Archive for May 2011 | Monthly archive page

Bamboo shoot recipe

Pandas aren’t the only creatures who enjoy a good bamboo snack.  Humans have been using the young shoots and sap of the plant for thousands of years in stir fries, curries, dumplings, and even wines and vinegars.  Luckily, we don’t have to forage as far as pandas to find our bamboo, and can pick up canned, sliced, tender shoots in the Asian foods aisle of our local grocery store.

Looking for an unusual dish to impress a crowd of culinary connoisseurs  at a Memorial Day potluck? Consider the following:

1 lb. fresh spinach 1/2 cup peanut, vegetable, or corn oil 1/4 cup finely shredded bamboo shoots 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 2 teaspoons sugar 1 teaspoon sesame oil

1.  Wash leaves with cold water and drain well.

2.  Using a medium-high flame, heat the oil in a pan or skillet.  Cook the bamboo shoots for about half a minute while stirring constantly.

3.  Add the spinach leaves and stir until wilted.

4.  Add the salt and sugar and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

5.  Add sesame oil and stir for half a minute.

6.  Transfer to plate without adding excess liquid from the pan.  Enjoy!

Photo Credit: Bamboo shoot (Wikipedia)

“No!  Ooooh no you don’t!” Five minutes before I had to walk out the door to attend a music practice I started yelling at my own brain. “Don’t you even think about it!”  A shining, electric splotch of quicksilver began to form on the left side of my visual field.  Like an oil slick, it began to spread its way towards my right eye, bleeding television static snow all over the entire universe.  Forget whatever else was on the schedule for the day.  It was time to hunker down, and wait for this migraine to pass.

Being chemically sensitive, I have relatively few options to combat the lightning storm in my head.  After a couple post brain-battering hours, I scoured the internet for some natural alternatives to prescription migraine medicines.  Here are a few of the most promising remedies:

1.  Butterbur- This plant, found growing in Northern Asia, Europe and areas of North America, can be taken as a tea, extract or capsule.  Studies have shown that 50-75 mg of butterbur extract twice a day decreased the occurrence of chronic migraines.  Side effects were generally mild digestive complaints.  Since the plant is in the ragweed family, those with grass allergies should avoid the drug.  Anyone with kidney and liver disease should seek an alternative remedy.

2.  Feverfew- This European herb has been used as a healer for headaches, arthritis, and fever for centuries.  In the 980’s, it began to be used as a therapy for migraines.  Feverfew should not be taken with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) because of its blood-thinning properties.  Due to some of its side effects (gas, diarrhea, vomiting, nervousness) and its close relation to chamomile, ragweed and yarrow, sufferers should consult their doctors concerning any allergies or sensitivities before taking the supplement.

3.  Magnesium- This element is found naturally in green vegetables and helps to regulate blood sugar, as well being essential to muscle and nerve function.  Around 300-600mg each day may reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.  Magnesium citrate may be the most effective form, and it is not recommended taking a magnesium/calcium blend for headaches.

4.  5-HTP- 5 Hydroxytryptophan is a form of amino acid created in the body and used in the production of the neurotransmitter seratonin and the hormone melatonin.  It can be bought as a supplement derived from plant seeds.  At a dose of 600mg a day, 5-HTP may reduce the number of severe headaches.

5.  Niacin-  AKA Vitamin B3, taken right as the headache starts can relieve a good deal of the migraine’s vice-like grip.

6.  Mangosteen-  This fruit has pain-easing and anti-inflammatory properties and can help with dulling sensitivity to stimuli.  Extract or smoothie should do the trick.

7.  Acupuncture-  For those who are not leery of needles, a visit to the acupuncturist could possibly manipulate the body’s electrical signals enough to decrease the number and intensity of headaches.

8.  Aromatherapy- Essential oils are quick and inexpensive ways to combat pain and stress.  Chamomile, rosemary, lavender and peppermint have been noted as some of the most effective for migraines.  The oils can be placed in a diffuser, or applied directly to the temples, head and neck.  Coupled with a cool washcloth, the oils should provide relief from pain and nausea within fifteen minutes.

9.  Biofeedback- Through biofeedback, a person can learn to control and reduce the reactions that are triggered by severe headaches.  By noticing certain bodily fluctuations such as pulse, temperature and tension, a sufferer can bring these under conscious awareness and eventually identify and alter the patterns that appear during a migraine.  Devices that monitor the body’s changes can be used at first in order to make the sensations available to be observed by the brain.  Eventually, biofeedback will aid the patient in preventing the headaches before they start and help lessen the pain through relaxation techniques.  Levels of stress hormones and seratonin have been lowered through biofeedback, affecting the rate and intensity of migraines.



Ladies: being the environmentally conscious fashionistas that you are, you have committed to buying natural, sustainable fibers such as bamboo, hemp and organic cotton, purchasing fair trade accessories, and maybe even doing a little sewing to re-purpose old, worn out clothing.

