Spiced Banana Cake

November 30, 2010

I’ve had a few requests for this recipe from various members of my family and thought I’d share it with you too. You may need to experiment a bit with the quantity of bananas and eggs, it all depends on the size. Although it can be frozen or kept for 4 days it doesn’t seem to last that long in our house!  I hope you enjoy my favourite quick, easy and tasty banana cake recipe:

Makes a 20cm round cake

8oz/225g softened butter or margarine

6oz/175g caster sugar

2 ripe bananas

2 tsp mixed spice

2 tsp baking powder

8oz/225g self-raising flour

2 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees centigrade/350 degrees fahrenheit.

2. Grease and line a 20cm/8 inch round cake tin. Beat all ingredients together. Spread into the prepared tin.

3. Bake for 40 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 170 degrees centigrade and bake for a further 20 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

4. Cool in tin for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool. Store in an airtight tin. Eat within 4 days or freeze in portions.

I have a similar all-in-one recipe for sponge cake too, let me know if you want that posted here too.

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Kaffir Lime & Chilli Peppers

November 15, 2010

Kaffir Lime
(Citrus hystrix)

It’s got fruit!  The Kaffir Lime plant that I received as a birthday present in May (Plants4Presents.co.uk) has flowered and fruited, hopefully this is a good sign and not one that means I have neglected it too much as I don’t seem to have followed all of the detailed instructions provided here!  I love the double leaves and first saw them when attending a Thai cooking class.  They give a lovely fresh taste to the dishes and now I have a good supply of my own! The photos aren’t great but they give you an idea of how mature and healthy a plant you receive, I’m really pleased with it.

Kaffir Lime Plant

Kaffir Lime Fruit

Kaffir Lime leaves have a lovely aromatic scent, if you bruise a leaf and rub it on your hands, the scent is a real pick-me-up.  Alternatively, slightly tear a leaf or two and throw it in a hot bath for a lovely uplifting fragrant bath.

You can use the leaves in cooking either fresh or dried. Usually the whole leaf is used if you are flavouring a soup or curry dish and is removed before serving.  If you are making thai fish cakes or similar dishes we were taught to roll up the leaf tightly then shred it very finely.  You can remove the midrib and stalk in an older leaf as it may be bitter.

The leaves give a lovely flavour to rice – just throw in a few leaves while the rice is cooking; especially nice with jasmine rice.

You can also flavour sugar with kaffir lime leaves to use in sponges, a syrup or other sweet dishes. Just leave the torn/shredded leaves in the sugar overnight in a sealed container, then remove the leaves the next day before using or storing for use at a later date.

There are a few more ideas and recipes here.

Cayenne Chilli Peppers

I’ve grown cayenne chilli peppers for the last 2 years and can’t believe how easy they are to grow in just a few medium sized pots.  Only trouble is that I now have too many as I have only just finished last year’s ones. They dry really easily, although they can be used fresh of course, the dried ones are stronger though. I just used some cotton thread to tie them up in a dry, airy room and just cut them off as needed.

This year I just tied a few up in a slightly different way and the photo shows them before the thread broke and they all fell down all over the floor!  I’ve got a few more to tie up (with stronger thread this time)/give away/cook with or use as decorations……

Chilli Peppers

I recently used a few in a roast pumpkin soup recipe which was delicious.  Does anyone have any favourite dishes using chilli peppers or other ways to make use of them?

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Chamomile

October 20, 2010

I’m excited to have a guest herbal columnist on the site today. Kiva Rose is a well-known herbal blogger, and co-founder of the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference.

Kiva is finally coming out with her secrets of how she learns so much about plants without using books. Her plant monographs, like the one below, are famous for their deep exploration into herbs that you will not find in other places.

Click here to learn just HOW she does it.

Do you REALLY know chamomile? I doubt it. Enjoy the article…

Earth Apple: The Bittersweet Medicine of Chamomile

By Kiva Rose

I am excited to finally be able to go deeper into explaining herbal energetics in my upcoming course, Herb Energetics

Let’s begin with an herb we all know and love, chamomile.

chamomile flowers

However, do you REALLY know Chamomile?

Chamomile means “earth apple” which is easy to understand when we accidentally trample the flowers and underfoot and suddenly smell the welcome fragrance of apples rising from the earth. In the same way, Spanish speaking peoples often use the name Manzanilla, literally meaning “little apple”.

Even for those largely unfamiliar with herbs, the distinctive sweet scent of Chamomile is often both familiar and comforting. This plant is many people’s first and perhaps only introduction to herbalism, often from a cup of honey-sweetened and belly-calming tea from their grandmother.

Many children enjoy eating the buds or just opened flowers, savoring the sweet aromatic taste of the plant, and rarely seeming to mind the slightly bitter aftertaste. Some patches of Chamomile, depending on phase of flowering and availability of moisture, are much more bitter than others but the fragrant sweetness persists even in the most bitter batches.

