. Companies add these flavors to their product to ensure a consistency of flavor.

One of the other reasons these companies add flavors to their foods has to do with making more money. They want to create repeat consumers. In order to do that, they have to find a way to get us to consistently choose their product over their competition's product. Making the flavor more intense is one way to do that.

What does it mean for health?

The FDA does not require companies who use “natural” or even “artificial flavors” to label exactly what is in these flavors. This can be pretty dangerous for people with certain allergies and/or sensitivities. For instance, I have a good friend who is horribly allergic to capsaicin (a chemical found in peppers of all kinds). Paprika is basically smoked, and ground peppers. It's also a spice that is commonly used in the creation of certain “natural flavors.” My friend should not be eating food that includes “natural flavors” made with paprika. However, many companies do not even add allergy warnings for capsaicin like they do for soy, milk, peanuts, etc.  In short, we don't know what's in our food when we see "natural flavors" listed in the ingredients.

Aside from the food allergy possibilities, there are also side effects from the synthetic ingredients in “natural flavors.” Side effects such as dizziness, nausea, brain tumors, depression, seizures, allergies, fatigue, anxiety attacks, etc. Many of these are the same side effects you would find from “artificial flavors.”

I hope I have raised your awareness of “natural flavors” and how big businesses might be hiding synthetic ingredients in their food. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below.


Natural vs Artificial Flavors: Organics.org: https://www.organics.org/natural-vs-artificial-flavors/
Synthetic Ingredients in Natural Flavors and Natural Ingredients in Artificial Flavors: EWG (Environmental Working Group): http://www.ewg.org/foodscores/content/natural-vs-artificial-flavors#.WeYktGhSy00
The Truth About Natural and Artificial Flavors: Bon Appetit: https://www.bonappetit.com/story/truth-about-natural-artificial-flavors
What are Natural Flavors Really?: Daily Burn: http://dailyburn.com/life/health/what-are-natural-flavors/
What Does the Term “Natural Flavors” Really Mean?: Well and Good: https://www.wellandgood.com/good-food/what-are-natural-flavors/
What's the Deal with Natural and Artificial Flavors?: Serious Eats: http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/04/what-is-the-difference-between-natural-and-artificial-flavors.html

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

2 Simple Recipes for Gut Health

If you've been following this blog, and reading for some time, you may have seen a post from January. This post is an introduction to the gut-brain connection and how our diet can affect our mental health. Today I'm going to give you a couple simple recipes to help start your path to healing your gut.


I've devoted an entire post to Kombucha in the past, and might do so again in the future. Kombucha is amazing, both for your gut and for the taste. If you want to get more of the nitty-gritty details, please feel free to look up that post I made last September. In the meantime, I wanted to give you a great recipe for flavored Kombucha that goes a step further than just plain. This particular one adds in a few ingredients that are also super healthy for your gut.

Ginger Berry Kombucha
3 ½ quarts Water
1 cup Sugar
6-8 Tea Bags (black or green tea work best, I usually do 3 of each)
1 ½ cups unflavored, starter Kombucha
½ cup each of Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, and Cherries, all chopped
3 or more tablespoons Minced Fresh Ginger

Bring the water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar until it has dissolved. Now add in the tea bags. Cover, and let cool to room temperature. Once mixture has cooled, remove the tea bags and add in your starter Kombucha. Pour into your fermentation container (I use a gallon Mason Jar) and add in your SCOBY. Cover with cloth and secure with a rubber band. Let sit, out of direct sunlight, for 5-7 days (here in Central Florida, I start tasting at 3 days during the summer). When it tastes pleasant to you, remove the SCOBY and 1 ½ cups of starter, place them in a holding container (bowl or another jar). Now add in your berries and ginger. Cover with cloth and allow to sit at room temperature, out of sunlight, for an additional 2 or more days. Taste the brew and when you are happy with it, go ahead and strain out the herb/fruit solids. Pour the Kombucha into bottles and enjoy!

Adding chia seeds to your Kombucha is a great way to boost your energy levels and help with your gut issues. However, some people are sensitive to small seeds so use caution if you have certain gut issues like diverticulitis.

Add Chia to Your Kombucha!
1 cup Kombucha
¼ cup – ½ cup Rehydrated Chia Seeds (Combine 1 part Chia Seeds, and 4 parts Warm water. Stir well. Leave in the fridge for a few hours to rehydrate and form a gel.)

Place chia seeds and gel into a cup or bottle. Add in Kombucha. Stir (or shake) well. Enjoy!

Bone Broth:

Recently, bone broth has received quite a bit of attention. Which is awesome, because it's been so underrated for years. Bone broth is similar to a typical broth or stock, except you simmer the bones for 48-72 hours in order to break down the marrow and release all those healing minerals. It's this that makes bone broth so amazing for you. For optimal gut health, consuming a minimum of ½ cup every day will help to repair/rebuild the barrier of your gut and help increase nutrient absorption. I like to freeze my broth in ice-cube trays. This makes it easier to add them to rice, quinoa, soups, salad dressing, and so much more. Wellness Mama has written up a great introduction to bone broths, including where to find bones and how to use the broth.

