Probiotics are bacteria and yeasts that occur naturally in the human body and benefit it rather than causing disease. They usually play a role in digestion, and prevent disease by crowding out harmful bacteria; some help burn fat or even balance hormones. Research is also starting to suggest that they could have a role in urinary and vaginal health, allergy and cold prevention, treating skin conditions such as eczema, and oral health. Some even think they could help with mental health issues and neurological disorders.

It’s particularly important to replenish your inner fauna during and after a course of antibiotics (which, as you probably know but a reminder never hurts, you should only take when you have to and then finish the entire treatment to avoid breeding drug-resistant bacteria). However, regularly taking probiotics or eating probiotic foods helps maintain a healthy and diverse internal micro-community to keep your gut healthy. Probiotic bacteria are impacted by all kinds of things, including chemicals in tap water, emotional stress, antibiotic residues in conventional foods, and even a diet high in grains and carbs.

Most probiotics fall into two main categories. Lactobacillus, found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, helps prevent diarrhea and can mitigate lactose intolerance. Bifidobacterium, found in some dairy products, can ease irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Other probiotics include Bacillus subtilis, which elicits a potent immune response; Streptococcus thermophilus, reportedly useful in preventing lactose intolerance; Bacillus coagulans, that improves nutrient absorption and can reduce inflammation and symptoms of arthritis; and Saccharomyces boulardii, good against inflammation and IBS. Probiotics were discovered in the early 20th century by Elie Metchnikoff, who observed that rural Bulgarians were very long-lived and theorized that the bacteria in sour milk might be a contributing factor.

If you’re going to take a supplement, look for the highest number of strains and CFUs (colony forming units) you can tolerate. However, there’s a lot to be said for getting your probiotics by including natural sources such as fermented foods in your diet.

Recent research has “discovered” that some people are sensitive to probiotics and even yoghurt will make them nauseous. There is hope, however; in most cases, taking small doses as part of a large meal — not just a bit of toast or a few bites of sandwich — will solve the problem. I can personally recommend keeping a bottle of Rawkstar’s excellent water kefir on hand and having a few sips whenever you manage to put together a substantial dinner.

Read more:
Food Matters

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native to: Europe
in season here: late summer-winter
Kohlrabi, also known as knol-khol, German Turnip, or turnip cabbage, is yet another brassica and related to cabbage, broccoli, and kale; in fact, it was originally a kind of cabbage bred to grow in a harsher climate. Both its stem and its leaves are edible; the bulbous stem is the part most people are familiar with (although some mistake it for a root), but it’s also gaining popularity as a microgreen. The two main varieties are white (actually light green) and purple, referring to the colors of their skin. Kohlrabi does best in cool weather with not so much sun (too much sunlight will make the stem dry and woody); smaller bulbs are generally a better choice, being more tender and possibly not even needing to be peeled.

Kohlrabi is a good source of vitamin C, various B-complex vitamins, a range of phytochemicals, and various minerals such as copper, calcium, potassium (good for blood pressure and bone density), manganese, iron, and phosphorus. The leaves provide extra carotenes and vitamins A and K. The B-complex vitamins are essential for metabolism and the vitamin A is good for the eyes. Kohlrabi is also high in fiber and low in calories, making it a good choice for dieters.

Kohlrabi appears in the 1st century writings of Pliny the Elder as Corinthian turnip, is mentioned by Apicius, and was ordered to be grown in the Holy Roman Empire by Charlemagne in AD 800. It has been slow to catch on in the US (I remember it arriving as a curiosity for home gardens in 1970s Spokane), but Northern India has been enjoying it since the 1600s.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw kohlrabi
label-style nutrition information for cooked kohlrabi

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Kohlrabi salad

4 medium kohlrabis, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 cups Napa cabbage, chopped
1/4 lb. snow peas, chopped
1/2-1 fresh poblano pepper, diced, or 1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 red bell pepper, in fine julienne about 1 inch long
3 green onions, chopped + 2 Tbsp. minced (for garnish)
3 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely minced
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 Tbsp. lemon juice (juice of about 1/2 lemon)
2 tsp. sesame oil
dash of rice vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
black sesame seeds

Combine all ingredients except the black sesame seeds and 2 Tbsp. minced green onions and toss well. For best results, refrigerate for several hours to allow flavors to marry. Garnish with the black sesame seeds and minced green onions before serving.

Adapted from Vegetarians in Paradise

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Duck eggs

native to: first mentioned in Egypt in the 1300s B.C.E.; also known in Southeast Asia prior to 500 B.C.E. and in ancient Rome
in season here: year-round, but most plentiful in summer (like chickens, ducks produce more eggs when they get more daylight)
Duck eggs are 40-50% bigger than the biggest chicken eggs, with a larger yolk, more protein, fat, and other nutrients, more albumen, and a richer flavor. This makes them a particularly good choice for baking; they make fluffier soufflés, richer cakes, flakier pie crust. They’d probably make great Easter eggs, too. The thicker shell makes them easier to transport and is said to give them a longer shelf life.

