Brain Food: The Naturopathic Kitchen

When asked, many people would jump at the opportunity for a better memory into their aging years. “Cognitive impairment” is a common and can involve memory loss, trouble with learning, difficulty concentrating, and challenges with decision-making. Symptoms can range from very mild to more severe dementia type and may result in loss of independence. According to a MetLife Foundation survey, Americans over 55 fear getting Alzheimer’s more than any other disease!1 Similarly, according to an article published in the London-based newspaper, The Telegraph, two-thirds of people over 50 are scared of developing dementia, while just one in 10 were frightened about getting cancer.2

The number of people living with cognitive impairment in the US is equal to twice the population of New York City!3 The baby boomer population is most at risk as age is a considerable risk factor. Other risk factors include genetic predisposition, being diagnosed with diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity, or lifestyle factors like being a smoker, not exercising, or not being socially active. But what if there was something that could be done to help preserve and protect brain function? What if that something was at the end of your fork?

Most of us are aware of the things we shouldn’t eat such as fast food, packaged foods, and refined sugar. We know the impact overindulging on these types of foods can have on our body. But what many are less aware of are the things we should eat.  That’s where The Naturopathic Kitchen resources are useful, to offer education on the health benefits of natural herbs and foods. When it comes to brain health and preserving important brain functions like memory, cognition, and concentration, the food we eat can play a big role in supporting both short- and long-term brain function. The brain requires a lot of energy to function optimally, using around 20% of the calories we eat each day to operate.4 The choices we make in the foods we consume each day can have a big impact on both the structure and health of our brains.

Some of the top plant-based foods to include in a brain-boosting diet include:

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts are low in saturated fats but contain higher levels of both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Scientific research has found that higher levels of nut intake were associated with better brain function as we age.5 Nuts and seeds are also rich sources of antioxidant powerhouses like vitamin E (found in higher amounts in sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts). Human studies have validated the critical role of vitamin E in protecting the central nervous system.6 Vitamin E has been shown to protect cognitive performance in terms of learning and memory as well as emotional response.6

Nuts and seeds are also important sources of minerals like selenium (especially high in Brazil nuts), zinc (found in pumpkin seeds), and many others. Selenium has shown to be involved in diverse functions of the central nervous system, such as motor performance, coordination, memory and cognition.7 Selenium is widely distributed throughout the body, however one particular attribute of selenium biology is that brain has the highest priority to receive and retain this nutrient even in cases of selenium deficiency.8 Studies have demonstrated the abilities of selenium to prevent oxidative damage, morphological changes, and cognitive decline.9


Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and others are very high in antioxidants. Berries have particularly high levels of a subclass of flavonoids called anthocyanidins (the compounds responsible for the dark blues, purples, and reds associated with various berries), that have the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier where they localize in areas of learning and memory.10 Substantial experimental data have established that berry supplementation enhances nerve cell function and survival, and effectively reduces age-related cognitive impairment in experimental models.10 Blueberries have demonstrated an ability to improve measures of memory such as word recall after just 12 weeks of consumption.11


Most people will likely be able to tell you that green vegetables are good for you, but fewer may be able to explain why they are great for the brain! Greens such as kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, and broccoli are rich in vitamins and nutrients, many of which have demonstrated remarkable influence on brain structure and function. Green vegetables are a good source of vitamin K. While vitamin K may be most well-known for its role in blood coagulation, research has shown it also has an emerging role in brain health. Vitamin K is involved in the production of a specific type of fat-based molecule called a sphingolipid that is part of the cell membrane of all nerve cells in the brain.12 Other protein-based biomolecules that depend on vitamin K are also being discovered. These molecules play a number of roles in cellular communication as well as roles in the growth and survival of nerve cells and the specialized glial cells that are responsible for surrounding neurons and providing support for and insulation between them.13 Emerging data also point to unique actions of the K vitamer menaquinone-4 (MK-4) against oxidative stress and inflammation.12

Dark Chocolate

Believe it or not, chocolate contains many compounds that are of important biological activity. Dark chocolate is a particularly rich source of antioxidants. The brain is highly susceptible to oxidative stress, which increases during aging and is considered a major contributor to the degenerative breakdown of nerve cells so having adequate antioxidant support available is vital to preserving health and function.6 Dark chocolate is a particularly rich source of antioxidants and may be uniquely helpful in supporting brain health. Research shows that consuming dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao) may improve brain plasticity, which is crucial for learning, and may also provide other brain-related benefits.14  Further research suggests that the flavonoids contained in chocolate may encourage neuron and blood vessel growth in areas of the brain involved in memory and learning as well as stimulate blood flow in the brain.15

Let’s try out some brain-healthy recipes!

