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Posts Tagged ‘alternative health’

The world of natural and alternative health can be complicated. We, as a people, have forgotten so much about the benefits of using the plants around us to heal our bodies. Not only that, but we have forgotten how to use them. Salves, tinctures, extracts, essential oils, teas, syrups, glycerites…what’s the difference? Well, there is quite a bit of difference, actually, but today we are going to talk about a relatively new form of herbal medicine.

Hydrosols.

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White pine hydrosol

Haven’t heard of them? Don’t know what to do with them? Then, read on, my friend!

First, though, let me tell you what a hydrosol is NOT.

Hydrosols are not floral water, which is simply the process of infusing water with flowers by letting them sit over a period of time to absorb the essence of the flowers. Floral waters have their own limited range of healing properties, but they are not the same as a hydrosol

Hydrosols are not water with essential oil added to them, which can be dangerous when ingested.

True hydrosols are created using a steam distillation process to extract the beneficial properties of the herbs that cannot be obtained any other method. This is the same process used to obtain the essential oils from plants, but renders a completely different finished product. Instead of writing out the entire process, let me direct you to this website, HydrosolWorld, that has a wonderful explanation of the whole process.

To simplify for those of you who don’t want to read all the details, here’s a breakdown:

  • Hydrosols are the perfect balance between herbal teas and essential oils. They are safe to use internally and externally, unlike essential oils which should NEVER be used internally. Because they contain many of the same elements as the essential oils, they offer a wider range of benefits than a simple herbal tea.
  • Unlike herbal teas, hydrosols have a long shelf life. Depending on the herb, the shelf life can range anywhere from 6 months to several years, so they are much easier to keep on hand for a quick-fix when you don’t have the time or energy to whip up a batch of tea.
  • Hydrosols can be used topically for instant relief from many issues.
  • Hydrosols can be used safely on most animals and children
  • Hydrosols can be used to replace the water portion of your skincare recipes in things like soaps and lotions.
  • Hydrosols can be added to your cleaning routine to add a gentle fragrance, or to kill bacteria and viruses.

So, why aren’t you hearing more about hydrosols? Because they have only recently been studied for their medicinal benefits. In the past, hydrosols have been nothing more than the byproduct of essential oil making, rather then the main goal of the distillation process. The remaining water (hydrosol) was simply pitched out as being useless. It was a bit surprising to many when they realized that hydrosols were actually quite potent and effective in their own right. The multitude of benefits they provide is still being studied and experimented with, as is the range of plants that produce the best hydrosols.

Of course, being the enterprising soul that I am, I had to jump on the bandwagon.

The first step was obtaining a distiller. Thanks to a wonderful friend and business associate, I finally got my distiller. I admit, I was a bit scared of the whole process at first. It seemed so technical and science-y. What if I screwed it up?

distiller

My beautiful distiller!

Turns out, it wasn’t so scary or difficult after all. Now, I am a bit addicted to creating new hydrosols. I am distilling all of my favorite herbs….red clover, wild plum blossoms, yarrow, elder flowers, spearmint, white pine….and I have so many more on my list. If only there was more time in a day!

Now, I have a refrigerator full of fabulous hydrosols and I have been experimenting like crazy! The time has finally arrived to share them with you all.

Choosing where to start with hydrosols is the first step to forming a glorious addiction. My next few posts will cover the hydrosols that I personally have created and worked with. I will give a detailed list of all the things each of them is good for, how to use them, when not to use them, and which ones are good to keep on hand for emergencies.

Let’s start with one of my personal favorites, elder flower hydrosol.

The hydrosol has a mildly green, floral fragrance that blends well with many essential oils, making it perfect for creating spritzers, room and fabric deodorizers, and surface cleansers that provide antibacterial and anti-viral action.

