Foraged and garden micro salad

This time of year brings a Spring cacophony of fantastic flavours to your salad bowl. Micro greens from the polytunnel providing a neutral base of coloured lettuces to showcase the pungent, tangy, hot, wasabi, tingling, sweet, bitter or just indescribable tastes of the foraged wild micro greens.  

Wild and garden micro salad

Red lollo lettuce, wild rocket, sheep’s sorrel, cuckoo flower, primrose, kale flower, ground elder, wild garlic, few flowered leek seed, dill and scurvy grass. 

Gathering the tame and the wild

Baby pak choi, cleavers, hogweed shoots (for frying), broccoli leaf, kale flowers, radish, lamb’s lettuce and bittercress. 

Gathering the tame and the wild  Wild garlic leaf and buds, curly kale, wild rocket, sheep’s sorrel and scurvy grass flowers. 

Gathering the tame and the wild Sweet cicely (for dessert), wild garlic leaf and bud, curly kale leaf and flower, lady’s smock. 

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Butterbur fuki recipe

The flowers are passing but there’s still time to make butterbur fuki, a Japnese delicacyPick the stems from the most tender looking leaves. 

 

The leaf stems must be prepared and cooked properly. Cut off the leaves and halve the stems lengthways. 

Then roll the bundle in salt, on a chopping board. This releases the liquid in the stems and makes them a little less bitter – although it’s specific bitterness is what you want in this dish. 

Now blanch them for a minute or two (depending how thick they are) then remove and rinse. Plunge them into cold water while you get your other ingredients together. 

When you are ready to go, peel off the outer covering of the stems and chop into pieces about 4 cm long. Then cook in a miso broth with wild garlic or wild leek, a little seaweed or fish if you like.  

NB Never eat butterbur raw. Like comfrey and coltsfoot it contains PA alkaloids. It is used in traditional herbal medicine as a cure for asthma and hay fever.

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St George’s Mushroom

From ‘British Edible Fungi: How to Distinguish and Cook them.’
By M. C. Cooke, M.A., L.L.D., A.L.S. London, 1891.

St George’s mushroom:
Agaricus gambosus 1821, Tricholoma gambosum c1891, Calocybe gambosa to 2015.

THE only really good spring mushroom, except the Morels, is the St. George’s mushroom (Agaricus gambosus) presumably called because it makes its first appearance about St. George’s day.

There is a legend accounting for the name, which is current in Hungary, that it was a gift from St. George. Readers may please themselves which account they choose to adopt. Some confusion has also prevailed as to the scientific name which Dr. Badham gave as Agaricus prunulus, and some others have called it Agaricus Georgii, whereas the veritable prunulus and also the true Georgii are different species. In France it is called the mouceron or mousseron on account of its growing amongst moss, and from this it has been stated that our name “mushroom,” applied generally to another species, has been derived.

The St. George’s mushroom is a pasture-loving species, and is not found in woods. In ordinary circumstances the cap is about three inches in diameter but it will reach four or five, and Dr. Badham states that he has found it six inches across, and weighing between four and five ounces. He adds that he collected one spring at Keston, in Kent, from ten to twelve pounds in a single ring, and in one field from twenty to twenty-five pounds. From this it will be seen that it is a gregarious species, many specimens being found growing in company, in the form of rings, or part of rings, in the same manner as the fairy-ring champignon. In some parts a prejudice exists amongst the farmers against them, on the supposition that they injure the grass crops, and for that reason they are kicked over and destroyed. A better plan would be to collect them in a basket, and carry them home to cook; but prejudice is blind.

