How Does Hypnosis Actually Work?

In the autumn I re-started my hypnotherapy and psychotherapy training! For those of you who know me you’ll know that I love anything to do with the subconscious mind and dreams. I’ve been interested in both since I was a kid.

Though my interest in hypnotherapy really began when I became pregnant. It’s true that for some, hypnosis feels shrouded in mystery. So I thought, I need to blog about this to show just how helpful it can be.

What is hypnosis?

My favourite explanation of hypnosis so far is that it’s simply a guided meditation, it’s completely natural. We’ve all been in a hypnotic state thousands of times, though the majority of us haven’t had the tools to tap into its full potential. I practise meditation, yoga, lucid dreaming, mindfulness and reiki but have only just realised that these are all obvious ways of evoking the state of hypnosis.

Hypnosis isn’t when we are asleep; it’s an altered state of consciousness. It’s when the conscious mind is so relaxed, the subconscious mind becomes accessible. Everything we’ve learnt is stored in our subconscious and when in a state of hypnosis, it’s possible to tap into the goldmine of your subconscious to change patterns. The hypnotherapist is simply the guide. It’s the individual receiving hypnosis, who has the biggest impact on the degree of change they experience. Largely through the strength of their motivation and intent.

It’s then about using a series of techniques to tap into the individual’s highest potential. For hypnotherapy to work, it’s crucial that you’re relaxed. Hypnotherapy is about focusing your attention, to maximise your responsiveness to suggestion in order to manifest positive change, to help change patterns, behaviours and your psychological state.

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Pic: Taken in Autumn 2018 by Alex Cameron

How does it work?

Daydreaming is the first of the levels in a trance state. Beta is the waking state, where we are fully conscious, logical and make decisions whereas alpha is known as a creative state – full of imagination. Theta is a dream state and delta is where deep sleep occurs. Alpha and Theta are the states when we are the most susceptible to hypnosis, where behaviour modification will occur.

It seems Hypnosis is simply about being in a deep-enough state of relaxation to access the subconscious and affect positive change. In fact, most recently (just one week after our first hypnotherapy class back in October) I was asked to read my poetry to a room of famous poets. I’m petrified of public speaking by the way. More about this shortly!

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Pic: Taken by Alex Cameron

What do you experience?

When in the hypnosis state, both your conscious and subconscious mind usually enter into the alpha state, a relaxed dream-like state which allows these two parts to communicate. We don’t want one or both states to fall into an unconscious sleep but for the two to communicate.

It seems everyone is different in terms of what they experience during hypnosis. In terms of the psychological and physical aspects, sensations and overall experience. Some people are fully aware of everything going on, others feel sleepy yet still aware and others will do into a deep trance-like state, where they wake from the hypnosis with no recollection.

What about self-hypnosis?

More about my recent experiment before the poetry recital.

It was by chance that the following happened. As I drifted off asleep the afternoon before the recital, giving myself some reiki, I felt myself drift towards sleep but before I did, I inhabited a very relaxed space that was empty of thought, I’d almost go as far as to say I was in a deep trance. The reiki and my breathing brought me to this space. When there, I seized the opportunity and repeated: I am confident reading my poetry, I am comfortable in large groups. The following evening I was still anxious about it but when I came to read my poetry it was as though I was having an out of body experience. There was two of me – the anxious me stayed seated and a new me stood up and read aloud three poems steadily. I paused, added intonation and was animated. Everyone said how calm I seemed! Call it placebo, coincidence, beginners luck or effective self-hypnosis, but it worked.

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Pic: Artist – Dariah Lazatova

Hypnobirthing

 When I became pregnant I was petrified about the prospect of childbirth and hospitals. I took part in a hypnobirthing course and as a result, had the most incredible birth. I was able to ‘control’ my breathing, tap into helpful visualisations, switch off and fully relax into alpha mode for pretty much all of my labour.

The birth wasn’t painful, and incredibly, I actually look back on the birth as very happy and enjoyable. I had a sense of euphoria afterwards and my eyes were wide and bright as buttons in all the pictures! I’ve never been in such a relaxed state for such a long period of time – probably around 7 hours in total. I was totally focused and tuned into myself. It was one of my proudest moments. Since I’ve been reading the theory and explanations thus far. I’ve been thinking ‘yes, yes, yes’! That’s exactly what it is.

When I practised hypnobirthing, during the birth of my little girl, I felt very detached and removed from the situation, as though I was there but I’d left behind the worried me, and then there was the relaxed me, over in the birthing pool, just focused on my inner world, a soundless and calm place only filled with my visualisations and occasionally I’d dip into the ‘real world’ to request a sip of drink or a flannel. There was a sense of strangeness about it for sure.

Similarly, during the brief spell of self-hypnosis I did before my poetry recital, I would say I was withdrawn into self, had slowed breathing, loss of awareness of my surroundings, my eyes closed, felt a narrowing of attention. Unlike a ‘moderate trance’ I didn’t feel as though I had intensified imagery. I knew I was in the room but couldn’t hear, see or think anything, just felt deeply relaxed, warm and peaceful, there was a void for a few moments. It was very womb-like.

What happens if you stay in hypnosis?

Afterwards I was slightly curious about the hypnotic state and what would happen if you stayed there. Coincidentally I encountered information in one of the books I’m reading at the moment and that said if you entered hypnosis and were to remain in a trance – with no hypnotic suggestions or further guidance – you would either simply fall asleep then wake from a pleasant nap or return to full consciousness on your own.

How can hypnosis help?

Hypnosis can be used to produce anaesthesia in the body, which can help with dentist appointments for example. It’s great for anxiety, phobias, helping you to stop smoking, drinking, over-eating. It can improve sleep, reduce stress and control pain. It can even help control bleeding and the heart rate! So it seems that the hypnosis state, which seems very focused, can enable you to powerfully remove your attention (and your mind) from psychical pain, taking you to a calm, peaceful, pain-free space instead.

 

Have you had any experiences of hypnotherapy? What did you have it for? How did you feel during the session and has it helped you to change any unhelpful patterns?

 

Best Wellbeing Posts of 2018

UK Blog Awards: Wellbeing Long-List

A couple of weeks ago, I was so thrilled when the UK Blog Awards emailed to say that Roots and Toots had been long-listed for this year’s UK Blog Awards. I’ve been nominated for the ‘wellbeing category’, which is of course happy news after expanding into wellbeing over the last couple of years.