Simple Bone Broth
2-4 pounds Bones (beef, lamb, poultry, or fish) from a healthy source
2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
2 large Onions
2 medium Carrots, and carrot tops
3 stalks of Celery
1 tablespoon Coconut Oil (or Avocado Oil)
2 tablespoons Salt
1 tablespoon Black Pepper
3 cloves of Garlic, smashed
1 bunch Fresh Parsley

*Optional* Roast the bones, in a 350° oven for 30 minutes, to improve the flavor.
Place the bones in a stock pot and cover with water. Add in the vinegar and let sit for about 45 minutes. This helps the minerals to begin coming out of the bones. While you are waiting on the bones, chop 1 onion, 1 carrot, and 1 celery stalk. Sautee these vegetables with the coconut oil, until onions are translucent. Add them and the remaining onion, carrot, and celery (chopped) to the stock pot. Now is the time to add your salt, pepper, carrot tops, and any other herbs you would like to add (except the garlic and parsley). If needed, add water to just cover all the vegetables. Bring contents to a boil. Once it has reached a roiling boil, reduce heat to simmer. Simmer for 48-72 hours. During the first few hours, scum will form on the top of the broth. Skim that off and keep simmering. If you're not comfortable leaving the stove on over night, turn it off (make sure it's covered) and let it sit at room temperature over night. Turn it back on the next day and simmer away. You can also make this in a crock pot. During the last 30 minutes of simmering, add in the parsley and garlic. When your time is up, remove it from the heat and let the broth come to room temperature. Strain out all solids and enjoy! This will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days. I always freeze ½ of my batches for later use.

Both of these recipes are very versatile. You can flavor the Kombucha however you want, with or without chia seeds. You can use the bone broth as a base for every soup, to cook rice/quinoa, or to add in place of water with any savory dish you are cooking. Not only will they help to boost your gut, but they all work to boost immunity, mood, and overall health.

I have previously posted some other recipes that are great for gut health. Fermented Lemons, Golden Milk, and Fermented Salsa are all great recipes to add into your diet to boost gut health.

I hope you enjoy making these recipes, and I hope they help you on your journey to better gut health! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Gotu Kola

     Growing up in America, I have been well acquainted with a little rhyme that teaches us how important our fruits and vegetables are. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” My family, and a few school teachers, used that rhyme to encourage me to always eat my veggies (which I usually never had a problem doing). However, as an adult studying herbalism, I ran across a little leaf that might work better than apples at keeping us healthy, happy, and long-lived. Gotu Kola, Centella asiatica, is a tiny little leaf with HUGE health impacts. And the best part is that it is also found, abundantly, here in Florida!

     Every time I walk near fresh water ponds, lakes, or streams, I find this little plant. I also find a plant that gets confused with Gotu Kola. Dollarweed, Hydrocotyle umbellata, is often mistaken for Gotu Kola. While both plants are edible and used in similar ways, they are not the same and correct identification should be made. Both plants like to get their feet a bit wet, but Dollarweed prefers to be in super soggy or completely waterlogged soil. Gotu Kola likes things to be a bit dryer than that, while keeping things nice and moist. Often times I'll find both plants around the same pond, but Dollarweed will be in the pond, and Gotu Kola will be just beside the pond. Granted there will be areas where both are perfectly happy, this is usually one of the major differences. There are also physical differences. Dollarweed's stem protrudes from the center of the leaf. This leaves the leaf mostly round. And it's about the size of an old silver dollar (which is where it get's it common name). Gotu Kola's stem comes out the bottom of the leaf, which makes the leaf tend towards an arrowhead shape.

     Once correctly identified, this amazing little plant is super useful. The most commonly used part of the plant is the leaf. Not only does it have amazing health properties, but it's also edible. Several herbs I find can be described as a pot herb (you cook it in a pot before eating), and while this makes a great little pot herb, it's also super tasty raw. Add it to your salads, soups, and teas. There are even sodas made out of Gotu Kola, mostly I've found these in Asian Grocery Stores, but I have also run across them in little mom-and-pops around town as well. Such a super nutritious, healthy, and tasty herb deserves to be in each and every meal!

Medicinal Uses:

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)- Known as either Lou de da or Ji xue cao. In China, this herb is often called the “Fountain of Life” after a folktale about a man who extended his life by over 200 years just by consuming a single Gotu Kola leaf a day. This herb is typically used to clear heat, and dry dampness. Most often used for gastrointestinal disorders related to damp heat. Also useful to help stop bleeding, and clear heat from the liver and eyes.

Ayurveda- Known as Brahmi or Mandukaparni. Ayurvedic medicine works to bring the three doshas (http://www.eattasteheal.com/ayurveda101/eth_bodytypes.htm) into balance. Most herbs work on one or two doshas. Gotu Kola, however, works on all three. It's often used to help improve mood disorders, enhance intelligence, regulate blood sugar, and as an anti-convulsant.

