Herbs

The multiple uses of Chilli Pepper

chilli 10
Capsicum frutescens

Piri-piri pepper brings memories from my childhood. This chilli was the most popular in Madeira in older times; besides being a favourite seasoning for roasted chicken, chillies had another use: parents rubbed it on the fingernails of their children to dissuade them from biting their nails. Today a special varnish with a bitter taste is used instead.

Thank God I escaped this punishment. I never had that compulsion!

IMG_1279 (2)
Bishop’s crown

There are five domesticated chilli species, which gave origin to the many varieties and cultivars we find today in the market.

Capsicum frutescens – Includes Malagueta, Tabasco and Piri-piri.

Capsicum baccatum – Includes Bishop’s crown, Aji amarillo (Lemon drop)

Capsicum pubescens – Includes my favourite chilli, Rocoto.

Capsicum annuum – Includes the mildest and most moderated of all chillies such as bell pepper, jalapeno and cayenne.

Capsicum chinense – Is the species with the hottest peppers – Habanero, Scotch bonnet and Naga

capsicum annuum bolivian rainbow 6
Chinese five colours

It is mostly their diversity in colours, shapes and heat intensity that seduces me.

What use is a herb garden without these magnific plants? Their flashy, red, yellow, brown, purple or orange colours, threaten anyone who dares to take a bite of their ‘flesh’.

Depending on the species, the heat intensity varies, from sweet to mild, to intensively hot. Bishop’s crown is the mildest of all, here the heat intensity is not the main goal, instead its fleshy succulent pulp is full of flavour and is a good choice for beginners who want to start exploring the world of spicy food.

Chillies produce capsaicin, the chemical that makes them hot. This compound protects plants from their enemies, namely herbivorous animals. Capsaicin causes a sensation that imitates pain from burning, as a protection. Any herbivorous will avoid repeating such an experience. Birds, however, don’t feel the heat from chillies and these fruits are even one of their preferred foods. Although it looks like a failure, this is actually very clever. Birds are the ones that spread chilli seeds to far away places. This strategy allows chillies to colonize new places in the world.

As a gardener it’s not uncommon to get bitten by insects. The very first thing I do when that happens is to pick up a chilli pepper and rub its inside on the bite. It is a fact that we can’t feel itching and pain at the same time: we either feel one or the other. Capsaicin in chillies is a first aid remedy to treat the infection. It reduces the swelling and stops the itching, thus  the  annoying and continuous scratching of the skin is prevented.

Eating chillies can become addictive and some people are always searching for the hottest chilli that would ‘blow their heads off’. The hotter the better!  There are chilli-eating contests with the sole goal of  finding who can endure the hottest pepper. The reason why these people enjoy eating chillies so much is because capsaicin, in chillies, triggers the release of the pain killer endorphins from the brain, giving a sensation of satisfaction, excitement, happiness and euphoria.

rocoto4
Stuffed Rocoto chilli

In some tropical countries, where sometimes food is scarce, chilli is a favourite spice, for it reduces hunger spikes and gives a faster feeling of satiety. The preference for chillies as a condiment in these countries also serves another purpose: it has a thermogenic activity, cooling the body in the days of more intense heat.

As a condiment, chilli has the ability to change the intensity of flavours in food: With sweets, chilli reduces the perception of sweetness and food seems to have less sugar.  On the other hand, sugar reduces the heat intensity of chilli. We get first a sensation of burning that dissipates very fast.  A good way to combine these two sensations is by blending apple jelly with chilly, a recipe I have been perfecting over the years, and always a guaranteed success.  To prepare this recipe simply add chopped fresh chilli to a recipe of apple jelly. The sweet-spicy combination offers an unparalleled experience to the palate.

By contrast, when used with salt, chilli has an opposite effect: it intensifies saltiness to such a point that the amount of salt must be reduced. Using chilli as seasoning is a clever way to reduce the intake of salt.

rocoto
ROCOTO – Capsicum pubescens

Capsaicin in chillies is useful to reduce pain to treat injured muscles. Rubbing a lotion of capsaicin before doing exercises, intensifies exercise endurance, reduces fatigue and helps to heal from muscle injury much faster, without pain.

This  property helped me recover from a frozen shoulder (Adhesive capsulitis) – the most painful experience I have had in  my whole life. I prepared my own lotion by macerating a chopped rocotto chilli in alcohol. Every time I made the exercises my physiotherapist recommended, I rubbed the chilli lotion on my back.

In spite of all the benefits of chilli, we must be aware that capsain, in high concentrations, causes burning of the skin.  To be on the safe side, it is important to know how to eliminate it from the skin. The very first mistake people make is to rinse the skin with water, but that will only make things worse: water is a vehicle that helps to spread capsaicin even more. I learned from experience that a mixture of milk and sugar is the quickest and most effective way to remove capsaicin from the skin. Capsaicin spreads through the skin in several layers, that is why it is important to wash  the skin multiple times, until all layers are removed. Casein (a protein in milk) binds to capsaicin and removes it from the skin. Sugar reduces the perception of heat intensity. 

