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Kat Morgenstern
March 2002

VOL.1 no.2


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Aaahh..., spring is finally getting here (or coming soon to a field near you...). Mother Earth has been sleeping in her winter gown of faded yellows and browns for far too long, it seems. But now, finally the tide is turning: the birds are returning to join in the spring chorus that will awaken her from her sleep. The sap is rising, the buds are swelling, the first flowers and tender green are beginning to sprout everywhere.

In the old northern traditions spring equinox was a time to see off father frost. In some places an effigy representing the winter spirit was 'killed' and the new spirit of vegetation was greeted with much fuss and commotion. Sometimes he was welcomed with a good dose of water, to invoke the fertilizing spring rains needed to turn the land into a lush green of life sustaining riches. Brightly coloured eggs, (often red, the colour of life) were hung on trees or given as gifts to symbolize fertility and prosperity. The Easter bunny is another survivor of these ancient traditions, for he was sacred to the Goddess of Life in her spring or 'maiden' aspect. The annual ritual of spring-cleaning to which most of us still adhere, goes back to the same ancient roots. Spring Equinox is the beginning of a new cycle; so throw out the old and bring in the new, get rid of old baggage, clean away the dust and dirt of the old year to welcome and celebrate the arrival spring.

Peace and Happiness
Kat Morgenstern, March 2002

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T'is the season that lets any foragers heart rejoice. Having eagerly watched and waited for so long for any early signs of new life to emerge, our patience is finally being rewarded. There are few things in life more satisfying than taking to the fields in search for edible treasures, (or even just for fun) in these early days of spring, when the air is still crisp, yet teasing with rays of sunshine and warmth. And yes, there are lots of goodies out there just now that will conjure up a taste of spring on our dinner table.

In the last issue we mentioned Nettles, Dandelion and Chickweed as likely candidates for early spring greens. These are still out and probably better and more succulent by now. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and Nettles (Urtica dioica) are good to pick until they flower. In fact, when collecting any leaves, they are almost always best before flowering. Dandelion roots can also be picked now, though they are sweeter in autumn. Young Cleavers (Galium aparine) are ready for the picking now and can be added to that spring greens soup. Due to their sticky nature it is best to avoid putting them in salads, but when putting them into hot water this quality immediately disappears. Various mustards and cresses are also still available (see last issue). They are great blood cleansing herbs which stimulate the metabolism and the liver.

Burdock, (Arctium lappa), with its elephant-earlike leaves is hard to miss and well worth looking out for, though it is a little hard to dig for. The roots are tasty and extremely healthful, being one of the best blood cleansing herbs available. Also worth digging for are Evening Primrose roots(Oenothera erythrosepala) and Elecampane (Inula helenium) roots. However, consider the fact that digging up roots usually means the end for the plant. If you are planning on eating roots of wild species consider planting them in your garden rather than further depleting wild stocks.

Special treats of this season are Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and Asparagus shoots (Asparagus ssp.) . Make the most of them while you can, their season does not last long. Both can be prepared as Asparagus, steamed or added to fillings for pies, casseroles and quiches. Young leaves of Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfare), and Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) are all good in soups, fillings or as greens, they tend to be better cooked than raw. Coltsfoot leaves and flowers with narrow leaved Plantain leaves also make a wonderful cough tea. Coltsfoot leaves are even recommended as a smoking herb for bronchitis.

Various types of Wild Garlic (Allium ssp.) or leeks can be found throughout the spring. Sometimes they can be difficult to spot before they start flowering, but once one develops a nose for them they will make their presence known.

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) both come out early and their sour taste makes a nice addition to a salad blend, though its best not to overdo it, the leaves contain oxalic acid which can be damaging to the kidneys if eaten in excessive amounts. People with kidney problems should avoid these herbs.

While out in the woods keep an eye out for Morels (Morchella esculenta). These tasty mushrooms appear early in the spring, often on burnt ground and near oak trees and pines on chalky soil. They can be added to any stir-fry or filling for pies, omelettes or quiches, stuffed and baked or dried for later use.

Gathering Tips

The best way to get started is to get to know the plants that grow around you, familiarize yourself with the weeds, bushes and trees. Learn to identify them correctly and investigate their uses. It is especially important that you learn to identify the poisonous plants you are likely to encounter, so as to be sure you will avoid picking them when you gather your meal. Only pick as much as you need and never take ALL the plants of any one kind in a given patch. After harvesting an area give the plants plenty of time to recover before returning to the same patch, especially when harvesting roots. However tempting it may look, never pick in places that are subjected to pollution from roads, industry or heavy spraying of farm chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc.). Give thanks to the plants and to Mother Earth who has provided them.