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Elder flowers in bloom

Most people are familiar with the healing power of elderberries. High levels of Vitamin C make it a must-have for cold and flu season, but there is much more to the elder plant than just the berries. Elder is known as the medicine chest of the country folk’ because of the many health-enhancing benefits it contains. Besides being a potent antibacterial and antiviral, elder flowers are also antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, diuretic, styptic, analgesic, and a mild laxative. These qualities make it useful for a variety of issues, including:

  • Kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • To fight colds and flu
  • Sinus infections
  • Soothes respiratory disturbances by dispelling mucous and congestion
  • Boost function of the immune system
  • Applied topically, helps reduce pain and swelling in joints due to arthritis
  • Stops bleeding
  • As an oral rinse for dental issues and toothaches
  • Soothes the symptoms of allergies
  • Regulates blood glucose levels
  • Soothes inflammation of the eyes
  • Circulatory stimulant
  • Encourages perspiration
  • Treats viral infections like measles, chicken pox, shingles, and Epstein Barr.
  • Purifies the blood
  • Cleanses the lymphatic system of toxins and debris
  • A natural diuretic useful for eliminating water retention, bloating, gout, and edema
  • Beneficial for liver disorders
  • Heals urinary tract infections
  • Eases headaches
  • Applied topically, it helps heal cuts, wounds, and burns
  • Helps fade blemishes and age spots

When using it internally, we take 1-2 teaspoons in a glass of water. It has a pleasant flavor that blends well with fruit juices, too.

Elder flower hydrosol is handy when your pets are in need. A spritz or two on hot spots works wonders to heal the flesh and soothe the itch, and will help soothe anxiety. Adding a spoonful to their water is helpful in many conditions, including kennel cough and other respiratory issues, or to boost the immune system. It also works well for reducing pain and inflammation associated with arthritis in the joints.

For the more spiritual among us, the essence of the elder plant can add an extra bit of power to rituals and ceremonies. They are considered sacred to the angelic realm and Druids, who call it the ‘Tree of Life’, as well as anyone seeking to work with the Fae. It is known as the medicine chest of the country folk’ because of the many health-enhancing benefits it contains.

The Elder plant represents the 13th month as part of the Ogham, the calendar tree of the Celts. This is the month of the Winter Solstice which is a time of transition between light and dark ~ death and rebirth. Elder helps ease the transition between these two periods.

Elder has long been associated with the fairy world, and is considered to be a plant of the faerie land where wood spirits and elves make their home in her roots.

Elder’s spiritual essence is believed to open the psyche, and is associated with the heart chakra, helping to cool anger and ground the spirit.

I’m sure I haven’t covered all of its uses, but this is an excellent starting point.

As always, I must remind you all that, no, I am not a licensed physician, and all of the alphabet government agencies insist that herbal medicine has little or no healing properties, so this could all just be a big old mess of snake oil. I am not qualified to diagnose you, and I most certainly am not allowed to heal you or offer you any ‘medical’ advice. No government agency has approved any of these statements or claims. If you are taking any herbal medicines, you do so at your own risk. You should always consult with your healthcare provider before taking any herbal products, especially if you are currently taking any prescription medications.

If you are feeling brave or rebellious and want to see what all the hype is about when it comes to hydrosols, check out my Etsy store, Tamara’s Herbes, where you can find all of my hydrosols, as well as other natural health and beauty products created to help soothe the body, mind and spirit!

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I love autumn!  It is my absolute favorite time of year, hands down.  Maybe it is the cooler temperatures that make working outdoors invigorating and make it perfect for those evening bonfires.  Maybe it is the beautiful autumn colors that transform the Ozarks into a feast for the eyes and the soul.  Truth is, both of those reasons are a big part of it, but it also has something to do with all the planting and  harvesting I get to do this time of year!

The last of the summer crops are trickling in, making room for the winter crops.  Straggler tomatoes, lettuce in full bloom, loofahs ready to peel…these are all some of my favorite things.

Loofah Gourds

Loofah Gourds

However, my very most favorite thing about autumn is the chance to head out to the pastures and forests that cover our land and dig up the medicinal roots that are all juiced up with healing properties!  This year, we have had a record-breaking harvest of wild herbs.  Burdock, dandelion, yellow dock, gravel root…all of them are giving up the most gorgeous roots ever, and they are doing it in a big way!