The euphoric feeling from eating chilli peppers is well described in the next poem. 

 

I Ate a Spicy Pepper
(author unknown)

I ate a spicy pepper
From my brother on a dare.
The pepper caught my head on fire
And burned off all my hair.

My mouth erupted lava
And my tongue began to melt.
My ears were shooting jets of steam.
At least that’s how they felt.

I ricocheted around the room.
I ran across the ceiling.
I dove right in the freezer
To relieve the burning feeling.

I drank a thousand soda pops
And chewed a ton of ice
To try to stop the scorching
Of that spicy pepper’s spice.

At last, the flames extinguished,
I admitted to my brother,
“That pepper was the best one yet.
May I please have another?”

References:

http://europepmc.org/articles/PMC3292293

 

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Herbs, Uncategorized

MACELA – The Madeiran favourite chamomile

 

If you go for a stroll around the streets of Funchal, something very peculiar will catch your attention: in the streets near the market a few women, sitting on a doorstep, sell herbs in a basket to local people, usually for medicinal purposes. Chamomile, locally known as macela or marcela, is probably the most requested herb. The  question tourists  have most frequently asked me is: “What are those little yellow button-like flowers women are selling in the streets?”

camomila 5

MACELA or MARCELA

As far I can remember macela has been used in Madeira for nervousness, digestive complaints, and to lower high blood pressure. The tea is prepared by infusion of the flower heads and, according to tradition, the number of flower buds for a cup of tea must always be in odd numbers. Three flower buds are usually enough. A decoction of the flowers is also used as a hair rinse, by blonde girls, to make their hair lighter and shinier. The decoction has anti-inflammatory properties, very effective against bacteria. Without knowing the scientific facts, by intuition, local people have chosen macela to wash their eyes to clear inflammation.

In spite of being so popular in Madeira, macela is not so commonly known in the rest of the world, as are other chamomile plants. The species used in Madeira is a perennial plant with a specific characteristic that distinguishes it from the other chamomiles – its flower heads have no petals, they look like little yellow buttons.

 A quick search on the internet is enough to find information about chamomile, but  the variety we call macela is more difficult to find. In books about the flora of Madeira, macela is usually identified as Chamaemelum nobile, the botanical name for Roman Chamomile. However, Roman Chamomile has petals and is propagated by seeds, while macela has no petals and, as far as I know, its seeds are sterile. I only succeeded in propagating the plant from cuttings! This fact has been puzzling me for a few years – I wonder whether it is a different species.

I have found a similar species to macela – Golden Chamomile (Matricaria aurea),  native to Saudi Arabia, where it is known as ‘Babunaj’. It is one of the Arabian medicinal plants often used to treat digestive complaints, especially when the inflammation is caused by bacteria.

It is a fact that we have had a strong influence of the Arabian culture in Madeira, which is still noticeable in our cooking and folklore, and there is even a street called Rua da Mouraria (the Muslims street). Many Muslims came from North Africa  to Madeira to work on sugar cane plantations, an industry that made Madeira so prosperous in the past.  Our local medicine was most likely also influenced by Arabian medicine. In my opinion, our petal-less chamomile is probably an hybrid between Matricaria aurea and Chamaemelum nobile. This would certainly justify macela being a sterile plant.

The name macela refers to the apple like scent of the flower heads, since the Portuguese name for apple is ‘maçã’.

 Sometimes, instead of the popular macela flowers, another plant – English Mace (Achillea ageratum) is used for the same purposes. This plant produces similar but smaller flower heads, hence its name ‘dwarf macela’.

Matricaria chamomillas syn Matricaria recutita - german chamomile 23

Matricaria recutita

I believe our macela shares the same chemical components of the other two most important species – Matricaria recutita (German chamomile) and Chamaemelum nobile  (Roman Chamomile). Among the many chemical components of chamomile the flavonoid apigenin stands out. This chemical is one of the main reasons why chamomile is such a powerful medicinal plant.

Apigenin lowers the inflammation that precedes hypertension and affects the kidneys both as a diuretic and by making them work more efficiently. In addition, apigenin reduces pain and calms nervousness. This explains why macela is a favourite for local people in Madeira as a home medicine cure-all plant.

Other herbs  such as yarrow (Achillea millefolium), parsley (Petroselinum sativum) and celery (Apium graveolens) are also good sources of apigenin. Some people say they find immediate relief from kidney complaints by drinking a tea prepared with these other herbs.

Nevertheless, when using herbs rich in apigenin, we must take into consideration that this component inhibits the liver enzymes that detoxify certain medicines such as warfarin. Therefore, people taking blood thinner medication should lower the use of apigenin rich herbs.

