Tuesday, 26 February 2013


 All my clothes appear to have shrunk in the wash!  Obviously I need a new wardrobe OR a differently shaped body.  Yesterday I decided to quit moaning and actually DO something about it so the diet began.  Fresh fruit and yogurt for breakfast; egg for lunch and moussaka for dinner.  I drank plenty of water and apple juice but no tea or coffee.  By nine thirty I had the worst headache ever!  I went to bed with a couple of pills and promptly threw up!  Brilliant for the diet I suppose but NOT something I wish to repeat.  Today I had my usual caffeine fix and feel just fine.

So what is this stuff I can’t live without?

It really isn’t very pleasant stuff! Apparently tea, coffee and cocoa plants produce caffeine to act as a pesticide which paralyses and kills certain insects once they have eaten the leaves.   Scientists have found high levels of caffeine in the soil around coffee plants as it also inhibits seed germination too close to the mature plant.  Doesn’t sound like the sort of thing you want in a healthy diet!

We all know it is in tea, coffee, coke and, to a small extent, chocolate.  We know it acts as a mild stimulant to ward off drowsiness, giving us improved mental focus and co-ordination.  We know it produces these effects quite quickly and wears off within a few hours .... but is it any good for us?

Scientists have carried out numerous studies involving thousands of people and discovered no significant relationship between caffeine and cancer – in fact coffee can protect us against some cancers.  Although caffeine does raise your heart rate and blood pressure there is no risk to people with a healthy heart (but you need to be careful if you suffer from high blood pressure).  High caffeine intake can lead to an increased loss of calcium in the urine but this can be offset by adding two tablespoons of milk to each cup of coffee.  Some evidence suggests it reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes: some asthma sufferers find caffeine relieves the attacks and a French study showed women who drink coffee had better cognitive ability in old age than non-drinkers. Because it has a modest effect on your metabolism caffeine is one of the ingedients in some weight loss pills.  It acts as a mild diuretic and it can suppress appetite but in reality the effects are very small and insignificant - I was hoping to find a different conclusion here - a tea/coffee/chocolate diet sounds quite nice!
Not all bad then if taken in moderation.  A moderate amount of caffeine is about 300 milligrams a day. 

Here is a rough guide to help you work out your intake:

One can of cola:  80 mg
One cup of tea:    75mg
One cup of instant coffee:  100mg
One cup of filter coffee:     140mg
One can of energy drink:     80mg
One 50g bar milk chocolate:   25mg
One 50g bar dark chocolate:   50mg
I was aware that some people can become addicted to caffeine but I didn’t realise I was one of them.  After working out my daily intake I can understand why the withdrawal symptoms were so painful after only one day!

People have enjoyed tea since about 3000BC when the Chinese used it as a restorative drink. 
Coffee came from Ethiopia (around the ninth century AD).  One legend has it that a goat herder named Kaldi realised his animals were far more activate after eating coffee plants so tried it himself. 
It reached Europe sometime in the 17th century: the first English coffee house opened in Oxford in 1650 and played an important part in some social reforms ... strange to think that nowadays we are signing petitions against Starbucks and Costa invading our high streets!

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Prima Rosa to Die for?

Primroses are early bloomers hence the name - Prima Rosa - first flower. There are 400 - 500 members of the Primulaceae genus.  Market stalls are full of these hardy perennials this week ... cheerful instant colour for pots or borders. If you are planting some take a good look at the flowers.  There are two kinds of primulas - the pin eye form where the style is above the stamens (look at the centre of the blue ones above - the pin is clearly sticking out) and the thrum eye form where the style is below the stamens.  If you want them to spread then the best seed is formed when cross pollination occurs between the two different kinds so make sure you position a pin eyed plant near a thrum eyed plant.  Collect the seeds in June or July and sow them immediately (Monty shows you how here) or leave them to self seed.

Now is the time to be sowing the seeds for next year's plants.  Soak your pots of compost by standing them in water before sowing the tiny seeds on top.  Do not cover the seeds as they need plenty of light to germinate.  Place a pane of glass over the top or put them inside a plastic bag to retain moisture then leave then in a warm light place.  They can be slow so be patient!   Transplant the seedlings into individual pots when they are 5 cm tall. They will be ready to bloom next spring. 

Alternatively you can increase your stock by taking  root cuttings (winter, when the plant is dormant, is the best time for this) or now, by removing a leaf with an incipient bud and growing it on - click here for the instructions from the Primula World site.

Dead head regularly to prolong flowering and divide every three years (after flowering) to encourage healthy growth.

The root and flowers have been used in many cultures to relieve bronchial problems, sleeplessness and stress.
Richard Earlom - Thornton Auricula
 I tend to take these plants for granted.  I realise a lot of time and effort has gone into producing the different colours and varieties but I didn't realise that primula plant hunters had actually died! Here is a short extract about plant hunters from the National Auticula and Primula Society website
When China first opened its doors particularly after the Opium war of 1860 French missionaries were quick to take advantage, although a few had gained acceptance earlier because of their scientific knowledge: this newly found freedom of movement was always relative and precarious and some were murdered. Abbe Soulie, who discovered Primula polyneura and is commemorated by Primula soulei was caught by the monks of Petang during this period of Chinese/Tibetan friction, tortured and finally shot. His colleague Bourdonnec was killed some months later together with his successor. Pere Dubernard (Primula dubernardiana), who had been of help to Forrest, was murdered during the same period, and Forrest himself, who was in the vicinity, had to flee leaving all his equipment and belongings. He was hunted remorselessly before finally making his escape.
... a host of golden ... cowslips!