Pickles Gone Wild: Wild Fermentation and the Good Bugs

wild picklesI’m excited to share this super simple wild pickles recipe with you! And I’ll say up front that although my recipe calls for green tomatoes, this formula works with cucumbers, peppers, cauliflower, and just about anything else you might be curious to try pickling. The fermentation time will vary based on what you’re pickling and whether or not you cut it up or pickle it whole, but start with this framework and you’ll have yourself some effervescently sour pickled veggies in no time. Eat a few bites at every meal to encourage healthy digestion.

What are Wild Pickles?

wild picklesWhat we’re making here is not the homemade version of what you can find in the grocery store aisles. These pickles are usually sterilized and, for lack of a better word, dead. While the internet is teeming with “refrigerator” pickle recipes that include vinegar as part of the pickling liquid, these are not true pickles in the purest sense of the word. True pickles are done with a wild ferment. They are a live food packed with living bacteria that do the souring instead of all that vinegar. And they’re awesome for your digestion and your wellbeing.

How do the bacteria get into the jar?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Bacteria are in the empty jar in your cabinet right now. And they’re on the cucumbers growing in your garden. and they’re on the dill weed, the jalapeno, in your spice  rack … you get the point. Give the bacteria that live among us the proper environment to turn something good into something great, and they’ll be up for the task. All you need is some salt water, something to pickle, and some spices to make them delicious, and let the wild bacteria do the rest!

What’s the Difference? Why Wild?

On Tuesday in part 1 of my Why Gut Health Matters series, we talked about your gut as your body’s Gate Keeper. We covered quite a bit in that post, but one of the things we touched on was the important role gut bacteria play in the integrity of the gut lining, and therefore our health in general. Ensuring that we have a healthy ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria in the gut is an integral step toward having a healthy gut lining and preventing leaky gut.  

Before we go further though, a little vocabulary speed round is in order.

All of these words refer to the microscopic bugs that live in your intestinal tract, primarily in the colon. I’ll use them interchangeably for the most part:

  • gut bacteria
  • microbiota
  • probiotic (refers to the good ones only)
  • microbiome (refers to the whole ecosystem)

So what else do probiotics do?

  1. Probiotics play a vital role in strengthening our immune system. In fact, anywhere from 65 to 90% of our immune system lives in our gut in the form of epithelial cells (villi), which are fed by … drumroll please … probiotics. These bugs keep us well!
  2. Probiotics protect us from harmful bacteria. They take up space in our bowel that might otherwise be filled with harmful bacteria, which cause disease, create gas and bloating, promote inflammation, make us crave sugar and junk food, and can even negatively affect our mood, resilience, and cognition. They also release substances (including lactic acid) that inhibit the growth of the bad guys, preventing them from taking over and wreaking havoc on our health. 
  3. Probiotics produce bioavailable vitamins from the foods we eat. Without beneficial bacteria in our gut, we would have no access to the B Complex (biotin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folic acid, and B12). We would also be deficient in vitamin K, because the bugs down there actually synthesize it from our food.
  4. Probiotics reduce cortisol, (a stress hormone) and increase GABA (a relaxing chemical), therefore positively affecting mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and reducing stress. Reducing cortisol also improves insulin sensitivity, which is beneficial for folks at risk of developing type 2 diabetes or other metabolic disorders.

Let’s get to the Pickles

wild picklesThe instructions included in this recipe are for the green cherry tomatoes I pulled from my garden when the weather was cooling down but the vines were still full. They were very fresh when they were pickled. 

I recognize that green cherry tomatoes might not be the easiest thing to find on a whim, so if you make your pickles using larger tomatoes or cucumbers and you plan to slice them up, make sure they’re SUPER FRESH, and start checking them after 24 hours. One tip I’ve read but haven’t tried is to give your cucumbers an ice water bath before starting the process. Leave them in ice water for an hour or so before getting them into the jars to freshen them up and ensure crisp and crunch in the final product. (Adding grape or blackberry leaves will do that too, but why not do both just to make sure? Who wants a mushy pickle? No one.)

If you plan to keep your cucumbers, green tomatoes, or peppers whole, wait to check them until day 6 or 7. It takes the whole veggies a while longer to pickle all the way through than the slices. I’ve seen some recipes recommend that you leave whole pickles to ferment for up to two weeks; but again — check them. No one wants a mushy pickle.  In the meantime, check out this cool video on how to chop a bunch of cherry tomatoes super quickly!