In Association with


Foraging Interlude: Wild Food Adventures

Faced with the vast variety of plants that make up even such a small area as our own backyards or the field down the road, many people feel overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable task of becoming familiar with the plant world. Many plants look pretty similar, not just to the untrained eye, but even to those who are already a little familiar. Undoubtedly, the best way to learn about plants is hands on, with a knowledgeable teacher who can show you the plants in the field and tell you about all their uses. This type of instruction is invaluable, but where to find such a guide?

Thankfully the growing interest in wild plants for food and medicine has also lured some pretty knowledgeable guides and teachers to emerge from the woodwork, or, eh, rather, from the woods. They might not exactly comply with the romantic image of such a guide (e.g. the medicine man, shaman, or old wise woman), but nevertheless, many know their stuff very well indeed and are passionate about passing on their knowledge.

John Kallas is one of these people. He has researched edible wild plants since 1970 and taught in colleges, universities, and to the general public since 1978. In 1993 he set up 'Wild Food Adventures' as a school and teaching forum for people wanting to learn about plants. Ever since he has had a busy teaching schedule. He teaches not just in his own home state, but conducts workshops nationwide. When he isn't teaching, he is writing. John currently publishes a foraging newsletter, which, although not terribly thick, is packed with in-depth information. Quality rather than quantity... He has also written a booklet, called the 'Wild Food Primer', which is not a guide to wild foods as such, but a preliminary guide to foraging for the absolute beginner. He stresses the point of thorough familiarization with plants, both edible and poisonous species so as to minimize any chances of making potentially fatal mistakes. The booklet contains many useful pointers and resources intended to guide the novice along the very first steps towards becoming a successful forager. It lists several guidebooks for identification, specific foraging guides as well as books containing recipes and cooking instructions. John is also currently working on a foraging guidebook of his own, which will hopefully be out soon.

His quarterly newsletter usually features two main articles, each dealing with a specific plant, with details on gathering and preparation. It also contains a section for announcements concerning foraging or wild food events as well as his workshop schedule. The newsletter is a handy reference, full of in depth information not easily found elsewhere which draws on personal experience and reflects a thorough knowledge of the material.

The 'Wild Food Primer' and the Newsletter
can be ordered from the 'Wild Food Adventure' Website at:
Wild Food Adventures

John Kallas can be contacted at

Click here for a directory of other wildfood experts.


Fit for Spring with the Help of Herbs

When the first rays of bright warm sunshine penetrate the layer of dust that has built up on the window panes through the winter, one gets miraculously inspired to get out that cleaning stuff, air everything out and rub the window down so spring can come into the living room. And it feels so good to get everything ready and prepared for a fresh start at the beginning of this wondrous, vibrant season!

The same principles can be applied to the body. Over the winter many of us are confined to a fairly sedentary lifestyle, compounded by too many rich and heavy foods. Perhaps, we meant to give up chocolate after Christmas, but somehow we never got round to it. Well, now is the perfect time to tune into nature's cycle and apply the general mode of renewal to your own body.

The early spring provides a whole host of delicious and healthful herbs to help cleanse the system. If you like foraging you will be pleased to find that almost all of those early edibles are in fact well suited to a blood cleansing diet. No need to go and buy dried herbs, most of what is needed probably grows right in the backyard or a meadow nearby.

The idea of a blood cleansing diet is simply to stimulate the metabolism and thus help the body eliminate a build up of uric acids and other toxins. This is mostly the work of the kidneys and liver. Certain foods, such as apples, celery, endive and horseradish and sauerkraut are very useful here. They can best be enjoyed as a salad, with raw onions and garlic. The marinade should just be olive oil with lemon juice. Plenty of fresh apple juice, or, if you can stomach it, a little apple cider vinegar diluted with water and sweetened with honey is also very cleansing.

As for the herbs that are currently sprouting in the fields and yard, look for:

Nettles (Urtica dioica):

Rich in vitamin A, C and iron. Nettles are very cleansing and diuretic, and are particularly useful for eliminating uric acid deposits, which are the cause of painful joints in arthritis and rheumatism. The expressed juice is the most powerful preparation, though a tea made with the dried leaves is also good. Nettle extract lowers the blood sugar level and thus is especially helpful for diabetics. Foragers usually appreciate Nettles as a spinach type vegetable, either in soups or as a side dish. However, it is best to mix them up with other greens and vegetables. A pure nettle dish tends to be a little too cleansing and can upset the stomach.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):

Dandelion is one of the most blessed spring herbs available. The leaves are specific for the urinary system. They help to flush out the kidneys without depleting the body of potassium, since they are particularly rich in this mineral. They can be enjoyed as a tea or added to soups and salads as a healthy and tasty spring green. The chemical composition of the roots varies in different seasons. In spring they are rich in certain proteins and mineral salts, while in autumn they are rich in inulin content (up to 40%), which is useful for diabetics.

