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Zoom on the superfruits: organic goji berry

The organic goji berry is also known under the name wolfberry and belongs to the Lycium genus and Solanaceae family, just like tomato, pepper, eggplant and patato. Goji berry comes from south-east Europe and Asia and the plant grows goji berry flowers of lavender or light purple color that goji berry flowerbloom from June to September while the seeds produce bright orange/red fruits that ripen from July to October. The fruits are sometimes referred to as red diamonds.

Goji berries have drawn attention the past few years and are now marketed as superfruits for their nutritional values and are often referred as Novel Foods. However, goji berries are not new and have been eaten for more than 600 years especially in China and the plant was introduced in the UK in 1730. Being forgotten by the general public, it was put back on the market in the years 2000 and onwards.

Goji berry health benefits

Goji berries are known for their high content of antioxidants and this is why they have been marketed as superfruits. As such, they can help boost the immune system. They are also used in Traditional Chinese medicine to protect the liver, to improve blood circulation, to enhance sexual functions, to protect the eye sight and to reduce cardio-vascular risks. They can help reduce high blood pressure, eliminate bad cholesterol, increase energy levels, improve skin complexion and even as anti-aging. They are a great fruit to include in the diet as they are rich in Vitamin C (more than oranges), Vitamin B2 (for the metabolism), antioxidants (phenols), zinc, selenium, iron, potassium, calcium, beta-carotene, amino acids (to build blocks of proteins), monosaccharides and polysaccharides (carbohydrates), unsaturated fats (linoleic acid or omega 6 and alpha-linolenic acid or omega 3) and fibers.

Organic goji berries

Goji berries are known to be spread with a lot of pesticides, fungicides and insecticides especially when coming from Asia. Some goji berries batches were even refused from entering the USA because of the level of chemicals that they contained. Therefore, you should favor organic goji berries as most organic products are grown naturally but again, always check the origin and the packaging to ensure they are truly organic goji berries. dry goji berriesGoji berries are often sold in the form of dried goji berries that are chewy in texture and sweet and sour in taste because fresh goji berries are not easy to find. They are also sometimes found in tisanes in the organic teas section but the most common form is goji berry juice. However, pure goji berry juice is also hard to find and you will notice that the goji juice is in most cases mixed with other berries juice and sugar. Again, an organic goji berry juice will contain higher percentages of organic goji berries and no added sugar. You can at last find delicatessen food such as dark chocolate truffles with goji berry. If the chocolate is dark and the product does not contain added sugar, it can make up for a pleasant and healthy snack.

Organic maitake mushrooms

Maitake is a Japanese mushroom also known as the “Dancing mushroom” belonging to the Meripilaceae family and the G. frondosa species. The maitake mushroom grows in Japan and in North-America and has been praised for its healing properties, restoring unbalanced body systems. Maitake mushrooms are recognizable as they look like a cluster made of of multiple grayish-brown caps that are curled or spoon-shaped. It can be as big as 60 cm large and it grows at the same place for few years in a row. The maitake mushroom can weigh up to 20 kg and is dubbed as the King of the Mushrooms in Japan where it widely used for cooking purposes just like the Shiitake mushroom.

Maitake mushroom health properties

Besides being used for culinary purposes, the maitake mushroom also have amazing health properties and can be found in various forms: fresh mushroom, dry mushroom, powder, capsules, liquid or tea. In Asia, it has traditionally been used for its ability to boost the immune system thanks to its active constituent, Beta-glucan and is a good supplement/food to intake before the winter to fight colds and flu. It is also known to lower blood pressure, to lower bad cholesterol levels as well as to lower sugar levels in diabetic patients thanks to its hypoglycemic properties (naturally occurring alpha glucosidase inhibitor). It can also help manage weight loss. Maitake is rich in minerals, vitamins (B especially), fibers, amino-acids (proteins) and antioxidants and can help release inflammations.

Many studies have been conducted on the maitake mushroom and in 2009, a human trial was performed at the Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in New-York on breast cancer patients demonstrating that the maitake mushroom could stimulate the production of immune system cells. Other studies were performed to research on prostate cancer, bladder cancer and various types of cancer cells and revealed that a portion of the mushroom called D-fraction was responsible for the anti-cancer activity. Further studies are being performed on the maitake mushroom that could become a life saver in the future.

How to take maitake?