Root digging isn’t for everyone.  In fact, you really gotta want some of them bad.  Proper identification can often take an entire year of growth in order to see the entire life cycle of the plant before identification can be verified.  Some of them have taproots so long you feel like you’re digging your way through to China ~ unless you live in China.  Then you might feel like you are digging your way through to the United States…? Either way, its a lot of digging!

So, I wanted to make it a bit easier for those of you who are feeling froggy with all this nice weather.

One of my new favorite herbs is Rumex Crispus, aka Yellow Dock or Curly Dock.  I had heard of it before, of course, but it has never been an herb that I use on a regular basis.  Imagine…I’ve been walking on it for years and never knew what it was!  A friend of ours was out here one day and came into the house carrying a beautiful leaf that he handed to me.

“You ever have this?”  he asks me.

I look at the leaf and say, “Nope.  What is it?”

“Sour dock,”  he replies.  “My grandma used to eat it all the time!”

Of course, I have to taste it.  The name is fitting.  The dark green leaves spotted with purple have the texture of spinach and just the tiniest hint of sour when it hits the back of your tongue.

“Oh, that’s good!  Where’d  you find it?”  I ask.

“In your yard,”  he answers.

“Oh.”

He takes me outside.  Right out the front door, there it is.  Huge patches of it speckle my yard, my garden and my pasture.  I’ve walked past it a gazillion times and admired its beautiful color.  I couldn’t believe all the salads I’d missed out on!  And, a new obsession was born.  I went to work learning everything I could about it.

This is Rumex Crispus:

In the Spring and Summer season, the leaves are a shiny, deep green.  As the weather cools down and all those healing properties are draining back down into the roots, the leaves start turning stunning shades of burgundy and purple. No matter what color they are, they make a delicious addition to salads and stir-fry, though. Once the weather warms up they tend to get slightly bitter, but I sorta like the added bitterness in moderation. I’ve added the leaves to garden salads, fried potatoes, pasta salad, rice, stuffed zucchinni, black beans, and I’ve even eaten it all by itself with a dash of Bragg amino acids and lemon juice.  I read somewhere that you should wash the young leaves or it can irritate your tongue.  I’m really hoping that anything you eat of your yard gets washed first anyway, but I figured I oughtta add that…just in case…  The leaves also contain significant amounts of Vitamins A & C, beta carotene, protein, iron, potassium, calcium and phosphorous.  More than spinach.  Bonus…if you happen to find yourself stung by a patch of stinging nettles, rub some crushed yellow dock leaves on the welts to help ease the sting and itch.

The stalks are edible too, though I can’t speak for their flavor.  I think I’ll be trying those come spring.  It seems that you simply peel them and eat them raw, or you can boil them to soften them up. The seeds can be gathered and ground up into a flour-like powder that supposedly has a flavor similar to buckwheat.  Not really one of my favorite foods, but the process sounds interesting, so maybe I’ll give that a shot next year, too…?

The root is incredibly impressive!  This is one of the roots we got this year:

Yellow Dock Root

Its kinda hard to tell, but under all those little straggler roots like the one in my hand, there is a monstrous chunk of root that is easily the size of a sweet potato!  The root contains potassium, magnesium and loads of iron, which makes it valuable for treating anemia and other iron-deficiency related illnesses. It is also a powerful blood cleanser and liver detoxifier, and a mild but effective laxative. It is a tonic herb, which means that it helps to strengthen and tone the entire body. The root is also good for treating skin disorders of all types.

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Life on the farm is always a learning experience.  It has been especially so for me in my capacity as an Herbalist.  Every foray into the yard has the potential to reveal a new medicinal plant that I didn’t realize was there.  My computer is stuffed full of photos taken with the hope of identifying some new treasure.

Therein lies the frustration also.  There are some plants that I stumble across and think, “I know that is something, but I just can’t quite remember what it is…”.  There are some plants that I stumble across and think, That should be something,” but it turns out to be nothing more than an interesting weed that has no medicinal value, but it has abundant aesthetic appeal.  Either way, I usually end up digging a piece of it up to bring home and plant in my ‘special place’.