The oil extracted from chamomile has a bluish colour due to chamazulene, a chemical compound used in massages to soothe skin inflammation. The oil penetrates deep into the skin, exerting its anti-inflammatory effect. The same oil is also extracted from other plants such as yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and tansy (Tanacetum anuum).

If you are in the process of choosing plants for your garden, don’t forget Chamomile! It is both a beautiful ornamental plant and a powerful medicinal herb. In addition it brings fragrance to your garden and is beneficial to the neighboring plants.

References:

 https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/htdocs/chem_background/exsumpdf/apigenin_508.pdf

Herbs

HERBS AND TOBACCO ADDITION

My grandmother, on my father’s side, was a God-fearing woman. She had a prayer for every occasion, in the expectation God would save her a place in heaven. I still keep a notebook in which I wrote her daily prayers. An image that I’ve kept in my memory is of her digging out of her skirt pocket a little box, filled with rapé, the Portuguese word for snuff. Rapé comes from the French word ‘râper’, meaning scraped tobacco. She placed a pinch of snuff first in one nostril and then the other and inhaled it in one sitting. In her other hand she held a tissue she used to wipe her nose afterwards.

Today some people use snuffs as a means to gradually quit smoking, or to minimize secondhand smoke exposure.

Smoking never lured me. The first and only time I smoked a cigarette made me feel very uncomfortable. It irritated my throat, made me cough and the taste was very aggressive. That was an experience I certainly will never try again. On top of that, secondhand smoking always bothered me.

Mentha x piperitaNowadays, getting addicted to nicotine is much faster than before. Teenagers, when trying their first cigarette, will get addicted much quicker if the cigarette has menthol. Coughing is the main obstacle to discourage people from smoking. Menthol in cigarettes soothes the throat and relieves soreness making the act of smoking more appealing and satisfying. In addition, the fresh sensation of menthol makes people breath more deeply which further helps nicotine getting into the lungs, and for a longer period of time.

Menthol increases the harm of smoking cigarettes and enhances the cravings for nicotine.

The ‘buzzing’ effect in the brain is what smokers seek. If nicotine is eliminated quickly from the blood, smokers crave more and more cigarettes until they feel the pleasing ‘buzz’ once more. Prolonging the time nicotine stays in the blood is a means to getting more pleasure. Menthol slows the enzymes in the liver that break down nicotine which then stays in the blood longer. Here, again, menthol in cigarettes makes people enjoy smoking with a higher intensity.

People who get addicted to nicotine usually have many difficulties when  deciding to quit. The withdraw symptoms being their main obstacle. The rewarding effect that compels smokers to crave for cigarettes is due to the action of nicotine in the brain activating Mu opioid receptors (MORs). They feel a sensation of well being and their anxiety levels drop.

Some herbs and foods help reduce the withdraw symptoms.

 - Phyllanthus niruri 3Quebra-pedra – Phyllanthus niruri – is a herb much used in traditional Madeira medicine to treat several health conditions, in particular to eliminate kidney stones and prevent fatty liver. In Ayurveda medicine this is the herb of choice when treating hepatitis B. Ellagic acid and phyllanthin are the two main components in this plant.

As a substitute for nicotine, ellagic acid also activates MORs receptors in the brain with an anxiolytic effect. Scientific studies show that ellagic acid reduces the withdrawl symptoms and  helps people quit smoking. Besides quebra-pedra, ellagic acid is also found in fruits such as raspberries, walnuts, cranberries, strawberries and peaches.

When you decide to quit smoking don’t be surprised if your cravings for strawberries, walnuts or peaches heighten.

Bibliographic references

https://thelifesquare.com/how-long-does-nicotine-stay-in-your-system-guide-8574593/

https://www.uaeh.edu.mx/investigacion/producto.php?producto=5628

Herbs

WEEDS IN MY GARDEN

A delicacy for a spring cleansing

On the first warm days of spring, my garden suddenly awakens, after suffering the cooler temperatures of winter.  Plants bloom profusely, producing hundreds of flowers of all colors, and bringing a festive atmosphere to this small piece of paradise. Although it happens every year, this spectacular display of colors always astonishes me. Amazingly, many other plants I haven’t brought to the garden, the so-called “weeds”, also contribute to this joyful color palette.    Wood sorrel (oxalis pes caprea), wild garlic (Allium triquetrum), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and nasturtiums (tropaeolum majus) add extra shades of yellow, white orange and red to my oasis.

Spring is the busiest time of the year in the garden. There are so many things to do: sawing, pruning and weeding are imperative chores.

Weeding is always the most difficult task to do. It not only requires quite a long time of bending down, but also that I choose which “weeds” should I pull, and how many should I leave in the garden. These wild plants are a precious contribution to the well being of the environment and, as a bonus, they are a delicacy to my salads.

Dandelion – the wish IMG_3471plant

Taraxacum officinale

Blowing the dandelion seeds was a funny thing I used to do with my friends when I was a child. We used to compete with each other to see who would blow the higher number of seeds off the stem. According to the tradition, blowing the seeds and catching them in the air meant that we could ask for a wish and hope that it would come true.