For more tasty recipes and to learn more about the health benefits of natural foods, visit The Naturopathic Kitchen!

Summer Berry Salad


12 c mixed organic lettuce
1 c organic strawberries (sliced)
1 c organic blueberries
1/2 c organic raspberries
1/2 c organic boysenberries
1 1/2 c slivered almondS


1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c organic rice vinegar
1/3 c organic raspberries
sea salt to taste

*Non-organic berries are often highly sprayed with pesticides. Choose organic berries whenever possible.


Chop lettuce into small bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Mix in berries and almonds. Top with raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

Thank you to Like Mother Like Daughter  and The Healthy Home Economist for theses delicious recipes!

Nut and Seed Granola


¼ c pure organic maple syrup
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 c slivered almonds
½ c pecans, roughly chopped
¼ c unsweetened shredded coconut
3 T sunflower seeds
1 T sesame seeds
1 T ground flaxseed
¼ t sea salt


  1. Position an oven rack at the bottom of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F.
  2. Whisk maple syrup and oil together in a large bowl. Add the almonds, pecans, coconut, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseed and salt then toss to coat.
  3. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, then scrape and toss mixture around and continue to bake until golden and still slightly sticky (about 10-12 minutes more) or for a deeper, toasted version, bake until deeply golden (about 13-15 minutes more).

Thank you to Food Network for this wonderful recipe.

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Swiss Chard: The Naturopathic Kitchen

Welcome back to The Naturopathic KitchenThe kitchen is the heart of healthy living. This week we will learn more about a wonderful leafy green known as Swiss chard. Read all the way through where we share a couple amazing recipes for you to test out!

Swiss chard 101

Swiss chard is a plant grown for its green leaves and edible stalks. It is a member of the same family as the sugar beet (bearing the same scientific classification but lacking the enlarged bulb root), spinach, and amaranth.1 Swiss chard is quite cold-tolerant and can be grown and harvested from mid to late spring until the first few frosts of fall.

Swiss chard is a biennial plant meaning that its growth cycle spans two growing seasons. It can grow to a height of about 28 inches and has a bitter flavor due to the presence of oxalate in the leaves. Young leaves (baby Swiss chard) that are harvested at a height of four inches or less are lower in oxalate and can be eaten raw in salads or other dishes. Larger, more mature leaves and their stalks are typically cooked which causes the bitterness to fade and results in a flavor that is delicate and more mild than that of cooked spinach.

Swiss chard is well-known for its nutrient content, ranking among the top three most nutrient-dense by World’s Healthiest Foods behind broccoli and spinach.1 It contains many beneficial nutrients in the forms of vitamins and minerals as well as an array of important phytonutrients. Swiss chard is an especially rich source of Vitamin K, as well as vitamins C, E, B2 (riboflavin) and B6.2 In terms of minerals, it provides ample amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese.2 Other nutrients include choline, biotin, and fiber. In addition to these traditional nutrients, Swiss chard is also rich in phytonutrients including carotenoids (which the body can convert to vitamin A), flavonoids, and phenolic acids.

Where does Swiss chard come from?

The first uses of Swiss chard date back about 2,500 years ago. Interestingly, it is not native to Switzerland as the name would have you believe. Swiss chard is actually a derivative of the wild sea beet and is native to the Mediterranean region, growing along the border of the Mediterranean Sea in countries along the northern coast of Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe.1 Once people learned of its culinary uses, it quickly became a domesticated crop grown in many geographic regions around the world and can now be found virtually everywhere in many different types of cuisines.

Swiss chard is widely available in grocery stores. It is common to find organic varieties in conventional supermarkets. When purchasing Swiss chard, it is important to choose chard that is held in a chilled display as this will help to ensure that it has a crunchier texture and sweeter taste.1 The leaves should be bright green in color with no browning, yellowing or wilting. The leaves also should not have tears or tiny holes in them. The stalks come in a variety of colors including white, red, pink, purple, orange, yellow, and silver. They should appear firm and crisp without blemishes, bruises, or marring. Swiss chard is highly perishable. It should not be washed before storing and is best stored in a cool environment such as the refrigerator.

How does Swiss chard help my health?