Daisies (Bellis perennis):

Daisy leaves and flowers have long been used as a cleansing remedy that can be added to spring salads. The juice pressed from the aerial parts is the most potent elixir, but must be freshly prepared each day. One tablespoon per day, diluted in the same amount of water is the recommended dose.

Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria):

This herb often grows profusely in damp, shady places and where it does it is a blessing. The young shoots and leaves are very cleansing for the stomach and intestines and are also powerfully diuretic and very effective for flushing out uric acid crystals. They can be prepared as a salad or soup and make a very effective addition to a spring cleansing diet. Goutweed, as the name suggests, is also a well-known specific for rheumatism and gout, especially of the feet as its Latin name implies (podagra - gout of the feet). For this purpose though a strong decoction is made from the roots, which is used as a footbath.

Burdock Root (Arctium lappa):

The root of second year plants is the most powerful. It is a liver cleansing remedy that powerfully eliminates toxins from the body. It is also very beneficial for diabetics as it has a regulating effect on gallbladder secretions and is rich in Inulin content. Burdock is rarely encouraged as a garden plant, since it does not produce pretty flowers and takes up a lot of space, but anybody who suffers from chronic problems that call for blood cleansing, e.g. arthritis, rheumatism, gout or skin problems such as psoriasis would be well advised to make a little space in their yards for this miracle healer. Burdock root can be taken as a tea (20g to 1/2 litre of water) or added to soups as a healing vegetable.

CAUTION: People who suffer from any kind of kidney disease should not attempt to undertake a blood cleansing regime involving strongly diuretic plants without consulting their doctor or herbalist.


The Art of Simple Living

The environment is under threat - not just in far away and exotic places, but right here on our doorstep too. Many sensitive habitats are threatened by logging companies, miners and developers who see the value of the land only in terms of it's economic potential for exploitation. Such attitudes have shaped our landscapes for far too long and in many locations have left deep and sore scars on the face of the earth.

Those of us who appeal for sensible use of the land i.e. sustainable resource management, are often simply ridiculed as dreamers. 'You can't turn the wheel of time back' or 'what, do you want, go back to living in caves?' or 'sustainable management means decrease in profits for industry and thus loss of jobs' are just some of the extremely short-sighted arguments one might hear.

The political will for change is progressing slower than slowly - in fact, at present it is attempting to turn back the wheel of time. The small progress that has been made in recent years regarding international agreements for environmental protection to slow down the pace of habitat destruction or expansion rate of the ozone holes is being all but annihilated. Not that people don't care, in fact a growing number of concerned citizens do, but all to often the interests of corporations is placed first and environmental concerns are all too often simply wiped off the discussion table.

Environmental interests and human interests are pitted against each other. The 'quality of life' that apparently is at stake, is the convenience lifestyle, centered around the car and high energy consumption technologies that are supposed to make life simpler. But human interests are far more closely aligned with ecological interests that are based on the integrity of the whole web of life and the health and well-being of nature, of which, after all, we are still a part. Our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being is directly related not to the availability of a drive throu fast food joint in the neighborhood, but to the quality of the local environment, including the quality of such basic 'commodities' as air and water, not to mention accessibility of green spaces.

The connections between corporate interests, environmental degradation and social exploitation are so obvious, yet over the years corporations have become very clever at glossing over their 'dirty laundry'. Not surprisingly, since they have all the tricks of the marketing and advertising industries at their disposal, they have long since become very adept at using such tools to their own best interest: maximum profits.

The fact that government policies are directly related to corporate interests is no secret. Publicly available data on campaign funding tell the tale for anyone to see. Local pressure groups are often sadly ineffective in influencing even local policies, let alone national policies. Yet, if there is any power for the people to claim, it is through grassroots activism and personal direct action. As long as money is the bottom line, such activism starts with consumer and lifestyle choices. There are many things one can do:

Each and every one of us has the power to vote for social and environmental change with our checkbook. By choosing organic produce and products, we can protect not only our own health, but also encouraging farmers to grow more organic food, which in the long run helps to heal the poisoned and depleted soil. Better still, if you have a garden, grow your own organic vegetables and start a compost.

Try to eliminate toxins from your personal environment, find alternative non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning materials for the kitchen and bathroom. Some are available commercially; others can easily be made at home.

Many building materials are toxic, too. Remember that you will have to live with whatever you are putting on the walls, doors and floors. Find the least toxic materials available and demand that your local hardware shop stocks them. Choose water-based paints and finishes, read the labels and try to determine the heavy metal content of products such as paints and varnish. Remaining with the subject of building - if you use wood try to determine how and where it is produced. Don't buy tropical hardwoods unless they carry a certificate of sustainable harvest practices. Being a responsible shopper can go a long way towards not only making your own home a safer and more environmentally friendly place but may also help raise the awareness of the purchasing personnel at your local stores and protect the heavily threatened tropical forest environments.