When visiting my garden, many English tourists shared with me their experiences with dandelion. They used the bright yellow petals to prepare ‘dandelion wine’, and the roots, they boiled and fermented them together with burdock roots, to prepare a drink, they said, that could easily compete with coca-cola. Dried and roasted roots were used since the First World War to prepare a substitute for coffee, which was scarce on those difficult times.

They call dandelion the bed wetting plant. Maybe due to its diuretic properties, children were often advised by their mothers, not to pick up dandelion flowers. No wonder, for the English, dandelion is a good subject of conversation, almost as good as talking about the weather.

The French too, are aware of the diuretic properties of dandelion. Hence, they name it ‘pissenlit’, the equivalent to the English word wet-the-bed. Regardless of this, the French consider dandelion leaves a delicacy. In spring, when the young leaves are less bitter and very rich in minerals, especially potassium, they add them to their salads, as part of a group of vegetables the French use for a spring cure.

An interesting fact about dandelion is that it produces both bitter and sweet components. Depending on which season the leaves and roots are harvested, they may have higher or lower concentration of these substances. Roots in the fall are much richer in inulin, a starch-like substance, with a slight sweet taste. The leaves contain taraxacin, a bitter substance that is more concentrated in the summer.

Taraxacin is a bitter resin, that functions as a tonic, stimulating the release of bile from the gallbladder, thus preventing it from becoming stagnant and from forming gallbladder stones. In addition, it facilitates the absorption of calcium, magnesium and the fat soluble vitamins A, K and E.

Bile acids are important to properly metabolize fats, preventing their accumulation in the ‘wrong’ places of the body.

Inulin is a slightly sweet substance that dandelion stores in the roots, in high amounts, during the fall, as an energy reserve. In our body, this sugar works as a prebiotic. It feeds gut flora, which helps the immune system fight diseases; slows down the digestion, so that we feel full for a longer period of time; and reduces hunger spikes, an important action when it comes to preventing sudden increases in blood sugar. This has a benefit for diabetics because it keeps their blood sugar under control.

Inulin is only soluble in hot water, therefore dandelion tea should be prepared by decoction of the roots. Cut the root in small pieces and let it simmer in water for 10 minutes.

Among gardeners, some of us have a rule when it comes to vicious ‘weeds’ – “If you can’t beat it, eat it!”

IMG_0769

Wood sorrel

Oxalis pes caprea

 Wood sorrel, with its bright yellow flowers, is one of the most beautiful ‘weeds’ we find all over the island of Madeira. The volcanic and acidic soil of the island has the perfect conditions for this herb to proliferate. In spring, this is a weed we can always count on.

Biting and chewing a little bit of the flower stem is an experience most children, in Madeira, have had. I was not an exception! The sour astringent flavor made my mouth feel dry, my teeth harsh; it felt similar to drinking vinegar.

Flowers, leaves and stalks of wood sorrel contain a very acidic component, oxalic acid. This same acid is found in many other vegetables such as rhubarb, beet, spinach and parsley. The sour taste, in sorrel, lowers the pH in food, enhances all the flavor sensations in the mouth, and lengthens their duration, making food more appetizing. In addition, it stimulates salivation, speeding the production of digestive enzymes necessary to properly metabolize food.

Oxalic acid in plants has a double role: it binds calcium as a means to store it for later use and it protects plants from herbivorous animals. When animals eat these oxalate rich plants the acid damages their teeth, mouth and throat, preventing them from eating them any further.

The human body itself also produces oxalic acid as a byproduct of the metabolism of substances like vitamin C. Oxalic acid in high amounts is toxic to our body. In moderation, our gut flora can easily break it down, inactivating its toxicity. When gut flora is compromised, oxalic acid follows into the kidneys were it binds to calcium and forms kidney stones.

In these cases avoiding oxalate rich foods is a must.

There are three main strategies we can use to eat these nutritious vegetables, while avoiding the absorption of oxalates.

– As oxalates are water soluble, a technique of blanching the vegetables before cooking cuts down a third of the oxalic acid.

Bring the water to a boil, add the vegetables and let it simmer for two minutes. Discharge the water and add the vegetable to your recipe.

– Using calcium rich foods will make oxalates bind to calcium in the meal, instead of running loose through the digestive system to cause damage.

– Feeding gut bacteria is a means to successfully reduce the absorption of oxalates. Add yogurt to your salad sauce. Besides the calcium content, yogurt feeds gut bacteria that will, in turn, break down oxalates in food.

Suggestions:

– Reduce vinegar in the sauce for salads if you are using any sort of sorrel, spinach or any other vegetables with oxalates. The pleasantly sour taste of these vegetables is already a substitute for vinegar.

Sorrel is the herb I reach for immediately, whenever I feel a tongue ulcer start to appear. I pick up a leaf from the plant, chew it for a few minutes and leave the juice on the ulcer. The acidity, kind of, numbs the pain and speeds the healing process.

