Herb Of The Month: Violet

Perhaps this isn’t the season for violets in your part of the world if you’re still experiencing cold weather, but I decided to reserve this post about violets this month as my sister sent me some photos of violets from Cyprus a few days ago. It happens to be warm enough in Cyprus right now for the appearance of violets.

I remember walking towards the lawn in our house in Michigan for the first time back in May 2014, awestruck at the sight of violets that had taken over the land. I loved violets in Cyprus, and it was a delight to see them so widely spread in our new home in Michigan. When I picked one and brought it closer to smell its pleasing sweet aroma, I was surprised that there was nearly no fragrance. Later, I found out that the North American violet (Common Blue Violet) does not have the distinct aroma of the European Sweet Violet. I was not aware of the distinction. Nevertheless, this Common Blue Violet was still a medicinal and food herb.

Violet, just like Stinging Nettle, is an alterative herb which means it is a blood cleanser. Alterative herbs are especially useful in treating skin conditions such as acne and eczema. They also optimize liver function and cellular metabolism and so are helpful during fasts/detox. Traditionally it is used to treat dry hacking cough, and recommended for bronchitis and whooping cough. For this treatment, it’s best combined with marshmallow root. Violet also has cooling and soothing properties, as well as anti-inflammatory properties. This can deem it helpful in treating insect bites, hemorrhoids, cuts and varicose veins. There’s also traditional use of it in treating swollen lymph nodes. In order to benefit from this beautiful herb, the flowers and the leaves are made into tea, used in the form of infused oil, poultice, salve, and are consumed raw in salads, pesto, wraps or cooked in soups, sautés, or steamed . The flowers are usually more preferable as a food if used raw because the leaves may not always taste pleasant especially if they’ve become too fibrous. Finally the leaves contain mucilage (soluble fiber) which is helpful in lowering cholesterol levels, and in restoring beneficial gut flora as the flora feed off of it. Harvest violet only if you are 100% sure of it and when the flowers are present as violet has some poisonous look-alikes.

Disclaimer: This content is not intended as substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to apply this information.

Pregnancy: What I’d Do Differently

 

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Pregnant at 37 weeks

Last year on February 19th, I wrote a few sentences on how I was preparing for labor. I wrote, “I’ve been watching a lot of home birth videos, drinking nettle, raspberry leaf, oatstraw, bone broth, pelvic rocks, exercise, trying to get a feel of the baby’s position with my hand to familiarize with where is what, completing birth kit and list of supplies, trying to keep consistent with daily awrad especially at fajr (dawn) time, connection with baby, positivity and tawakkul (reliance upon God)…” What was missing was movement, walking… lots of walking. Even the exercise I was referring to was not enough. I could count the number of times I ‘exercised’ during pregnancy. A few weeks before I gave birth, a lady who is dear to my heart advised me to walk everyday. She said that her first labor was very smooth because she walked frequently, whereas her second birth was nowhere near as easy because by then she had started working at a desk job which meant that she couldn’t walk as much. I had planned to walk once or twice a week, which didn’t really happen. I was in Michigan at the time. I was alone most of the time and so the chance to go for walks was very rare.

Funny enough, the day my labor began (two days before the estimated due date), I went for a long hike with my mom, sister, and a friend. Up until that day my baby hadn’t even lowered herself into my pelvis. My midwives were predicting I wouldn’t give birth until much later from the EDD. I don’t think one of my midwives even took me very seriously the evening I felt something different and thought that the sensations would subside by the morning light. But there I was, in labor.

