Sumac tea was a lemony drink used by Native Americans

Sumac is  a shrubby tree that grows easily in many areas of the U.S. and other countries. Types with reddish berries/seed clusters are safe for tea or use as a ground spice while a type with whitish berries is not safe. As a plant it is considered an invasive species because it grows so easily it can be difficult to remove from an area. It grows wild in patches along highways in some areas such as Iowa for example:

Sumac growing wild along U.S. Highway I-80 in Iowa during the winter season. when no leaves are present but last years seed clusters can still be observed on the top branches

Why care about Sumac? I bought a jar at a Middle Eastern grocery store of the plant prepared as a ground dried spice to sprinkle on foods during cooking or at the table. The jar I bought was imported from Lebanon. I paid $3.99 for a little less than a half pound size container so it isn’t a high profit margin spice but on the other hand I would be happy to by Sumac that was harvested in Iowa or Oklahoma or Michigan – all places where it grows wild.

One species that is safe for use is known to grow in all 48 contiguous states. Early in the spring the newly sprouted shoots can be eaten as a salad like vegetable. the lemony flavored tea can also be made into a jelly or candy: (http://www.eattheweeds.com/sumac-more-than-just-native-lemonade/)

Research performed with the plant in other nations regarding its medicinal benefits have found the spice or extracts to have a wide range of benefits.  More information about medicinal benefits are in an earlier post on the topic and are also listed with summertime images of the red seed clusters in an article Sumac: Nutritional Properties: https://iowaherbalist.com/tag/sumac-nutritional-properties/ and one about Sumac Tea: https://allnaturalideas.com/sumac-tea/.

The spice or tea can have significant diuretic properties similar to drinking coffee or alcoholic beverages so having smaller amounts earlier in the day along with plenty of water throughout the day can help the body cleanse toxins early in the day without waking you in the middle of the night. Overly acidic urine may cause an extreme urge to urinate but then produce only a small amount – which means the body is working hard to remove acidity without adequate water to dilute it – so drink plenty of water and acidity and toxins will be readily removed in the more dilute urine. Diuretic medications are often given to patients who are retaining excess water with a goal to help the body remove the excess water and salt from edematous areas between organs and outside of blood vessels. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/tips-for-taking-diuretic-medications  They are different but similar in effect to a diuretic beverage such as coffee or alcoholic beverages.

The acidic and antimicrobial properties of sumac have also been studied in food preparation of raw chicken to reduce the risk of salmonella and other food pathogens: The Effect of Water Extract of Sumac (Rhus coriariaL.) and Lactic Acid on Decontamination and Shelf Life of Raw Broiler Wings,  https://academic.oup.com/ps/article/85/8/1466/1524938

Gallotannins are one of the phytonutrients in sumac with medicinal benefits and is concentrated enough that the plant can be a source for extracting the substance, gallotannins and sumac. While the active phytonutrients in pomegranate peel extract and sumac extract are slightly different they both exhibit antifungal properties that may be beneficial for commercial, agricultural use: Chemical Characterization of Different Sumac and Pomegranate Extracts Effective against Botrytis cinerea Rots http://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/20/7/11941/htm

To connect the dots for those who don’t see the bigger picture in the same way that I do – one easy to grow crop that grows across the nation could be used to flavor anything lemon flavored for possibly less cost that lemons cost.  The lemon flavor is from the terpene content, it contains the same type as lemon and limes: limonene. Sumac could be used for a variety of products for direct use by humans and might also be useful as a medication for humans or for animals. It also might have industrial and agricultural uses for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties. One negative side effect that has become more apparent in agriculture is that pathogenic fungal strains seem more prevalent in soil that has had a buildup of Roundup/glyphosate. Hard to treat fungal illnesses in humans may also becoming more common. A lemony drink or food that treats hard to treat diseases in humans or farm animals and which can be grown very inexpensively could be useful if it was recognized as useful instead of simply an invasive weed.

The seed clusters left over from last fall could likely be harvested now, before spring growth occurs, and used for agricultural experiments this season, instead of waiting for the next new crop of seed clusters that would be ripe at the end of next summer, approximately in August.