In Madeira, wood sorrel is still part of our traditional medicine. The tea is used to speed recovery from feverish conditions, maybe because oxalic acid reduces the over activity of the immune system.

IMG_0783Stinging nettles

Urtica dioica

Identifying stinging nettles is the easiest thing. Don’t bother looking for it in a field. It will probably find you first, when you brush against it.

Whenever I see stinging nettles in my garden, it always comes to my mind the time, in my childhood, when my best friend and I decided to keep a caterpillar. We had collected it from a stinging nettle plant, and cared for it until the chrysalis became a beautiful orange/black butterfly, the red admiral (Vanessa atalanta).IMG_0652

Stinging nettle hairs have miniature needle like substances that pierce the skin and inject a mixture of various chemicals: histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin and formic acid, which cause pain and irritate the skin. If this happens to you, an easy and simple way to end your suffering and  soothe the itching, is to pick up a dock leaf (Rumex obtusifolius), a plant related to sorrel, and rub it on the affected area.

 No wonder dock plants usually grow in places were sting nettles thrive!

I found no scientific explanation for this fact, so I gave it a try. I stung myself with stinging nettles, and immediately after, I rubbed dock leaf on the skin. It works like magic!

As an alternative, wash the skin with soap and water.

In Madeira, stinging nettles are still important plants for healing. I remember, as a child, hearing adults talk about brushing a bunch of stinging nettles on the skin to alleviate the pain of arthritis. This process is not unique to Madeira. ‘Urtication’ is a means to stimulate circulation, making blood flow. Applied topically, at the site of pain this is an old remedy to treat rheumatism.

Crushing nettle leaves and extracting the juice is another use for nettles in Madeira; it is a stimulant for the hair, making it healthier, thicker, thus preventing baldness.

For many years of my life, it never occurred to me that stinging nettles could be edible. Looking at the small needle like-hairs, which I knew would sting, was enough to discourage me to even consider nibbling the leaves. Only after talking to some Chefs, regular visitors of my garden, I learned how to eat the leaves without getting stung. The trick is to inactivate the stinging action of the tiny hairs: if you grab the leaves tightly with your fingers, it destroys the hairs and then, you can chew the leaves without getting stung. If you want to try it on your salads, cut the leaves with a knife in small pieces, to crush the needle hairs and inactivate them. It is worth savoring this inexpensive vegetable for its great nut-like flavor.

There are several recipes with stinging nettles, but my favorite is stinging nettle soup.

Stinging nettle tea, prepared by infusion of the leaves and roots, is valuable as a strong tonic for its high content in minerals and vitamins.  Moreover, it reduces inflammation from arthritis, stimulates the kidneys to eliminate uric acid, reducing pain caused by gout, and is a blood thinner, which lowers blood pressure. People taking blood-thinning medications should have this into consideration before drinking the tea.

Besides its culinary use, stinging nettles are a good source of fibers, which have been used in the clothing industry for over 2000 years. This activity is in the urge of coming back. German and Italian textile companies, have recently been interested in bringing back stinging nettle fabrics as an alternative to cotton, flax and hemp. Its production is cheaper and ecologically friendly, due to the fact that it doesn’t require the use of pesticides. Fibers are woven to make tissues for clothing, such as shirts, jackets and jeans.

Good gardeners never throw away the stinging nettles they remove from the garden. It would be a waste! In the compost pile, stinging nettles are a good source of minerals and they also accelerate the composting process. Another use, is macerating it in water, to then use it as a liquid fertilizer.

Instead of treating ‘weeds’ as invading plants, why shouldn’t we take profit from them? After all, “weeds are just plants in the wrong place”, and no matter what you do, one thing is certain: they will come back!

 

Herbs

Muscle injury

How a handful of herbs helped me recover from muscle injury

On a sunny winter day, you’ll find me sitting at my favourite spot in the garden, enjoying the sun and nature at its entire splendour. For the first time, in many years, I can finally relax and let myself involve in the melody of black birds and blackcaps. By this time, they are already choosing their partners for nesting next spring.

It all started about 15 years ago, when I felt symptoms of muscle ache, first in my shoulder, then in the back until it spread all the way into my legs. Muscles became stiff, especially in the morning and late in the evening, as night approached. Every morning it took me at least one hour until I could start my daily tasks. And if I thought that it couldn’t get any worse, suddenly, one morning it did! I woke up with a nagging pain on my right shoulder and any small movement would make the pain even more intense. A few days later my upper arm was rigid and completely blocked. I had a frozen shoulder!

Physiotherapy proved to be the only way to regain muscle function for me to move my arm again.

The job of a physiotherapist depends mostly on the collaboration of the patient – so I was told! A frozen shoulder is one of the most painful muscle injuries and physiotherapy is thus very tortuous – a friend of mine fainted twice in physiotherapy sessions until she finally quit. I too, was about to quit after the second month of physiotherapy. I couldn’t bear the pain any more!

