Getting your Ducks in Line

Basket full of Morels & Pheasant Back mushrooms, Spruce Tips, Asparagus, Dandelion and Nettle leaves
Spring Foraging Basket

Part of a successful Spring foraging hunt is the homework you do beforehand. It’s now mid November in Latitude 46.54. We’ve already been hit with a few snow storms but it’s still possible to find Fall edibles and mushrooms for at least another 2 to 3 weeks. Today I was looking for frozen Highbush Cranberries, Hawthorn Berries, Wild grapes and whatever else I could get my grubby little hands on.

My Lab support – Lou

It was a fantastic midday walk with my new trusty Dog – Lou. Just recently adopted, Lou is a retired hunting Dog and now my Foraging companion. I love looking for Bush Berries at this time of year because it’s simply just too easy. Each tree stripped of it’s leaves you can see things that before covered under the Summer leaves. Today I harvested all I was looking for. Highbush Cranberries are best after going through several freezing’s and defrosts. You just have to beat the birds to the score. Hawthorn berries are best when harvested before a frost but like grapes… their sugars concentrate after being frozen several times and make a delicious caramelized confection late into the season. I harvested the wild grapes and hawthorn berries together, mixing them in the same basket. They pretty much look the same mixed up but the balance of the two when processed is absolutely awesome. I’ll write another Blog post just on those guys but today I found Foragers Gold. A nice little patch of late season Wild Asparagus.

Snuggled smack dab in the middle of this picture is a late season Wild Asparagus. The golden colour unmistakable. The frilly frond ends giving itself away. In the words of Euell Gibbons ” About this time I noticed that an old, dry, last year’s stalk stood above every clump of new asparagus tips. If I could learn to distinguish these old asparagus stalks from the surrounding dried debris, then I would be able to locate the hidden clusters of green spears from a distance. Despite my impatience to be off seeking more of these tender spears. I sat down on the ditch bank and for five minutes I did nothing but just LOOK at one old dry Asparagus stalk. It looked very much like the dead weeds and plants that surrounded it, and yet there were differences. The old Asparagus plant stood about three feet high and had a central stem or ‘Trunk’ about a half inch in diameter which easily distinguished it from weeds with forking stems. Wind and winter weather had long since robbed the plant of it’s soft, threadlike foliage, but the horizontal branches were still there, though badly broken about the outer ends. These side branches, evenly spaced along the old stem, were larger near the ground and tapered to very small near the top, giving the whole plant a slender Christmas tree outline, although it was a very thin scraggly tree so late in the year. The color was different, too. Like all the rest of the dead plants it was straw colored, but on the old asparagus the shade was lighter and the color somewhat brighter.” – excerpt taken from ‘Stalking the Wild Asparagus’- by Euell Gibbons Copyright 1962.

I get a kick out of Euell. He reminds me of my Auntie Di, who also happened to be my second Mum (my mothers best friend). She, along with my mother, taught me everything there was to know about wild foods and then some. I have great stories about how she almost died but in the process discovered the cure for Wild Oak rash… but that will come later. I digress and must focus on my Foragers gold – Wild Asparagus.

What I had found today was an incredible patch. First sighting the above pictured Fall stalk, Lou and I kept walking into the high grass to discover stalk after stalk. Myself giddy with excitement, Lou just happy to be alive, together we tromped through stalk after stalk after stalk. I stopped counting after 100.

Now I know exactly where to look for my Spring Asparagus. Having now spotted it in the Fall, my search is only left to digging in between the tall Spring grass in my new little secret spot. Hopefully some will eventually make it back to my kitchen. I’ve been known to eat as quickly as I harvest. The sweet crunchy taste of fresh Asparagus is too irresistible

Lately, the seasons have slowly begun to shift. 25 years ago I would start my Spring Hunts at the end of March. Chomping at the bit to get out into the forest after the winter seclusion, I still hit my areas early regardless. Early Spring mushrooms being Oysters (Pleurotus Ostreatus) and Pheasant Back (Polyporus Elegans) not actually Morels like everyone thinks. I was told as a kid That these mushrooms (Morels) came up around the same time individuals would do their first lawn mowing. Well, that’s not so true nowadays. Between shifting seasons and over enthusiastic lawn-mowing homeowners, the season is actually the last 2 weeks of May and first 2 weeks of June in my latitude. Especially the last few years. Long after Spring Ramps make their prescience and just a short time before Chanterelles make themselves seen. This is when I find both Asparagus and Morels. The Basket of Spring Goodies tells all.