Conserving natural resources of cause is the key to preserving the environment. This includes an awareness of energy consumption. CO2 emmissions are one of the largest contributors of green house gases that are currently destroying the protective layers of the upper stratosphere, thus creating the ozone holes, which are still growing at an alarming rate. You can cut down electricity use by exchanging your regular light bulbs for energy efficient ones and only buy appliances that have a low energy use rating. You will not only help to reduce the CO2 emissions, but cut down on your utility bill too. Leaving your car at home and using a bicycle instead or walking if possible is not only beneficial for your personal health and fitness but also benefits the environment and saves on your gas bill.

Paper is one of the most wasted and wasteful materials on the planet. 23000 tons of news print is used every day in the US to produce 65 million newspapers. A bumper edition of the New York Times clears about 400 hectares (990 acres) of trees. Multiply that by 52 weeks in the year and how many mega Sunday papers...? Not to mention the wastefulness of paperwork - 2 trillion pieces of paper accumulate in offices ever year, 120 billion that are filed will pack 5 million filing cabinets! Every person in the US uses about 290kg of paper a year, that's approximately equal to 0.8 cubic meters or 25 cubic feet of wood. It is surprising that there are any trees left at all. The paperless office is a myth, but at least we can make sure we only use recycled paper and likewise recycle all the office wastes. A good move would be to locate tree-free paper sources. Traditional newsprint is lead-based. While soy-based lead-free inks are available, they are not widely used - yet.

Remember the three R's: reduce, reuse, recycle. Before you buy any new items, think about whether you really need these things, whether you might be able to buy them second-hand or refurbished. Right now computer components are becoming a big problem in terms of garbage management. With technology changing so quickly people replace their gear every few years and the old systems end up piling up in landfills at an alarming rate... Buy things with 'reuse' in mind, for both the container/packaging as well as the item itself. Don't buy one-way items if you can avoid them, or if you do, at least make sure that they themselves and/or their packaging are recyclable. Become creative with your recycling and reusing ideas. Some of the greatest arts/craft projects can be done with recycled materials.

These may all just seem like small steps and when considering the monumental problems that are facing the environment globally today, they might even seem insignificant. But in this task everybody's efforts count and many small steps eventually result in big leaps. The change has to start somewhere, and since we all have an impact on the environment, like it or not, we have to start by taking personal responsibility where we can - in our own lives.

For more stimulating ideas and lots of great links and suggestions please visit these wonderful website:

These companies provide environmentally friendly products:

The Natural Zone


Love Your Mother



(Capsicum ssp.)



Red Pepper, Chili, Chile Pepper, Cayenne, Bird pepper, Pimiento, Aji


The genus Capsicum belongs to the Nightshade family, which comprises many other edible plants, such as potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants. There are about 25 known wild varieties, though most cultivated Chile peppers are variations of the annuum species, other cultivated varieties are C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens, and C. pubescens. The many hundreds of hybridized varieties, which come in all shapes, colours, sizes and degrees of pungency make classification and nomenclature a difficult and confusing task, especially for the amateur gardener or botanist. Most varieties are derived from the annuum species, though C. frutescens is also popular. The hottest chilies are C. chinensis varieties, popularly known as Habaneros.

Chile peppers originate in tropical South America, where according to some archeoethnobotanists they have been cultivated for over 7000 years. In tropical regions they develop into perennial bushes, which grow up to 2 meters high and can live to about 10 years. In colder climes frost kills them off so they only grow as annuals. C. pubescens, a somewhat hairy highland species originates in the Andes, and does not tolerate tropical temperatures. Chile fruits can be yellow, purple, orange, red or green, tiny round berries or elongated pods, some look like miniature squashes others like miniature bell-peppers. Their degree of pungency is equally varied and depends not only on genetic make up, but also on weather and soil conditions. Apparently environmental stress factors increase pungency levels. (Interesting in this context is a piece of planting lore from Africa, which claims that the best, most pungent peppers are grown when the person who plants the seeds is very angry.) Pungency is generally expressed in 'Scoville units' a somewhat subjective measurement based on the so-called 'Scoville Organoleptic Test'. To determine the 'heat level' volunteers are given samples of Chiles, which are subsequently diluted with water until pungency can no longer be detected. The scale ranges from 0 to about 300000. Unfortunately such tests are not very reliable as a degree of tolerance is quickly developed. More recently a scientific method has been devised, known as the 'high-performance liquid chromatography test (HPLC)', which measures the type and quantity of capsaicinoids present in the sample.