When I first heard the news I thought, oh heck, I wont stand a chance. I have been in a whirlwind of hospital visits, work, my hypnotherapy course and looking after my little human. I haven’t had a chance to think about it.

Public voting counts for 60% of your final score and the judges award the remaining 40%. I’m a bit behind in the game as the other nominated bloggers will gave been busy canvasing for votes for the past 2 – 3 weeks. Last night my inner saboteur concluded, I don’t stand a chance, and then I thought. Firstly, it doesn’t matter whether I make the next round, I’m so proud of all the wellbeing content I’ve not only published this year but actually lived first-hand, some of which I hope has helped you lovely lot in one way or another.

So here I am. Giving it a go. If you would like to vote for me, I would of course be extremely honoured, and if you don’t have the chance or feel compelled, that’s OK too. (If you would like to vote, there’s details of how to do this at the end of this blog post.)

What would make me really smile if you took a moment to glance through my favourite wellbeing posts of 2018 – the posts I’m post proud of.

There are eleven articles below, which one might be most helpful for you?

 Honest Mum: A Twinkle in The Coal Pile

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I think my proudest blog post was actually a guest blog post I wrote for Honest Mum earlier this year about post natal depression. It took a lot for me to open up about this subject but I’m so glad I did. I’ve never received so many messages from both women, and men alike. Even months later people keep mentioning it and a friend of a friend said it helped his brother who had experienced depression following the sleep deprivation of fatherhood. I also received the most gorgeous hand written five-page letter (along with thoughtful gifts) from an old university friend. She was touched about how my honesty helped her through a very difficult first few months and helped her to feel that what she was experiencing was OK.

Treat Norwich: Autumn Acupuncture

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If like me, you catch every cold and bug under the sun, you might want to read about the time I blogged about acupuncture. Did you know that if you have an acupuncture session just before the onset of a cold virus, it might be possible to nip it in the bud? It worked for me in the early autumn. Worth a go eh?

Are you a dreamer? How to Lucid Dream

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For those of you who regularly follow my blog or who know me, you will know that I’m big into lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is when you have an awareness that you’re dreaming. If you can tap into this, it’s possible to do all manner of things, from learning a new skill, facing your fears, healing, and many many more beneficial things. There’s more here in this blog post which is perfect for those new to lucid dreaming.

The Lady: Top Ten Tips For Meditation

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During the summer I wrote an article for The Lady magazine, sharing my top tips for those new to meditation. Worth a read if you’re hoping to get back into meditation or give mindfulness a go at some point.

Post Natal Depression: 6 Alternative Ways to Help PND

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Following from my Honest Mum guest blog post, I decided to blog about the alternative approaches that helped me through PND. This was one of my most popular Instagram posts! Find out why here…

Herbalism: Foraging for Herbs, For Health

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I’ve been a keen forager and herb gatherer since I was a child. But this year, my interest has stepped up a notch. I took part in a great herbalist workshop and learnt so much. There’s more here in this article I wrote for Female First, along with some extra knowledge on different wild herbs and their medicinal benefits.

 

Finding my Zen: 8 Weeks to Mindfulness

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I’ve practised meditation on and off for many years and it was only last January that I decided to study it from a non-secular point of view. I did a wonderful Breathworks course on Mindfulness for Stress. More here about how it changed my winter.

 

OBE: Out of Body Experience Workshop

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Wow. Now this was one heck of a Valentine’s present! I won a place on this fantastic workshop by Jade Shaw. I learnt how to induce a natural out of body experience, to help with your wellbeing and perspective on life. More here:

Nightmares: How to Handle Dragons

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OK, so alongside my PND posts this year, I’d say this post wins joint first place. This blog post is how I taught our then 2 year old, not only how to lucid dream but how to use her dreams and nightmares to overcome her fears. It worked! Find out more here.

Parenting Techniques: School for Parents

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Pic: Jess Wilkins Photography

I did the most fantastic parenting course just over a year ago now. It was with my ex counselling tutor, Andrea Rippon. She taught an approach called the PET method of parenting. Forget the naughty step, this is an assertive yet much kinder way to ‘parent’. It’s both fair and kind to both parent and child. Do you have a spirited child or teenager? This one could be for you.

Big C: How to Use Writing Therapy to Improve Your Wellbeing

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This was a guest blog post I wrote for my local cancer charity, Big C. I’m actually the case study writer for the charity and here I wrote about how writing can help your wellbeing through difficult times in your life.

Vote for Roots and Toots

Here’s the link: https://blogawardsuk.co.uk/vote-entry-categories/

And here are the instructions:

To vote – follow the above link and then….

Click on the ‘WELLBEING’ category and Roots and Toots’ entry is on the 4th page….
To vote for my entry, click on the red heart – it’s that simple.

To see my website, click on the globe.
To see my entry information, click on the “i”.
Please note, there is only one vote per person per category.

Thanks for taking the time to vote guys. Best of luck to all the other entrants!

 

 

 

Toast: A Guided Meditation

Buttery toast. One of life’s simple pleasures. But how many of us really taste everything when we eat? Not just when we’re eating toast but with anything we consume. I try to eat my food mindfully when I can – although that’s easier said than done with a small toddler waving spoons of mashed potato around – but when I do have a meal to myself, I try to savour every moment, observe the colour, texture and taste, slowly and with full awareness. (Well, when I remember.)

I always think fondly of the delicious vegan food from the 10-day silent retreat in Dharamshala a few years ago, not just because the food was full of rich Indian flavours but because at every meal time, with no distractions, no talking, no iPhones, no television, your full attention was spent on each mouthful – just you and your plate.

Last week, my new yoga teacher read the following guided meditation during relaxation at the end of the class and I was keen to share it with you. Not only did I leave the class more focused than before but all I could think about for the next 24 hours was buying a loaf of my favourite sourdough bread from my local baker. (Ha! It worked on two levels.)

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Mindful Toast

If you feel like giving this simple meditation a try then simply have a read and then the next time you make some toast bear in mind what you’ve read below. You could also ask someone to read it to you whilst you sit with your eyes closed somewhere peaceful.