The pomegranate peel leftover from making pomegranate juice is currently also being wasted when it might be useful as a medicine or food substance or even as an agricultural antifungal treatment.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Glyphosate from Roundup causing soil problems in No-Till agriculture

In a recent article published for the agricultural No-Till system specialists were recommended to reduce use of the GM crops that are designed to use the herbicide Round-Up which contains glyphosate by rotating non Round-Up crops with the GM Round-Up ready crops. Research findings suggest the chemical glyphosate is remaining in the soil longer than expected, over years of time, and collecting to levels that seem to support increased fungal pathogens. Some types of healthy strains of bacteria that would typically help protect the soil environment from the harmful strains of fungi are being negatively affected by the glyphosate. Some crops are also beginning to be affected by the increased saturation of glyphosate within the soil.

See “Glyphosate & GM Crops are Harming No-Till Soils,” GMwatch.org, Jan. 10, 2018, for more detail.

The fungi that may be promoted by increased concentrations of glyphosate may include Fusarium strains which can affect large percentages of a crop causing a large financial loss to the farmer. The effect has been noted in Canadian research: Monsanto’s Roundup Spreading Fusarium Fungus, organicconsumers.org.

Some of the fungal strains may be a risk to farm workers exposed to dusty air that contains the fungal spores and protective masks were recommended. Symptoms might result in a persistent cough and testing and a diagnosis of fungal growth in the lungs is not typical. Beneficial types of fungus in the soil that also help prevent growth of the harmful strains may also be negatively effected by glyphosate. People consuming foods with glyphosate residue would not be at risk to dust in a farm field in the same way that a farm worker is at risk however increased health complaints in farm workers and people living near by may be a concern in areas with increased agricultural use of glyphosate/Roundup.

“Few cases of Aspergillus lung infections resulting in death have been recorded, but possibly only because pneumonia, asthma or viral infections are assumed to be the cause of death when respiratory failure occurs. A fungus growing in the lungs has not been considered as a cause of death by most physicians. Nor does death always occur, as the Aspergillus niger mold growing in the lungs might just cause a persistent cough and respiratory discomfort.”

– Read more: Dust Study is There More to the Story on GMO’s?, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, FarmandRanchFreedom.org.

What would be less easy to determine is if eating a diet that contains a greater concentration of glyphosate is increasing the internal percentage of pathogenic strains of fungi over more benign bacteria and fungi. Our intestines and bodies benefit from a healthy balance of bacteria as they create some important nutrients and more digestible forms of some types of carbohydrate starches from less digestible types of plant fiber.

There has been an increase in asthma (7% in 2001 to 8% in 2009, cdc.gov) and an increase in deaths due to respiratory problems in the U.S. between 1980 and 2014:

“From 1980 through 2014, more than 4.6 million Americans died from a range of chronic respiratory illnesses, the researchers reported. While the risk was pegged at 41 deaths for every 100,000 people back in 1980, it rose to nearly 53 out of every 100,000 by 2014, representing a nearly 31 percent spike over 35 years.”

Read more: Respiratory  Disease Death Rates Have Soared, Sept. 29, 2017, WebMD.com.

More information about respiratory and other types of illnesses associated with Aspergillus fungi and current treatment options is available here: aspergillus.org.uk .

The tips for avoiding glyphosate residue in food is not something anyone is likely going to be happy about – eat organically grown foods. Animal products from animals fed crops that were grown with RoundUp may also have glyphosate residue as chemically it may be similar enough to an amino acid that is incorporated into proteins throughout the body.

A summary of the main GM crops grown with glyphosate and a timeline for when use was significantly increased in the U.S.:

Avoid processed foods, as most contain ingredients made from crops on which Roundup was used as an herbicide or as a drying agent. Foods made from ‘organic’ ingredients may also contain residue of glyphosate or Roundup; but screening of food samples has found less glyphosate in organic samples than in commercially grown samples; and individuals who have switched to a diet containing only organically grown food were found to have a drop in the level of glyphosate measured in their specimen samples (blood or urine) that were taken before and after switching to the organic diet for several weeks (posts with more info: glyphosate levels in test samples and subjectsGlyphosate, a consensus statementSome tips for reducing dietary exposure to glyphosate or to replace nutrients it effects negatively; and an update on the post with dietary tips).