Far from irrelevant, these signature sensory characteristics of Chamomile that make the plant memorable in our minds are also the primary keys to understanding how to work with Matricaria as a medicine.

As with almost any herb, the taste and scent of Matricaria tells us a great deal about its properties, allowing us to use our senses to listen to the plant and understand its essence as a medicine. That blissfully apple-like scent that children so love to breathe in from the flowers tends to bring relaxed smiles to their faces and anyone who’s ever drank a cup of the tea can testify to the relaxing, tension alleviating effects of the plant.

That aromatic component, stemming from the plant’s high volatile oil content, is predictably nervine, meaning that it has a discernible effect on the nervous system. In this case, a specific relaxing, calming effect. Additionally, that same volatile oil content is responsible for Chamomile’s actions as a carminative, relieving digestive stagnation in the form of gas, gut cramping and mild constipation. A traditional remedy by several North American indigenous tribes for the uterine cramps of girls just beginning their menstrual cycles, Chamomile is a mild relaxant for the smooth muscles of the gut, uterus, bladder and respiratory tract with a specific affinity for the gut.

Matricaria is not just aromatic, even in the sweetest Chamomile flowers we find a notably bitter aftertaste. Rather than ruining the flavor of an otherwise tasty herb, that bitter element enhances and expands the medicinal properties of the plant. The bitter flavor tells us that it has a distinct effect on the digestive system, even beyond the aromatic/carminative qualities.

The bitterness increases the secretion of digestive juices and enzymes in the gut, thereby improving digestion wherever there is a lack of secretions, which is a common cause of heartburn and many cases of general gut discomfort. This combined with its obvious nervine properties; Matricaria excels at treating what is commonly known as a “nervous stomach”, which generally implies digestive upset concurrent with anxiety and nervous tension.

Volatile oils and bitter principles together make for a powerful ability to reduce inflammation and promote healing, especially in the gut. I rarely create a formula for those with leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome or even Crohn’s disease that doesn’t contain some proportion of Chamomile. Even as a simple, this pleasant tasting plant can very effectively reduce gut inflammation, pain and cramping while promoting healing of the mucosa and improving overall digestion. And of course, reducing any anxiety that may be aggravating or triggering the gut issues in the first place.

dried chamomile

Just as it soothes and heals internally, Matricaria is also a first-rate external application for almost any case of inflammation, irritation, swelling and even potential infection. It finds its way into many of my compress formulas for eczema, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and other common inflammatory skin conditions.

Steams, baths and infused oil are other effective ways of utilizing the calming, decongestive and healing properties of the herb. It’s also the first plant I think of in addressing the discomfort, irritability, insomnia, belly upset and fever of teething in small children.

Chamomile is one of my favorite remedies for all sorts of eye inflammations and infections. It can be used as a warm compress or saline eyewash to reduce inflammation, possible infection and pain in the treatment of styes, conjunctivitis, pink eye and similar maladies.

It teams up especially well with any Rosa spp. petals where there is a great deal of redness, irritation and swelling in the eye and the surrounding area. Just be sure to strain all those tiny (and potentially irritating) bits of Chamomile flower before using as an eyewash.

Chamomile has a well-deserved reputation as an archetypal remedy for children (or as Matthew Wood says “children of any age”), especially where there is fussiness, restlessness, frequent digestive upset and a tendency to react strongly to any irritant or discomfort. If one were to read the first dozen monograph on Matricaria they came across, the word “soothing” would be likely to show up in nearly every one. While now a somewhat clichéd representation of this common herb, it is nonetheless very accurate.

There’s a tendency by some of us to be less interested in the classic gentle herbs whose effects seem obvious, mild and less than profound. And yet, Chamomile has retained it’s popularity and reputation over the years for a very a specific reason. It works. It’s an effective, widely applicable, safe medicine well-loved by countless generations of mothers, herbalists and more recently, even medical doctors. This small but fragrant apple of the earth remains an invaluable medicine for all of us. Through both sweet and the bitter tastes, Chamomile provides us with a simple yet essential remedy.

Considerations: People with sensitivities to plants in the Aster family may have similar problems with Matricaria. Also note that Pineapple Weed (M. discoidea) often has a stronger bitter component and overall action than the common garden grown M. recutita.

The low down…

Common Name: Chamomile, Manzanilla, Pineapple Weed
Botanical Name: Matricaria recutita (as well as M. discoidea)
Botanical Family: Asteraceae

Taste: Aromatic, sweet, bitter

Vital Actions: relaxant nervine, relaxant diaphoretic, aromatic bitter/carminative, vulnerary,

Specific Indications: Irritability, tension, heat, hypersensitivity to pain

Energetics: sl. Cool, dry

So, exactly how does Kiva learn about plants by using her senses?

Just click the image below to find out more.

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