I felt early labor kick in around 8.30pm on April 12th. I couldn’t sleep that night for more than a couple of hours because I was already feeling some back labor that would wake me up every time I dozed off. She visited in the morning, shortly after sunrise and joined us for breakfast. I was still having mild but regular contractions. I wanted her to check if there was any dilation and she estimated 2 cm. That was the first and last time she checked the rate of dilation throughout the entire labor that was about to follow. Fast forward, I think my pushing phase started around 9pm, April 13th. I wasn’t really aware of the time. I didn’t give birth until 2.15am, April 14th, exactly on my baby’s estimated due date. I had a long, tiring pushing phase. I was so excited when the painful dilation contractions were finally over and I could feel the pushing sensations overwhelm me. I thought this is it, the end is so near. I wasn’t patient, I pushed very hard along with each contraction, until I hit exhaustion. My midwives kept feeding me date molasses by the spoonful. They had me try different positions. I drank herbal tea sweetened with a lot of honey. About three hours in, they decided it was best for me to transfer to the hospital where they could make sure everything was ok and maybe put me on some IV fluids to increase my energy. When I was told that there was a chance I could still have a natural labor, I didn’t object or try to fight it. There was still some hope. This was something I didn’t prepare myself for at all throughout my entire pregnancy. I thought there’s no way I’d accept a transfer. That was too embarrassing and disappointing, being such a strong supporter of natural childbirth, someone who believed that birth was supposed to be easy. But I managed… I did it, and I feel stronger, not weaker. That’s one more thing I know I could get through in life. Of course I’m thankful to God first and foremost for a positive outcome, for a healthy child, for the strength He granted me through that humbling experience, and for such loving and supportive family members and caregivers who were with me throughout my labor. When we got to the hospital, they couldn’t find anything wrong with my daughter’s position. She was in the perfect position, and everyone was so supportive as I pushed and pushed. One of the obgyn’s was eager to see if she could use forceps or vacuum suction despite telling me that I was very close to meeting my baby and I was doing just fine. Thankfully the only thing they did was carry out an episiotomy. My daughter came out screaming right away and she was placed right into my arms. A few minutes after, I was already telling my midwife who was there with us that I’d be glad to work with them again for my next pregnancy. My family who was there with me still find that funny. I was laughing and happy.

A few days in, and I started to question what happened. What went wrong? Why couldn’t I push out my small baby? Wasn’t childbirth supposed to be a normal physiological process of bringing into being and coming into being? What did I do wrong? I was told that maybe I was just small and that my next birth would be easier.

No one told me that I wasn’t active enough during my pregnancy, that I did repetitive tasks for too long, and that I had a terrible posture with my pelvis tucked in most of the time (because a misinformed yoga instructor that I followed for a while had said that tucking in the pelvis strengthened the core). Heck, I didn’t even know what a neutral pelvis is. What started this hours of research and reading through different blogs and articles was when I began questioning my midwife’s instructions to ‘kegel’. I don’t believe kegels are even useful in general but for the sake of the argument… weren’t kegels supposed to be helpful for peeing your pants? Well, I wasn’t peeing my pants and actually, I was having trouble urinating altogether. I developed a self-diagnosed urethral prolapse postpartum (the symptoms appeared just as I began kegeling), and I was also experiencing hypertonicity of the pelvic floor muscles. Contrary to popular belief, kegels don’t help prolapse but worsen it. I don’t want to get too deep into this because I’m not intending on writing about my postpartum healing. I will write about that in a different post, but right now I want to just focus on what I believe I was missing during pregnancy that impacted my labor.

I should mention that I didn’t have a problem with my diet during pregnancy. I think I am generally a healthy eater. I didn’t gain a lot of weight. I was still at 110 lbs by the end of my first trimester, and I gained about 30 lbs by the end of my pregnancy. I had a relatively easy pregnancy with no nausea. I did experience fatigue during the first trimester and slept a lot. And as I said, I was not the active person that I normally was prior to moving to Michigan pregnant or not. I stood a lot and sat a lot, and that was about it. I remember experiencing this pain in my back on the right when I was about 5.5 months pregnant that would prevent me from sleeping restfully. At about 6-7 months of pregnancy, I was visiting family in Cyprus and I also spent the last week of the 4-week visit in Istanbul where my husband and I walked quite a bit. The pain was gone within a few days and it never came back again. I attributed it to the walking.