What we stick in our Mouths Matters to our Mental Health

I’ve always known ‘We are What We EAT’ but in reality many people just don’t view it this way. This includes our main stream medical professionals unfortunately. I’m not outing anyone but I do feel this is a topic that needs continued thought, study and practice. An article was brought to my attention by a good friend that I will post verbatim in this Blog. Her work is fabulous and needs more attention. Read the Article and lets start a conversation.

It was originally printed by © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. The article is as follows:

-Diet can have a significant effect on mood, say researchers.

Felice Jacka’s work showing that junk food shrinks the brain was motivated by personal experience. Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Jacka struggled with anxiety and panic disorders; by the time she enrolled at art school, she was accustomed to regular bouts of depression, too, leaving her “devoid of happy feelings and unable to experience pleasure”.

But in her late 20s Jacka managed to recover and stay well by focusing on her diet, exercise and sleep. The effect was so marked that it inspired her to put her life as an artist on hold in order to dedicate herself to studying the effects of diet on mental health.

She is now head of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia, and president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry – a relatively new field of research, applying a rare scientific rigour to the link between diet and mental health. For her PhD study in 2010, Jacka found that women whose diets were higher in vegetables, fruit, fish and wholegrains, with moderate amounts of red meat, were less likely to have depression or anxiety disorders than those who consumed a typical western diet of processed foods, pizza, chips, burgers, white bread and sweet drinks.

Her study made the cover of the American Journal of Psychiatry; shortly afterwards, studies in Spain and the UK identified similar trends. Today Jacka is at the forefront of nutritional psychiatry, studying large samples of populations for indications of the impact of entire diets (not individual ingredients) on mental health. Correlations cannot prove causality outright, but by replicating results repeatedly, risk factors can be identified and studied further. Her new book, Brain Changer, is a straight-talking, evidence-based antidote (complete with recipe ideas for good mental health) to the bloggers and self-styled dietary experts who, she says, have “brought nutrition research into disrepute”.

“When I first started, people were terribly sceptical – they thought it was just rubbish,” says Jacka. “In psychiatry, people are trained to think about particular molecules in the brain that can be targeted by certain drugs and they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture – the body as a whole complex system.”

More than 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers later, Jacka has amassed evidence from all over the world showing that “what we stick in our mouths matters to our mental health”.

For her so-called Smiles trial, published in 2017, Jacka recruited 67 moderate to severely depressed people with unhealthy diets. Half received seven sessions with a clinical dietician while the others received “social support”, involving friendly conversation. After 12 weeks, one-third of those who had received nutritional support were in remission, compared with 8% of those who had had the social support. Scientifically speaking, says Jacka, “it was a pretty big difference”.

She is keen to snuff out fanciful ideas about quick fixes, and food trends dressed up as panaceas – the success resulted not from “clean eating” or coconut oil, but from following standard advice for a healthy, balanced diet. As an added bonus, the participants spent a little less on food than they did on their original diets – and probably ended up with bigger brains, too. In a 2015 study of 250 older Australians, Jacka found that the less healthy their diets, the smaller their left hippocampuses (the brain region linked with emotional regulation and mental health); the finding was more recently replicated in the Netherlands with 4,000 older adults.

Overall, Jacka has found that simply following a healthier diet – without other lifestyle modifications such as exercise, but taking into account things such as education, income, bodyweight and other health behaviours – results in a 30% reduced risk of depression.