In addition to its being found in fields and pastures in the spring, when agarics are rare, and its gregarious habit, it also has a strong and peculiar odour, which is rather oppressive if a large number are taken into a room. The cap is thick in its flesh, covered with a dry cuticle, soft to the touch, like a delicate kid glove, smooth but often cracking when old. In colour it is usually of a creamy whiteness, inclined to become yellowish at the top, and not so regular in form as the ordinary mushroom, but lobed, and waved at the margin, which is turned in for a long time, and wholly of a firm substance. When cut through the flesh is often nearly an inch thick at the centre. The stem is thick (nearly an inch) and short, of the same colour as the cap, rather thicker at the base, and often contorted, or irregular. The gills are a watery white, and very numerous, commonly arched, reaching the stem, to which they are attached. The spores are also white. It would be difficult to confound this with any other species, especially when it is remembered that all fungi are rare at the time of its appearance, and if our description is read over carefully, it would be difficult to mistake it at any time, not forgetting the strong odour, its growing in rings, and its white gills and spores. We have never encountered anyone who disliked this mushroom when tasted, but we have heard it objected to as being rather heavy and indigestible for delicate stomachs. Experience, however, has never enabled us to support this charge, and we can only say with Dr. Badham, that “it is the most savoury fungus with which we are acquainted.”

Field blewit:
Agaricus personatus 1818; Tricholoma personatum 1871; Lepista personata to 2015.

There are two or three agarics which have many points in common with the foregoing, from a gastronomic point of view, that we purpose including them here, as the same modes of cooking are applicable to all. The first of these are the Blewits [field blewit], which is a truly autumnal species, sometimes collected as late as November, and seldom appearing at all until October. It loves the grass in open places, such as parks, but not woods and forests. Sowerby has stated that in his time it was occasionally sold under the name of “Blewits” in Covent Garden Market, but we have never seen it exposed for sale in this country. It is more regular in the shape of its caps than the St. George’s mushroom, and similar in size, but not viscid, with an oily appearance. In colour it is most commonly of a dirty white, sometimes greyish, or with a tinge of violet, also thick in the flesh, and firm, but it imbibes water readily, so that it is liable to become sodden and dark in wet weather. The edge is at first turned in, and looks frosted, or minutely velvety, but this soon disappears. The stem is one to three inches long, and about three quarters of an inch thick, rather swollen at the base and stained with lilac, which colour also penetrates into the flesh of the stem. The gills are numerous, rounded behind, and scarcely attached to the stem, dirty white, now and then tinged with violet, but the spores are white. It has a strong odour, but not so powerful as the St. George’s mushroom, and is equally pleasant to the taste. This is also a gregarious species and is said to be fond of growing in rings, but we have never recognised this habit although several specimens will generally be found growing in company. Although this fungus seems to correspond, as a late species, to the St. George’s, which is an early one, and they have several points in common, but there is no suspicion of it being the same species, indeed this could hardly be possible. The similarity extends even to the flavour when cooked, although we retain a preference for the former. The Blewits should not be collected for the table when they are water-logged; since they will hardly give satisfaction in that condition, but when in a good state, they are undoubtedly an excellent esculent.

Wood blewit:
Agaricus nudus 1790; Tricholoma nudum c1891; Lepista nuda to 2015.

Another species which seems to have been confounded by earlier writers with “Blewits” under the name of “Blue Caps” is a very common autumnal species amongst dead leaves in woods. Perhaps for this the name “Bluecaps” [wood blewit] might be appropriated. It is really a very fine and handsome species, gregarious like the others, but when young of a light violet blue, becoming ruddy with age. In books it is said to be two inches in diameter, but we have seen twenty individuals growing together, not one of which was less than five or six inches. The cap is at first convex, but soon flattened, quite smooth, not viscid, and at last depressed, and almost brick red. It has been called amethyst colour, but there is much more blue in the tone than in amethyst, and it always has a remarkably clean appearance. The stem varies according to the size of the cap, for in the large specimens alluded to it was six or seven inches long, and more than an inch thick, but more commonly it is half those dimensions. In colour the stem is similar to the cap, but perhaps a little paler, with a little white wooliness at the base. The gills are numerous and either rounded behind or running down the stem, at first of the same colour as the cap, but becoming ruddy with age. The spores are always white. For the table we always collect specimens which retain their violet blue colour, and of these we have seen sufficient within an hour to fill a bushel basket. It is, in some places, where there are plenty of dead leaves on the ground, one of the commonest autumnal species. In other places it seems to be comparatively rare. Once recognized and identified it cannot be confounded with any other species, and we have breakfasted upon it daily for a week, without surfeit or inconvenience. It has but a very slight odour, and possesses a more delicate flavour than either of the foregoing.