The idea is to pay attention to what is happening right here and now, to be fully present during everyday experiences and extract yourself from the dreamlike stage our mind wonders in.

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Artist: Mia Charro

Toast: A Meditation

Toast a piece of bread and as it’s cooking, savour the distinctive aroma of white or brown, ready-sliced or crusty, seeded or unseeded. Note any happy mental associations that arise. Spread the toast with butter, Marmalade or whatever takes your fancy, listening to the rasp of the knife and appraising the texture of the toasted bread as you do so. Notice and accept any frustrations as they arise in your mind. Perhaps the butter is straight out of the refrigerator and difficult to spread? Perhaps some sticky marmalade has found its way onto your fingers?

When the toast is ready to eat, look at it as if you had never seen a piece of toast before. Notice the fine structure of the bread still visible around the edges where the spread hasn’t reached, the difference in colouring and texture compared with the crust, the smoothness or runniness of the butter, the glossiness of the marmalade, its contours on the bread, its colouration and constituents. Maybe there are fine strips or chunks of orange rind, tiny air bubbles, flecks of darker colour. None of this is beneath your attention.

Sniff the toast and marmalade. Take a bite. Observe how the jaws, tongue and salivary glands immediately go to work of their own accord. Don’t try to stop them or slow them down, just note the crunch of each bite and the accompanying sounds inside your head. Now that you are actually paying attention, it might be surprising how loud these sounds are. Notice the changing texture of the food in your mouth as the teeth grind it down and saliva dissolved it. Give your full attention to the sharp acidity and sweetness of the orange, the oily butteriness of the butter, the butty toastiness of the toast.

Try all the fully automated movements of the tongue, jaws and lips as you chew and finally swallow. Notice the unfolding of all these behaviours as they happen, the almost unstoppable motivation to take another bite, and then another. All your impressions are valid, both the positive and negative. You may discover that you are enjoying the toast a whole lot more than if you’d just wolfed it down without thinking. Or perhaps you find the whole experience slightly disappointing. Maybe the toast is cold and chewy, the marmalade too sweet? There may be bitter, burned bits.

Accept it all with equanimity. This is simply how the toast is.

The above meditation was taken from the book Siddhartha’s Brain – The Science of Meditation, Mindfulness and Enlightenment by James Kingsland. 

And if you’re reading, Hester – thanks for sharing this!

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Unicorn Toast

How to Make Elderberry Syrup

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As many of you may have noticed, this year, my love of foraging has evolved into a passion for herbalism and hedgerow medicine, after an inspiring workshop I attended back in spring. I’ve been busy harvesting various herbs and flowers over the last few months, including poppies, daisies, elder, hawthorn, cleavers and meadowsweet, to name a few. I’ve made tinctures, syrup, infusions, teas and dried herbs, harvested and stored for the winter. Possibly my favourite has been making elderberry syrup.

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I love the taste of the elderberries much more than I do elderflowers, the latter is an acquired taste for some. Admittedly you will need to add some sweetener to elderberries for the flavour to come through. And I recently discovered that it’s always wise to cook elderberries first apparently. In this medicinal syrup, I’ve used muscavado as a sweetener, which you do need as the sugar preserves the berry juice, but other recipes I’ve noticed use honey or coconut sugar.

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Harvesting

You can pick bunches of elderberries when they are ripe and black but still formed and shiny. The easiest way is to strip them from their stems using a fork. Some people freeze them for several hours so that the berries can be removed easier but I think this may take away from the nutritional value. If you have any white or yellow berries, be sure to remove these unripe berries from your harvest.

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Benefits of elderberries

The syrup in this recipe is great for coughs, colds and flus but it has other immune system boosting properties too. Since our little girl started nursery two years ago, we’ve been inundated with back-to-back autumn, winter and spring bugs and colds, so this syrup is another attempt to keep us in check for the coming season. Children can also consume this syrup ‘elixir’, simply halve the daily dose.

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How to make elderberry syrup

Place ripe elderberries into a large saucepan with half their volume of water.

Simmer and stir for twenty minutes. Allow to cool and then you can use a jelly bag or fruit press to get as much juice out of the berries.

Instead, I initially used a sieve and a fork to extract the juice and after I’d obtained a fair amount I then placed the berries into a piece of white muslin, which I’d washed on a high heat previously. I then literally, by hand, squeezed the berries in the muslin, over a bowl, to get as much juice out as possible.

Then measure out your juice. For every 500ml of juice, add 250g muscavado sugar, a stick of cinnamon, a few cloves and a few slices of lemon. Simmer for 20 minutes, then strain and pour while hot, into sterilised bottles.

Dose: Take 1 tsp neat every few hours for colds and flu or use it as a cordial and add boiling water to taste for a hot drink. I’ve also read that you can simple take a teaspoon a day as a preventative measure too.

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NB: I made my own labels with some old brown paper I had in the cupboard and sellotape.

How to Lucid Dream

Lucid Dreaming Boosts Wellbeing

Before I reveal my tips on how to have a lucid dream and what to do when you’re there, first, I have a very timely tale to share. I initially wrote this blog post a couple of weeks ago and I’ve returned to it today after what happened last night.

A juicy dream

Last night I had a mild nightmare. In the dream, I was with my daughter in a department store. She kept running off and I was struggling to keep hold of her. Every time I found her, she ran away so quickly and vanished. It was awful. I was extremely distressed, anxious that I’d lost her forever.

However, the way she just kept vanishing, it seemed ridiculous, unbelievable, I realised how crazy the scenario was – the way she was darting around and suddenly vanishing just wasn’t real – and also I didn’t recognise this wood-panelled and dated department store, I’d never been here before. Hang on, I never go into department stores anyway? Let alone with my spirited toddler.

I froze. I looked around me and then said out loud in the dream: “This isn’t real. This is a lucid dream, this is a lucid dream!”.

Instantly, the stress left me, I was filled with joy. Partly because I haven’t had a lucid dream for a few weeks, and secondly, I was relived to be unburdened by this stressful situation, this was all just a dream. My wellbeing instantly improved. I let her go, so to speak, and just stayed in the situation, observing how I was feeling and what was around me.