Chile peppers are tropical plants and thus are ideally suited to hot and humid conditions. However, they are very adaptable and will do well even in semi-arid regions. They love nitrogen, a hot and sunny position and a well draining soil. The seeds are mostly dispersed by birds, who love the fruits and don't seem to be affected by the bite.


Chiles originate in tropical regions of South America, but spread to Central American regions in pre-Columbian times. Columbus, who went to the New World in search of black pepper and other exotic spices found a far more potent spice than he had bargained for: Chile peppers. He took some seeds back to Europe, though they did not immediately become popular there as a culinary treat. Instead, they were planted as ornamentals in monastery gardens. Spanish and Portuguese traders introduced them to Africa and Asia where they became an instant hit. Chiles found their way into Central Europe with the Turks during the period when the Ottoman Empire extended as far north as Hungary. The Turks appear to have first encountered them in 1513 at Hormuz, a Portuguese colony in the Persian Gulf, which they besieged at the time.

A folktale tells of the beginnings of Capsicum cultivation in Hungary: One day, while out walking in the fields a beautiful girl, who lived near a Turkish encampment, was abducted by the Turks and imprisoned in the local harem. Apparently the Turks knew of the Chile's reputation as an aphrodisiac, for they spiced their food and that of the harem girls with Capsicum peppers, probably of the paprika variety. The girl, however, was in love and engaged with a local boy who she pined for. One day she discovered a secret passage to the outside world and escaped to meet her lover. Before she returned to the harem she slipped him some Capsicum seeds. Soon after pepper plants grew all over the countryside. Apparently the new spicy food fortified the resistance fighters, the Turks were fought back and defeated soon after. What remained of their memory were the Capsicum plants.

Of all European cultures Hungary is the most devoted to spicy cuisine and even now is the most significant producer of Capsicums on that continent, mostly paprikas of varying degree of spiciness.

Magical herbalism appropriately assigns Chile peppers to Mars, the god of war. In Central and South America they were traditionally used in counter magic and protection rituals. Sprinkled around the house they were expected to ward of evil daemons and vampires, while burning them along with garlic and other pungent spices was intended to fumigate and purify the house. Incidentally this procedure is also reputed to dispel vermin and insects. In Latin American countries it is also a popular counter-magical device to ward off or cure the affects of the 'Evil Eye'. Strings of Chile peppers were used for decoration (Chile ristas) or worn as a protective necklace. Many villages in Central America are named after the type of Chile they cultivate and still celebrate special fiestas in honour of the Chile Saint or God.

Chiles have long enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac spice, their fiery nature was thought to ignite the flame of passion. The Aztecs were known to use Chiles for this purpose, often mixing them with other aphrodisiac plants such as cocoa and vanilla. Even today kitchen jokes with sexual innuendos revolving around Chiles keep the cooks amused in Mexican kitchens and macho contests testing Chile endurance levels are frequently part of the social dining experience. The women folk tend to quietly watch these contests and draw their own conclusions.

In the Amazon, Chile is sometimes used as an additive to Yage mixtures, a hallucinogenic medicine that shamans and 'ayahuasceros' use for healing rituals and vision quests throughout Amazonia. There are also reports of certain Chile types being used in ritual snuff mixtures in conjunction with various other hallucinogenic plants. One can vividly imagine what kind of punch such mixtures would deliver...

On the more aggressive side, Chiles have also been used as a means of punishment for unruly children, who were exposed to their fumes. In Asia they were even used as a means of torture, being rubbed into wounds and sensitive mucous membranes and even squirted into the eyes of the victims. This latter use, in a modified form, is still popular with riot police, which uses tear gas containing capsaicin to control discontented citizens. In the same vein, capsaicin is the major ingredient of pepper sprays used to ward of potential rapists, burglars, muggers or bears.

While western cultures were at first reluctant to integrate this fiery plant into their respective cuisines, in recent years this trend has been almost completely reversed. Chile is by now probably the most popular spice worldwide. Due to the requirements of the large Latin American communities, not to mention Asian and African populations, the Chile has conquered its space on North-American supermarket shelves much earlier than in Europe, though slowly the trend is beginning to catch on. Over the past decade or so Chile fans have grown into a kind of food movement, and Chile faddism is by now one of the most popular food crazes - thankfully quite a healthy one at that.

In the US one can find specialized stores throughout the country, devoted exclusively to Chile related products, anything from large selections of fresh and dried Chiles, to whole aisles full of salsas, hot sauces, spice mixtures, pastes, chutneys, vinegars and oils all containing Chile, to books on Chile cuisine of all ethnicities, and even jams and candies with Chile ingredients. Of course - every fad generates related 'merchandise', so often these shops also offer Chile related non-food items, anything from baseball caps, to aprons, and even underwear with Chile designs, not to mention cups and plates and a whole range of perfectly useless, but cute little Chile knick-knacks. Chile festivals and 'cook-offs' are also regionally popular.

