Spices That Add More Than Just Flavor

(photo by Pratiksha Mohanty)

We typically only think of spices only in terms of flavor, what they can add to a dish concerning only our taste buds. But they're so much more than that! They've been used for ages not only to spice up a meal, but also as fundamental tools in medicine. Loaded with nutrients and health benefits, spices are such a powerful tool we have at our disposal, if we'll only utilize them. Try adding some of these into your diet and reap both the nutritional and palatable benefits:

Vibrant in color, turmeric is fantastic for fighting inflammation in the body, supporting liver function, and soothing joint pain in cases such as arthritis. Ever heard of golden milk? It's a delicious tea recipe that's been around for thousands of years, often used as a healing tonic. Try it for yourself! It's a delicious, sweet treat that's great right before bed. I also sprinkle a little turmeric on my eggs at breakfast!
Recipe to try: Turmeric Pancakes

Ginger has been used for medicinal purposes for as long as it's been around, being both anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal, great for blood pressure, and beneficial to digestion and nausea. I mean, who hasn't been sick with a stomach flu and had their mom rush out to the store to by a bottle of ginger ale? Ginger pairs great with sweets (think gingerbread and gingersnaps), but it can also add a lot to savory dishes.
Recipe to try: Homemade Ginger Ale

Metabolism booster and flavor powerhouse. Cayenne can clear up congestion and and has cancer-fighting properties. Now, personally, I'm a total wussy when it comes to spiciness, but if you can handle it, definitely consider adding some more cayenne into your diet.
Recipe to try: Watermelon Cayenne Juice

There ain't a tree bark that's tastier than cinnamon. Like the others, it's anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants. And cinnamon not only tastes great when paired with something sweet, but when consumed it also slows the absorption of glucose in the body, meaning less of a blood sugar spike.(This isn't exactly an excuse to gorge on Cinnabons, but you get the picture.)
And despite whichever kind you use (there's Cassia, the more common, cheaper version or Ceylon, known for being the "true cinnamon" that's higher quality and more expensive) the most important aspect is the freshness of the spice. Here's how to identify "real" cinnamon if you're curious, though.
Recipe to try: Paleo Cinnamon Rolls

Shoutout to all the spices that do so much more for us than just make a dish tastier!

xo Mel


How You Can Help Save the Bees

(photo by Eric Ward)

Not to be dramatic or anything, but there's a lot of Bumblebees and Honey bees dying out there. Like, a lot. The bee population has been on the decline since the 1940s, and in the United States alone, 44% of bee colonies were lost in 2016. (Here's an interactive map that shows their decline.)

Now if you're like me, you might say to yourself "wow, that's terrible." And you'd be right. These tiny pollinators are immensely important to ecological balance, but due to human interference, loss of habitat, and maybe even cell phones, they don't seem to be doing so well these days. But bees aren't only good for honey and beeswax. They're absolutely vital to our ecosystem. Without these little guys pollinating for us, you might wanna say goodbye to cherries, apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, squashes, mangos, avocados, cocoa, and countless other foods. And some crops like almonds are entirely dependent on bee pollination.
I feel as if we're an interesting and delicate position at the moment; the pendulum could very well swing to either side. So what can we do about it? How can we help out our bee friends? I've complied a list of 7 simple things you can do to help bees thrive:

1) Plant some flowers
Probably the easiest tip, simply planting flowers, shrubs, and trees help bees more than you'd think. Find out what types of flowers are native to your area, and focus on cultivating those. Here's an awesome site where you can put in your zip code, and get tons of information on which types of plants are best for the pollinators (bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, etc) in your area! The bees get some pollen, you get pretty flowers. Win, win.

2) Buy local honey
Instead of buying that squeeze bear, check out your local health food store for some honey that's been produced locally. Supporting your local beekeepers is a great way and tasty way to save the bees. Invest in ya local bee community. And if you can't find anything local (you really should be able to), check out my favorite brand of raw honey.

3) Go organic
Roundup isn't any better for a bumblebee's body than it is for yours and mine. It's all part of supporting the larger ecosystem. And buying organic food isn't just beneficial to your health. By buying organic, you're helping support clean produce that hasn't been grown with the use of herbicides and pesticides.

4) Make a bee hotel
A bee hotel is basically the birdhouse equivalent for bees. You probably seen them in someone's yard every now and then. You can purchase several different kinds online, or what I think is the more fun route, try making one yourself! (And if you really wanna go hardcore, consider starting beekeeping. This is an eventual goal of mine, but as of now I'm good with just eating raw honey.)

5) Learn to love weeds 
We're a society slightly fixated with perfection. We like our front lawns green, freshly cut, manicured to a tee, and not a dandelion in sight. But this meaningless obsession has taken its toll.
According to Wikipedia (great source, I know), a weed is "a plant considered undesirable in a particular situation, 'a plant in the wrong place'". But did we ever stop to think that these plants aren't in "the wrong place", but that we're the ones moving into their terroitory? Does that mean I think we should leave the land completely as it is, not attempting to touch or plant anything? Of course not, but if we're going to cultivate a home for honey bees to live in, we need to respect the ecosystem in which they thrive. And what we call weeds (dandelions, thistles, and clovers) are often an important part of a bee's diet.

