I have a confession to make. While as paleoveganista I photograph and write about every new recipe I make that has garnered favorable results among family and friends (and sometimes just me) I have a set of standards and ethics to adhere to when sharing or promoting these recipes. Granted, I do taste things periodically and therefore never completely fail with a recipe that I see headed south…I invent things as I go and when I sense disaster I try as hard as I can to steer it in a better (edible) direction. The predominant reason for this = I can’t afford (financially or morally/ethically) for the labor that a) went into the cultivation/transportation/manufacture of the food in question, or b) for the labor that earned the money I spend to buy or grow it, and c) I have a complex about food waste, ever since I started working at Whole Foods in 2006 and pursued a 9-year course of self-study in raw foods, alternative medicine, permaculture, supply and demand/where our food comes from and its economic implications, and then its anthropological implications (which I should write a book about, if I could tone down the conceptual frameworks and years of research to appeal to a mainstream audience) so in short; I hate myself for days if a recipe ever goes wrong and I can’t redeem it. For this reason the depression and/or self loathing that I experience when I create something inedible, and the anxiety I sometimes face in taking risks—like in the case of baked goods, veg/gf/paleo pancakes or burgers…when if you add certain spices or over-salt or over-stevia if you can’t go back i.e. You ruin it—can result in weeks without any new recipes and/or “safe” recipes you’ve made 100 times before. The “high” that comes from researching old cookbooks to pursue a new take on a vintage recipe, or from creating something entirely new—it can take weeks before I work up the courage to try again. The thing is, I’ve never received anything other than very positive feedback or constructive criticism regarding my ideas or recipes, or my writing in general as paleoveganista, and even the occasional aggressive naysayer never gets me down; to the contrary, they motivate me to continue this and “stick to my guns”.
So, what’s my big secret? I use the ever-controversial senna leaf, and not just to make tea or tinctures. I also cook with it sometimes, ever since my long-undiagnosed dislocated shoulder resulted in lymph edema. I won’t take prescription or over-the-counter diuretics, and prior to this condition I occasionally took something sold in Chinatown and/or bodegas called dieter’s tea, cleanse tea, or ballerina tea. When I went to college and there was no Chinatown or bodega within 200 miles, I realized that the main ingredient (senna leaf) is sold in most co-ops and natural foods stores. Ever since then I have made my own infusions and tinctures with it and other herbs, and when used correctly it (senna) has none of the toxic effects that the mainstream media has reported this decade. Of course, if you chase it with a cup of coffee or other stimulant you might experience significant cramping and other symptoms. If you drink coffee throughout the morning and then drink senna leaf as a tea in the evening, those two substances shouldn’t interact in a way that would bring upon said symptoms. It should act merely as a mild diuretic—one that might cause you to need to get up to urinate in the middle of the night, but in my case it works as a natural alarm clock; also depending on my water intake the night before. Another thing about senna: it adds flavor to food. If not for its stigma, it would be sold in supermarkets alongside cumin and turmeric. Before all of the stigma that spurned from the tragedy and media spectacle of a few kids who used it improperly and/or along with an overdose of caffeine or something more hardcore… For centuries senna has been mentioned as an ingredient in food and also as a calmative. Only later came the contemporary documents/literature listing it as a diuretic in The West. I looked far and wide to find proof of this, and in some antiquated texts the writing involves so much xenophobic, anti-feminist, and otherwise intolerant and ignorant writing that I would rather not provide links. *if you are mature enough to handle the other content, please email me or comment to receive access. I don’t want anyone to misinterpret my ability to see it *in this context* as in agreement with the sentiments indicated in these books.
Apart from these texts, here are some available scientific texts regarding senna leaf:
Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health. 2006 mar;37(2):388-93. Barakol contents in fresh and cooked senna siamea leaves. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17125004.
Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health. 2009 jul;40(4):835-9. Laxative anthraquinone contents in fresh and cooked senna siamea leaves. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19842421.
College of Life Sciences, South China Normal University. http://sennaleaves.in/recent studies on senna.html.
Department of Pharmacognosy, Faculty of Pharmacy, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand. The Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health (impact factor: 0.55). 04/2006; 37(2):388-93. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/6673230_barakol_contents_in_fresh_and_cooked_senna_siamea_leaves
In parts of Southeast Asia and regions of Africa, senna is used in cooking as a spice/herb and not necessarily as a diuretic or stimulant. In restuarants that serve these types of cuisine, senna is not used—due to its stigma and concern about it among the general population in the states. Here is my newest recipe using senna leaf:
Chickpeas in Broth with Senna & Kale
Makes 3-4 servings
1 cup dried chickpeas (cans are for the weak, unless you have no alternative) 3-4 phrik kii noo aka red thai chiles 1 tbsp dried senna leaf 1/2 medium onion, chopped 2 cups finely chopped kale leaves 1 hibiscus flower 1 tbsp fresh minced or dried granulated garlic 1 bay leaf salt to taste.
Soak chickpeas with senna overnight or for 6 hours. Sauté onions in a covered soup pot, dutch oven, pressure-cooker, or crock-pot (slow cooker) using the dry-sautee or oil-free method that I will explain later, should you have yet to hear of it. Add chickpeas with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, and add garlic + chiles. Lightly salt the water. Cover over low-medium heat for 20-30 minutes or until chickpeas are tender. Serve as a soup *be sure to let any other participants in this meal know that the broth contains senna. **amount of senna contained in soup broth per serving does not exceed that of a single tea bag sold as cleanse tea at natural food shops. ***in general, this soup will help alleviate mild bloating. It should not result in any dehydration, and is much more mild in effect than any store-bought “detox” kit. ****the kale in itself possesses cleansing or “detox” properties, so this recipe should not activate an automatic detox (any more than eating several leaves of kale would).