Europe has been a little slower in exploiting this potential food fad market. In many places one can count oneself lucky to find hot Chiles at the supermarkets, though milder varieties are quite commonly available. However, the trend there too is gradually changing, especially in the UK and in Germany, where Asian cuisine is becoming increasingly popular, while the French are probably among the most conservative when it comes to spicy foods.

Magickal Uses:

As a talisman or amulet; aphrodisiac, protection, counter-magic, warding off evil spirits or spells



Fruits, Leaves


Fruits can be harvested either unripe or ripe. There is no specific information available on when best to harvest the leaves, though in general leaves are best before or during flowering.


Vitamin C and A, capsaicin, capsaicinoids, pigment, the capsaicin is concentrated in the placenta of the fruit


circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, decongestant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, immune system stimulant, anti-inflammatory, fibronolytic, pain relieving, anti-oxidant


migraine and cluster headaches, fevers, colds, nasal catarrh, high blood pressure, stomach and digestive problems, laryngitis, sore throat, rheumatic and neuralgic pain, skin problems, shingles


Fresh Chile peppers are very rich in vitamin C: 94 mg. per 74 grams in comparison to only 37 mg. in oranges, which makes them very effective as immune system stimulants and healing agents especially for cellular damage. Many folk remedies recommend Chile pepper in wound cleaning preparations for gangrene and open sores and even as a styptic, though more modern sources generally advise against using Chile on broken skin. While drying Chiles diminishes most of their vitamin C, it increases the vitamin A content by 100 times. Vitamin A is a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Internally, Chile preparations have been used as a gargle to treat sore throat and laryngitis. Surprisingly, it has been shown that Chiles do not aggravate or cause stomach ulcers. In fact, they seem to have a preventative effect, as stomach ulcers are mostly caused by bacteria. Chile's antibacterial action kills such bacteria. In folk-medicine they have also long been used to treat worms.

Taken internally the 'heat component' of Chile peppers has a two-fold effect: It produces a powerful burning sensation, which causes profuse salivation and perspiration. By reflex the stomach secretions are also stimulated, aiding digestion. The immediate effect on the circulatory system is an instant rush, a warming feeling throughout the body, which soon after actually results in an overall cooling effect as perspiration takes body heat to the surface where it evaporates and thus cools the body down. This is one reason why hot foods are popular in hot countries. Simultaneously, the mucous membranes are stimulated, which greatly aids decongestion especially when feeling under the weather or suffering the symptoms of a cold. Overall this eliminative action leaves one feeling internally cleansed, perked up, glowing, relaxed, yet hyper alert, a feeling that has often been likened to a natural high. This blissful state is in fact the result of an endorphin rush, which occurs in response to the onslaught on the nerve receptors. Athletes experience the same kind of endorphin rush after intense physical exertion.

Chile has a very beneficial effect on the circulatory system. Studies have shown it to counteract cholesterol build up and to reduce platelet aggregation, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. They also lower high blood pressure and increase peripheral circulation. The same studies have found that incidence of heart disease is much lower in populations who regularly consume Chile in their diet.

Modern herbalists don't tend to utilize Chile peppers much for internal use, except to give a little extra punch to other herbal remedies. However, stimulating the circulation has an important effect on healing: it improves nutrient distribution to wherever they may be needed. Increased blood flow also means that wastes can be eliminated more effectively. That, coupled with the rich vitamin C and A content makes Chile an excellent herb for combating internal infections and inflammations.

Externally, Chiles have mostly been used as a rubefacient or 'counter-irritant' application. Most commonly applied as a plaster, poultice or ointment it is employed as a topical treatment for rheumatic and neuralgic pain. Earlier theories presumed that the pain relieving effect was due to the fact that the pain induced by the Chile application distracted the body from the original source of pain. What actually happens is that capsaicin first stimulates and then blocks the pain receptors, depleting them of the neurotransmitter responsible for pain impulse transmission (substance P). Furthermore, drawing blood into an inflamed area actually helps to decongest it and spreads a sense of soothing warmth. Such external applications may be effective for a wide range of conditions:

To treat a painful condition of the main facial nerve known as 'trigeminal neuralgia', shingles, a painful nerve disorder resulting from long term diabetes known as 'diabetic neuropathy', osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as postamputation pain. It is also used to treat pain resulting from mastectomy as well as mouth sores associated with chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Psoriasis, which has been linked to increased levels of substance P has been shown to improve with Capsaicin treatment. For migraine and cluster headaches the capsaicin preparation is usually administered via a special nasal application, which is best done with the help of a physician.