I was in an old fashioned elevator but I sensed that I couldn’t get out, that the doors wouldn’t open, and if they did, they would lead me to the wrong floor. But because I was lucid, I knew this wasn’t an issue. This was a lucid dream and I could gently steer my way out of this. Instead of finding an exit to lower floors, I just stepped through the wall (yes, you can do this in a lucid dream, it’s so trippy!), and into another place. (I can’t remember where it took me but I didn’t plummet to my demise.)

I then asked the dream to take me to Barbados, The Bahamas, the Caribbean. I wanted to see the beach.

Surprisingly, instead, my subconscious had other ideas. I was taken to the basement. There were lots of strange objects there. Small creatures made from brown and beige play dough. Like those animated characters from CBeebies! But they were faceless, moving around in a strange way. I felt petrified of them, fearful and a bit grossed-out!

My first instinct was to leave. I also felt a bit robbed that I’d asked to visit a beach and I was faced with this cellar-full of creatures squirming around the floor by my feet.

Aha, amazing, I suddenly realised. These creatures are my shadow self – a Jungian term -the things about oneself that we repress or hide, the things we need to love in order for them to be integrated and to heal. (It’s a sure sign that you’re facing your ‘shadow self’ if you’re either fearful or disgusted by something in a dream, usually it’s something you want to avoid or get away from, like a nightmare!) We all have a shadow side, whether we realise it or not. So to be aware of it is great and if you can access it via a dream, you’re half way to integrating it, and accepting it. If you do, these ‘hidden aspects’ won’t suddenly pop up in your life and give you grief when you least expect it! Or something like that.

So instead of running away from them – pushing away these undesirables – I bent down and picked up each one like I would a kitten and tried to cuddle or at least ‘hold’ these wiggling blobs!

I know, this sounds totally crazy! But trust me, I’m speaking from first-hand experience. (This is what Charlie Morley, expert in his field, recommends you do when faced by a ‘shadow dream’.) By embracing these ‘creatures’, well, you’re healing something that needs addressing. Goodness knows what this represented, but for me, it was probably something that occurred when I lived in the Caribbean a few years ago). By doing so, there was some serious healing going on, or at least, some sort of internal resolution taking place.

This is just one small example of how lucid dreaming can help. Firstly, it can help you overcome stressful dreams or nightmares. Secondly, whatever your dream content, you can gently navigate to other places that you’d like to explore. Because I’ve had some practice, my dream decided to show me something other than a beach (!) and I’m glad it did. I knew what to do and how to approach it so that was all cool. You won’t need to venture here on your first few lucid dreaming experiences, unless you want to. You can keep it simple, fun and practical if you like!

If you’re new to lucid dreaming this might all seem far out or a bit much, so let me take you back a few steps.

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My Lucid Dreaming Story

I’ve been lucid dreaming since I was a child but only realised that it was ‘a thing’ ten years ago. Circa 2010, when my Dad attended a workshop in London with Charlie Morley and he came home with his notes from the day – I soaked them up. The following week I started having lucid dreams again like I did as a child and teenager, and was able to tap into them using the techniques he’d learned on this workshop.

I was living in London at the time and started attending drop-ins at the then ‘Dream Academy’ in Euston held by Charlie. Since then I’ve taken part in a couple of workshops and retreats, including the most incredible experience on Holy Isle. I’ve also received a lot of insight from Charlie Morley’s books.

My life has changed since I started practicing lucid dreaming. I’ve used it to explore my inner world, to help solve dilemmas, asked for guidance, it’s inspired the pamphlet of poems I’m currently writing and it helped me during post-natal depression. It’s also very recently helped my little girl with the nightmares she’s been having about dragons.

What is lucid dreaming?

So what actually is lucid dreaming? Lucid dreaming isn’t when you have really vivid and memorable dreams, although this does help when starting a lucid dreaming practice. Lucid dreaming is when you are aware that you are dreaming. When this happens, you’re able to participate in your dream and have some sort of conscious involvement or gentle influence. Some people choose to fly above the rooftops, others use it for their wellbeing, for things like healing (such as reiki), and many even use it to practice a skill such as breakdancing or yoga.

Lucid dreaming is basically a window into your subconscious mind and an opportunity to connect with a deeper resource within you. It’s effectively a tool to improve your wellbeing. Charlie uses a great analogy: Think of an iceberg, the top 10% floating above water is our conscious mind and the bottom part the 90%, hiding under the water is the unconscious mind. There’s so much more we can tap into, whether your motivation is to use your inner well to induce your creativity, learn how to surf or to overcome a fear such as public speaking.

First it’s important to understand a bit more about my favourite subject, sleep…

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Wellbeing: Four Stages of Sleep

I’ve been obsessed with sleep, or lack of, since having my little girl. It’s the key to maintaining your wellbeing for sure. There are four stages of sleep and it’s important to get all four!

  1. Hypnogogic state: This is just as you are dropping off to sleep. You are dozy and your body will sometimes jerk. Dreams comes after the jerks! This is alpha sleep.
  2. Light restless sleep: If you become lucid in this sleep state, there is a grey-blackness as this space contains no dreams. If lucid in this space, it’s best to simply meditate (if you can manage this, this is quite a profound state to rest in) But I’m getting way ahead of myself!
  3. Delta wave sleep is deep sleep: The body and mind restores itself, muscles grow in delta wave. It can be difficult to wake someone in this state.
  4. Dreaming Sleep: 90 minutes in each wave. Replicates throughout the night. Last two hours of sleep is most common for lucid dreams. safe-dreaming

How to Have a Lucid Dream

Here are a few techniques that I’ve learnt from Charlie and things that have worked well for me in the past:

Keep a dream diary. Write down any snippets you remember as soon as you wake up. Your recall will be best at this point. The more you do this, the more you will train your mind to remember your dreams. The more you remember your dreams, the easier it will be to notice when you’re actually dreaming.

Practise mindfulness or mediation: This isn’t essential but it helps! The more aware you are of your thoughts, the more present in the moment you can be and the calmer and more awareness you have, the easier it will be to be aware you’re dreaming. Basically, if you’re aware and mindful in your waking state then it will be easier to be like this within a dream.