Yet, as you are in the bathroom getting ready before a big occasion where you want to look your best, you gaze down at ye olde makeup kit and see nothing but brightly colored chemicals that are soon to find themselves applied dangerously close to vital sensory organs.  Luckily, there are more non-toxic, eco-friendly alternatives to keep you stylishly up to date and still remain in Mother Nature’s good graces.

1.  Nail Polish- Anyone who has ever nearly been knocked down by the fumes emanating from a freshly opened bottle of nail polish could be reasonably suspicious as to the ingredients making up the little pots of enamel.  While the names for the various shades sound flirty and attractive, their components, such as formaldehyde (a known carcinogen and industrial disinfectant that can also cause dizziness, headaches, eye and respiratory problems, heart palpitations, and death when ingested) toluene (capable of causing neurological damage due the body’s inability to process the chemical) and phthalates (endocrine disrupters linked to obesity and birth defects in mice) are decidedly less compelling.

For vegan safer alternatives, take a look at The Chic Ecologist’s list of nail colors featuring Sparitual‘s vegan line, No Miss natural and cruelty-free shades, Priti NYC which also offers polish for kids, and Zoya‘s huge collection of colors. Other “3 Free” brands, or lacquers that do not use the hazardous chemicals mentioned above, are Sheswai and Acquarella.

2. Lips-  When offering a smooch, you might not want your lips to be associated with coal tar, sheep fat, petroleum, artificial stabilizers, lake dyes (which can cause cancer), lead, pigment producing insects or chemical preservatives.  Some nasty components of lipstick like methylparaben have been linked to cancer and endocrine disorders.  Others like retinyl palmitate have proven to be toxic to pregnant women, and others such as acetate and propylparaben are moderate irritants.

For a kiss without concern, use products with natural ingredients.  NVEY Eco Lipsticks and Lip Lustres come in a diverse palate and are made from elements that you can actually pronounce.  Honeybee Gardens acts as balm and tint in one, and Vapour Organic Beauty makes a myriad of lip products.

3.  Eyes- Bet you never thought that what you added to your eyes could so drastically affect your lungs, kidneys, reproductive system and liver.  Phthalates, which keep mascara from running can keep your bodily processes from running as well.  Depending on the brand,  dangerous color additives, preservatives, emulsifiers and even small amounts of mercury can be found in the composition of the cosmetic.

Alima sells relatively inexpensive minerals-based shadows in addition to loose powder eyeliners.  For cream shadows, RMS has several colors that also double as nourishing eye creams.  For mascara, direct your eyes towards  NVEY’s formula in either black or brown.  For a liquid liner, take a peep at Suncoat’s smudge resistant mixture in several varieties.

For more cosmetic reviews and safety ratings, visit EWG’s Cosmetic Database to evaluate your favorite brands.  What do you have in your cosmetic bag?

Pest control for nature lovers

As a science nerd and ecologically-minded individual, I recognize the inherent worth of all creatures and their roles in the environment.  As a human being with an allergy to insect bites and a kitchen I’d like to keep free of invading hoards, I want to know how to keep the little buggers away from my living space.  Being an aforementioned tree-hugger, I have been searching for non-toxic, alternative methods of maintaining a pest-free home.

1.  Ants- To block ant chemical trails, lay down cinnamon, chalk, cayenne pepper or petroleum jelly.  By obstructing the signals ants use to communicate with one another, you can prevent them from making a highway to your pantry.  Pet food can should be placed in a small moat of soapy water, ensuring no scouts identify your animal’s kibble as a food source.  Stationing attractants near a nest outdoors may persuade the ants to stay outside and keep from venturing further.

For an all-out assault, you may opt to sprinkle cornmeal near their colony.  This makes the ants thirsty, seek water, and explode from over-drinking.  Desiccating dusts such as diatomaceous earth or pure amorphous silica aerogel applied directly to the insect will kill them by causing them to lose too much moisture.  Boric acid mixed with jelly as bait will also exterminate foragers.

2.  Rats and mice- As in may areas of life, sometimes the best offense is a good defense.  Be sure to seal all gaps and openings to your home with caulking, duct tape, and weatherstripping.  Hardware cloth is a good material for screening ducts and floor vents.  Raising wood piles, cutting tall weeds and cleaning up after pets can help reduce rodent habitat and food materials.

Instead of buying poison bait that can cause other animals (including humans) to fall ill, live Have-a-Heart traps, glue traps, and fatal snap-traps catch the animals and leave the disposal up to the Pied Piper.  The food used to tempt the rodents should be sticky to allow for a loaded spring enough time to work, and traps should be positioned near burrows and along pathways.

If cleaning up after a rat-trap leaves you a bit squeamish, there are always electronic repellent sound devices that disrupt rat rapport and mice musings.  The sound is not heard by humans, and can be plugged into a three-pronged outlet.  When all else fails, it might be time to adopt a cat or take up falconry.