What I believe I needed for an easier labor may not apply to everyone. There might be people who don’t move an inch and experience smooth pushing stages, I don’t know. But I know lack of movement didn’t help me. It didn’t help me emotionally either. I’m so happy being able to walk here in Istanbul and not need a car. I try to walk as much as possible every time I visit Cyprus too and benefit from the clean air. I learned a lot about myself and my body from my first pregnancy, labor & postpartum, and I hope that next time will be different.

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Fasanjoon: Persian Walnut & Pomegranate Stew

In the past weeks, after a nice warm 9 days in Cyprus, Istanbul had the harshest snow in years. We still managed to make it out with my husband & our little munchkin to have lunch at a restaurant within a mall, Hacı Abdullah at Zorlu Center, for our 3rd marriage anniversary. It was my second time there and it was great both times. They serve delicious Ottoman Turkish cuisine. My first time was with my mommy. (I still intend to write a post about the noteworthy restaurants I’ve been to in Istanbul, which really aren’t that many but just as a suggestion for those who might be visiting…) Other than that one Saturday, we were home the rest of the time while it snowed. Classes for my husband were canceled and my tezhip class was postponed. Now everything is back to normal, with gloomy & rainy weather.

Other than the usual housewife chores and running after a mobile baby, I’ve also managed to complete the certification requirements for the Go Diaper Free Coach Program, thereby becoming a GDF certified Elimination Communication + Non-Coercive Potty Training coach, I began translating my mom’s book Healthy Living In Cyprus into Turkish, and I’m working on my first tezhip piece that will hopefully be framed and hung on the wall in a few weeks time. I also made fasanjoon for the first time yesterday which alhamdulillah, turned out alright. This is a dish that I’m familiar with because of my maternal grandma: part Iraqi part Iranian, and an amazing cook who pours love into her dishes. I actually called her before I began cooking to ask for directions but she didn’t pick up so I googled some recipes just to get an idea and took it from there. I have to apologize for not taking any appetizing photos of the dish once I served it for dinner, but I’ll share the recipe and a couple of photos from while I was in the process of making it. Again, measurements are just approximation.

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Toasting walnuts

Ingredients:

2 lbs of chicken (I used half a chicken that was about 2 kg, it was a struggle trying to cut it in half and cut it into further pieces but that’s what I had to work with – if you can get chicken breasts, that’s better)

1 onion

1-1.5 cups of raw walnuts

1/3-1/2 cup pomegranate molasses

1/4-1/3 cup date molasses (or 1-2 TBSP of sugar)

Approx. 1 cup of water

1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground

1/2 tsp turmeric, ground

1/2 tsp cardamom, ground

salt & pepper

And of course Basmati Rice to go on the side, soaking in a bowl.

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I used one pot for this dish. I have a wide and low-rise stainless steel pot with a lid. So you could also do that, or use a separate pan for toasting and a pot for cooking. Toast the walnuts in the pot while you chop the chicken into appropriate pieces. If you are using chicken breast, chop into medium sized cubes. Slice the onion. Once the walnuts are done, remove from pan. Add some olive oil and the spices. Once the oil is hot, add the onions and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken. While the chicken browns, grind the walnuts in a blender. This is where I need to make some adjustments next time. I feel like the walnuts needed to be finer to give a smoother, creamier texture to the stew. Add the walnuts to the chicken along with the pomegranate molasses, date molasses, water and salt & pepper. I had just enough pomegranate molasses! I remembered I had some pomegranates in the fridge so I cut one in half and squeezed the juice into the stew. Give it a good stir. Cover the lid and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the stew reaches a nice consistency. In the meanwhile, cook your rice. I usually add a pod of cardamom or an olive leaf into basmati while it cooks.