Daytime affirmations: During the daylight hours, repeat to yourself at various points of the day positive affirmations to encourage lucid dreaming: “Tonight I will lucid dream”

Am I dreaming?: During the day make a habit of doing two things. Firstly, ask yourself out loud “Am I dreaming?”. You can do this at random points or during an unusual dream-like part of your day. Say for example you see a celebrity walking down the street or something unusual happens on your commute. Say to yourself – am I dreaming? The idea is that, the next time you see something unusual, say in an actual dream, you’ll remember to ask yourself – am I dreaming? This may then wake you up within your dream! So that you’re fully conscious of what’s happening in your dream. What a feeling!

Reality checks: Although dreams can seem very realistic sometimes, there are often some tale tail signs that you are dreaming. The key is to understand how you can actually test whether you are dreaming. So that, if you find a moment of awareness in your dreams, you can test out whether your are in waking life or in a dream. The hand test was very beneficial to me in the early years of lucid dreaming. Simply look at your outstretched hands, look away form them, then look back at your hand. In reality you see the same thing, right? (Hopefully you will.) But in a dream, when you look back the second time at your outstretched hand, your hand will look slightly different. This is because your mind can’t replicate an exact copy second time around! The other check is to knock with your hand on a door or a table. Do this in waking life – especially during a surreal moment or dream-like part of your day. In a dream, if you knock on a door or table with your fist, you’ll find that your table isn’t as solid or the sound isn’t realistic.

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7 Reality Checks in a Lucid Dream

If you think you might be dreaming and having a lucid dream, here are some things you can do in your dream to test your theory! I learnt these on the Holy Isle Retreat a few years ago.

  1. Look at your palm, look away, look back again, twice, in quick succession
  2. Pull your finger in your waking state (in a lucid dream it will stretch)
  3. Stick finger through other palm / hand (have the expectation in the dream you have to believe in them)
  4. Try and read text
  5. Digital things such as iPhone display will look strange
  6. Every time something dream-like happens in reality do a reality check “Am I dreaming?”
  7. Colombo Method:
    1. Look for clues – where am I?
    2. Work backwards – how did I get here?

 

Things to do in a lucid dream

  • Explore other lands. You can ask the dream to take you places – somewhere you like to visit in reality or ask it to show you the galaxy. You might be surprised by what you see!
  • Ask for healing or to meet a spirit guide
  • Practise a skill e.g. karate, break dancing, ballet, yoga. If you can do this in a lucid dream, you’ll be surprised when you wake – whatever you practise in a dream, will be amplified in reality! People have practised things like breakdancing before in a lucid dream and woken to find they’ve mastered the moves!
  • Meditate! Practise mindfulness or meditation. You’ll probably wake feeling super charged and your practise will be amplified – you’ll reap 10 times the benefits, as anything you do within a lucid dream counts as triple if not more! (Can’t remember the stat)
  • Ask the dream a question or make a gentle request. Avoid asking a dream character (a person in your dream) as you may receive a skewed answer, your projection of what you think that type of person would say to you. For example, if your Mum pops up in your dream and you say: “Should I marry that guy?” You might get the sort of response you’d expect from your Mum instead of perhaps what you really want for yourself. Instead, ask a wide open space or the sky.
    • Show me something important; what should I do next; should I buy that house we saw yesterday; show me the meaning of life; what job would satisfy me most.

Tip of the Iceberg

I really have only touched on a few of the basics here. For more, I’d really recommend buying Charlie’s books. Starting with Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming Conscious in Your Dreams.

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Have you had any experiences with lucid dreaming? Or do you have any tips or hints for encouraging lucid dreams?

Female First article: Foraging for Herbs

This week I’ve written an article for Female First: 10 Hedgerow Herbs that will Brighten Up Your Summer Cooking.

In addition to this article, which you can access via the above link, I’ve also added some extra information below about the wonderful herb foraging workshop I took part in recently.

Forgotten Herbs and How to Use them

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A few weekends ago I took part in a foraging workshop, which was held at the Mangreen Centre here in Norfolk. I’d booked the course last December while I was dreaming of plump hedgerows and warm, bright evenings. Sometimes a fulfilled prophecy doesn’t always live up to the hype. Not in this case.

I’ve loved foraging since I was a small child. My Dad would always take us to woods, meadows and riverside walks. He was good at identifying things. More often than not we’d return home with glistening treasures. My Mum was good at preparing our spoils. That’s why I love local produce so much. These herbs, plants and vegetables are all part of our landscape and fabric. Sadly these free riches are often forgotten about, before they fade and turn to seed.

About the Workshop

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The workshop I took part in was taught by Julie Burton-Seal, a practising medical herbalist, together with her partner, Matthew Seal, also an expert in wild herb and plants. The pair are well known in their field (forgive the pun) and so I felt very lucky to learn that they live here in Norfolk.

The day was designed for anyone who wants to improve their health in the same way that mankind has done for centuries, by using local wild plants and herbs. They teach foraging from a medicinal perspective. This is like the holy grail for me. I’m a big foodie – I love to cook, forage and I’m also extremely interested in wellbeing and alternative therapies.

The combination of medicinal foraging is a match made in heaven for me. Plus, it makes ecological sense to forage for plants and make the best use of the things that are readily available and free.

Using Herbs and Plants

The incredible thing with foraging for herbs is that you can gather all these beautiful things, store them up during the summer for the winter ahead. There are so many ways you can use your pickings – to make tea, tinctures, wines, glycerites, vinegars, herbal honey, syrups, butters, skin creams, ointments, infused oils, plant essences, herbal sweets, the list goes on.

I’ll be blogging about a poppy tincture I’ve made. It helps with insomnia, head aches, anxiety and a host of other symptoms. Do look out for more on the blog soon.

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What to Harvest in Spring and Summer

Now I am only a beginner when it comes to foraging for health. Before the course my knowledge of foraging didn’t go much beyond samphire, berries, nuts, nettles and wild garlic. So here is just a small round-up of things you can forage for.

Remember, it’s always advised that you should read up on what you forage. Make sure you’re picking the right part of the plant and harvesting at the best possible time for that species. It’s also essential to only really forage, and then only consume, what you can positively identify.

Julie and Matthew recommended a good book for identifying wild flowers and herbs. It’s called Wild Flowers by Simon Harrap.

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Hawthorn Flowers – A natural way to lower high blood pressure

 

Speedwell ‘Veronica’

Available: Late spring, early summer

Habitat: Gardens and grassy hedgerows

Good for: Leaving you energised yet calm at the same time!