Swiss Chard is worthy of the classification as a nutrient powerhouse vegetable whose vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients promote a number of health benefits. Swiss chard is rich in the carotenoid pigments lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of which have been proven to improve visual memory, visual processing speed and more in older adults.3 The combination has also been shown to significantly improve other measures of cognitive functioning such as complex attention and cognitive flexibility.4 Swiss chard is also particularly rich in a phenolic compound called syringic acid. Research has found that syringic acid inhibits the formation of new fat, prevents fat accumulation, and acts as an antioxidant.5 Kaempferol and quercetin are two flavonoid phytonutrients found in Swiss chard. Recently published research has revealed that these two compounds have anti-fungal activity and the ability to slow the growth of and decrease the size of fungal biofilms.6

What medical conditions/symptoms is Swiss chard used for?

When should Swiss chard be avoided?

Barring an outright allergy or sensitivity to the plant itself, Swiss chard can safely be consumed by most people. Some people however, particularly those on blood thinning medications like Warfarin/Coumadin, should consult with their physician before consuming Swiss chard. It is also high in oxalic acid which can be problematic for those with gout or kidney stones.

Let’s try out Swiss chard with these delicious and nutritious recipes!

Sautéed Swiss Chard with Golden Raisins & Pine Nuts


1 1/2 lbs. Swiss chard, stalks cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces, leaves torn into 2-inch pieces (keep stalks and leaves separate)
2 T pine nuts
2 T olive oil
1/3 c golden raisins
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T balsamic vinegar
Coarse salt and ground pepper


    1. Wash chard, leaving some water clinging to stalks and leaves; set aside. In a large saucepan with a lid, toast the pine nuts over medium-high heat, shaking pan to brown evenly, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from pan; set aside.
    2. In same saucepan, heat oil over medium-high. Add stalks, and cook until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add leaves, raisins, and garlic. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until tender, 6 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    3. Pull lid back slightly, and tilt pan to pour off water. Stir in vinegar and pine nuts; season with salt and pepper.

Thank you to Everyday Food for this great recipe.

Lemony Chicken and Rice Soup with Swiss Chard


2 T olive oil
2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
8 c coarsely chopped Swiss chard, kale or spinach
2 large carrots, finely chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium lemon, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 c lemon juice
4 t grated lemon zest
1/2 t pepper
4 c cooked brown rice


  1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken; cook and stir until browned. Transfer to a 6-qt. slow cooker. Repeat with remaining oil and chicken.
  2. Stir broth, vegetables, lemon slices, lemon juice, zest and pepper into chicken. Cook, covered, on low until chicken is tender, 4-5 hours. Stir in rice; heat through.

Thank you to Taste of Home for this great recipe!

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Avocado 101: The Naturopathic Kitchen

Welcome back to The Naturopathic KitchenThe kitchen is ground zero for healthy living. This week we will take a closer look at the beloved avocado. We will wrap things up with a couple amazing recipes for you to try!

Avocado 101

The avocado, also known as the “alligator pear,” is a member of the Laurel family and is related to several spices including bay leaf, cinnamon, and sassafras. Many people are aware of its classification as a fruit rather than a vegetable but it may be surprising to learn that botanically speaking, the avocado is actually a berry!

Avocados originated in south-central Mexico between 7000-5000BC.1 It was a very long time before the wild avocado became a cultivated crop. Archaeological evidence has revealed domesticated avocado seeds entombed with mummified Incan remains dating back to 750BC. There is additional evidence that avocados became a cultivated crop in Mexico as early as 500BC.1

Avocados are true nutrient powerhouses. Among the phytonutrients contained within the creamy avocado are phytosterols like beta-sitosterol, carotenoids, and flavonoids like EGCG. They also contain important fats like alpha-linolenic acid and oleic acid. Avocados are also rich in vitamins such as fat-soluble vitamins E, K, and water soluble vitamin C as well as copper, folate, B5, B6, and potassium. In fact, the avocado contains over 1/3 more potassium than a banana.2

Unlike most fruits, avocados are well known for their high fat content with between 71-88% of their total calories coming from fat.3 This is about 20 times the average for most other fruits! While a typical avocado may contain in the neighborhood of 30 grams of fat, about two-thirds of that are the more health-promoting monounsaturated variety. As with most things in nature, not all avocados are alike in terms of fat content. In general, smaller sized avocados are expected to be more oily and higher in fat, similarly, larger size fruits then to be less oily with a lower fat percentage.3

Where do avocados come from?