Soy, corn and cottonseed oil all may be sources of increased amounts of glyphosate residue since use of the chemical increased in the late 1990’s with the introduction of crops genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup which contains glyphosate also has other ingredients which in combination seem to be even more of a health risk than safety tests suggest glyphosate is on its own as a single chemical hazard.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Master Chef Challenge – Pomegranate Peel

Eight pomegranates later I’m glad to report that making pomegranate extract in the home kitchen is possible and the product can be used in a variety ways. Whether or not it has health benefits would need to be determined by clinical trials and chemical analysis and/or by the individual user at their own risk. But someone needs to be patient number one and being a professionally trained quantity foods and individual diet planner and producer helped give me the knowledge base I needed to turn the animal based research into a home kitchen recipe.

Background info – “an extract” of a food could be considered in Master Chef terms as either a raw, fresh squeezed juice or as a heated/simmered tea or soup stock.

Tea: A tea is generally made from dried herbs or dried fruit or flowers and is usually steeped for about 15-20 minutes for herbal tea or for one and half to four or five minutes for a green tea or black tea. Over steeping tea leaves can release an excess amount of the more bitter tannins which can have negative health effects of blood clotting for some people, (more on tannins in different types of tea: livestrong.com), and less healthy oxalic acid which can be a problem for people with kidney stones. (Rooibus, red tea, does not have oxalic acid. (beliefnet.com)) (Cold brewing (tching.com) may release less tannin content; although some tannins can have health benefits and some people get used to stronger more bitter black tea.

Soup stock: Soup stock may be made from washed and trimmed parts of vegetables that are not being used or are too fibrous for use in a food being prepared for direct consumption. A bone stock is simmered or roasted for a couple hours to release as much nutrient content as possible from the bone marrow (inner part of the bones) and cartilage and other trim that isn’t pure fats. A vegetable stock is simmered for less time as the nutrients from vegetables are released in a shorter amount of time, twenty to thirty minutes usually is adequate to release full flavor without destroying nutrients and flavor from over heating.

Juice: A good quality juicer is needed which the average home kitchen typically does not have. And a juicer can only handle soft fruits or vegetables of a consistent quality, carrots are generally possible but tougher seeds or peels need to be removed from other vegetables or fruits. Orange peel can not be juiced and would likely taste too bitter for making a quantity of juice. I use a sprinkle, 1/8 th teaspoon of minced dried lemon peel in soup which I add at the table rather than to the soup pot to retain more of the aroma and redcue risk of break down of the flavor or phytonutrients during the cooktime of a soup.

Pomegranate peel is very tough and is fairly dry. The soft whitish inner membrane could be run through a juicer but the brilliantly colored reddish peel also likely contains healthy phytonutrients and makes up more of the volume of the trim leftover after removing the juicy seeds.  Research on pumpkin seed kernels revealed that toasting them increases phospholipid content and that is a nutrient that can have health benefits for promoting Nrf2 and other health promoting needs for the body. So my kitchen trials focused on making a soup stock type of pomegranate peel/membrane extract. I tried batches simmered for 20 minutes which retained more color and for 30 minutes which broke down more of the pulp and resulted in a thicker, creamier extract. Both products seem to help my health symptoms and improve my energy level and mood.

Two large pomegranates.