So, it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the only one having this problem.  Therefore, I am going to make a great effort to share with you, my loyal, devoted readers, my finds.  Hopefully, I can save you a few hours of frustration when you are attempting to identify plants for yourself.

To keep things interesting, I am also going to post pictures of the things that I cannot positively identify.  Be the first one to identify it and you will win a special gift, so make sure you leave me a link to your e-mail.  If I can’t contact you, I can’t send you your gift!

Plantain

This is narrow leaf plantain, or plantago minor.  It grows like crazy year round, in just about any soil, and under almost all conditions.  If left alone, eventually it will grow to be quite large, the leaves often reaching a length of more than 1′ tall.  I have transplanted this herb successfully, but it seems to self-seed quite readily if allowed.

There are two types of common plantain, and both of them have the same medicinal benefits and grow under the same circumstances.  You can find a great picture of broad-leaf plantain, or plantago major here.

Plantain is an awesome herb and Mother Nature certainly had a plan in mind when she created this one.  It is incredibly handy to have nearby during the summer months when stinging or biting insects are everywhere.  A single chewed leaf placed on the affected area can provide nearly instant relief to the pain, itching and inflammation that accompany those summer insects.  Got a cut?  The same treatment helps.

There is more to it than that, though.  The leaves of this little fella contain tannins, which are astringent.  This means that it is able to draw tissues together, be it internally or externally.  This can help stop bleeding, as well as speed healing.

  • Plantain is a natural source of potassium and calcium.
  • It is a diuretic that can help with the kidneys, liver, spleen and bladder by flushing out impurities that contribute to infections in the urinary tract.
  • It is helpful in any type of female complaints.
  • It may help control cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • It is a very mild laxative.
  • It soothes the mucus membranes and helps loosen and expel phlegm from the lungs and respiratory system.
  • It soothes the stomach and helps ease indigestion and heartburn, as well as any other  inflammation or irritation of the intestinal tract. It is believed to help absorb toxins in the bowels, allowing them to be released from the body.
  • It contains salicylic acid, which is the predecessor of synthetically-made aspirin, which accounts for its effectiveness at relieving all types of pain.

Plantain is a great field first-aid herb.  Ever been strolling through the grass barefoot and stepped on a bee?  A piece of broken glass?  A stick?  Pick a couple of leaves, chew them up really good and cover the sting or wound.  This will help stop pain and bleeding, reduce swelling, slow the spread of poison, and protect the wound until you can obtain proper medical treatment.

Because plantain grows in all but the very coldest of weather here in Missouri there is little need to harvest and dry it, and it is much more effective when gathered fresh.  However, the years that I haven’t dried any, I’ve inevitably found myself in need of it during the cold snow and ice of February.  I have found the best way to dry it is on the lowest setting of my dehydrator, as it is prone to mildew if not dried quickly.  Ideally, it should be dried in a single layer, maintaining a temperature of 85-95 F in a dark place that gets plenty of air circulation.  When it is crisp but not crumbly, it can be stored in a paper sack or a glass jar.

Like most herbs, this one can double as a filler in your salad, too.  A few leaves chopped up and added to your plate of greens will add just a hint of bitterness that will help stir up those digestive juices and give a little kick to your taste buds, too!

Red Clover

Everyone knows what red clover looks like, so you probably didn’t really come looking for a description. Here’s a quick one, anyway…

Soft, spiky balls grow on long stems.  Beautiful leaves of variegated green (like in the picture above), or dark green with a pale green arrow-shaped marking like this:

It grows everywhere around here…along roadsides, in fields and pastures, in lawns and gardens.  Rocky soil, sandy soil, clay soil, perfect soil.  It really isn’t picky.  It puts off two crops a year ~ once in early/mid spring, and again in mid/late fall.

It’s incredibly easy to harvest, also.  When you see a patch, pluck the pretty little flower and dry it in a single layer in a warm (85-95 F) well-ventilated area.  Many of the dried blooms will retain some of their color.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get on with the real reason I wanted to post this herb.  Like plantain, it’s a medicinal powerhouse.  So much so, in fact, that even the government and big pharma have had to acknowledge it as medicinally viable, even if they do so only grudgingly.