 

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Wild Pickled Green Tomatoes
This recipe works with all sorts of veggies, so be creative!
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Ingredients
  1. One 1500 mL (6 cup) jar
  2. 2 lbs green cherry tomatoes, chopped in half
  3. 2 tbs sea salt
  4. 4 cups water
  5. 1 jalapeno (I used 1/2 the seeds, but how spicy is up to you)
  6. 10 sprigs fresh dill
  7. 5 cloves garlic sliced in half
  8. 1 tbs black pepper corns
  9. 1/2 tbs whole coriander seeds
  10. 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  11. 1 tbs mustard seeds
  12. OPTIONAL: grape leaves or blackberry leaves (this ingredient is as source of tannins, which is intended to promote crispness -- more useful when pickling cucumbers)
Instructions
  1. Slice the green tomatoes in half (for full-sized tomatoes, quarter them instead of halving them)
  2. Pack the jar tightly with all the tomatoes leaving at least two inches of space at the top of the jar
  3. Add all other ingredients on top of tomatoes
  4. Dissolve salt in 2 cups warm water in a separate container
  5. Pour salt water over all ingredients into the jar
  6. Fill the jar with the remaining 4 cups of water leaving no less than 1 inch at the top for gas and ensuring that the veggies are completely submerged in the liquid -- this is important. If you need to put something heavy on top to weigh down the veggies waiting to be pickled, do it.
  7. Seal tightly and leave on the counter at room temperature for 3 to 5 days (check at 24 hours for sliced cucumbers)
  8. You want the tomatoes to be firm but pickled all the way through (not mushy). When they are to your liking, refrigerate them and they will keep indefinitely
Notes
  1. BE CAREFUL when you open the jar for the first time. Gas can build up and create some effervescence as the bacteria do their thing.
Cultivated Wellbeing http://cultivatedwellbeing.com/

Your Single Most Important Health Advice – Heal Your Gut

Editor’s Note: For a full series dedicated to gut health entitled “Why Gut Health Matters,” click here.


Recently I was asked a tricky question:

“If you had one single piece of health advice to share for living a healthy lifestyle, what would it be?”

This is a tricky question for a number of reasons, the first and most obvious one being that every individual is different and everyone needs their own tailored solution for achieving a healthy lifestyle. Yes, that’s true, but that doesn’t mean this question can’t be answered.

I see a question like this one as a personal challenge; how far can I zoom out to accurately answer a question like this one and truly address nearly every single health concern that plagues modern man? Is that even possible? I’d venture to say that yes, it’s possible.

The single most important piece of advice for healthy living is to HEAL YOUR GUT.

gut health healthy gut heat adviceHeal your gut and the rest will follow.

That’s the advice. It’s that simple. You might be thinking that we’re right back where we started, that ways to “heal your gut” are as varied as the individual, or that surely there are tons of diseases that have nothing to do with gut health.

You might be mistaken.

If the gut isn’t working properly, nothing is working properly.

Vitality starts in the gut where we assimilate input from the outside world into resources for inside our bodies. Gut health is crucial for the health of every other system in our bodies. It affects our skin, our immune response, our hormones, our weight, or energy level, our bowel movements (obviously), even our MOOD and PERSONALITY. That’s right, there are studies taking place now that attempt to isolate certain bacteria in the gut responsible for depression and anxiety. That level of detail hasn’t been worked out in the lab yet, but rest assured that altering the human biosphere to address any number of mental health problems is in the not-too-distant future. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself.

5 Facts About Gut Health that Might Surprise You

1. The microbiome in the gut comprises more than 60% of our immune function (some say as much as 75%)?

We have more cells of bacteria in our bodies, and especially in our gut, than we do human cells. 10 times more, in fact. Certain bacteria in our gut represent the body’s ability to fight off invaders, and they actually communicate with those neurons I just mentioned above. When the right bacteria are overtaken by the wrong ones, we start to see both acute and chronic malfunction in our bodies, often accompanied by inflammation and pain.

A healthy gut means a healthy immune system.

2. 95% of serotonin is found in the Enteric Nervous System.