Culinary notes

The St. George mushroom has secured for itself in all countries where it is known golden opinions. In some instances this is probably due to the successful intervention of the cook, since fungi, more than aught else, depend much upon the efficiency of the cook. If the cooking of fungi has not yet been elevated to the position of a high art, it deserves to be, for the same fungus will please or displease with the merits of the operator. Dr Badham declared this to be the most savoury fungus with which he was acquainted, and justly considered so over almost the whole continent of Europe. Edwin Lees, who was a pronounced mycophagist, was “inclined to give it the highest place as an agaric for the table. There is nothing about its appearance to displease the most fastidious. It has an amiable and clean look, grows in pastures of fresh springing grass, and has an ambrosial smell – an aroma different from and more pleasant than the common catsuppy odour of the common mushroom. It has a delicate appearance when served up, and an agreeable taste. Whoever has partaken of it once wishes to do so again.” The Rev. M. J. Berkeley had always a good word in its favour. He says – “it is one that a person cannot very well make any mistake about. It sometimes attains a large size, is excellent in flavour , and particularly wholesome.” To this may be added the testimony of Mr. Worthington Smith, himself an incorrigible fungus-eater, who remarks that – “few species are more substantial and delightful for the table. I look upon it with unusual favour, as one of the rarest delicacies of the vegetable kingdom.” The late Dr. Bull said of it, that “when grown quickly after the rains of early spring, and before attacked by grubs, it is certainly an excellent agaric. It has a very delicate flavour, and is very light and wholesome. When gathered in dry weather it is more firm in texture, and not so good in flavour.”

Recipes

After such testimonials, we need only refer to the methods which have been specially recommended of its preparation. Dr. Badham considered the best method to be “either to mince, or fricassee it with any sort of meat, or in a vol-au-vent, the flavour of which it greatly improves; or simply prepared with salt, pepper, and a small piece of bacon, lard, or butter, to prevent burning, it constitutes of itself an excellent dish”

The Woolhope Club receipt is to “place some fresh made toast nicely divided, on a dish and put the agarics upon it, with a small piece of butter on each; then pour on each a teaspoonful of milk or cream, and add a single clove to the whole dish. Place an inverted basin over the whole, bake for twenty minutes, and serve without removing the basin until it comes to the table, so as to preserve the heat and aroma, which, on lifting the cover, will be diffused through the room.”

This is also one of the species which dries readily when divided into pieces, or sliced, and in this form retains much of its excellence. A few pieces added to soups, gravies, or made dishes gives to them a delicious flavour. To prevent their becoming mouldy when kept in close tins or bottles, they must be stored in a perfectly dry place. For this, and all other dried fungi, it is recommended not to exclude them entirely from the air, as they would be in bottles or canisters, but to store them in linen or muslin bags, which allows any contained moisture to escape, without producing mouldiness, or a musty flavour.

The modes of cooking are the same in the case of the blue caps [wood blewits] the Blewitts [field blewits] and St. George’s mushrooms. They may all be grilled or fried in the same manner as the common mushroom, but we do not think them so well suited for stewing. Perhaps the most successful plan is to place a lump of butter in the frying-pan with a sufficiency of gravy or milk, and a little curry powder, fry for seven or eight minutes, then throw in the sliced agarics, fry gently for ten minutes, and serve up quickly with snippets of toast.

It is also a good method to remove the stems and divide the caps down the centre. Place the pieces in a pie dish with a little pepper and salt, and a small piece of butter on each half. Either tie a paper close over the dish, or cover it closely by other means, and bake gently for about half an hour. Serve in the same dish, which should not be uncovered until placed on the table.