Eight pomegranates later:

  1. For a concentrated product meant for frequent use I would recommend using organically grown pomegranates as the commercial growers may use glyphosate for weed control between the rows of pomegranate trees/shrubs. (Pomegranate trees/shrubs can survive 200 years – invest now – they can take 5-6 years to become fully producing but can have multiple trunks which resprout regularly and can be divided easily to create more rows of trees or should be pruned to reduce energy lost to the fruiting branches. they need a fairly dry climate but with some regular ground water or irrigation, excessive rainy or humid seasons increase risk of infection in the blossoms and tend to produce less quality fruit. So pomegranates are a good crop to consider investing in as we head into a drier, hotter planet, regions that are less ideal right now may become ideal in a decade or two. (Pomegranate growing tips: California, Georgia))
  2. The fruit is likely coated in a food grade wax to help it remain fresh longer. Washing the outer surface before cutting is a good idea, I just rinsed mine rather than using any special produce washing chemical. (Example of a product designed to remove food grade waxes. TraderJoe’s Fruit and Vegetable Wash) Glyphosate may be a chemical that is actually taken up into the produce or animal product so washing the exterior would not remove hypothetical risk from produce grown with it. (The chemical, glyphosate,is very similar to an amino acid, glycine, and it may be incorporated directly into protein structures in place of molecules of glycine, hypothetically. This theory needs more research; which wouldn’t be difficult for professional chemists with access to radioactive marking chemicals – radioactive label the glyposate; grow the product with the standard application rate of glyphosate/Roundup; and then test the produce, or animals that were fed with the produce, for presence of the radioactively labeled glyphosate – not a task for the home kitchen chef).
  3. Remove the juicy seeds and trim the peel and membrane of any discolored spots. It is not uncommon to have some brownish areas and a few bad seeds. Just trim away the discolored areas and discard. Cut away the discolored inner part that would be white from areas of the tougher rind that is still colorful rather than brownish to preserve more of the fruit. (math to add later, I measured yield to get an average, * see the end of the post for the details.)
  4. If a larger quantity of pomegranates are available to make a big batch of extract then any excess seeds that won’t be able to be used fresh can simply be put in a freezer bag or container and frozen for later thawing to use fresh on salad or as a snack or dessert fruit. I rinsed the seeds before freezing to remove any residue left from the occasional bad/rotten seeds. The pomegranate tips I read suggested a simple method to trim many pomegranates was to score the rind in half and then sixths or eighths; and fill a clean sink or large container with water and remove the seeds under water. Good seeds tend to be heavy and sink and bad seeds and the membrane and rind tend to float. Skim off the top layer of floating seeds and membrane and separate and trim the good parts of the inner membrane and rind and discard any decayed rind or seeds. Drain the bowl or sink and remove the seeds and sort for any bits of membrane. I didn’t try this method. I sorted god and bad seeds into separate bowls and trimmed the pile of peel/membrane of discolored areas afterward. Using food safe gloves might help protect the skin if prepping a large batch. The juice is acidic and can be a little drying to the skin. Put the seeds in a refrigerator container to use fresh or a freezer container to store for later use.
  5. I chopped the trimmed peel and inner membrane into roughly a quarter inch dice to try to maximize how much phospholipid and other phytonutrients might be released during the simmering phase. The extract might be as potent with a larger chop or no extra chopping. I didn’t experiment with that aspect – all batches were made with a quarter inch dice.
  6. I tried varying amounts of water with the chopped membrane and found it was easiest to work with when more was used, about one cup of water per one cup of diced peel worked fairly well for draining afterwards. One large pomegranate produced about two cups of diced membrane. I added one teaspoon of cold pressed organic coconut oil to the water/peel mixture in a large nonstick stockpot (or saucepan depending on the amount I was making). A little extra oil can help some phytonutrients be released from produce – (tomato sauce made with a little oil has more available lycopene content then tomato products made without oil or the fresh tomato.)
  7. Bring the peel/water/coconut oil mixture to a simmer at medium high heat ( a few minutes) and promptly turn down the heat to medium or low, cover with a lid, and continue at a gentle simmer (barely bubbling) for 20-30 minutes. Try not to overheat which might be noticed as a caramelized sugary smell or membrane fiber sticking to the bottom of the pan. Stirring occasionally can help.
  8. Drain the extract in a metal colander or soup stock wire mesh skimmer (example). Store in glass or metal until cooled as hot liquids can interact with some types of plastic and cause plastic molecules to enter the food. I rinsed the leftover peel with a few additional cups of water and got a second and third batch of more dilute extract that also had flavor and some health symptom relief effects. Master Chef challenge – there’s probably easier ways to do this. I did try running one batch of the softened membranes through a juicer and it didn’t really work, turned it to pulp, a blender would have done that, but the taste is very bitter, the extract is bitter enough without adding the actual peel (I sampled a little, sugar can’t help everything taste better.)
  9. Use the extract fresh or freeze the excess. It is quite acidic and fairly concentrated. To drink it as a juice I diluted with water, doubling roughly the volume and adding an ounce of 100% cherry juice and a spoonful of sugar helped the flavor, but pH strips and my stomach told me the acidity is the main issue with making it tolerable to drink. It is more acidic than coffee. I started adding baking soda as I do to my coffee but instead of one pinch per cup of coffee I ended up needing four pinches to get the pH adjusted to around a 6.0 it started at 4 or less (water is ~ a 7.0) (I happened to have pH strips on hand).
  10. I also tried the extract in a thick bean/rice vegetable soup, adding about an 1/8 to 1/4 cup of the more concentrated extract per couple bowls of soup to thin it for reheating and a little addition of something acidic can help with digestion, especially for older people (about 3 cups of soup). I regularly add a spoonful or two of lemon/lime juice to my bowls of bean soup or one spoonful of apple cider vinegar Iit is slightly more acidic). I tried a slightly smaller amount in the same soup for a group of people and while they all weren’t regular bean soup eaters they all found it okay and a couple of them liked it. (The chocolate chip cookies were more popular.)