This was just a warm-up post after a break… So I hope you enjoy this if you decide to cook it! I feel like fasanjoon is one of those dishes that you either love or hate. I’m planning on writing about my pregnancy next so stay tuned! 🙂

Edit: After watching my grandma cook Fasanjoon from beginning to end, I realized mine was far off from the traditional method lol! Mainly because she actually cooks the ground walnut ‘sauce/stew’ on its own for a while with the pomegranate molasses before combining it with the chicken that is cooked separately. I just wanted to mention that in case anyone thinks this is THE way of cooking it. No claims here!

Nature Walks, Herbal Up-To’s & Happy New Year

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I am in Cyprus now for the last one week, visiting my family with the little one. I’ve had the chance to experience warm sunny weather most days, unlike back in Istanbul at this time of year. I collected yellow daffodils, savored oranges right off the tree from my family’s citrus garden and enjoyed unpolluted fresh air.

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I picked the soft rosehips off the rose bush today. I still haven’t decided what I will do with them. I ate some just like that. I will probably make the rest into spread, or tea. Rosehips are the ovaries of the rose. They are what remains after the rose petals fall. They are a source of antioxidants and vitamin C.

I was also meaning to collect whatever was left of the olives on the olive trees in our parking lot. After rinsing the olives, I placed them in a jar, sprinkled a generous amount of sea salt, poured some apple cider vinegar and olive oil, sprinkled a little bit of red chilli flakes & dried rosemary, gave the jar a shake after closing the lid, and placed it in the cupboard until the olives are ready to be eaten in a week or two.

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Before dinner, I chopped some bergamot that went into the copper distiller for my mom to extract some bergamot hydrosol & essential oil. Bergamot has a refreshing citrus aroma and it is used in aromatherapy to uplift the spirit & promote feelings of contentment. A few hours later, my mom is still going in and out of the house to where the distiller is set up to watch the distillation process.

Other than stinging nettle and blue mallow, and a couple of wild calendula & sow thistle here and there, I didn’t notice a lot of herbs. My mom collected some stinging nettle last minute this evening and made some delicious creamy nettle soup for dinner. My baby loved it. We had that along with some leftovers.

Finally… I was hoping I could fit in a blog post in time for the first day of the year. We don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve, but we happened to get together as a family last night for a warm meal. After dinner we played mahabis, laughed a lot, and ate some homemade baklawa.

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My aunt made baklawa with pistachio, topped with saffron-infused orange blossom syrup

I hope this new year will bring much good to everyone reading this – health & overall wellbeing. I hope that this year we will break less hearts, be more forgiving of others, speak less, reflect more, take better care of ourselves, and make better use of our precious time. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said that the two blessings people waste are health and time. I hope we can wake up in a mindful state every morning and remind ourselves of what is important.

 

Disclaimer: No content in this article is implied to substitute professional medical advice. How you choose to apply this information is solely your responsibility. The information provided is for educational purposes.

Simple Home Remedies for Common Kids Ailments

I have an 8 month old right now, and she had her first cold – stuffy nose, some coughing in the morning and occasionally waking up crying mid-night from what I perceived as her experiencing pain – after we had a long journey from the US to Istanbul last August. She was about 4.5 months. I was so sad to see my poor baby ill, but there had to be a first time. Thankfully she recovered just fine. So I want to share a couple of things I did to help her overcome her cold and also some simple remedies from my own childhood for common ailments that kids experience, such as sore throat, wet cough and congestion.

For my little one, I made sure she got lots of rest. I nursed her as frequently as possible. I gave her massages using olive oil, and maybe a dab of eucalyptus essential oil on her chest combined with olive oil to help with her congestion, and some calming camomile tea before bed (just 3-4 tablespoons). I would sometimes put a couple of dabs of eucalyptus essential oil on our pillow that she’d be sleeping on too. This is another option if you don’t feel comfortable using essential oils on your little one directly.

When a child complains of a sore throat, it’s best to do something about it as soon as possible. The first thing you could do is combine some good quality honey with black seed (Nigella sativa) oil (1:1), or give your child a teaspoon of just black seed oil if they don’t mind the taste. If you don’t have black seed oil, then just give them some good quality honey. Even better, add about 1/4 tsp of powdered ginger, cinnamon and/or marshmallow root to 1 tbsp of honey. Give that a good mix and take a tsp every other hour or so.