How to prepare: Harvest the flowers and place around one tablespoon in boiling water to make a hot infusion. Steep for a short while and drink as a tea.

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Speedwell ‘Veronica’ – calming yet energising 

White Dead Nettle

Available: Gather tops whenever flowering, which can be almost any time of year.

Habitat: Hedgebanks, roadsides, gardens and waste ground.

Good for: Stops loss of fluids from the body, whether excessive menstrual flow, diarrhoea or a runny nose. The flowers are full of nectar, enjoyed by insects and children alike, and the leaves can be used for cuts and splinters.

How to prepare: Leaves and flowers can be eaten, raw or cooked.

Red Clover

Available: Flower heads with upper leaves, collected in early summer.

Habitat: Grassland, road verges.

Good for: Blood cleaning. Used for chronic constipation, skin complaints, chronic degenerative diseases and bronchitis. It has been included in many anti-cancer formulae, and helps balance hormone levels.

How to prepare: Use 1 or 2 heaped teaspoons of dried red clover flowers per cup or mug of boiling water and allow to infuse for ten minutes. Strain and drink.

 

Meadowsweet

Available:  Flowering tops; masses of creamy-white flowers in high summer.

Habitat: Marshes, streams, ditches and moist woodland.

Good for: The number one herb for treating stomach acid problems, while also benefiting the joints and urinary system. Good for fevers, flu, diarrhoea, headaches and pain relief. Known as the ‘herbal aspirin’.

How to prepare: Use a rounded teaspoon of the dried meadowsweet per mug of boiling water. Infuse for 5 minutes. Best made in a teapot so you can keep the aroma in.

 

Cleavers

Available:  Can be gathered in handfuls from early spring until the plants flower in the summer.

Habitat: Hedgerows, farmland, stream banks and gardens.

Good For: Make into a juice for swollen glands, fluid retentions, tonsillitis and bladder irritation. It’s also just a great spring tonic, said to boost one up, post-winter.

How to prepare: Use the young tops in salads, juice along with other vegetables and fruits and fill a jug with a large handful and top with water. Leave to stand for a few hours and you’ll be left with a refreshing tonic.

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Cleavers in a water immersion – a refreshing tonic

For more information check out Julie and Matthew’s website: http://www.hedgerowmedicine.com 

Eastern Daily Press: Healthy Eating in Norfolk & Suffolk

Healthy Eating Week 11th – 15th June

This Healthy Eating Week, discover some of the healthiest restaurants and cafes in our region along with some fast-food options with surprisingly wholesome twists.

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PONO: Norwich

Since I started my 12-week fitness and healthy eating programme with Paradox Living, I’ve been making some considered changes to the way I approach my food. I’m in ‘Week 10’ currently. Like many others, I tend to go off-piste when I’m eating out (or when home alone). My ‘healthy eating’ journey inspired an article I’ve wrote this week for the

Eastern Daily Press and East Anglian Daily Times

Whether you’re trying to improve your diet or give your life a nutritional overhaul, with the impending summer holidays, Healthy Eating Week is a good excuse to get things back on track.

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Ancestors, Norwich

Luckily, finding lighter options when out isn’t as restricting as it once was. There are some exciting new plant-based eateries that have recently popped up across our region and plenty of surprising alternatives available from the places you’d least expect.

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Below I’ve featured some extracts from the article – a few of my favourite veggie and vegan ‘Top Picks’ if you like.

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Erpingham House, Norwich

Places to dine (almost) guilt-free this Healthy Eating Week

Ancestors, Norwich

27 Magdalen St, Norwich, Norfolk

An oasis of calm offering a wide range of vegan and gluten-free options including the Nourishment Bowl – packed with chickpeas, broccoli, hummus and sweet potatoes, mixed greens, tahini and spices. A virtuous lunch may leave room for some vegan chocolate cake made with unrefined sugar, and a caffeine-free beetroot latte with almond or oat milk.

Cradle

40 North Street, Sudbury, Suffolk

A plant-based bakery and restaurant that prides itself on using local and sustainable ingredients. As a result, the innovative daily menu is forever evolving with the seasons. Expect to find healthy breakfasts, handmade sourdough breads made from in-house milled flours, roasted organic coffee, lunch, snacks and other spectacular daily specials, perfect for both foodie vegans and non-vegan foodies.

Darsham Nurseries

Main Road, Darsham, Suffolk

Set amongst a stunning plant nursery, this critically acclaimed restaurant-café grows much of its own fruit, herbs and vegetables, just a stone’s throw from its kitchen. Other produce is provided by local suppliers and the menu changes to reflect seasonal availability. The breakfasts and brunches are best paired with the weekend papers, and the luncheons and suppers are designed for laid-back feasting with friends. For a full review check out my post here: Darsham Nurseries

PONO, Norwich

15 St. Giles, Norwich, Norfolk

PONO is a Hawaiian word that means living in a state of health, happiness and harmony. Try the POKE Bowl – a traditional Hawaiian dish with a PONO twist. Choose from spicy salmon or traditional tuna, both raw and marinated for extra flavour. Served with brown rice, fresh mango salsa, spinach, avocado, corn, pickled ginger, grated carrot and poke sauce. For something sweet, there is raw-cold press juice and a selection of smoothies, including the Creamy Cacao, which is made with cacao, banana, avocado, almond butter, almond milk and date syrup. For a full review check out my post here: PONO.

Ruth’s Kitchen

39 Magdalen St, Norwich, Norfolk

Everyone’s favourite Israeli lunch-stop on Magdalen St. The Falafel Mezze includes homemade falafel, which although is deep-fried, comes with a kaleidoscope of small salads, that probably exceed your 5-a-day allowance: hummus, pan-fried aubergine, sauerkraut, shredded red cabbage, baba ganoush, tomato, pepper and cucumber salad, chickpeas and olives.

Art Café

Manor Farm Barns, Glandford, North Norfolk

Accredited by the Vegetarian Society and members of Slow Food UK, this is a place to enjoy delicious, locally roasted coffee and indulge in delicious vegetarian food.  The summer menu includes Slow-Cooked Quinoa Porridge, Baked Eggs and Spinach. For lunch, a plethora of salads, daily curry specials, soups and Coffee-infused Homemade Baked Beans on Toast.