Adaptogen- This herb has a wonderful balancing effect on the mind and body. Helping the body to adapt to every-day stress, and to balance out moods.

Brain and Memory- Gotu Kola consumption has been linked to an increase in cognitive abilities. It not only stimulates the circulation of blood in the brain, but it also stimulates brain function and memory. There is major promise that it can help slow down the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia in elderly patients. While most herbs that improve cognitive function are purely stimulants, Gotu Kola is more centering. Which makes this herb a good ally in cases of ADHD, as it improves cognitive function and concentration without being over stimulating. In certain parts of the world, teachers give children a single Gotu Kola leaf before starting their classes, to help them concentrate.

Skin and Wounds- Gotu Kola, when used on wounds, stimulates circulation specifically around the wound. This helps to speed the healing process and prevent infection. It also helps to reduce the appearance of scars, wrinkles, and blemishes. It's also an amazing antioxidant which helps keep the skin looking young.

Poisons- In Thailand, Gotu Kola is used to detoxify patients with Opium poisoning. Other places use Gotu Kola to remove other toxins from the blood.

Anti-Aging Tonic- Along with it's benefits to the brain, Gotu Kola also helps to improve immunity and reduce the appearance of aging by improving the skin and circulatory system. It's also a powerful antioxidant and is currently being studied for it's use in treating certain cancers.

Hair and Nails- Gotu Kola has been shown to increase hair growth, and in some cases to even help repair hair loss.

Varicose Veins- Gotu Kola strengthens the walls of the blood vessels, helping to improve the circulatory system in general, but also helping to reduce the appearance of varicose veins.

Anxiety- Several recent studies have shown that Gotu Kola has a beneficial effect on patients with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It has been shown to reduce the frequency and duration of anxiety attacks.

Summary of actions- Alterative, antibacterial, diuretic, febrifuge, nervine, rejuvinative, and adrenal purifier. Used for eczema, epilepsy, insanity, hypochondria, intermittent fevers, hair loss, immune boost, longevity, memory, nervous disorders, psoriasis, senility, chronic skin conditions, tetanus, convulsions, and bowel disorders. Improves circulation. Rejuvenates brain cells and nerves, promotes intelligence.

Cautions and Contraindications- May be harmful to your liver if taken too long, or if you have a pre-existing liver condition. Large doses are not recommended for small children or in pregnancy, however small doses should be safe. It's best if you consult your doctor/midwife/herbalist first. Gotu Kola may interact with certain prescription medications. If you are currently taking sedatives, blood pressure, or any other medications, please consult your doctor and/or pharmacist.

Check out my newest video!

     I only included a basic introduction to this amazing herb. I hope you enjoy hunting for this little powerhouse. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.


10 Proven Health Benefits of Gotu Kola : Healthy Focus : https://healthyfocus.org/8-amazing-benefits-of-gotu-kola/
11 Interesting Gotu Kola Benefits : Organic Facts : https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/herbs-and-spices/health-benefits-of-gotu-kola.html
15 Incredible Health Benefits of Gotu Kola : SelfHacked : https://selfhacked.com/blog/gotu-kola-2/
The Benefits of Brahmi : Banyan Botanicals : https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/herbs/brahmi/
Getting to Know Your Herbal Allies: Brahmi/Gotu Kola : Banyan Botanicals : https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/blog-the-banyan-insight/details/getting-to-know-your-herbal-allies-brahmi-gotu-kola-centella-asiatica
Gotu Kola : Indian Mirror : http://www.indianmirror.com/ayurveda/gotu-kola.html
Gotu Kola : Herb Wisdom: http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-gotu-kola.html
Gotu Kola : Acupuncture Today : http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/herbcentral/gotu_kola.php
Gotu Kola Health Benefits : Easy Ayurveda : https://easyayurveda.com/2013/02/04/gotu-kola-health-benefits-uses-dose-side-effects-ayurveda-details/
Gotu Kola Leaf : Chrysalis Natural Medicine : https://www.chrysalisnaturalmedicine.com/gotu-kola-leaf-centella-asiatica/
Gotu Kola: The Many Benefits of the Ancient Herb of Enlightenment and Longivity : Concious
Lifestyle Magazine : https://www.consciouslifestylemag.com/gotu-kola-benefits-of-the-herb-of-enlightenment/
Ji Xue Cao : Yin Yang House Theory : https://theory.yinyanghouse.com/theory/herbalmedicine/ji_xue_cao_tcm_herbal_database
Secrets of Longevity : http://www.secrets-of-longevity-in-humans.com/gotu-kola-facts.html


Greetings from the Bat Lady!

     Welcome to Bat Lady Herbals.  I have been fascinated by herbs and various herbal uses for quite a few years now.  Plants are amazing t...