Another remedy is to chop up one medium yellow onion, drizzle some honey over it, and cover it for about half an hour until the onion releases its juice. Take a tsp of the juice every other hour. This is helpful with coughs too. If one has a wet cough with mucus or is experiencing congestion, it is best to reduce dairy intake as dairy can increase mucus production. A wonderful warming ginger tea with honey and lemon is relieving. You could also prepare thyme & peppermint tea. For a dry cough, I would suggest using herbs that are mucilaginous (containing mucilage which is soothing in dry conditions) such as cinnamon, marshmallow root, and mullein. Ginger, thyme and peppermint are helpful with tummy aches or nausea as well. I remember my mom would always give us a quarter of a Turkish tea cup of thyme hydrosol whenever we complained of nausea or a tummy ache. It worked, but it either made the nausea or aching go away on its own if we were lucky or it caused us to throw up almost immediately and so I hated it because who likes throwing up?

For ear aches, again, black seed oil is my go-to remedy. Rub some into your ears and cover your ears with a cotton ball (make sure it’s not super small so that it goes disappearing into your ear). Another remedy is to drip a few drops of onion juice into the ear. You could do this by wetting a cotton ball with some onion juice (from either grated onions or chopped up onion that has released some juice over time) and gently squeezing the bud over the ear and allowing a few drops to enter the ear canal.

Always encourage rest during recovery and keep consistent with whatever remedy you decide to go with.

 

Disclaimer: This content is not intended to substitute medical advice. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to apply this information. This information is provided solely for educational purposes.

 

Stinging Nettle: A Herb For Everyone

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) , a perennial plant, is by far my favorite medicinal herb. ‘An emerald queen who proudly reigns over her realms’, as Juliet Blankespoor beautifully described it. You only realize she’s a queen when you find out about and experience her offerings. Otherwise it’s just a plant that grows all over the place, stings pretty bad and you don’t want to go anywhere near it. Or even worse, it ends up getting mowed.

Stinging Nettle is a blood-builder and a mineral-rich plant. It contains vitamins A & C, as well as chlorophyll which is why a strong nettle infusion turns dark green. Its high iron content that’s easily assimilable by the body helps combat anemia. It is considered one of the best herbs to take daily especially if one is feeling tired or depleted. It helps ease allergic reactions and arthritic conditions. It is safe during pregnancy, it increases breastmilk and it helps rebuild blood reserves postpartum after heavy bleeding. A nice combination for a healthy pregnancy is nettle, oat straw and red raspberry leaf. Some herbalists consider red raspberry leaf safe during early pregnancy while others suggest its better not to take it until after the second trimester. I personally resorted to taking red raspberry leaf after my second trimester when I was pregnant.

I buy my nettle from Mountain Rose Herbs in bulk. If I were in Cyprus right now, I’d be harvesting nettles from the wild and making some infusion with the fresh herb, or a delicious soup, or some pesto. The potential stinging disappears when nettles are cooked. You can add nettles, dry or fresh, into your bone broth or vegetable stock. You can also infuse nettles, preferably dry, with some good quality balsamic vinegar in a glass jar for 4 weeks in a cool dark place and use that in salad dressings after straining it using a cheese cloth or a fine mesh. Another great way of adding some nettles into your diet is adding them to your omelette or quiche. There’s many ways to incorporate this wonderful herb into your diet for improved health. Make it a habit to have one cup of nettle infusion every morning.

Trust me, there’s so many beneficial favors around you.

Medical Disclaimer: This content is not intended to substitute medical advice. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to apply this information. This information is only intended for educational purposes.