First of all, depending where you live, it might be hard to find fresh maitake since it does not grow everywhere. However, dry maitake is commonly found in natural health stores or online and organic maitake is recommended to ensure it has grown on untreated soils. Dry organic maitake mushrooms can be soaked in warm water until it becomes soft (1 hour usually). It can then be cooked with other organic products such as olive oil and added in meat, pasta, organic quinoa or with other vegetables. The taste is quite pleasant although it is very different from the mushrooms we are typically used to eat; however, knowing what good it does to us, the taste can easily be put aside. maitake ampulesYou can also find maitake in the form of liquid in maitake ampules. You can use these ampules to do a cure of 21 days during the fall and during the spring, basically at the times when the immune system is at its lowest and needs a boost. You can also use 2 to 4 grams of maitake mushrooms to make a maitake tea. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 to 4 hours, pass it and drink a cup in the morning and the evening. You can also easily find maitake supplements to take with a glass of water, but be always careful with the origin of the product to ensure it has not been mixed with other powders, as the effects will be lowered.

Cinnamon to boost your immune system for the winter

With the winter months coming up, it is time to boost our immune system and organic cinnamon might be one of the spice to incorporate in our daily diet.

Where is cinnamon coming from

Cinnamon, also known as Cinnamomum zeylanicum, Ceylon cinnamon or “true cinnamon” comes from a small evergreen tree of 10 to 15 meter-high belonging to the Lauraceae family and to the genus Cinnamomum. cinnamon treeCinnamon is native to South East Asia and more particularly to Sri-Lanka that supplies 90% of the cinnamon in the whole world. Cinnamon comes from the Greek kinnámomon and means sweet wood. Cinnamon was not available in Europe before the 16th century but it was already a highly praised spice in the Ancient World (Greece, Egypt, Phoenicia) where it was offered to Gods or to Kings.

The cinnamon is extracted from the roots of the trees that are grown for 2 years and then coppiced (cut down), allowing new branches or shoots to regenerate. Only the inner barks from these shoots are extracted (0.5 mm of inner bark is used) in long rolls of cinnamon strips that curl into rolls upon drying and that are then cut into smaller rolls for trade.

The strong smell of cinnamon is due to its content of essential oil (cinnamon essential oil) and more particularly its chemical content cinnamaldehyde that amounts for 60% of the cinnamon essential oil.

Real cinnamon versus cassia

Real cinnamon is often confused with cassia that looks a bit similar but that is in fact really different. Cassia is known under the latin name Cinnamomum aromaticum and also belongs to the Lauraceae family but to the genus Cassia. Cassia, especially in powder form is often sold and substituted for cinnamon while it is not and when we think we are eating cinnamon, more often we are actually eating cassia. In the past few years, this has alarmed the health authorities in Europe that are sending warnings against consuming large amounts of cassia because cassia can actually be dangerous for our health unlike cinnamon. Indeed, cassia is rich in an ingredient called coumarin. Coumarin can be toxic and create liver and kidney damages when taken constantly.

How to tell the difference between real cinnamon and cassia?

Real cinnamon stickWhen using cinnamon and cassia in the form of sticks, it is actually very easy to tell the difference. Cinnamon is made of very thin and many cinnamon bark layers like on the picture above and the stick looks much like a cigar. cassiaCassia on the other hand is a more solid, uniform and hollow stick with a darker brown color.

In the form of powder, it is more complicated to determine if you are eating cinnamon or cassia but real cinnamon has a sweet aroma while cassia has a harsher smell. Also, the origin of the product can give a clue as to whether it is cinnamon or cassia. Cinnamon is called Ceylon cinnamon and comes typically from Sri Lanka while cassia will often say Chinese cinnamon or Saigon cinnamon. In the USA, most grounded cinnamon sold is actually cassia.

The health benefits of cinnamon

If you want to take advantage of the health properties of cinnamon, ensure that you are actually getting real cinnamon, otherwise, it will not work. Cinnamon is known to boost the immune system and will help ward off colds and flu thanks to its anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties and antioxidant activities. A teaspoon of cinnamon contains as much antioxidants as a pomegranate juice glass. It may help the digestive system and bowel movement disorders. A recent study published in the Diabetic Medicine: A Journal of the British Diabetic Association October 2010 showed that taking 2g of cinnamon a day can help lower blood sugar in Type 2 diabetes as well as lower blood pressure. Cinnamon can also help with blood circulation and as a sexual stimulant. It can be used in case of tooth ache and bad breath. It is great to repel insects.

Of course, cinnamon is mainly used in cooking and incorporating cinnamon in your meals, desserts, beverages will have the positive effects listed above. You can for example incorporate cinnamon in your breakfast by blending 2 fresh oranges with a tea spoon of cinnamon and drink as a morning boost.

If you want to refresh your home and take advantage of the anti-bacterial properties of cinnamon, you can also get cinnamon essential oil and pour a few drops in the filter of your vacuum cleaner. It will leave your house free of bacteria while smelling really good. However, be careful when using cinnamon essential oil as this oil is very strong and can be irritating to the nose or to the skin if improperly used.