In the modern marketplace, the countries producing the largest number of avocados include Mexico, the United States, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, China, Guatemala and a number of South American countries including Chile, Peru, and others.3 Mexico in particular, is an especially large exporter of avocados with about 500,000 metric tons of avocado being sent to the US alone each year. Within the U.S., California and Florida are the primary avocado-producing states, with about six times the total number of avocados being produced in California compared to Florida.3

When purchasing avocado to be eaten right away, look for one that is slightly soft and that yields to gentle pressure but is not mushy. There should be no dark sunken spots or cracks in the skin. If the avocado has a slight neck at the top versus being rounded as is typically seen, the avocado may have ripened longer on the tree and as a result may be richer in flavor. Fruits that are firm or hard are not ripe, but can be ripened at home in a few days by placing them in a fruit basket or a paper bag. Adding a banana to the bag will speed the process. Ripe avocados can be stored in the refrigerator uncut for two or three days.

To prepare an avocado, the recommendation from the California Avocado Commission is to use the “nick and peel” method. This method involves first using a knife to cut the avocado lengthwise. Once cut through, twist the halves in opposite directions and separate. Next take each of the halves and slice them lengthwise to produce four avocado quarters. Gently remove the pit with your fingers. Slide your thumb under the skin and then using your thumb and index finger, grip an edge of the avocado skin and peel it away from the flesh, just as you would a banana. This leaves a peeled and ready to use avocado that still contains much of the darker green avocado flesh that is richest in nutrients and antioxidants. To store cut fruit, sprinkle it with lemon juice, lime juice, or white vinegar and place it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This will prevent it from discoloring.

For a video demonstration of the peeling technique, click here.

How do avocados help my health?

Despite the fact that less than 3% of men and less than 6% of women aged 19 to 50 years in the US consume the number of daily fruit and vegetable servings recommended, research has shown that consuming avocado as part of a healthy can lead to benefits such as improved overall nutritional quality, better nutrient intake, and a decreased risk of metabolic syndrome.4 Additionally, avocado consumption has been reported to attenuate age-related weight gain.5

Avocado also reduces a variety of blood lipids including both triglycerides and LDA  levels without affecting HDL levels. It also decreased inflammatory markers int he blood, indicating that inflammatory processes were partially reversed.6 Avocado also boasts cognitive benefits such as improved working memory and problem solving capabilities.7

What medical conditions/symptoms is avocado used for?

When should avocado be avoided?

While avocado is known as a superfood food and is low in pesticide residue, there are specific groups who may not be able to safely enjoy it. Certain people may have allergic reactions to avocado including anaphylaxis. Those with latex or rubber allergies may also react to avocados due to “Latex-fruit syndrome” wherein there is a possibility of a reaction to certain proteins found in avocado that are structurally similar to those found in natural rubber/latex. Do not share avocado with pet birds or with livestock like cows, goats, and sheep. Avocados contain a compound called persin that is harmless to humans and pets like cats and dogs but is highly toxic to our feathered friends and livestock.


Let’s try out avocado with these delicious and nutritious recipes!


Chipotle Coleslaw with Creamy Avocado Dressing


1 small dried chipotle pepper (or 2 t ground chipotle powder)
1 large ripe avocado
4 T lemon juice
1 t raw honey or coconut sugar (optional)
1 1⁄2 t sea salt
1⁄8 t black pepper
1 savoy cabbage, cored and finely shredded (or 1/2 head napa cabbage)
3 carrots, shredded
2 apples, thinly sliced
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 c raw cashews, finely chopped
1⁄2 c cilantro, Italian parsley or mint, chopped (optional)


  1. Place one chipotle pepper, stem and seeds removed, in a blender or coffee grinder and process until powdered. Dried chipotle peppers can be found packaged in most grocery stores.
  2. Combine avocado, lemon juice, chipotle powder, honey, salt and pepper in a blender and process until smooth. The dressing should have the consistency of mayonnaise. Add extra lemon juice to thin it out if needed.
  3. In a very large bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, apple and onion, mixing well to distribute evenly.
  4. Toss the vegetable mixture with dressing, massaging the dressing into the vegetables until evenly coated.
  5. Top salad with a large handful of the chopped nuts.
  6. Garnish with additional chipotle powder and chopped herbs.
  7. Add more nuts to the top of each serving.

Thank you to Bastyr University for this amazing recipe.