A simpler method is to cut off the stems close, sprinkle pepper and salt over them, and place them in a frying pan, gills upwards, in the fat after the bacon has been fried, or in default of bacon to place a piece of butter on each cap. Then fry them until thoroughly done, when they will be soft all over, and appetizing in odour and taste They may be served with bacon, or on toast.

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Edible horsetail shoots

Young horsetail shoots (Equisetum arvense) are an edible wild food, fine for foraging when they are young. They look pretty much as they were in the Paleozoic era but considerably smaller. 

Remove the sheath from over the knobbly joints first. Blanch in boiling water to which you have added 2 tsp vinegar and 1 tsp salt per litre. After 30 seconds in the boiling water, remove and plunge into cold water for a couple of minutes. Remove and gently pat dry with kitchen paper. Then fry in oil or butter until just crisping with a final sauté in a little dry sherry.  

  

   

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Kefir Tequila Lemonade Cocktail

This is a really refreshing twist on a classic marguerita cocktail using kefir made by fermenting water kefir grains in sugar, sultanas, lemon and ginger for 5 days.

Kefir Tequila Lemonade Cocktail

Kefir Tequila Lemonade Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 3 measures (3 x 25 ml) best tequila
  • 2 measures (3 x 25 ml) kefir lemonade
  • 1 measure (25 ml) 1:1 sugar syrup
  • 2 lime wedges
  • Cracked ice
  • Ground sea salt

Directions

    Sugar Syrup
  1. To make the sugar syrup dissolve equal parts of castor sugar to water by volume.
  2. The Cocktail
  3. Chill cocktail glasses and then twist the rims into ground salt.
  4. Fill a Manhattan cocktail mixer one third with ice and swirl to chill.
  5. Add the tequila, the kefir and the sugar syrup
  6. Shake for 15 seconds.
  7. Pour into glasses.
  8. Twist a lime quarter to release the oils and garnish each glass with the lime.
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Mo’s Crispbread Crackers

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I love Dr Karg crackers but being on a tight budget can’t afford to eat them as often as I would like. So here is my recipe for a similar home-made, seeded crispbread cracker that is lighter, crispier and absolutely delicious.

Mo's Crispbread Crackers

51

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes

50 crackers

Serving Size: 2

Mo's Crispbread Crackers

Ingredients

  • 125g rye flour
  • 125g spelt
  • 1 tsp dried instant yeast
  • 100 ml warm water
  • 50 ml milk
  • 50g Parmesan cheese
  • 40 g pumpkin seeds
  • 12 g oats
  • 12 g sunflower seeds
  • 12 g linseeds
  • 12 g caraway seeds
  • 7 g sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp powdered seaweed
  • 20 ml olive oil

Directions

  1. Combine the flours, yeast, warm water and milk into a dough. Cover with a tea towel and put in a warm place for half an hour.
  2. Grate the cheese (not too finely) and weigh out all the seeds.
  3. Switch the oven to 200 C (400 F / gas mark 6) to preheat.
  4. After the half hour is up, add the rest of the dry ingredients to the dough.
  5. Knead in the olive oil.
  6. Line several baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  7. Dust a wooden board and pastry roller with flour. Break off a handful of dough and roll out to the thickness of the pumpkin seeds.
  8. Cut into 8 cm (3 inch) squares with a knife and lift onto the baking trays.
  9. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until evenly light brown on top.
  10. Use a pan slice to remove them from the tray and put them onto a wire rack.
  11. Allow to cool and crisp for 10 minutes before eating.
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Alexanders Soup

Alexanders 'Smyrnium' Soup

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

6

Serving Size: 320 ml

Alexanders 'Smyrnium' Soup

A really delicious fragrant soup that makes the most of the few greens available in January and February. Exceptionally tasty!

