Words on Wellness: Edible Berries

     The weather along this stretch of California is moist, mild and bright enough for planting tender greens and Southeast Asian ornamentals subject to frost-damage.  Gardeners may shudder when frost occurs along the coast, but the first cold snap is a boon for birds who have been waiting for tough-fibered edible berries to finally succumb into softness.  Now robins and thrushes are happily flocking to Cotoneaster, toyon and rose bushes to chow down on the more succulent and slightly sweet fruits – what joy!

     In herbal circles we wait for the first frost before harvesting rosehips, Oregon grape berries or sloes, especially if you just want to squeeze out the inner mush and eat it on the spot (spit the seeds out though!).  Cotoneaster is too concentrated in cyanide for humans but if you still have some juniper berries clinging to your bushes, they’ve sweeten up as well.  Healing herbs like cleavers and chickweed that are growing with the rains are also slightly ‘cooked’ by the cold and much more digestible.

     All these plants are aids to circulation and the effects of winter on our skin.  Sharp cold winds or moving in and out of heated buildings to wind-whipped cool air, can burst capillaries in the nose, toes or the skin on top of your cheekbones.  Members of the rose family (rose hips, petals, hawthorn berries) and fruits like blueberries, huckleberries, apples, cranberries, grapeseed extract, grapes, cherries, persimmon, strawberries, citrus peel and chili peppers, are all rich in bioflavonoids. Flavonoids promote elasticity and integrity of capillaries and all blood vessels, plus attack cell-destroying free radicals. Herbs containing large concentrations of flavonoids that work well as tea include chamomile, calendula, ginkgo, gotu kola, hawthorn leaf, green tea, olive leaf and eucalyptus.

     Topical applications of witch hazel and horse chestnut extracts easily penetrate skin to heal blood vessels just underneath.  Rosehip oil is used to help skin inflammations and rashes from over-exposure to cold, heat and sun.  Since all plants that mend and strengthen blood vessels also strengthen the heart, treat your heart to flavonoid-rich meals this month.  A nice valentine meal can include flavone-packed foods like red onion, garlic, purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, garbanzo beans, red quinoa, celery, tomatoes and all leafy greens.  Oh and of course, dark chocolate covered cherries for dessert!

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