Chocolate Mousse


2 ripe avocados
3 T cacao powder
2–4 T honey, depending on how sweet you like it
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 T almond milk
fresh fruit as a topping – strawberries, blueberries, raspberries


Remove the seed and peel from the avocados. Put all the ingredients in a food processor until blended together, scraping the sides. Add a little more honey, to taste, if desired. Process until there are no clumps. Serve with fresh fruit.

Thank you to Living Well Mom for this wonderful recipe!

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Coffee 101: The Naturopathic Kitchen

Welcome back to The Naturopathic KitchenLiving a healthy life has roots in the kitchen. This week we will focus on a morning favorite – coffee. Many people do not consider their day started until after they have enjoyed their first cup, but coffee has numerous health benefits. Let’s find out together!

Coffee 101

For many, the day would feel incomplete without a morning cup of Joe. Simple as they may seem, coffee beans are extraordinarily complex fruits which contain over 1,000 different compounds within each tiny package.1 It is estimated that 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed every day around the world.2 French writer and philosopher Voltaire was rumored to have drunk 40 – 50 cups per day.3

Before becoming the popular morning beverage it is today, coffee was utilized in a variety of different preparations. In its natural and unprocessed state, coffee is actually a cherry-like fruit that becomes bright red when ripe. The famed coffee bean is actually the seed found at the center of the red coffee fruit. Initially, the fruits were mixed with lard to create a snack bar.2 Later on, the fermented pulp of the coffee fruit was used to make a sort of wine-like drink. Around 1000AD a drink appeared that was made from the bean and hull. In the 1400s, people began to roast the coffee beans – becoming the first step in the process we know today.2

Where does coffee come from?

According to the National Coffee Association, no one knows exactly how or when coffee was discovered, though there are many legends about its origin.4 The discovery of coffee is attributed to an Ethiopian goat shepherd named Kaldi. Kaldi had sent his goats to graze and when he found them, they were leaping and frolicking around with energy.  He noticed that they had been grazing on the red fruits of the coffee shrub so he decided to try the fruit for himself. After consuming the fruits, he too noticed a similar reaction. A monk who also witnessed the goats’ behavior took some of the coffee fruits back to his monastery and shared them. He and his fellow monks were alert and awake for evening prayer.2 It is likely they were all reacting to the caffeine content of the coffee fruit. Caffeine is a stimulant that is present in the plants as a natural pesticide.2

Though the quality and selection may vary greatly, coffee can be found at nearly any retail establishment. Health food stores are more likely to carry a wide variety of beans from various geographic regions around the world. Different regions offer growing conditions that contribute to the nuanced flavors of the beans that grow there.Coffee is among the most highly sprayed crops when it comes to pesticides and other chemicals so choosing an organic variety is extremely important to avoid taxing the body with added harmful chemicals.

How does coffee help my health?

Coffee is a potent source of antioxidants. Scientists have identified approximately 1,000 antioxidants in unprocessed coffee beans, and hundreds more develop during the roasting process.6 On average, a US coffee drinker consumes about 3.1 cups per day.7 However, research has shown that higher intakes, in the range of three or more cups per day may help prevent certain medical conditions.8,9 For example, although coffee can raise blood pressure immediately after consumption, a majority of research evidence suggests a longer term protective effect on cardiovascular health. In fact, daily coffee consumption over eight weeks was shown to have a lowering effect on blood pressure.11 Further research has shown the ability of regular coffee consumption to dampen inflammation, improve cholesterol profiles (specifically increasing the HDL or “good” cholesterol fraction) as well as decrease calcification of the coronary arteries.12,13

Beyond the cardiovascular system, coffee has also been shown to benefit the brain. A large study found that consuming one to four cups of coffee daily cut the risk of Parkinson’s by 47% and adding a fifth cup decreased the risk by 60%.14  Research has also found that consumption of coffee compounds like caffeic acid and caffeine can slow multiple classes of enzymes responsible for causing neurodegenerative processes in the brain.15

What medical conditions/symptoms is coffee used for?

When should coffee be avoided?

The caffeine in coffee may have a negative impact on certain people and may worsen certain health conditions like insomnia, anxiety, headaches, and high blood pressure. Those with health concerns like migraines (which can be induced by caffeine) or menstrual cramps may also need to avoid coffee. Decaffeinated coffee may be a good substitute for some, however ascertain that the methods employed to decaffeinate the beans are not relying on chemical processing. Additionally, the acidic nature of coffee may cause or exacerbate stomach discomfort and various gastrointestinal conditions. Because coffee constituents like caffeine are metabolized through specific liver enzyme pathways, those with sluggish liver detoxification may need to avoid consuming coffee.