Mujaddara: Simple Comfort Food

Last week we had some guests staying over with us, and I thought Mujaddara would be a good option for lunch the next day because I had all the ingredients as always. Mujaddara is a popular Middle Eastern dish that consists of lentils & rice, topped off with caramelized onions. It’s a dish that’s cooked in Cyprus too, where we call it Mucendra (moo-jend-ra) and I don’t remember any caramelized onions in my grandma’s version.

OK, so I know you can find hundreds of Mujaddara recipes on the internet. However, I wanted to write about it because I made a brilliant ‘mistake’ last time that I want to share with you. If any of you read my post on the Whole30 experience, I included a link to another blog that explains the benefit of soaking grains and how to do it.

Normally I soak my rice. The lentils, I  will sometimes soak them for a while or not. It depends when I decide that I’ll be cooking mujaddara or whatever includes lentils and how much time I have for soaking. So the other night, I decided I’d be soaking my lentils too. (I know I used the word soaking a lot but bare with me). So I place the rice in a bowl, cover it with water, and then I think, oh why not save some bowls and soak the lentils with the rice. I think this is a great idea and I proceed with adding the lentils to the rice. I add the apple cider vinegar and I give the bowl a stir. Then I realize, snap, lentils take a lot longer to cook than rice! At this point I feel like it’s too late to do anything. I considered separating the grains from one another but it was impossible because I had stirred the bowl. I thought, worst case the rice will just be really cooked through and lose its shape. I know this sounds silly right now but I actually freaked out about it in my head for a little while. It was late at night, I had never done this before, and I didn’t have a second plan for what I could have ready for my guests if this wouldn’t work. It made sense that after some soaking the lentils wouldn’t take as much time cooking as they normally do when cooked un-soaked. Time would tell. In the morning I bit through a grain of lentil and thankfully it was pretty soft. So it worked out just fine and I now soak the rice and lentils together before making mujaddara! It saves time. And bowls. Of course I won’t end this post before sharing the recipe so here it is – vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, simple yet tasty!

(You’ll just have to go by gut feeling for exact cooking time & measurements. Sorry… but to give you an idea… I usually do a 1:1 ratio of lentils and rice. How much spice you’d like to use is up to your personal taste. I put about 1/2 tsp of each spice. Cooking is a little bit like art to me. You have to stick to some techniques but the rest is up to you. Add or subtract whatever you want.)

Ingredients

1 cup short-grain rice

1 cup brown lentils

2-3 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice

2-3 cloves of garlic, grated

1 medium to large yellow onion

cumin

turmeric

cinnamon

sumac

salt & pepper

olive oil

Soak the rice & lentils overnight using drinking water and add the apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Sieve it before cooking. Add a couple of tbsp of olive oil to a pot. Add about 1/4 tsp cumin and the grated garlic. After a couple of minutes add the rice & lentils. Give it a stir. Pour about 2.5 cups of boiling water over the pot. Add some salt. Lower the heat and cover the lid. In the meanwhile, cut the onion in half and then into thin slices. In a skillet, add some olive oil over medium heat. Add about 1/2 tsp turmeric, cumin, cinnamon and sumac. Once the oil is hot, add the sliced onions. Stir every now and then until the onions are caramelized. I don’t consider myself a pro at caramelizing onions but they look something like this:

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The mujaddara takes about 30-40 minutes to cook. Once there’s no water left and the grains are soft, it’s done. If at any point you check and there’s no water but the grains are still kind of crunchy, just add a small amount of water and cover the lid again. Don’t check too many times though; the steam trapped inside helps it cook. Serve warm topped with the caramelized onions and if you like, some yogurt on the side.

Tip: My mother-in-law makes mujaddara with bulghur. In that case, you don’t soak the bulghur as bulghur is cracked wheat and doesn’t require soaking – at least not for the same reasons as you’d soak other grains. You could also use brown rice if you prefer. I haven’t tried soaking brown rice with lentils and cooking them together yet, but I would assume it’ll take longer to cook than regular rice as it normally does.

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Don’t be afraid to fill the top with onions. Afiyet olsun.