Health brew from ancient times

2013-12-03 00:00

IN the early part of this century, there was a tradition of brewing your own household remedies. Many of these legendary cures were lost over time as pharmaceutical giants muscled in on the medical market and prescribed a pill for all evils.

In our fast-paced world, many people have forgotten how to cure themselves with natural ingredients and they are more inclined to reach for a pill when an ailment arises.

One of the ancient remedies that has experienced a resurgence is kombucha — fungus tea — a remedy for a plethora of ailments. It has been used for centuries to help keep health on track.

The word kombucha , which was officially recorded in 1995, is probably a derivative of the Japanese word kombu (which means kelp). Although kombucha is not made from kelp, the active fungus does resemble a thick jelly-like seaweed at times.

During the sixties, it was traditional to keep a bucket of brewing kombucha in the kitchen and as the fungus reproduced one would gift the fungus “babies” to friends who would then make their own kombucha brew.

Dr Robin Werner, a natural medicine practitioner based in Hilton is making and selling kombucha to those who might like to experience its ancient health benefits. Kombucha is made with tea, sugar and filtered water. The active fungus is produced by creating a symbiotic colony bacteria and yeast, or “Scoby”.

While there have never been any scientific trials on the efficacy of kombucha, it has been used by many cultures to prevent illness and boost immunity. It originated in China, and then spread to Russia and across the world.

The kombucha culture (a genus of acetic acid bacteria) forms a layer that resembles a flat-looking pancake or mushroom. Kombucha contains multiple species of yeast and bacteria along with the organic acids, active enzymes, amino acids, and polyphenols produced by these microbes. Usually a brew of kombucha will have acetic acid, ethanol, gluconic acid, glucuronic acid, glycerol, lactic acid, usnic acid and B-vitamins.

The main benefit of kombucha is the glucuronic acid found in the brew. This aids the liver in detoxification. Werner, who has made kombucha for many years and sold it at his practice in the Western Cape, says the secret to kombucha is its simplicity.

“One has to manufacture in sterile conditions and to keep the temperature as constant as possible, but it is a recipe that works with the body to help the body. Some of my patients use it to help with indigestion, while others say it helps them feel more energetic.”

In the past, the Russians claimed that it helped to cure cancer. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the recently deceased Russian author and nobel-prize winner, said in his autobiography that kombucha tea cured his stomach cancer during his internment in soviet labour camps. But Werner says it is merely a health-enhancing tea that encourages good bacteria in the stomach and regulates the pH levels in the body.

Kombucha contains glucosamines, a strong preventive and treatment for all forms of arthritis. Glucosamines increase hyaluronic acid production. This preserves cartilage structure and prevents arthritic pain. Hyaluronic acid also enables connective tissue to bind moisture thousands of times its weight and maintains tissue structure, moisture, lubrication and flexibility and lessens free radical damage, while associated collagen retards and reduces wrinkles.

Because it’s naturally fermented with a living colony of bacteria and yeast, Kombucha is a probiotic beverage. So it can improve digestion, fight candida (harmful yeast), and aid mental clarity and mood stability

In general, it is full of anti-oxidants that boost your immune system and energy.

Werner is producing various flavours of kombucha and now supplying local health stores. He is also producing kefir, a type of fermented milk that is also an old-fashioned remedy that has been in existence for centuries. Kefir is a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains and has its origins in the north Caucasus Mountains. It was originally made by mixing goat, sheep or cow’s milk with kefir grains. The milk would be put in a bag with the grains and the bag would be shaken every now and again.

Kefir grains are a combination of bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars, and this symbiotic matrix forms “grains” that resemble cauliflower. For this reason, a complex and highly variable community of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts can be found in these grains.

Kefir grains contain a water-soluble polysaccharide known as kefiran, which imparts a rope-like texture and feeling in the mouth. The grains range in colour from white to yellow, and may grow to the size of walnuts. Kefir has vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin D and vitamin K2), folic acid and nicotinic acid, and it has the minerals calcium, iron and iodine.

People who are lactose intolerant may be able to tolerate kefir because of the live bacteria in the mixture. Werner makes his traditional kefir. The result is a yogurt-like substance that tastes slightly sour, but not unpleasant.

Kefir is good for digestion and it is an excellent probiotic. Werner says the reason people do not make these traditional remedies any more is that it takes time and the traditional ingredients may not be easily available.

“Reviving old-fashioned health remedies is a passion of mine. But I am also happy to share my knowledge because we all need to start making our health a priority and it is in our interests to use what nature has given us to heal ourselves.”

•To find out more about this old-fashioned remedy, contact Robin Werner at 079 226 0817.

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