In the beginning, while repeating all the exercises at home, I used to tell myself: ”no pain, no gain”. Somehow it helped me keep going, but we do have our limits. If only there was a way to exercise the arm with less pain…

One day, after doing my daily exercises, I strolled down my garden for a deep breath. The scent of the aromatic herbs usually helps me relax and feel more invigorated. It was winter time, and among all the other plants and herbs, a few chili plants, in particular my favourite, rocoto, still carried a few fruits. I remembered of how rocoto had helped me in the past in overcoming a stomach inflammation caused by the H. pylori bacteria, and how I also frequently used it to treat bug bites. It suddenly occurred to me that I could try to rub it on my back to ease the pain. Without further ado, I picked up a chilli, cut it in pieces and macerated it in alcohol in a jar. Using a cotton ball I rubbed the chilli lotion on my back, in the injured area. At first, I felt a burning, but then surprise, surprise: it did not only relieve the pain, as it also allowed me to do my exercises with less effort.

The truth is capsaicin, the active substance in chilli peppers, induces the release of endorphins from the brain. These are hormones with a painkiller effect that give a feeling of happiness, euphoria and pleasure. Endorphins are also released when practicing exercise. The phrase ‘runners high’ comes from the euphoric sensation athletes have when they run. Capsaicin is also a muscle stimulant. Scientific studies have demonstrated that it not only improves exercise performance, but also reduces muscle pain after training.

Regardless, when in excessive amounts, chilli causes skin burning. Therefore, to prevent a chilli burn, the first time this lotion is rubbed on the skin it should be first diluted in water. Raise the dose of capsaicin slowly according to the capacity of enduring the heat.

In case this capsaicin preparation is used in excess, here is a first aid remedy to relieve burning:

rocoto 4

Add 4 table spoons of sugar to 1/4 cup milk, mix it well, and wash the affected part of the skin several times until the pain subsides. Casein, the milk protein, binds to capsaicin and removes it. But, as capsaicin is spread on the skin in several layers, it is imperative to repeat this procedure a few times to eliminate layer by layer, until the burning stops. Adding some sugar to the milk reduces the intense burning of capsaicin on the skin.

The physical exercises I constantly did at home allowed me to keep going with physiotherapy until I could finally move my arm from top to bottom again.

Although the arm was moving fine, the frozen shoulder had done some damage to muscles in my back. I still had injured muscles hidden under severe calcification. As the pain subsided I stopped worrying. In the meanwhile I started feeling dizziness and a sensation of losing balance. Two years later, it went from bad to worse after I caught a virus (or was it a bacteria?). Symptoms of diarrhea, bowel pain, sore throat, cough and ear inflammation bothered me for a few days. When I thought I was finally getting better, all of a sudden, I felt weakened, my legs became unsteady and a few hours later I couldn’t walk!

I had lost strength in my legs! To walk a few steps I needed to hold on to my husband’s arm otherwise I could fall.

I felt disoriented with problems keeping balance.  After consulting several doctors, who told me nothing was wrong with me, I decided to visit my physiotherapist again. It took me 2 years until muscles in my legs got stronger. However I still had difficulty keeping balance, the most frightening symptom I was experiencing.  Falling asleep at night was a nightmare. I felt a pressure in my head, that seemed like my brain was going to burst, followed by breathing difficulties that felt as if I had a rope tied to my neck and it was getting tighter and tighter, choking me slowly.  All this was very difficult to handle to the point of despair!

Not knowing what to do I managed to control inflammation by chewing a little piece of orange peel at night, when symptoms were more persistent. Using an ice pad on my neck helped to reduce inflammation. Orange peel had helped already some years ago to treat severe heartburn symptoms caused by inflammation in the esophagus. Again, orange peel was my SOS aid. Belching was the only side effect of chewing orange peel but it lasted for a short period of time. A few minutes later inflammation stopped and I felt better. A little piece, with the size of a table spoon, was enough to stop the inflammation.

Limocasca laranja1nene, the main chemical component in oranges, is more concentrated in the peel. It has the capacity to stop inflammation in minutes and it further speeds the process of regenerating damaged tissues. Besides being a powerful anti-inflammatory, limonene is also a sedative acting in a similar way as benzodiazepines, on GABA receptors. In addition, limonene stimulates liver enzymes that eliminate toxins from the body, a characteristic that makes this oil one of the fastest tools to reduce symptoms of intoxication, caused by toxins produced in the process of inflammation.

One night, as I was watching TV, I started to feel inflammation coming into my head. Instinctively I stretched my neck to the left side and, for my surprise, I felt relieve for a short while.

Would it be that this inflammation was caused by my shoulder injuries? I did have some stiffness in the right side of the neck!

My physiotherapist confirmed my suspicion. And again, I started a long process of physiotherapy that needed a lot of hard work.