Let’s try out coffee with these delicious and nutritious recipes!


Greek Yogurt with Coffee and Fig Compote


1 1/4 c brewed coffee
7 oz pkg dried mission figs, stems removed and figs quartered
1/4 c honey (preferably local)
1/2 t cinnamon
1/8 t cardamom
1/8 t cloves
1/8 t nutmeg
1 t orange zest
24 oz plain Greek yogurt


  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the coffee, figs, honey, spices, and orange zest. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes.
  2. With a slotted spoon, remove figs from pan. Simmer liquid an additional 5 minutes, uncovered, over medium heat until reduced and syrupy. Combine figs and syrup and allow to cool to room temperature on the counter. Then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  3. Spoon 6 oz. of the Greek yogurt into each of four serving dishes. Top each generously with the coffee fig compote.

Thank you to Foodtastic Mom for this wonderful recipe!

Carrots Slow-Baked on Coffee Beans


1 lb thin carrots (no thicker than 1/2 in in diameter), peeled
1 t olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
Coarse sea salt and ground black pepper
1 c medium-roast coffee beans, preferably decaf


Preheat the oven to 225°F. Place a cast-iron skillet over medium heat to heat for about 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the carrots, olive oil, and garlic and toss until the carrots are slicked with oil and the garlic bits are distributed evenly. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

Add the coffee beans to the hot skillet and remove from heat. Shake until the coffee is aromatic and the beans look a bit oily, about 3 minutes. Scatter the carrots over the beans in a single layer and cover the pan with a lid or a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake until the carrots are fork-tender and infused with coffee oil, 2 to 3 hours.

Lift the carrots from the bed of coffee beans and serve immediately. Discard the coffee.

Thank you to Splendid Table for this great dish!

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Ashwagandha 101: The Naturopathic Kitchen

Welcome back to The Naturopathic KitchenAs always, our focus here is to learn more about bringing new, fun, and healthy foods into our home kitchens. Today we will take a closer look at a lesser known powerhouse called ashwagandha!

Ashwagandha 101

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) may be a relative newcomer to the Western world, but this herb has a long and distinguished history of use. It has been in use in Ayurveda (the traditional system of medicine used in India) for 6000 years, with a wide range of health benefits.1 Ashwagandha is a member of the nightshade family and is commonly known as “Indian Winter Cherry” or “Indian Ginseng.” Rooted in Sanskrit, Ashwagandha literally means “smells like a horse.” It has been suggested that the herb was given this name because taking it can provide one with the strength and stamina of a horse.2 Ashwagandha has been used medicinally in the treatment of a list of conditions in infants and the elderly. Overall, ashwagandha is considered an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body cope with stress. Ashwagandha is known to tonify and regenerate the entire system, especially the endocrine and immune systems.3

Where does ashwagandha come from? Where can I find it?

Although ashwagandha is sometimes referred to as Indian Ginseng because of its revitalizing and energizing properties, it is not a ginseng at all and is actually more closely related to  tomato or eggplant. The herb itself is a leafy shrub with yellow-green flowers and orange-red berries that is native to Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka.4 Ashwagandha is not typically found in a supermarket but may be found at health food stores available as a fine powder or tincture extract. The herb has a bitter taste and has been added to things like ghee, honey, chocolate, baked goods, and smoothies.

How does ashwagandha help my health?

Ashwagandha is known for its ability to enhance the function of the brain and nervous system and improves the memory.5 It is an essential for support of the reproductive system, aiding in infertility.6 As an adaptogen, Ashwagandha has the profound ability to help the body handle stress. It has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and improving quality of life.7 Ashwagandha also benefits the immune system and strengthens resistance to disease.1 Its powerful antioxidant capacity makes it very effective in guarding against cellular damage due to free radicals.8 Ashwagandha should be avoided in people with allergies to nightshades.

What medical conditions/symptoms is ashwagandha used for?

Promotes insulin sensitivity

Supports hormone balance

Protects brain health

Enhances muscle size and strength

Improves endurance and athletic performance

Multiple pathways of anticancer activity

When should ashwagandha be avoided?

Ashwagandha has a long history of use and a good safety profile. Most people can safely take ashwagandha, however minor side effects such as headache and digestive disturbance have been reported in some clinical studies.

Let’s try out ashwagandha with these delicious and nutritious recipes!