Caution: Chile peppers can be very pungent and irritating. External use can result in allergic reactions or blistering. Care must be taken to avoid contact with the sensitive mucous membranes unless specifically used as a treatment (see above). Consult with your physician. Prolonged and excessive internal use of Chile can irritate the kidneys and digestive tract.


Chile peppers have been used for culinary purposes for thousands of years and there are gazillions of recipes, ranging in heat scale from mild to liquid fire, available in numerous books and recipe sites (see below for resources). Mexico has by far the most refined Chile cuisine, utilizing dozens of very specific Chile combinations for different dishes to achieve just the perfect flavour. Dried Chiles are usually soaked before use to soften them. Fresh Chiles, especially the larger ones are often roasted or blistered to remove the sometimes rather tough skin. The degree of pungency can be adjusted by removing the seeds and white skin (placenta) which is where most of the capsaicin is concentrated.

Few other foods receive a comparable culinary enthusiasm by some and yet are so feared by others. Some people insist that Chiles 'kill' the flavour of other foods. This may be true at the first encounter, but as tolerance develops one finds that Chiles actually intensify the flavours of other foods, as they intensify sensory perception and awareness in general. The best 'cool-aid' to counteract excessive Chile heat are milk products (e.g. sour cream), sugar and bread. Water or beer will do nothing to extinguish the fire.

Here is a great Chile resource with recipes and growing advice and much much more:


XVI Biennial International Pepper Conference

Sunday, November 10 - Tuesday November 12 2002
You can register by visiting :



Manu Biosphere Reserve, in the southwestern region of the Amazon, is perhaps the most famous National Park of Peru. It is the largest protected area within this country, and boasts the greatest biodiversity anywhere in the Amazon (if not on the planet). The varieties of fauna and flora that can be observed in this magnificent wildlife sanctuary are too numerous to mention all. Among them are giant river otters, black and white caiman, macaws, tapirs, numerous species of monkeys and birds, jaguars and other cats. As for plants...there are literally thousands of different species.

The almost 2 million hectares that comprise Manu National Park are divided into 3 sections:

There is only one lodge within the reserved zone and another in the cultural zone. Access to the reserved zone is by organized tour only, so as to protect the environment as much as possible. The reserved zone can only be reached by bus and boat or by light aircraft. There is another lodge in the cultural zone where independent stays are possible.

Manu Camping Adventure

A small ecotravel company set up by a Dutch Biologist who fell in love with Manu many years ago, takes small groups to visit and experience the natural wonders of Manu National Park. This small scale, low-impact camping trip visits the reserved area of the Park, which allows participants to come as close to nature as possible. The experiences gained from such a trip are simply unforgettable.

The guides accompanying the tours give an interesting insight into the ecology of Manu and its many inhabitants. They are also well versed in the traditional uses of many of the plants.

Click here to find out more about Manu Biosphere Reserve and the Camping Trips we offer there. For more information on Peru click here.

Inca Trail & Machu Picchu


Book Review

Natural Medicine in the Tropics

Dr. Hans Martin Hirt & Bindanda M Pia

158 pages, diagrams, line-drawings, some black and white photographs

Published by the grassroots organization 'ANAMED' (Action for Natural Medicine) this little book is a veritable powerhouse of information and a great, practical, hands-on resource for health care workers in the tropics concerned with natural medicine and for local people alike. It is written in an uncomplicated style, always with practicality in mind, thus making it truly accessible to anybody, not just academics.

The book is sectioned into 2 main parts. The first part deals with the background issues of health care in the tropics and the problems facing health workers in rural communities. I particularly loved this part because of the simple logic, yet comprehensive approach with which complicated but very important issues are explained. This book is a practical manual that aims at hands-on, grassroots action and education and provides clear, straightforward instructions and suggestions on how to break the vicious cycle of poverty and disempowerment and thus pointing the way to making a real difference in peoples lives. It gives outlines and instructions on how to set up natural medicine workshops at the village level, how to plant medicinal trees and gardens, how to gather local knowledge and instigate changes that help people reclaim their health and their heritage.

The second part is dedicated to the practical aspects of how to dry or store herbal materials, prepare medicines and treat common ailments. This section includes discussions of some 65 plants at varying length, complete with botanical description, cultivation tips and details about their uses and possible side-effects, along with illustrations and treatment suggestions.

The book also contains a bibliography, a glossary and an index for reference purposes. Natural Medicine in the Tropics is truly remarkable in scope, depth and usefulness, especially considering its size of a mere 160 pages.

I loved this book not just for the extensive information it offers but also for its socio-political stance, which points out the direct correlations between cultural erosion, loss of local knowledge and environmental degradation and their effect on the physical, psychological and economic well-being of rural populations in the third world. This book is a tool for empowerment, designed to help people regain control over their health-care and their natural resources.