My health symptoms seem to be more stable with the addition of extract  to my diet than they were with the 1/3 to 2/3 cup of pomegranate seeds each day. The other advantage is that freezing extract and seeds could help make it easier to have a reliable year round source for something that is needed for a daily health need.

The unchopped peel in the scale, a large bowl of good seeds and a small bowl of a few discolored seeds. This pomegranate didn’t really have many bad spots.
The chopped, 1/4 inch dice, raw peel and inner membrane.
The raw chopped peel and water before heating.
A large batch of the extract with peel and membrane after cooking 30 minutes.
A pan with drained extract and a colander with the leftover larger peel – this batch was cooked for 20 minutes.
A little chilled coconut oil is floating on top of the containers prepped to freeze.

Math yield:

The large pomegranate averaged more seeds but the total peel/membrane ended up being only a little more than from the small size. However the small ones I had were fresher and had fewer bad spots to trim so less waste may have been the major difference. The size difference isn’t type, it depends on when the blossom was pollinated. The pomegranate can have a few blossom setting times during the spring and blossoms that pollinate early produce large fruit and later ones produce smaller fruit. Or a shorter or drier growing season or less fertilizer applied to the rows may also result in smaller fruit. Pomegranate are usually sold by unit price rather than by pound so a larger fruit averaged about twice the size of the small size and would be a better deal if the price was per unit/ per fruit rather than by weight.

The large fruit, (six), averaged 18 1/4 ounces, 510 grams. And provided an average of 11 1/4 ounces, 306 grams, good seeds, and 7 ounces good peel/membrane, 195 grams, and 3 1/4 ounces bad seed/peel, 106 grams.

The small fruit, (two), averaged 9 3/4 ounces, 270 grams. And provided an average of 4 ounces good seeds, 110 grams, and 4 3/4 ounces good peel/membrane, 123 grams, and 1/4 ounce bad seed/peel, 6 grams.