Ingredients

  • 4 large heads of alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum (stems peeled)
  • ?1 large parsnip?)?
  • 1 bunch of wild garlic Allium ursinum or wild leeks A. paradoxum or A. triquetum
  • ?6 strands of dulse? Palmaria palmata
  • 2 onions
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil?
  • 2 litre of good stock?
  • 1 tablespoon of birch bolete or porcini powder
  • Salt and pepper.

Directions

  1. Use a potato peeler to lightly scrape your alexanders stems and wild parsnip root to remove the outer fibres. Trim any roots off the wild garlic.
  2. Chop the onion and gently fry until translucent in coconut oil.
  3. Then add the chopped parsnip. Fry for 3 minutes then add the stock and the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Take off the heat and cool.
  6. Once a little cooler, use a stock blender to blend the ingredients or, if very cool, transfer to a blender or food processor.  
  7. Season with salt, pepper and a spoon of bolete powder.
  8. Reheat before serving.
  9. Garnish with a leaf spring of alexanders and some tiny wild leeks.

Notes

You can also make this using wild angelica or wild lovage later in the year.

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Unlike many of the other Umbillifers in the family, alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum prefers the cooler months and will quite happily keep producing bright green leaf over winter from November on. After Spring, these become too woody to eat which makes it the perfect choice of foraged vegetable for early February. That is, if you can find it! While common down south it is not widespread in Scotland but can be found in Edinburgh, Fife and East Lothian.

For eating straight as a vegetable, peel the side stalks and cut off the smaller branching stalks, and together with the leaves, steam for 7 minutes. Then add butter, salt and pepper! Or try this lovely soup above.

Alexanders soup

 

 

 

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Hair Ice in Wales

I was recently contacted by Neville Davies from South Wales who discovered something unusual in his local woods this January. Neville sent me the photo below and writes:

“On January 23rd 2015 I was walking through the Beech Woodlands of Draethen in South Wales three miles east of the famous town of Caerphilly.   It was a very cold morning and as I walked through the woods I remember noticing a twig with what I thought to be sheep’s wool attached to it.   It wasn’t until a while later, when I had seen the same substance on another twig on the ground, that I took the time to look more closely.

I was amazed to see that it resembled snow or frost flakes, and that they ran along the whole length of the twig.  I tried to pick up the twig and the flakes fell off in chunks reminding me of tuna flakes when they fall apart from a tin.

I remember thinking how odd this seemed and thought no more of it until I had feedback from my newsletter, where I had included a picture, that this was possibly Hair Ice.

I was very excited about this and was directed to your website post What is Hair Ice? where the photos are identical to what I had taken.

This is a new species for me and I feel very proud to have come across this.”

Neville Davies
www.ecologycymru.co.uk

Hair Ice by Neville Davies

Hair Ice by Neville Davies

If you live in or are visiting Wales, do have a look at the www.ecologycymru.co.uk website as they run lots of guided walks and events for people interested in nature, flora and fauna.

Above is Neville’s great picture of hair ice. You can also find more photos of hair ice (haareis) and an explanation of what hair ice is and what causes hair ice, at my post What is Hair Ice? Do let me know if you have any more sightings to report of this unusual phenomenon. January 2015 seems to have been just the right weather conditions for it!

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Yummly

I’ve been looking for a way to organise my recipes and test driven quite a few apps. I’ve now discovered Yummly. It’s easy and a pleasure to use. You can find a treasure trove of recipes on it and control what you see by what your dietary preferences are down to great detail. I’m now putting all my recipes into Yummly format and you can see them all either her on this blog, or at my Yummly page: yummly.com/page/monicawilde

It’s easy as pie [sic] to sign up with your Facebook or Google account. Do have a browse and remember to give me some ‘Yums’ if you like my recipes!

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Wild Antidote for Smoking

Antidote for Tobacco – Victorian ‘nicorette’!

Trying to give up smoking? One of the most commonly used herbs was Lobelia inflata, nicknamed Indian Tobacco after its use by Native American peoples. It can be hard to get hold of these days as it is Schedule 3 herb which restricts its sale to the general public. If taken in inappropriate amounts it acts as an emetic, causing nausea and vomiting.