Erpingham House

22 Tombland, Norwich, Norfolk

Norwich’s newest addition to the plant-based fold. Three floors of mostly organic and gluten-free vegan food, under one roof. This restaurant offers an overwhelming selection of healthy options. Cashew Jackfruit Korma, Coconut Chilli, Summer Rolls, Puy Lentil and Roast Veg Salad and various healthy sharing platters. What’s not to love.

The Waffle House

39 St. Giles, Norwich

Go for the Humus & Avocado on wholemeal waffle, topped with wild rocket, sun blushed tomatoes, olives and poppy seeds. If you’re being extra saintly, hold the drizzle of sweet chilli dressing. Or go for the Vegetable and Cashew Stir-Fry – a medley of seasonal vegetables with Asian seasonings. Instead of a milkshake order the mixed berry smoothie, made with natural yoghurt.

Belgium Monk

7 Pottergate, Norwich

Known for it’s wide range of Belgium beers, moules et frites and creamy sauces, the Belgium Monk also has a few healthy tricks up its sleeves. Try the Vegetarische Schotel – a vegetarian platter with lentil and carrot paté, artichoke tarator and Lebanese red pepper muhammara.

Cafe Gelato

6 Opie Street, Norwich

‘Let’s go for ice cream,’ your friends say. Don’t worry, you still can indulge. Although there isn’t currently a sugar-free option, the sorbets are virtually fat-free. Although the menu changes daily, it often includes, apple, blueberry, blood orange, strawberry and lemon sorbet. Homemade with 50% fruit, British and seasonal where available. The only other two ingredients are water and sugar.

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Darsham Nursery, Suffolk

To read the full article you can go to Eastern Daily Press website.

The Lady magazine: Top 10 Tips for Meditation

This week I wrote my second article for the fabulous, The Lady magazine. You can read the full article at the end of this post. But first, here’s a quick intro:

 

Meditation vs. Mindfulness

In short, meditation (or mindfulness) is simple tool that will change your life for the better. It’s about bringing more awareness to our experience which enables us to see how we can sometimes make ourselves suffer unnecessarily. Seeing that enables us to make changes.

Meditation was taught by the Buddha and although it is something that’s taught as part of a spiritual practise, mindfulness is taught in secular contexts. In fact, in recent years the NHS has adopted mindfulness as an approach to be used within its mental health trusts across the UK.

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Who is it for?  

Not only can mindfulness help your average person (what’s average? I’m not, are you?) with general wellbeing and boost happiness but it can help with…

  • Those suffering with chronic pain and other psychical long-term health conditions and it can help to
  • Reduce stress and also prevent depression relapse
  • Prevent relapse into alcohol and/or drug use for those in recovery
  • In childbirth and parenting
  • In prisons and in schools
  • The work environment
  • Eating disorders
  • To enhance performance in sport
  • For victims of trauma

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Mindfulness: The Benefits

There are heaps of initial benefits but also so many others that have a knock-on effect. Things like:

  1. Increased mental clarity
  2. Self-control
  3. Objectivity
  4. Equanimity
  5. Improved concentration
  6. Emotional intelligence
  7. Ability to be more flexible
  8. Acceptance
  9. Ability to relate to others and one’s self with kindness, acceptance and compassion

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Top 10 Tips for Meditation

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You can read the full article here:

The Lady magazine 

 

Guest Post for ‘Honest Mum’: A twinkle in the coal pile

My Guest Blog Post for Honest Mum

Back in April, Vicki Psarias from Honest Mum asked if I’d like to write a guest blog post for her.

Waaah?! Little ole me

Um, let me just check my schedule. OK, yep, I’m free.

Vicki isn’t only the founder of Honest Mum, one of the first and most widely-read parenting blogs in the UK, but she’s also a best-selling author, film director and most importantly, an all-round kind-hearted soul!

We got chatting on Instagram about our respective MAs, motherhood and postnatal depression (PND), poetry and specifically, writing therapy. She was really interested in how my poetry and the writing therapy helped me through PND. At first I was apprehensive about writing about the subject from a professional point of view and also from a vulnerability stand-point.

However, when I reflected on it, I felt OK about it. I think this was a sign that things are moving on and that enough distance and time has passed.

It is of course massively important to be open about these things. The more we talk and write about PND, the more we can normalise it and support others going through something similar. Reading others’ stories may make seeking help easier and recovery a little smoother. My heart aches for any woman currently going through PND – if you ever wanna chat, please do drop me a note. You’re not alone.

You can read the full post here: A TWINKLE IN THE COAL PILE

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‘Being a Mother Hustler’

Let’s just talk about Mum Boss for a minute. I wish this book was around when I was a new Mum. Not that I would have had a moment to read it with the amount of sleep I was getting, but oh boy, would I have dipped in and devoured each chapter whenever I could.

Vicki has recently published this, her best-selling book, Mum Boss. It’s such a great read, I can’t recommend it enough. I’m about two thirds of the way through and I love the way Vicki tackles preparing yourself for impending motherhood, dealing with imposter syndrome and returning to work.

I instantly connected with what Vicki had to say. Her words are empowering, positive and so supportive. She was and still is an incredible career-woman, she was a film director for goodness sake, and she has shown that you can have it all.

She also gives guidance on starting your own business, encouragement for setting up your own blog, how to juggle motherhood with life and many more tips about the practical side of things like – PR, SEO and vlogging. Although I’m yet to reach those parts as yet.

Ultimately, it’s an absorbing read and a super helpful guide to how to survive and thrive as a working Mum and how to take the plunge and be your own boss. Go get it!

Samphire Special: How to forage for, prepare and cook with Samphire

With over 90 miles of ridiculously beautiful beaches here in Norfolk, as you’d expect, there are some rather delicious things that come from these waters.  Including a rather exquisite sea vegetable called samphire, which locals pronounce as sam-phur (not sam-fire).

It’s almost the season for talking about samphire. I wrote about it a couple of years ago in my Sainsbury’s magazine article and then spoke about this local delicacy on an interview with Share Radio. Shortly afterwards it occurred to me that I’ve never actually blogged about foraging for it. Here we are two years on and I still have lots to say about this incredible ingredient, which was my favourite vegetable as a child.

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There’s part of me that wanted to keep it a secret but then I reflected on this and thought it was good to share the love and to impart a few tips on how to respectfully forage, be kind to the environment, to ensure samphire stocks are able to replenish each year.