Ashwagandha Gingerbread Cookies


2 c organic oat flour
1/2 c coconut oil, melted
2 t ashwagandha powder
2 T ground ginger
2 T ground cinnamon
1/2 T ground cloves
1/2 t sea salt
3 T maple syrup
2 T blackstrap molasses


Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a cookie sheet with coconut oil. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, ashwagandha, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and sea salt. Add coconut oil, maple syrup, and molasses into the dry ingredients bowl. Knead the mixture with your hands until it is a soft dough. Roll about a tablespoon of dough and place onto the cookie sheet, and continue for each cookie. Take the back of the spoon and lightly press down on the top to soften the cookie. Bake for 15 minutes or until crispy.

Thank you to Moodbeli for this fabulous recipe!

Comforting Cashew Night Tonic


1 c cashews, soaked overnight
2 c filtered water
1 t maple syrup
½ t vanilla bean, ground
1 t cinnamon powder
¼ t nutmeg, grated
½ t ashwagandha powder
Pinch of sea salt


Make homemade cashew milk by adding soaked cashews to a blender with enough filtered water to fill one inch above cashews. Blend until smooth. You will use 8 ounces of the milk in your recipe and any extra will keep for a few days in an airtight jar or bottle in your refrigerator. Add cashew milk, maple syrup, vanilla bean, cinnamon, nutmeg, ashwagandha, and sea salt to a small pot. Heat on high, removing before it comes to a boil. Stir using a spoon, whisk, or milk frother to be sure everything is combined. Relax and sip away once cool enough to drink.

Thank you to Banyan Botanicals for the amazing recipe!

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Stinging Nettle 101: The Naturopathic Kitchen

Welcome back to The Naturopathic KitchenAs always, our efforts are centered on introducing ways to bring new, fun, and healthy foods into our home kitchens. Today we will take a closer look at a delightful green with a scary sounding name – stinging nettles!

Stinging Nettle 101

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is commonly called “nettle.” In modern times, stinging nettle is often considered a nuisance weed, popping up in gardens, flowerbeds, and yards every spring. However, stinging nettle has a rich history of varied uses across many cultures. Chief among the oldest uses of stinging nettles is as a fiber for fabric, sail cloth, cordage and fishing nets. In Denmark, burial shrouds made of stinging nettles date back to the Bronze age some 4000 plus years ago.1 Similarly, stinging nettle was used by Europeans and Native Americans as material for sailcloth, sack material, cordage, and fishing nets.1 The cloth produced from stinging nettle is called “nettle cloth” with a silken, linen-like quality.2 During wartime, raw textile material shortages were quite common. German military uniforms worn during World War I were 85% nettle fibers.1 The fibers of the nettle plants were not the only part used in textile production. Decoctions of the nettle plant’s rich chlorophyll are used to produce green dye used for clothing as well as a food coloring agent.1

Stinging nettle has also been traditionally used as food for livestock. In fact today, stinging nettle is often fed to chickens to increase egg productivity.3 It is also used as a source of vegetarian rennet during the cheese making process and is still included in Passover herbs. Nettle is a very popular wild edible plant in some developing countries and contributes to both community food security and in some cases, the local economy.4 Nettle is often used in curries, soups, and vegetable dishes as well as an additive to breads and pastas. In Georgia, a former member of the Soviet Republic, boiled nettle with walnuts is a common meal.

From the leaves to the seeds, stinging nettle plants have been used medicinally throughout history. Nettle leaves have traditionally been used for scurvy, anemia, arthritis, seasonal allergies, wound healing, and general fatigue, and as a diuretic and to stimulate pancreatic secretion.4 Stinging nettle tea has been used historically as a cleansing spring tonic and blood purifier. The juice of nettle leaf has been used as a hair rinse to control dandruff and to stimulate hair growth.1 Among the oldest medicinal uses of stinging nettle is in the process of urtication. Urtication involves flogging the skin with a frond of a fresh nettle, allowing the tiny hairs or trichomes to pierce the skin. The trichomes are tiny, hair-like projections that cover the leaves and the stem of the plant. They have a bulbous tip that breaks off when touched, revealing needle-like tubes that pierce the skin and inject their serum of acetylcholine, formic acid, histamine, and serotonin resulting in an itchy, burning red rash that can last for half a day.5 This practice has been documented by many cultures and has been in use for thousands of years. Urtication was prescribed for a variety of maladies from chronic rheumatism, lethargy, coma and even for infectious diseases such as typhus and cholera.1 Additional uses of nettle have included soaking the stems and leaves in water then applying the water as an organic/natural pesticide to plants that are infected with mites or aphids. Nutrient-rich nettle also helps to restore the vitamin and mineral content of soil used for growing crops which can help enhance the vitality of the plants. It also helps to speed along the composting process.