6) Stop using pesticides 
I think we as humans definitely took a wrong turn when we, in our arrogance, started screwing around with a beautifully balanced and incredibly designed ecosystem. And pesticides are kind of a slap in the face to that system. We can't expect to vastly change the laws of nature without reaping the consequences. Not only are them harmful to our bodies and soil, but pesticides also weaken the immune systems of pollinators. Not cool.

7) Squash your fears, not the bees
Bees can be scary, especially if you have allergies. But like many other non-aggressive creatures such as snakes and spiders, fears of them are generally unfounded and typically the cause of bad personal experience or social conditioning. Being stung is painful and a generally-not-fun experience, but just because you've been stung by one doesn't mean bees are "bad", and they won't harm you when left alone. Learn to respect bees, their space, and all they do for us and our food. Bugs aren't our enemies.

But, as always, do what you can. Don't think any step you can take will be too small. Planting a pot of lavender on your balcony isn't any less meaningful than being a full-time beekeeper. Every bit helps. Change is change, no matter how small.

Thanks for reading!
xo Mel

(photo by Kelsey Krajewski)



2 Simple Ways to Whiten Your Teeth Naturally

(photo by Lesly Juarez)

We all want white teeth. Whether for vanity or otherwise, there ain't nothing wrong with wanting your pearly whites to be a bit more pearly. But we really shouldn't have to put strips of bleach in our mouths in order to achieve that. So here's two, super simply and safe ways to brighten your smile a bit. Both of these are super easy to do, and should yield results fairly quickly!

Try oil pulling
Oil pulling has roots in Ayurvedic medicine practices; it's a simple process where one swishes oil in the mouth in order to pull out toxins and rejuvenate oral health. And while I'm a little iffy on whether or not it does all it claims to, there's definitely evidence to suggest that oil pulling is beneficial for removing harmful bacteria from the mouth. And since coconut oil has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, so it's not hard to imagine why it's good for oral health. But not only will it benefit your teeth and gums, coconut oil whitens and brightens teeth as well.

How to oil pull:

1) Get yourself some oil. Cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil.
2) Do it first thing in the morning. Oil pulling is typically best done on an empty stomach, before eating or drinking anything.
3) Put 1-2 tablespoons of oil in your mouth. If you're a beginner, this might be a lot, so you might want to start with 1-2 teaspoons, and work your way up slowly.
4) Swish for 20 minutes. Just like you would mouthwash. Now, this might also seem like a long time, and you can start with just 5 minutes, working your way up. But I've found from personal experience, and from others, is that if you're doing something else while you oil pull, the time goes by really quickly. Check emails, do some dishes, scroll on Instagram. The time will fly.
5) Spit, rinse, brush. But be sure to spit it out in the trash, not the sink. Coconut oil solidifies at room temperature, so it's best not to put it down the drain. Then simply rinse your mouth with some water, brush as usual, and get on with your day! Your mouth will feel refreshed and clean.

Brush with activated charcoal 
Activated charcoal is something that's found a lot of popularity in recent years. But most of its praise is well deserved. Activated charcoal is simply a form of carbon that's very porous. And because of this, it's highly absorbent. That means it's great for things such as food poisoning, being that it binds to chemicals and toxins and carries them safely through the digestive tract, but that also means it can pull toxins and stains from your teeth.

Here's how to whiten your teeth with charcoal:

1) Get some activated charcoal. Of course I'm talking about food grade charcoal here, not the stuff you throw in your grill. You can find some blends that are made specifically for teeth whitening and include other ingredients like bentonite clay. But a simple powder will work just fine. I personally just use these activated charcoal pills, but I'll be honest, breaking open the capsules hasn't proved to be the cleanest task.
2) Don't wear white. Let's just say this process can get a little messy. You'll wanna stay in your bathroom while brushing, and try not to splatter it everywhere.
3) Brush!. Wet your toothbrush, dip in the charcoal, and brush carefully. You'll look like you've got a really bad case of scurvy, but I promise it'll all wash off.
4) Rinse well and clean up. You've probably made a bit of a mess in your bathroom sink. But that's okay, the charcoal should wipe up pretty easily.

If you want a visual, here's a video that shows how to do it!

Tip: You can combine these two methods by making a paste with both the activated charcoal and coconut oil. Simply brush with the mixture like you would with just the activated charcoal, spit and rinse. I've done this a couple times myself, and it does make the charcoal easier to work with. But I like to mix it up and make sure I swish with plain coconut oil every once in a while as well.

Now, neither of these are gonna be easy overnight fixes. If you got a hot date tomorrow night and are hoping to have white teeth before then, I don't have any answers for you. My apologies. But if you incorporate these practices into your daily or weekly routines, you should notice brighter teeth within no time! And your mouth will thank you.

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