So here is my heart on a plate, served up to you. A few tips on foraging for, preparing and cooking with my beloved samphire.

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Samphire season in Norfolk

Although I hear you can find samphire in parts of Suffolk and in other parts of the UK including Wales, marsh samphire can be found in abundance in salt marshes and tidal mud flats in North Norfolk. The seasons starts around June and ends in September but I always find the best samphire is harvested in August.

My family has foraged for samphire for quite a few years now and during the summer months most evenings will consist of delicious samphire suppers. Nothing tastes better than food you’ve foraged yourself, food that didn’t cost you anything and food from the land where you were born.

Environmentally aware

It’s really important to be mindful when foraging, to make sure you’re respectful of the land and that you leave nature as you’ve found it. Even if you’re taking away some of nature’s fruits, you make sure you handle the plants carefully so that regrowth isn’t harmed in any way.

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What to take

Foraging for samphire can be a messy sport so take with you:

  • A pair of wellies or old boots
  • Carrier bags
  • A pair of scissors
  • An old towel to dust yourself off afterwards
  • Stamina! Collecting samphire can be quite a work-out

When to go

June, July and August are the months to forage for marsh samphire, not to be mistaken for rock samphire, which grows on rocks on land and tastes very different.

How to forage

Found around Stiffkey and other sandy flats around the Norfolk coastline, you’ll easily spot bunches of samphire petruding from the sandy flats.

The most important tip to remember when foraging for samphire is to make sure you pinch off the top parts or use a pair of scissors, so that the fibrous stems and roots remain intact. By leaving the root behind ensures regrowth next year and beyond. If everyone removed the stalks, eventually the supplies would diminish.

Only pick as much as you can eat. Samphire is at its best up to 3-5 days after you’ve picked it. So only pick around a large handful per serving, so three large handfuls per person. This will last you for three meals.

Below: Stunning Stiffkey captured by my Dad on camera recently

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Preparing samphire

Samphire needs to be thoroughly washed a couple of times so that the mud, grit and general nasties are disposed of.

When you’re ready to cook your samphire, wash your bunches yet again to make sure all the debris has been cleaned away as you sometimes find a seaweed film or excess mud.

Cut up into manageable small bunches – enough for about one or two mouthfuls – before placing in boiling water for around 5 minutes. Sometimes it takes a few minutes more, it depends on how fresh it is and if it’s young samphire. It can sometimes take a little less too. So after 4 minutes and then at one minute intervals, check your samphire and once the green flesh comes away from the bright green stem, it’s cooked!

Do not add any salt to the cooking process, there’s around 0.8mg of naturally-occurring sodium per 100g! If you had a baby or a toddler like we do, remember that until children are 3 years old, they can’t have more than 0.8g of salt per day. A 50g portion for bubs is plenty anyway.

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Nutrients

The samphire nutritional values are significant. Rich in vitamins A, C and D, samphire has virtually no fat but is also rich in many minerals which are needed in extremely small quantities for our overall health. A 100g portion of samphire will provide only 100 calories and contains no saturated fat.

Storing samphire

Once you’ve thoroughly cleaned your samphire, make sure it’s dry and then place in individual plastic freezer bags and store in the fridge.

Recently we experimented with freezing samphire. It actually freezes pretty well! We’ve only consumed the samphire for up to a month stored in the freezer so I’ll just recommend this length of time for now but it could possible freeze for up to three months.

How do you eat samphire?

So how do you actually eat it? It’s easy really. Although restaurants will prepare samphire for you very differently, I prefer the more rustic approach! Let your lips and teeth do the work. Literally. Although, the spiky bright green “skeleton” of this plant isn’t edible, the soft cooked samphire flesh will slide off easily once cooked. I prefer to eat samphire the this way. Steamed or boiled small handheld pieces with butter, lemon juice and black pepper. Take the stem and bite into the bunch, using your teeth and mouth, the samphire will easily slide off the stalk.

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Although the restaurants will prepare samphire for you, served up as small delicate pieces without any stalk or stem to wrestle with, this means you only get a small amount on your plate and it isn’t half as much fun or tasty!

Cooking with samphire

Packed with minerals, samphire or “poor man’s asparagus” is food of the gods. Not to be confused with rock samphire, eat this marsh variety on its own with lots of butter or olive oil and lemon juice, with any fish or the old Norfolk way, with black pepper and vinegar.

It’s the perfect partner to fish. Below is of a meal I had a while ago in Norwich. Yes, I actually keep pictures of my meals dating back three years.

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It honestly goes with absolutely anything. Last week we had warm quiche with new potatoes and samphire and it’s wonderful as pictured in the below supper my partner made us one evening, with a homemade fish cake and topped with a poached egg, crushed cheesy baby potatoes and asparagus.

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My other favourite ways of eating samphire:

Samphire, new potato and poached egg supper

Boil some local new potatoes and cut each one in half. Drain and set to once side. Take some cooked samphire and with your fingers pull off the fleshy green, leaving behind the stalks and “skeleton”. In a pan melt some butter and pan fry your cooked new potatoes and samphire for a few minutes. Add some pepper and a small amount of lemon juice and serve. Top with a poached or fried egg on top. Delicious served with a glass of crisp white wine.

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Samphire, chilli and crab spaghetti

Pan fry some crushed garlic and a whole finely chopped chilli. Then add, cooked spaghetti (enough for two), some olive oil, the meat of a whole dressed crab, a finely diced chilli, a small handful of chopped flat leaf parsley or chopped coriander, whichever you prefer, and of course two generous handfuls of cooked samphire taken off the skeleton. You could also add a splash of white wine and some cream. Toss together and cook in the frying pan for a couple of minutes. Top with a handful of pea shoots, rocket or as I have above some baby kale. And a drizzle of oil. Garlic bruchetta optional.

Where else can you find samphire in Norfolk?

During the summer months in Norfolk you can also find samphire in various fishmongers, in some farmers markets (especially those near the coast), on Norwich Market or in North Norfolk – just follow the roadside signs leading to small sellers.

Local Produce

If you liked this post, you might also want to check out a piece I wrote for The Lady magazine recently. It’s all about how to Eat the Seasons and what veg and fruit to look out for this summer.

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