3.  Cockroaches- Not surprisingly, these little guys are not only resistant to a possible nuclear winter, but to most chemical pesticides as well.  Your best bets are the  boric acid solutions and desiccating dusts mentioned above.  The dust should be inserted into drilled holes in infested walls and the boric acid applied directly to the cracks and crevices where the roaches live.

4.  Mosquitoes- To prevent mosquito breeding, eliminate as much standing water as possible.  To keep water from collecting, regularly clean gutters and properly drain potted plants.  Adding natural predators to the mosquito’s environment will reduce the number of larvae who make it to maturity.  Fish should be added to shallow ponds and plants that encourage beetles, dragonflies and damselflies can be added as attractive repellents.  Installing bat boxes provides homes for the flying rodents during the day and give them a place to return to after a midnight skeeter feast.  Certain strains of bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis) added to water containing mosquito larvae will kill them once ingested.

When bats and dragonflies are not enough, there are natural oils and plants to ward off the little blood-suckers.  Burning citronella candles on a night without wind controls the pests within the immediate vicinity.  Planting lemongrass, floss flower, basil, catnip and eucalyptus will have the bugs shirking your garden and also provide a pretty good stock of herbs for cooking.  Orange and cedar oils have been touted as effective repellents for a number of insects, and can be sprayed around the home without fear of poisoning pets or family members.

What kinds of critters do you wrestle with, and what kind of green alternatives have you tried?

* Word of the day: Katsaridaphobia (an enhanced fear of cockroaches)

** Book of the week: “Wicked Bugs” by Ann Stewart

PHOTO CREDIT: Salmen Bejaoui (Unsplash)

In honor of San Luis Obispo’s upcoming Native Plant Week (April  17-23), Spring, and the heaps of pollen swirling on the breeze, Bambu Batu presents the top 8 natural ways to beat allergies this season.

1.  Native honey-  Eating locally farmed honey helps to inoculate the immune system by letting the body get used to very small doses of pollen.  For best results, eat 2-3 spoonfuls of native, unfiltered honey each day for for several months prior to the height of allergy season.  Browse your farmer’s market for some sweet relief!

2.  Neti pot- When your head feels like its been stuffed with enough cotton to soak up the Atlantic, drain your sinuses with a saline solution using a Neti pot.  The little ceramic container helps to flush out nasal passages, relieve pressure, and soothe irritation.  The salt rinse works by allowing the small hairs (cilia) in your sinuses to better remove mucus, bacteria and allergens.  Sure, inserting the spout of what looks vaguely like a magic lamp up your nose may take some getting used to, but its a great alternative to taking medications and leaves your head feeling clean and clear.

3.  Spring cleaning- Give your home a good wipe-down and and allow air to circulate.  Dust is composed of a myriad of elements that can cause coughing, sneezing and inflammation.  Some of these appetizing ingredients  include pet dander, mite feces, molds and fungi.  To curb the growth of irritants, maintain a constant low humidity in living spaces, run fans, and vacuum regularly.  While a little tidying can do a lot of good, be careful not to go too overboard!  Vigorous cleaning may eliminate the small amount of allergens on which our immune systems practice.  Some household chemicals may also increase immune reactions, so play it safe by using “green” or environmentally friendly products that easily biodegrade and contain less caustic substances

4.  Quercetin- This plant-derived compound helps to stabilize cells in the respiratory system that trigger the release of histamines and cause allergy attacks.  Quercetin is commonly found in citrus, tea, onions, apples, parsley, lettuce, onions, and wine and can also be bought in supplement form.  Sufferers should take about 1,000 mg each day between meals and start about six weeks before allergy season reaches full bloom.

5.  Allergy-fighting foods-  Recent studies have shown that people with diets rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, (found in fish, walnuts, flaxseed, grass-fed meats and eggs), were less likely to suffer from allergies.  For decongestion, add spicy foods like horseradish, chili or mustard to meals.

6.  Stinging nettle-  As a natural antihistamine, nettle prevents the immune system from over-reacting to environmental irritants.  You can avoid the pain of touching this common weed and find its freeze-dried extract in capsules at your local health foods store.  This supplement does not cause drowsiness or dry mouth like most proscription medications and 300mg a day should provide relief for several hours.

7.  Butterbur- This European plant derivative has been shown to be as effective in fighting symptoms as cetirizine, the active ingredient in the Zyrtec.  Four doses of 32mg each day should alleviate discomfort.  However, Butterbur is in the same family as ragweed, so those sensitive to these plants should show caution before considering this remedy.

8.  Apple cider vinegar-  Good for more than just salad dressings, 1-3 doses of 1/8 cup of vinegar throughout the day can prevent attacks and keep the itching and watery eyes at bay.  Either dilute the vinegar in 16oz of water to form a tonic, or if you are feeling brave, take a shot from the bottle.  Add a a little local honey to buffer the tangy flavor and boost the allergy fighting power!