The total extract made depended on how much water I used and the concentration varied so it would be difficult to give any accurate yield but roughly the amount of water used resulted in a similar amount of extract produced. Each pomegranate roughly produced two to three cups of concentrated extract which needs to be diluted with another two t three cups of water or soup to be palatable.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Oxidative Stress and Aging; trace minerals and antioxidants

For a more detailed review of the current understanding of how oxidative stress and inflammation are involved in the aging process see this chapter from a longer book: Oxidative Stress and the Aging Brain: From Theory to Prevention, [1]

Mitochondria are the main energy producers in cells. They are involved in breaking down each molecule of glucose (one half of the larger molecule that is commonly known as sugar). During the process of breaking the chemical bonds found in the glucose molecule the free radicals that can cause oxidative damage are produced. When adequate antioxidants are available the free radicals are stabilized before they can cause damage. The body’s internally produced antioxidant enzymes also require the trace minerals copper, zinc and manganese. /Separate topic: An imbalance in copper and zinc can cause health problems./

“Free radicals are chemical species with a single unpaired electron. The unpaired electron is highly reactive as it seeks to pair with another free electron; this results in the production of another free radical. The newly produced free radical is unstable in most cases and, as a result, it can also react with another molecule to produce yet another free radical. Thus, a chain reaction of free radicals can occur, leading to more and more damaging reactions.” [1]

“Several antioxidant defense mechanisms have evolved to protect cell components from the attack of oxidative stress and associated oxidative damage. These mechanisms include antioxidant enzymes, such as SOD, superoxide reductases, catalase, glutathione peroxidases (Gpx), and many heat-shock proteins.” “SOD exists in two forms: Cu/ZnSOD is present primarily in the cytoplasm while MnSOD is present primarily in the mitochondria.” [1]

More information about manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) and how mitochondria function is available here: MnSOD in Oxidative Stress Response-Potential Regulation viaMitochondrial Protein Influx [2]

Supplementing the diet with a manganese and other trace minerals may be helpful as manganese and other trace minerals may be chelated by glyphosate, the active ingredient of the herbicide RoundUp. Chelation is a chemical term for the tendency for one chemical to bind with another – take hold and make the other one less freely available in the environment. The process can be helpful in some situations as it can act as a carrier, a taxi cab so to speak, but at other times it is simply removing the other chemical from being available for other uses.

Plant scientists are aware of the problem and there are agricultural suggestions for reducing the negative effects of manganese chelation by glyphosate in the following article: What About Glyphosate-Induced Manganese Deficiency? The effects of glyphosate’s chelation of iron, copper and zinc is also included in addition to the discussion of manganese. [3] The summary of plant yield research found that improved crop yields were produced when manganese, copper and zinc were applied as a supplemental fertilizer a certain amount of time after the glyphosate containing herbicide was applied to the fields:

“The greatest soybean yield response on high organic soils
was with both Mn and Cu applied 8 to 12 days after the glyphosate.
The highest yields for corn were obtained by foliar-applying Zn 15
days after glyphosate was applied in northwestern Indiana,” [3]

So if plant health scientists recommend supplementing with manganese, copper and zinc for best plant health do human health scientists? Some do, but the topic is still considered alternative medicine rather than being a mainstream medical recommendation. [4] Risks of increased toxicity from trace metals that have negative health effects such as aluminum. [4]

Antioxidant rich foods or supplements that were discussed in the chapter on Oxidative Stress and Aging include vitamin E, which had positive results when used as a supplement in animal studies and mixed results in studies with humans, addition of whole foods such as nuts which are a good source of vitamin E and other nutrients had more consistent positive results in human clinical research studies; Green Tea and its active metabolite EGCG; blueberries, spinach and spirulina, a blue-green algae. [1]

  • Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.
  1. Carmelina Gemma, Jennifer Vila, Adam Bachstetter, and Paula C. Bickford, Chapter 15: Oxidative Stress and the Aging Brain: From Theory to Prevention, from Brain Aging: Models, Methods, and Mechanisms. Riddle DR, editor. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2007. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK3869/
  2. Demet Candas and Jian Jian Li, MnSOD in Oxidative Stress Response-Potential Regulation viaMitochondrial Protein Influx, Antioxid Redox Signal. 2014 Apr 1; 20(10): 1599–1617. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942709/
  3. Don M. Huber, What About Glyphosate-Induced Manganese Deficiency?, Fluid Journal, Fall 2007, http://www.agweb.com/assets/import/files/58p20-22.pdf
  4. Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff, Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases III: Manganese, neurological diseases, and associated pathologies, Surg Neurol Int. 2015; 6: 45. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4392553/