Some recipes will need tweaking before they’ll come out perfectly, but Robin of Neighborhood Duck Farm tells me a cake mix will come out very well with the same number of duck eggs as chicken eggs, and mixes using 2-3 eggs will make especially spectacular cupcakes. Duck eggs are also reputed to produce very rich, creamy scrambled eggs, but can get a little rubbery if boiled or fried too long.

Nutritionally, duck eggs are similar to chicken eggs except for significantly more protein, fat, and omega-3 fatty acids (paleo dieters, here’s your egg). Basically, it’s a bigger yolk.

When ducks are allowed to eat fish, their eggs can taste a little fishy, but when the ducks are being raised for their eggs rather than just as pets this won’t be a problem. Duck eggs are most often found in Asian cuisine, especially Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. They’re still difficult to find in the U.S., with their fans snapping up any they encounter at pretty much whatever price the farmer dares to put on them (the first batch of duck eggs at the Tumwater Market sold out by 11:30, with the last customer only getting half the eggs she wanted).

People who are allergic to chicken eggs can often eat duck eggs (test this carefully and with your doctor’s advice, obviously!). Those who are avoiding cholesterol will want to be careful; duck eggs have nearly three times the cholesterol of chicken eggs.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw duck eggs
Countryside Network
The Free Range Life
short comparison of duck and chicken eggs on YouTube

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Mustard greens

native to: Himalayan region
in season here: winter and spring
Mustard, Brassica juncea, is another cruciferous vegetable, and the greens are noted for their cholesterol-lowering effects (especially when steamed) and their protection against cancer and inflammation. Mustard greens are a valuable detoxifier, providing antioxidants, sulfurous compounds, and phytonutrients that regulate detoxification enzymes. They provide copper, calcium, manganese and vitamins C, E, K, and A.

Mustard greens have been eaten for over 5000 years and feature in Chinese, Indian, and Southern cuisine. They add a strong, peppery accent to salads, soups, stir-fries, and juices. Regular consumption of mustard greens is reputed to protect against arthritis, osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, cardiovascular diseases, and asthma.

Reheating mustard greens can cause the nitrates to convert to nitrites and nitrosamines if certain bacteria are present, so it’s best to go ahead and eat them all the first time. Also, the high levels of vitamin K can interfere with anti-coagulants, mustard greens contain oxalic acid, and they have a reputation as a “goitrogenic” food that may cause trouble for those with thyroid problems.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw mustard greens
label-style nutrition information for cooked mustard greens
Health Benefits Times

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Balsamic-Glazed Chickpeas and Mustard Greens

1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
4-6 Tbsp. vegetable broth
4 cloves garlic, chopped
pinch red pepper flakes
10 oz. mustard greens, torn into bite-sized pieces, heavy stems removed
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, plus extra for serving
1/2 tsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 cup cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Sauté the onion in 1-2 Tbsp. vegetable broth until mostly faded to pink, about 4 minutes. Add chopped garlic, red pepper, and another Tbsp. of broth and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add mustard greens and another 2 Tbsp. of broth; cook, stirring, until greens are wilted but still bright green, about 3-5 minutes. Remove greens and onions from pan with a slotted spoon and place in a serving dish. Add enough broth to pan liquids to make about 2 Tbsp. Stir in balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar. Add the chickpeas and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the liquid is reduced by about half. Spoon the chickpeas over the greens and drizzle with sauce. Serve warm, with additional balsamic vinegar on the table.

Adapted from

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in season here: all year, but most commonly harvested in the fall
Honey is a monosaccharide, the simplest form of sugar, so it’s easy on the digestion. Yes, it’s sugar, but it’s also a natural food and requires no processing to use. It has a variable but generally reasonable glycemic index, making it a better choice than sugar for those with blood sugar concerns (although still something to be used sparingly; sorry). Honey provides small amounts of B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, some kinds of amino acid, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, and live enzymes that promote digestion. It contains antioxidants, including pinocembrin, which is only found in honey, and has anti-inflammatory effects. The levels of these various nutrients depend on the source of the nectar, as do the color and taste of the honey. As a general rule, the darker a honey is, the more honey flavor it will have, and the more antioxidants, while lighter honeys often seem sweeter because their flavor is milder.

Beekeeping dates back to at least 700 BC, and honey was once used to pay tribute to the gods and to embalm the deceased. Honey is a traditional burn treatment, relieving pain and minimizing scarring, and it has long been used to soothe sore throats. It also has antibacterial properties and has been used to clean wounds and promote healing of sores, scrapes, rashes, and even cataracts. It also makes an excellent moisturizer (just try any of Starry Lane Apiary’s honey-based creams if you don’t believe me), and can be used to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis and hemorrhoids. Eating honey instead of other sweeteners has been linked to slight improvements in blood pressure, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels, and may even help with weight loss.

Processed honey, of course, is little more than sugar, so (all together now) get it at the farmers’ market or straight from the apiary for the best stuff. If your honey gets moldy, ever, it has gotten wet, either from water leaking into the container or from being watered down and who knows what else. If it develops little crystals in its old age, it’s still perfectly OK to eat and the crystals can be dissolved by gently heating and stirring the honey.

The primary caution for honey is that it should not be given to children under 1 year old because of the risk of botulism, but more developed bodies are apparently able to combat this risk effectively.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for honey includes information on using honey in various traditional treatments

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Honey recipes in previous posts.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.