Numerous studies have shown red clover to be exceptionally helpful in treating many forms of cancer.

Used internally or externally, this is a valuable herb to have on hand for just about any ailment.

  • Purifies the blood
  • Cleanses the liver
  • Improves circulation and cardiovascular health by increasing the amount of high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, in the bloodstream.
  • Encourages bone growth, slows bone loss and boosts bone density
  • Adds strength and flexibility to arteries
  • One of the premium sources of phytoestrogens which help increase the levels of estrogen in our bodies, thereby reducing menopausal symptoms
  • Contains vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, niacin, potassium, and Vitamin C.

For those of you who have never wandered through the feel and picked a clover blossom to chew on, you are totally missing out.  The blooms are sweet and somewhat moist, making them perfect for adding to spring or fall salads, especially if you are looking for a vitamin and mineral boost that doesn’t come in the form of a pill!

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Vitamin B12

Folic acid interacts with vitamin B12 for the synthesis of DNA, which is necessary for all of the cells in the body, as well as for the breakdown of proteins and the formation of hemoglobin, a compound found in red blood cells that transports oxygen and carbon dioxide. Folic acid is important for the production and maintenance of new cells, especially during both pregnancy and infancy when cell growth is extremely rapid. Adults and children need folic acid to make normal red blood cells and to prevent anemia. Having enough folic acid in early pregnancy can prevent birth defects, including problems with the spine (neural tube defects) and brain.

The human body stores several years’ worth of vitamin B12, so nutritional deficiency of this vitamin is extremely rare. Deficiencies are found mainly in alcoholics, the malnourished, the poor and the elderly. Strict vegetarians or vegans who are not taking in proper amounts of B12 are also prone to a deficiency state. Deficiency can cause diarrhea, anemia, loss of appetite, weight loss, sore tongue and a may cause birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly in a developing fetus, numbness and tingling of the arms and legs, difficulty walking, memory loss, disorientation, and dementia with or without mood changes.

No toxic or adverse effects have been associated with large intakes of vitamin B12 from food or supplements in healthy people.

B12 is not generally present in plant products or yeast. Generally, the following foods are the best source of B12:

fish shellfish meat dairy products fortified cereals and grain products

dry beans and peas               liver                mushrooms              leafy greens such as spinach and turnip greens

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

Vitamin C is required for the synthesis of collagen, an important structural component of blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, and bone. Vitamin C is essential for the healing of wounds, and for the repair and maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth. It also has an important role in the synthesis of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are critical to brain function and are known to affect mood.  It is also necessary for converting fat to energy. Vitamin C is a highly effective antioxidant that may be able to regenerate other antioxidants like Vitamin E. Vitamin C deficiency is also known as scurvy, a potentially fatal disease whose symptoms include bleeding and bruising easily, hair and tooth loss, joint pain and swelling.

Other possible problems resulting from vitamin C deficiency are heart disease, stroke, cancer and cataracts.In tests, vitamin C has resulted in improved dilation of blood vessels in individuals with atherosclerosis, angina pectoris, congestive heart failure, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Studies in the 1970’s and 1980’s conducted by Linus Pauling and colleagues suggested that 10 grams a day, taken intravenously for 10 days followed by at least 10 grams a day taken orally indefinitely, were helpful in increasing the survival time and improving the quality of life of terminal cancer patients.Vitamin C deficiency can cause dry hair that splits easily, gingivitis, gum disease, easy bruising, nosebleeds, swollen joints, anemia, lowered immune function, slowed metabolism. Unlike most mammals, the human body does not manufacture or store vitamin C on its own, so it is important to include plenty of vitamin C-containing foods in your daily diet.

This means that vitamin C toxicity is very rare, but taken in large doses, it may cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Imagine if you ate 6 oranges a day. It can get messy!

