I've been asked to do a plant survey in some ancient woodland managed by the National Trust, so yesterday afternoon Dave and I set off with a camera, a notebook and a pencil to see what we could find. I'd forgotten both my loupe and my Francis Rose bible (a wildflower book), so that was a good start.
We were working in a stretch of ancient woodland that is about to be brought back in to coppice rotation, so our task was to record all the plant species we could find, before they start coppicing. I'll return in the Spring and make a new list- the comparison between the two will indicate trends in woodland flora and how they are affected by coppice management. It's an ongoing survey which I will do for each season until we've built up sufficient data to be able to observe trends. I worry that I am sounding increasingly like a scientist, or possibly even someone who knows what they are talking about.
Should be interesting anyway.
We noted over thirty different plant species, including a couple of ancient woodland indicators. My expectation is that, once the canopy is open and sunlight can come in, we'll find more of them in the Spring. Bluebells and primrose spring to mind, but there should also be wood anemones and possibly violets.
This particular woodland also has dormice boxes in it, and an on going survey is hoping to establish their presence in the wood. So far, no luck, which is odd because the habitat is right. I wonder whether they are there, they just don't like the nest boxes.
While we were searching the ground we heard the distinctive high-pitched call of the Goldcrest, Europe's smallest bird (bet you thought it was the Wren, didn't you?). I have an app on my phone that allows you to play birdsong, so we switched it on and waited to see what would happen. Sure enough. two tiny wee birds soon flitted down out of the canopy and sat listening to my recorded call. They seemed very intrigued by us and spent a good fifteen minutes zooming busily about through the branches near our heads, replying to my recorded call. I wonder what they were saying? Fantastic little things. I had also forgotten my camera (sacrilege) so this pic is off the net...
On a different subject, I'm wondering how many of you have heard of Lectins? Lectins are carbohydrate binding proteins that are found in most foods, but are present in especially high levels in grains (wheat, rice, corn etc), dairy products, pulses, beans, legumes, foods from the nightshade family (peppers, tomatoes, potatoes), and certain fruits and vegetables. They cause agglutinisation (clumping) of red blood cells and are implicated in many digestive tract disorders because they damage the gut wall and contribute to leaky gut syndrome. There is also an increasing body of evidence that suggests they are implicated in auto-immune conditions, inflammatory conditions and nervous-system conditions.
My digestion has been dicky for years but it's got a lot worse over the past three or four. Doctors scratch their heads and prescribe antacids or acid suppressants (which, being a holistic person I won't take) and dieticians offer low fibre solutions. I thought I'd cracked it this year by cutting out all dairy except cheese early in the year and by stopping drinking white wine (acidic) and generally eating earlier before bed. It has been better for weeks, but a couple of months ago it went hay-wire again and it's not been good since.
Running helps, so I try to do that every other day, but it's not the whole answer.
I stumbled across lectins a couple of years ago. I get a lot of people coming to see me for treatment with digestive problems so I tend to read around subjects and try and keep up with the latest research. Lectins are not well understood- my GP and the last clinical dietician I saw knew nothing about them - but the essence of them is that they are indigestible and are probably present in plants to act as a toxin to warn wild things not to over consume that particular plant.
They would have been present in the kind of diet that was eaten by our Paleolithic (Stone Age) ancestors, but only in very small amounts. Today we consume them by the bucket load. The reason why a Stone Age diet is being increasingly recommended for health is because in evolutionary terms it's the merest blink of eye since we were foraging for food, eating meat, seasonal nuts, seeds, berries and green leaves and little else, as well as not mixing food types (ie eating protein on its own, fruit on its own etc) and our digestive systems simply haven't had sufficient time to evolve to cope with the modern diet.
I looked up symptoms of lectin intolerance....
Bloating, nausea, pain, flatulence, excessive burping and gas, vomiting, discomfort after eating, headaches, joint pain, upper respiratory tract infections, excess or too little mucous, auto-immune conditions such as coeliac disease, inflammatory responses, excess or continued tiredness, flu like symptoms, changes to bowel habit, stabbing pains, sinusitis, sore throat, distended abdomen, insomnia, depression, mood swings, irritability.
Hmm. Well I get quite a few of those when my gut's playing up and I am convinced food is the source of my problems. Working as a holistic practitioner for the last seventeen years has taught me that no one answer is going to fit everyone. There will be food I can tolerate that you can't and vice versa. So, what I'm doing is making a list of high and low lectin foods and I am shifting my diet to accommodate them. I will trial some foods and be open minded about them, because it may be that I can tolerate cheese for example but no other types of dairy. It may also be that I can eat small quantities of one type of food but not large ones.
For anything like this to be effective you need to follow it for a minimum of eight weeks and probably more like twelve. That takes us up to Christmas. I'm not sure at this stage whether I need to cut out all types of wheat or will be OK just eating it once a day, but I am cutting out all other grains, beans and legumes, nightshade family foods, dairy products and certain vegetables, as well as white wine, spirits, crisps, cakes, biscuits and chocolate. I already only drink water so giving up tea and coffee is not a problem for me. It leaves me with a pretty clean-looking diet that takes in meat, fish, sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, watercress, courgette, beetroot, cauliflower, berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries), bananas, nut milks, coconut water, red wine (in moderation) and seafood. After the twelve weeks are up I may start to reintroduce specific foods one by one and note down any responses. This all depends on whether any of this has an affect.
I have to say that even after a day of shifting my eating habits onto these foods I am not feeling as uncomfortable as I have been.
I'll report back as I go along with this because I'm quite sure there will be a number of you reading who also suffer from poorly tummies and would like to be free of the pain and discomfort they cause. A sick stomach can really rule your life.
I shall be your guinea pig! And if any of you have any thoughts or experiences you think might be useful to add to this please let me know via the comments- I'd be really interested in hearing your tales.
Here are some links that explain lectins and the paleo (stone age) diet theories in more detail. They also provide a list of foods and dietary approaches that are low in lectin, and the last one looks at food combining, which I am also interested in because it links back to the way our ancestors would have eaten and relates to theories of evolutionary biology.