Here is another Native American smoking cessation aid which can be made at home:

White Oak Chew Beans

150 grams White Oak Bark, finely chopped
A tiny pinch of capsicum (cayenne) powder (no more than a 12th of a teaspoon / 345mg)
Gum arabic (or edible pine resin)

Grind both your oak bark and capsicum with a pestle and mortar to pulverise them into a very fine powder. Moisten with gum arabic enough to make it stick together. A chew is about the size of a bean. Chew a bean several times a day. In three or four days the desire for tobacco will be gone. Whenever you want a cigarette take a chew on an oak chew bean.

Calamus Chews

I have recommended calamus root (Acorus calamus) to a lot of people as chewing the dried root does help with cravings. It also creates a ‘zen-like’ focus eliminating the fuzzy mind that can go with withdrawal. This also includes withdrawal from some benzodiazepines.

Jim McDonald in Blessed Bitters says “Cravings need not be relegated to food, however. Small doses of many bitter herbs can be very helpful for cravings associated with many addictions, due to their calming affect on mood. An example of this is the chewing of calamus root to ease the cravings for tobacco.”

Use around a centimetre of the root, chew to moisten it and then wedge it between your gum and cheek. Chew again whenever you get cravings. In large quantities (over 3 cm) Acorus can make some people feel nauseous to work out your own tolerance level.

If collecting your own, do remember that sweet flag (Acorus) root can be confused with blue flag (Iris) root which is poisonous so take special care when harvesting. The freshly dried root is by far the most effective. I have written much more on the use of Acorus here in cooking, medicine and collecting it.

Valerian Drops

If anxiety is a big factor, you could also take a tincture of valerian root Valeriana officinalis to chill your nerves. Put it into a dropper bottle and place a few drops on the tongue for 2-3 minutes at the point of craving or take a teaspoon 3 or 4 times a day if anxiety pervades your life.

Smoking Thins Your Brain – The Evidence!

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A day after this article was posted, research was published showing that smoking thins your brain and is linked to all major neurological diseases. Even 25 years after giving up, your cortex is thinner than someone who’s never smoked.

When people have conversations about getting old, most people say that it’s the loss of mental powers that would bother them most. They don’t want to be a great age if they have senile dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and memory problems. These are all inextricably linked to smoking, in that smoking hugely increases the likelihood of your brain function and memory being affected in old age.

The study involved 244 male and 260 female subjects — five times larger than any previous similar research on smoking and cortical thickness. Their average age was 73. The test group included current smokers, ex-smokers and non-smokers. All of the subjects were examined as children in 1947 as part of the Scottish Mental Survey.

Researchers used health data gathered during recent personal interviews with the subjects, and also analyzed data from MRI scans showing the current state of the subjects’ brain cortices.

“We found that current and ex-smokers had, at age 73, many areas of thinner brain cortex than those that never smoked. Subjects who stopped smoking seem to partially recover their cortical thickness for each year without smoking,” says the study’s lead author Dr. Sherif Karama, assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University, psychiatrist at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and an affiliate of the Montreal Neurological Institute.

The apparent recovery process is slow, however, and incomplete. Heavy ex-smokers in the study who had given up smoking for more than 25 years still had a thinner cortex.

Although the cortex grows thinner with normal aging, the study found that smoking appears to accelerate the thinning process. A thinner brain cortex is associated with adult cognitive decline.

“Smokers should be informed that cigarettes could hasten the thinning of the brain’s cortex, which could lead to cognitive deterioration. Cortical thinning seems to persist for many years after someone stops smoking,” says Dr. Karama.

Journal Reference:
S Karama, S Ducharme, J Corley, F Chouinard-Decorte, J M Starr, J M Wardlaw, M E Bastin, I J Deary. Cigarette smoking and thinning of the brain’s cortex. Molecular Psychiatry, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/mp.2014.187

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