The following foods are the best source of Vitamin C:

green & red peppers                    citrus fruits and juices                strawberries             tomatoes            broccoli         cantaloupe           turnip greens and other leafy greens              sweet and white potatoes              papaya            mango            watermelon                brussel sprouts                cauliflower           cabbage           winter squash               raspberries              blueberries             cranberries                   pineapples

Vitamin D (cholecalciferol)

Vitamin D is found in food, but also can be made in your body after exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. The liver and kidney help convert vitamin D to its active hormone form which helps to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. It aids in the absorption of calcium and helps form and maintain strong bones and promotes bone mineralization along with a number of other vitamins, minerals and hormones.

Without vitamin D bones can become thin, brittle, soft, or misshapen. Vitamin D prevents rickets in children, which results in skeletal deformities and osteomalacia in adults, which results in muscular weakness in addition to weak bones. As we age, the ability of skin to convert vitamin D to its active form decreases, and often the kidneys, which also convert vitamin D to its active form, don’t work as well.

Current research suggest that Vitamin D deficiencies are associated with at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, and more.

It is highly unlikely that you will consume too much vitamin D from the diet alone unless you regularly consume large amounts of cod liver oil. Usually it will occur when too many vitamin D supplements are consumed. Too much Vitamin D can cause nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, weakness, weight loss, raised blood levels of calcium which can cause mental status changes such as confusion, heart rhythm abnormalities and calcinosis.

The skin will produce approximately 20,000 IU vitamin D if 20–30 minutes is spent in the summer sun That is 100 times more than the recommendation of 200 IU per day. Often, though, many of us get no more sun exposure than the walk from the car to the front door. Here are some foods that will help keep your vitamin D levels where they should be:

Breakfast cereals cereal grain bars cod liver oil salmon mackerel Sardines

Milk                Pudding                   Liver                   beef                        Egg

Mini-quiche made with fresh eggs and milk, real cheese and loaded with spinach, tomatoes, portobello mushrooms.  This breakfast treat is packed with vitamins and nutrients!

Mini-quiche made with fresh eggs and milk, real cheese and loaded with spinach, tomatoes, portobello mushrooms. This breakfast treat is packed with vitamins and nutrients!

Vitamin E

The term vitamin E describes a family of 8 antioxidants, 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols. Alpha-tocopherol, whose main function in humans seems to be as an antioxidant, is the only form of vitamin E that is actively maintained in the human body; therefore, it is the form of vitamin E found in the largest quantities in blood and tissues. Vitamin E is also important in the formation of red blood cells and helps the body to use vitamin K.

Vitamin E deficiency is rare, but has been observed in individuals with severe malnutrition, genetic defects affecting the alpha-tocopherol transfer protein, and fat malabsorption syndromes. Severe vitamin E deficiency results mainly in neurological symptoms, including impaired balance and coordination, injury to the sensory nerves, muscle weakness, and damage to the retina of the eye. A deficiency is also linked to cardiovascular disease, cataracts, immune function, dementia and cancer.

In November, 2004, the American Heart Association stated that high amounts of vitamin E can be harmful. Taking 400 IU per day, or higher, may increase the risk of death.

Vitamin E is found in the following foods:

wheat germ             corn                 nuts                seeds                olives             leafy greens             asparagus              vegetable oils like corn, sunflower, soybean and cottonseed
Vitamin K

Vitamin K is known as the ‘clotting vitamin’, because without it blood would not clot. It is also known to help protect against osteoporosis and to help prevent oxidative cell damage. Additionally, vitamin K appears to be important for the formation of cartilage and dentine, part of teeth.

Vitamin K deficiency is very rare. It occurs when the body can’t properly absorb the vitamin from the intestinal tract. It can also occur after long-term treatment with antibiotics. Symptoms include excessive bruising and bleeding, digestive system problems and liver or gallbladder problems

As with all vitamins, the best source is in the foods we eat, but vitamin K is also made by the bacteria that line the gastrointestinal tract. Some foods that contain significant amounts of vitamin K are:

leafy green vegetables                    dairy products                 broccoli                  cabbage               cauliflower       spinach              cereals              soybeans                brussel sprouts                 green beans            asparagus               peas             carrots

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