Last time I was in the gym with my physiotherapist doing exercises for the frozen shoulder, I had noticed that when muscles got loose it happened in a sort of a sequence, one after the other. As soon as one muscle got loose and flexible, I started feeling another inflammation which was caused by next muscle to treat. It seemed as if as soon one muscle loosens it stimulates the other on the line, in a certain order.

Depending on the muscle I was exercising I felt different sensations; some muscles were at first very rigid, I had to exercise slowly and very careful. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain for a few seconds only, but as soon as the muscle started to loosen and move normally, I felt an incredible sensation of relieve. Other muscles seemed like they were getting loose a little piece at a time, just like when we slowly rip off a bandage from the skin; it felt as if it was very tied and difficult to unglue. When muscles atrophied, they collapsed one over the other. I realized that to recover full function, I had to act as if I was playing Mikado, the pickup-sticks game, exercising one muscle at a time from top to bottom.

As night falls muscle inflammation gets worse and more painful. Inflamed muscles caused discomfort, as if something was constricting my back. This is also the time when muscles loosen more easily and regenerate. Most nights I had to exercise muscles until they became flexible and only then inflammation subsided and I could fall asleep.

In the meanwhile, I tried to get all the information I could to help me get better quicker.

– Muscles need glucose to function.  Insulin is indispensable to carry glucose into muscles.

Taking that into account I used to make my daily exercises after the main meals in the day, when insulin is higher and glucose from food is more available. I attained much faster results.

I chose the right time to exercise, improved my diet, but still muscles were very stiff, just like rust on iron. It was taking too long to achieve my goal. If only there was a ‘WD-40’ ‘rust remover’-like lotion I could use to spread on muscles to reduce rigidity!

Maybe there is!

As we age muscle cells get resistant to insulin and, although our blood has plenty of glucose, it struggles to carry it into muscles. Herbs provide us with essential oils with the capacity of stimulating enzymes that induce the transport of glucose into muscles, instead of accumulating in the blood causing damage.

Limonene and menthol are two oils, extracted from oranges and peppermint respectively, that we can use to speed recovery. They work in synergy, potentiating in several times the effect of exercising, reducing inflammation at the same time.

– With a kitchen scraper I grated an orange and placed the rind in a jar with alcohol. WiIMG_0469th the help of a cotton ball, I rubbed this lotion on my right upper back, on injured muscles. For my surprise I woke up during the night feeling a sensation of discomfort on my back that dissipated as soon as I started moving my arm. Some muscles had suddenly got loose!

– I poured 2 drops of menthol, into two table spoons of alcohol and applied to the injured muscles. hortelã pimenta 2Immediately, I felt relieve from inflammation followed by a refreshing cooling sensation. Using this lotion before exercising made it easier and quicker for muscles to recover.

The fresh sensation we feel when we wash our teeth with a peppermint based tooth paste, is due to the stimulation of cold receptors in the body by menthol, the oil of peppermint. Menthol mimics the exposure of our skin to cold and makes the body react accordingly by inducing enzymes that stimulate blood flow to muscles to prevent damage from cold exposure. Applying menthol diluted in alcohol as a lotion to the skin relaxes blood vessels and more blood flows to muscles helping them recover from injury. Cold also reduces inflammation which makes this lotion a good choice to speed muscle damage recovery.

Both menthol and limonene applied alternately to the damaged muscles should be used before exercising muscles to prevent soreness and fatigue after exercise.

With time I got quite good at this ‘game’. First I rubbed my ‘WD-40’-like lotion (limonene and menthol), alternately on muscles, then I waited until I felt a tingling like sensation on my back, which allowed me to recognize the next muscle ‘on the line’ to loosen. This sensation is due to inflammation that always goes along with muscle regeneration. Sometimes before I could feel the muscle I felt first a pressure on my head that only subsided after I managed to gain plain flexibility of the affected muscle.

Exercising muscles one by one, making them more flexible, was my ‘homework’ which allowed me to continue with physiotherapy, facilitating the job of my physiotherapist and, as muscles were already flexible, I could go all the way until complete recovery, without feeling neither pain nor sore muscles.

In the process of healing my back I was curious to find out why this happened to me.

In my family, there is a history of arthritis with skeletal muscle calcification. Symptoms of muscle stiffness are worse at night and early in the morning. During the day inflammation slows down. I assumed that I too probably had arthritis, more precisely Ankylosing spondylitis which corresponds to all my symptoms.

In 90% of the cases in Ankylosing spondylitis, inflammation is caused by the gut bacteria, klebsiella pneumonia. Although this bacteria performs an important job in our bowel, in certain situations, when allowed to overgrow, it can be dangerous and cause serious diseases, affecting several organs such as lungs, muscles and kidneys.

In order to fight the bacteria I tried to know it better so I could prepare a strategy.

Klebsiella affects the liver by reducing its capacity to detoxify. People develop sensitivity to medicines and foods containing substances which become difficult for the liver to handle.