That healthier diet may vary from country to country, but research has shown that, regardless of where you live, eating closer to a traditional, pre-industrial diet rich in plant foods, fish, unrefined grains and fermented foods, with less meat and highly palatable processed and snack foods, reduces your risk of depression. It could be the Mediterranean diet or Japanese cuisine rich in fish, seaweed, green tea and tofu, Jacka writes: “There’s not just one healthy way to eat.”

One unexpected finding of her PhD study, for example, was that cutting out red meat led to poorer mental health among the 1,000 participants. “We saw in our data a very clear pattern around too little or too much being problematic,” she says. “A tiny amount – three or four palm-sized servings [65-100g] a week – was associated with about half the probability of having a depressive or anxiety disorder. I suspect there’s probably individual variation in how much people need.” The need is probably greater in young women who are menstruating, adds Jacka (who does not eat red meat “for ethical reasons”).

Grain-fed beef (common in the US) is also less healthy than grass-fed beef, which is higher in the fatty acids that have been linked to improved mental health.

As for fish, eating it about three times a week is a component of many healthy diets – but there are unlikely to be extra benefits from eating more, Jacka writes. Fish-oil supplements can be helpful for some people with severe clinical depression, “but it’s definitely not a panacea for the wider population,” she says. “Have sardines on your toast, or some mackerel, mussels, or – if you can afford it – oysters.”

Jacka is the first to admit that we may never understand how individual ingredients of our diet combine to influence the brain: “The complexity of the human body is mind-boggling.” And because even the most beige western diet comprises countless individual chemicals invisibly interacting with each other, “we can’t even begin to measure all their effects”.

Cottage cheese, for example, is often trotted out as a mood-boosting food because it is rich in tryptophan, which is essential for creating serotonin, the “happy hormone”. If only nutrition were that simple. Scientists have failed to find any evidence that eating foods (or supplements) rich in tryptophan affects mental health, with other amino acids in foods restricting its journey from stomach to brain.

It is the trillions of micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeasts that live in our guts that help convert tryptophan into serotonin, and they can be encouraged by consuming fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir, and fibre from many different plant sources. But, crucially, it is not enough just to eat well: you need to consume all the nutrients and fibre your body needs – and avoid significant consumption of refined and heavily processed foods. “People are eating all this stuff that’s toxic and detrimental to their brain health,” says Jacka. One reason to avoid high-sugar diets, for example, is that they lead to an increase in the same inflammation markers that are raised in people with depression.

The gut microbiome is also key to regulating inflammation. Recent animal studies have shown that depression can be transmitted through fecal microbial transplants (“It’s poo in a pill, or ‘crapsules’”); Jacka is currently investigating whether good mental health can be transmitted the same way.

However it might be achieved, she is convinced of the need to address what she sees as the current mental health “disaster”. Unlike most risk factors for depression (including genes, poverty, trauma and abuse), diet is something we can modify – yet only about 10% of the population eat an adequately healthy diet, says Jacka. “The fact that we’ve got something under our nose that could potentially address a good proportion of the burden of depression is really important.”

The elephant in the room is the global food industry. “Big Food has completely altered the food environment so that unhealthy foods are the cheapest, most ubiquitous, heavily marketed, [most] difficult to resist and socially acceptable – as a result, the [world’s] health has gone down the toilet.”

The lack of political will to address this reflects the size of the corporations involved. “It’s just so powerful and influential, bigger than the tobacco industry,” she says.

Is Jacka gearing up to be the Erin Brockovich figure who takes them on? “That would be my life’s dream.”

With half of all mental-health disorders setting in by age 14, the importance of diet is especially relevant to young people – but as in the UK and US, Australian teenagers are eating multiple servings of junk foods every day, says Jacka: “This is not an occasional biccie with your tea.”

Messages about obesity and health problems in a distant, abstract future do not seem to be influencing people’s eating behaviours, but they might act on the knowledge that these same foods could be making them unhappy, says Jacka. “It’s much more in your face: ‘It’s going to affect me now.’”

Brain Changer: The Good Mental Health Diet by Professor Felice Jacka is published by Pan Macmillan, Australia