It makes sense that medications aimed at addressing depression through SRIs (serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) would disrupt bowel function, considering that so much of it resides in the bowel. Surely it would follow that ensuring the healthy functioning of our second brains would some day enter the scope of practice in mental health care. That day could come very soon indeed!

A healthy gut means a healthy mood.

gut health leaky gut

3. Gut permeability (aka “leaky gut”) is the culprit for a large number of autoimmune diseases and possibly allergies too.

In fact, leaky gut is arguably to blame for the sharp rise of food allergies (gluten, corn, dairy, soy to name the most common).

Debunking PCOS

click my image to learn how I finally cleared my skin!

If your intestinal lining is compromised, you could suffer from something called gut permeability. In layman’s terms, what should stay inside your intestines leaks out into the rest of your body through tiny holes that shouldn’t really be there. The partially digested food that leaks into the gut is seen by the body as a foreign invader, so an immune response occurs– an allergy. 

The causes of gut permeability definitely vary from person to person, but a major factor is inflammation. Inflammation can occur for a number of reasons and is actually implicated in the chronic diseases of the western world – heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. Inflammation in the gut can occur due to over-consumption of inflammatory foods, gut dysbiosis (too much of the wrong kinds of bacteria wreaking havoc in the gut), and too much sugar in the diet (can be a cause of gut dysbiosis). That’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a good start.

A healthy gut means less allergies and inflammation (often resulting in healthy skin).

4. The gut is often called our “second brain” due to the more than 500 million neurons that reside in the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).

In fact, communication between the gut and the brain is a two-way street, with information going from gut to brain far more often than we ever thought was the case in the past. The term “gut feeling” is a lot less metaphorical and a lot more literal than you might think.

A healthy gut means proper communication between the systems of the body.

gut health leaky gut

5. The bacteria in your gut might determine your cravings AND your ability to gain/lose weight.

Scientific studies are being done to test this hypothesis, and very interesting findings are coming about. We’re learning so much about the communication between the bacteria in our gut and our brains, and while major conclusions haven’t yet been drawn as it relates to common medical practice, this field of research could revolutionize the way we address obesity in medicine.

“…the capacity of bacteria to adapt is such that if it is to their advantage to influence their host preferences for food, they will.” (source)

It’s been shown that “bad” bacteria such as candida thrive on sugar and foods that quickly turn to sugar. When there’s an overgrowth of candida, the bacteria actually cause you to crave those foods that they like to eat! Likewise, when you have “good” bacteria at healthy levels in your gut, you’re more likely to crave a diet that they want to eat – one rich in fiber.

Studies have also shown that when certain bacteria are placed into the intestines of mice, and the mice are fed the same exact diet, those implanted with “bad” bacteria gained weight and those implanted with “good” bacteria lost or stayed the same.

A healthy gut means a healthy weight.

Heal Your Gut, Change Your Life

You might be surprised at some of the easy changes you can make to start improving your gut health today. Of the listed suggestions, for me personally eliminating sugar is by far the most challenging to stick with consistently. It might be a different story for you, but considering how much sugar we as a country consume every day, I’m guessing we might have this in common.

If you truly want to see positive results in your health, this is one of the only times I suggest going cold turkey.

If you completely eliminate sugar for at least 2 weeks, it will have a synergistic effect with the rest of the suggestions on this list. If you do all the things below but remain on a high-sugar diet, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Sugar is a highly inflammatory food. After your two weeks of cold turkey, test the waters with fresh berries or a small amount of dark chocolate, but pull back for another week or so of you see negative side-effects.

5 Ways to Heal Your Gut:

  1. Eliminate sugar from your diet for two weeks to a month (depending on the severity of your problem) and then slowly reincorporate natural sugars only and very sparingly.
  2. Take a probiotic and eat foods rich in live cultures (kim chee, kefir, sauer kraut, yogurt, kombucha).
  3. Heal the gut lining and reduce/eliminate permeability by drinking bone broth and/or supplementing with l-glutamine.
  4. Eat foods that support the propagation a healthy gut biome – fiber-rich foods that represent every color of the rainbow.
  5. Explore the possibility of food sensitivities through an elimination diet (start with the ones I listed above). By identifying trigger foods, you can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. Once your gut is healed, you can attempt to reintroduce the trigger foods watching closely to see if any old symptoms return.

Want to buy pre-made bone broth to jump-start your way to a healthy gut? Check out my very favorite product! 

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