Natural Medicine in the Tropics: I: Tropical Plants as a source of health care. Production of medicines and cosmetics" by Hans-Martin Hirt and Bindanda M´Pia. The second, enlarged edition is now available, but, at the moment, in English only. The descriptions of the treatment of tropical diseases with medicinal plants have benefited from a lot of experience of the last 5 years. 160pp. First edition in French and German, 118pp. Also now in Spanish (A4, 130pp) and Ukrainian (160pp). Forthcoming in Swahili. Also available, a poster of the medicinal plants (colour photographs) that are covered in the book.
Available for 16 Euros at the Anamed Website:

ANAMED: Action for Natural Medicine

Anamed aims to enable people in the Tropics to develop the greatest possible degree of self-reliance, particularly with regard to their health. To this end Anamed runs seminars and conducts research into medicinal plants and the preparation of medicines. Anamed seeks to work in complete harmony with the environment.



While on the topic of natural medicine in the tropics, here is another organization that is working towards preserving knowledge of plant medicines, among other things. AANG SERIAN is an organization dedicated to preserving indigenous traditions and knowledge, and promoting inter-cultural dialogue across the world. Part of their work includes working with research initiatives on traditional medicine and biodiversity conservation.

Aang Serian promotes local participation in traditional medicine research, and is committed to returning findings to communities and upholding international conventions on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Monduli Scoping Project: Plant Utilisation and Conservation In 2001, Aang Serian and Terrawatu - another Arusha-based NGO focusing on indigenous knowledge for sustainable development - were contracted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to undertake a short-term scoping project in Monduli District, Tanzania.

Check out their website at AANG SERIAN

In July 2001, the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) endorsed a statement in which traditional medicine was described as "the most affordable and accessible system of health care for the majority of the African rural population". The OAU has declared the decade 2001-2010 as a `Decade for African Traditional Medicine’.

Click here to read the full declaration.


Legal Status of Natural and Alternative Medicines Around the World

- A WHO report of 123 countries available for downloading

The legal status of alternative and traditional medicines is a complicated issue. Some countries have tried to set some kind of standards by legislating alternative health care providers and natural medicines, supposedly, to protect the consumer, but one might wonder if the legislations are not rather designed to protect the interests of pharmaceutical companies and the medical lobby.

Legislation labors hard over the finer points of whether to classify a well-known herb as a medicinal, a culinary or nutritional supplement, each requiring differing regulations. It is also generally assumed that people trained in the western system of medicine make better practitioners, a questionable theory, since it assumes superiority of the western system over other traditional medical philosophies.

While this is a problem in Western nations, it is even worse of a problem in third world nations, where traditional practitioners may not even be able to read, but do have a thorough knowledge of healing plants and health care knowledge. Analphabetic practitioners are thus often automatically barred from qualifying for an officially approved status.

Doubtlessly there is a lot of 'quackery' in the health care arena, and neither western nor tradional/alternative treatment methods are immune from it. It is questionable though, whether legislation really protects consumers. After all, most people who do have any choice in deciding who to turn to for medical help, choose the practitioner by recommendation of friends and peers who they trust. An official stamp of approval may satisfy the burocracy, but it does not say much about actual quality of care.

The WHO (World Health Organization) has recognized that in order to achieve healthcare for all, alternative and traditional treatment methods must be incorporated into the available choices. The majority of the world's population still relies on them to a significant extent. However, as westernization advances under the cloak of 'progress' natural medicines are frequently soon abandoned in preference of 'modern' looking pills. These may be out of date or unsafe and illegal in the countries of their origins, but are often indiscriminately dumped on the third world market (sometimes as part of 'development aid' where they end up being sold over the counter, frequently by people who know nothing about them. It is pretty scary, but such is faith in 'progress'.

Natural medicines are almost always locally available and cost little or nothing compared to vastly over-priced western medicines. However, given the generally anarchic ways of traditional medicine combined with certain folk-magical elements, it is at times difficult to separate fact from fiction. Beliefs, of course, are also of paramount importance in the effectivness of treatments, a factor that can not easily be quantified and can apply to either alternative or western medicines.

The WHO has prepared a report that provides a summary of the legal status of several major practices in Traditional Medicine/Complimentary Alternative Medicine from 123 countries, including data on:

You can download the complete file at this page:

Legal Status of Alternative and Natural Medicines around the World


Protect Wild Rice

Yet another indigenous crop is becoming threatened by corporate patents and their plans for genetic modification.

The Anishinaabeg -- the Native American tribes from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Canada who have cultivated Manoomin (Wild Rice) for thousands of years -- have started a dialogue on how to protect wild rice as an indigenous resource. The following information was produced by the White Earth Land Recovery Project as a result of a collaborative meeting between representatives of many Native American (American Indian) tribes.

Read the full article here