Dr. O’s note: This awesome post was written by my friend Marina P-K, who lives in a Permaculture paradise of her creation in the northern Sierra Nevadas. She works with beings of several kingdoms — plants, animals and microbes — and shares her copious knowledge freely. Reprinted with permission from her blog, Cultured, Aged, Brewed, (“A docu-sploration of what happens when we allow foods to sit around long enough to ‘go good.'”) this article considers serious infections, building and supporting a strong immune system, and giving the body appropriate microflora through the use of traditional fermented foods.
Warning, graphic pictures in today’s post. I think they’re amazing documentation of the body’s ability to heal, but if your stomach is easily turned I suggest scrolling down til the subject turns to garlic.
Today marks the fourth week in healing the holes my pig poked and tore in my legs. The puncture in my shin is growing smaller and remains predictable, but the cut on my thigh has become infected. I host a certain strain of staph bacteria. A neglected cut at age six resulted in a swollen foot and a course of antibiotics. The doctor explained to my mother that once staph enters our blood stream, it never really goes away. My immune system can surpress and restrain it, but when a large enough disturbance tests my biological defense systems, staph emerges.
These large tooth wounds are the dirtiest challenges with which my immune system has had to battle in quite awhile (maybe, ever). The antibiotics prescribed by the E.R. doctors might have saved me a leg amputation, but they’ve also caused the nasty and predictable side effect of yeast overgrowth. What a joy it’s been to be in my body the last month…
Due to that cut and other non-staph related childhood infections (and their respective courses of antibiotics) I reached adulthood with a relatively low diversity of flora and fauna in my digestive tract. Antibiotics, life saving as they may be, aim to kill ALL bacteria, not just the ones causing infection. Certain science articles cause me to believe that there are more bacterial cells in our bodies than there are self produced cells. Bacteria, the kind that don’t cause infection, aid in assimilating nutrients and in other process we as yet know little about. If the right bacteria aren’t performing their roles, optimal health is unobtainable. I experienced marked health benefits when I began adding fermented foods to my diet. More energy, fewer and less intense seasonal colds, and regular bowel movements are among the benefits anyone can gain by regularly ingesting relatively small amounts of live cultures.
day one: the little jar smooshes garlic down into the brine
Due to my immune system’s recent need for extra assistance (with the yeast party in my crotch, and the flesh eating bacteria stubbornly colonizing my leg), I’ve been ingesting generous amounts of beneficial cultures, and lots of foods and herbs with infection fighting powers. One of the most effective, delicious, and popular of these super foods is raw garlic. And what better than live pickled garlic? It’s so easy!
day three: bubbles indicate friendly bacteria are consuming sugar from the garlic
All that’s needed is some kraut juice, or brine from any other lacto fermented food, or vinegar, or salt water. Break apart the head of garlic, no need to peel individual cloves, and submerge in the liquid (the cloves will float at first). I use a smaller jar stuck in the top of a larger jar to prevent cloves from making contact with air. This helps eliminate mold. After about a week the cloves will begin to sink to the bottom of the jar, the small jar can be removed, and a regular lid screwed on.
Raw garlic is fiery, and will offend most empty stomachs. When I’m eating lots of it for medicinal purposes, I like to crush a clove on top of every meal. Another good way to get friendly bacteria and garlic in one dose is to crush a clove or two into a cup of yogurt or milk kefir. Stir in a slosh of pink kraut juice and it’s a wonderful immune booster – my latest superdrink! Yet another way is to crush a clove onto a peanut butter sandwich. Don’t knock it til you try it, it’s actually really tasty.
yogurt, fermented red cabbage juice, crushed raw garlic — my favorite medicine
It takes about four weeks for a good sized garlic clove to completely ferment. The brine softened paper skins come off easily after just a few days. Pickled garlic looks sort of transparent (cloves pickled in red cabbage brine will eventually turn completely pink), while not-yet-fermented garlic is opaque. This is a great way to store a bounty of garlic long term without the worry of molding or sprouting. The fire is tamed during pickling, and fully fermented cloves can be casually munched without the grotesque faces plain raw garlic invokes.
day fourteen: half pickled garlic. the darker parts on the ends are fermented
The anti-microbial properties of garlic are wonderfully selective about the bacteria they destroy. They are tough on staph and yeast, but leave lactic bacteria alone entirely. My superdrink contains everything my body needs to heal and find equilibrium after the latest (I always hope its the last) prescription.
Several times in my life, antibiotics have thankfully eliminated bacteria that might have threatened my ability to survive. Fermented foods at every meal repopulate my body with bacteria I need to thrive. I’m treating my infected cut topically with honey and goldenseal (and it’s responding!), the garlic will do its work from the inside out, and the yogurt supports my digestive tract’s microbe population. I believe I can avoid antibiotics’ negative effects by fostering in my body a strong colony of beneficial microbes.