This explains why taking medicines always made me sick, with symptoms of intoxication.

klebsiella is an opportunistic bacteria that takes advantage of situations of stress. Stress disturbs digestion and some nutrients go undigested to the bowel were they feed bacteria. Sugars and starch in particular, are important food sources for gut bacteria such as klebsiella pneumoniae. The overgrown bacteria passes the gut barrier and spreads to other parts of the body.

Instinctively I avoided foods rich in starch such as potatoes and bread. Nevertheless I could eat some foods with starch if they were seasoned with garlic or butter, or both together, spread on bread, or as a sauce for potatoes. Butter and garlic both act on the bowel preventing the growth of klebsiella pneumoniae without affecting other gut bacteria.

Learning how herbs interact with food, helps us choose the right seasoning to face all kinds of disease. As seasonings, herbs have the power to change the way we metabolize carbohydrates, proteins and fat. Some seasonings can either facilitate the feeding of gut bacteria or inhibit them from using sugars.

In my researches I found out that klebsiella pneumoniae ‘steals’ choline from the body to use it as a protection against dehydration. With less choline there are many functions in the body that will slow down. Choline is the raw material for the body to produce acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter necessary for muscles to contract and move increasing energy levels in muscles.

No wonder I was craving any sort of cakes with egg yolk frosting – beer, peanuts and in general, foods rich in choline. Finally I had found something that could help me and give pleasure at the same time. I realized my food cravings were just a way my body used to replace the missing nutrients.

Little by little, I was finding the missing pieces of this puzzle. Nevertheless there was another matter I had to have in consideration. I have learned, with my experience in the past with H. pylori, that when we attempt to fight bacteria we must expect it to fight back. The die-off symptoms can become more dangerous and frightening than before the death of the bacteria. In the case of klebsiella the die-off symptoms could damage the liver, kidneys and colon.

I will never forget inflammation from H. pylori die-off symptoms that resulted in severe damage and inflammation to my esophagus. This time, I was prepared!

Among a wide choice of medicinal herbs Artichoke caught my attention. It was the perfect herb to complement the action of limonene and menthol to regenerate muscles and fight klebsiella pneumonia at the same time.

Artichoke leaf is a rich source of cynaropicrin, a sesquiterpene lactone responsible for most of the bitter flavor of the herb. This component allows regeneration of tissues, hence it’s recognized as an anti-aging substance. As an anti-inflammatory, it reduces inflammation in the bowel caused by klebsiella, that otherwise would result in Colitis. In addition, artichoke activates enzymes in the body that allow the immune system to fight the bacteria more efficiently. It is also effective in reducing toxins in the blood that otherwise would cause liver and kidney damage. These toxins also cause high blood pressure and reduce blood flow to muscles, reducing energy levels and muscle regeneration.

What makes artichoke the perfect choice to handle klebsiella pneumonia toxins is that, besides helping the immune system to fight the bacteria, it further helps muscles recover by facilitating blood flow to them, boosts energy and overall prevents damage caused by toxins.

Artichoke leaf tea acts in synergy with menthol and limonene by reducing the excessive production of collagen characteristic of this type of arthritis.

To protect itself from the immune system klebsiella pneumonia produces a capsule that involves the bacteria, defending it from the action of the immune system, making useless the effort of the immune system to try destroying the bacteria. The capsule from klebsiella is formed of hyaluronic acid, a sticky substance our body uses on joints to keep them flexible, lubricate and make it easy for locomotion. In order to have hyaluronic acid available for protection, klebsiella stimulates enzymes that produce this acid. This causes excessive concentration of hyaluronic acid in the joints. Studies in people with ankylosing spondylitis show that hyaluronic acid is excessive in the joints and is the main cause of stiff muscles.

Along with muscle calcification, rosacea is another illness that I inherited from my family. Reading about skin inflammation due to rosacea, I learned that the inflammatory substances in rosacea reduce the accumulation of Hyaluronic acid. Maybe rosacea inflammation is a way the body tries to fight the bacteria, to keep it under control. Inhibiting inflammation in rosacea as a means to treat this disease is perhaps not a good idea. It is probably better to fight the bacteria first and then certainly the skin inflammation will also subside. One thing is certain: people with rosacea also suffer from muscle stiffness and lack of energy. In fact, making the minimum effort made me feel exhausted!

Now with 55 years of age, my head is clear, no more dizziness, no more brain fog and confusion. Having a chat with a friend or listening to music, before now, was very stressful for my dizzy and confusing mind. Most of the time, I was confined to my home. Little by little, with the help of my physiotherapist, my back muscles started regaining their full flexibility. Now I can work in my garden at ease without worrying about muscle soreness at the end of the day.

At the last stage of this whole process, I felt like a butterfly getting out of its pupa. Once outside, the new born butterfly needs to stay for a few hours in the sun until its wings unfold and straighten, gaining strength and flexibility; only then the butterfly finally flutters its wings and explores the world for the first time.