Where do stinging nettles come from? Where can I find it?

Nettle is native to a large region spanning northern Africa, Europe, and Asia but has been found widespread across the Western world as well from northern Mexico to northern Canada for hundreds of years.3 Nettles are reported to be among the tastiest cooked greens with a flavor similar to spinach but a bit sweeter. Nettle is a good source of several vitamins and minerals including vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, and calcium as well as a balanced source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. 3

Fresh nettle can be difficult to find commercially; however, you may be able to find them at farmers markets, local food co-ops, or online. Also, they grow wild in abundance, and the tender young tops can be gathered for free, particularly during the early spring months. If foraging for nettle though, be sure to wear gloves to avoid the “sting!” It is important to note that once dried, wilted or cooked, the trichomes become denatured and are no longer capable of stinging.3 Fresh nettles can be boiled, steamed, stir-fried and consumed as a standalone vegetable or they can be added to any number of savory dishes including baked goods.

How do stinging nettles help my health?

Stinging nettle has long been recognized for its medicinal qualities. Hippocrates utilized 61 different remedies that contained nettle.1 Nettle is an extremely valuable medical herb that is often used in the spring months as a gentle detoxifying agent.6 Among the most recognized benefits of nettle is its benefit for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), commonly known as an enlarged prostate.7 There have been multiple studies examining the effects of nettle on the prostate and all produced favorable results in terms of symptom reduction as well as safety when compared to placebo.8,9,10

Nettle has a significant research profile as a treatment for allergies and allergic rhinitis.11 Portland, Oregon based National College of Naturopathic Medicine (now National University of Naturopathic Medicine) published a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized study examining the use of freeze-dried nettle leaf for treatment of hay fever, asthma, and seasonal allergies found that the freeze-dried preparation was rated higher than placebo in relieving symptoms after just one week’s time.12

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and is a debilitating and painful condition impacting the lives of millions of Americans.13 Nettles can also help alleviate the symptoms of osteoarthritis and ease joint pain.7 Studies also show that consuming nettle can reduce the need for NSAID type pain medication by producing a synergistic effect.14

What medical conditions/symptoms are stinging nettles used for?

When should stinging nettles be avoided?

Outside of outright allergy or sensitivity to the plant itself, nettle is very safe and has been consumed for thousands of years with no issues. However, while nutrient-rich dried nettle and nettle infusions are often recommended as a nourishing tonic during pregnancy, fresh nettle has been reported to have stimulatory action on the uterus and should be avoided. 15

Let’s try out stinging nettles with these delicious and nutritious recipes!

Stinging Nettle Pesto


Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 lb. stinging nettles
1/4 c fresh mint leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 c pine nuts, toasted
2 T lemon juice
1/3 c olive oil
1/4 c firmly packed grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (can omit for vegan pesto)


Fill a large pot halfway full with water. Add 1/4 cup salt and bring to a boil. Fill a sink or a large bowl with cold water. Using gloves or tongs, submerge the nettles in the water and let them sit for 5 minutes. Remove the nettles and discard the water. Wearing rubber gloves, pull the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Put the nettles in the boiling water and boil for 1 minute. Drain and spread the nettles on a baking sheet. Let cool completely. Squeeze out as much of the water as possible and coarsely chop. Place the nettles in the bowl of a food processor with the mint, garlic, pine nuts, and lemon juice. Process until the mixture has formed a paste. With the machine running, pour in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Thank you to for this wonderful recipe!

Chicken Nettle Soup


6-7 c bone broth
3 large handfuls of cubed or shredded chicken
4 T grass fed butter (or substitute with olive oil)
1 large onion, diced
4-6 large carrots, diced
2 large ribs of celery, diced
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 c dried nettle
Fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped for garnish
Fresh scallion, chopped for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste


  • Add the butter to a pot and swirl around the bottom until it foams
  • Add the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery and sauté for 5 minutes on med heat
  • Add chicken and cook for one minute
  • Season with freshly cracked black pepper and sea
  • Add the bone broth and dried nettles to the pot and turn up the heat until the soup begins to simmer
  • Turn the heat down and gently simmer for 10-12 minutes until the carrots are fork tender
  • Serve and garnish with fresh parsley and scallions

Thank you to for this tasty recipe!

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