Monthly Archives: June 2018

Cow’s Urine

Who knew it was possible to buy this in the supermarket? I have seen (and bought) cow dung cakes in India, but never saw this particular product on the supermarket shelves until a recent visit to Malaysia. It must be said that I was there for the Thaipusam festival, and it is possible this product was available only for the duration, but still.

Research reveals that there are all sorts of fascinating uses for cow’s urine, particularly in medicine, where it is renamed ‘gomutra’ – check the ingredients labels on your Ayurvedic medicine bottles now(!) – and said to be useful in the treatment of leprosy, colic, bloating, epilepsy, diabetes and even cancer.

Mind you, when I offered to send my bottle to a friend in the UK, she said she would rather live with her diabetes than try this…

The most widespread use of cow’s urine is for religious purposes, as a spiritual cleanser when sprinkled in holy places. Scientists in India have also apparently determined that it is a bio enhancer, which means it can boost the activity of antibiotic and antifungal agents. It is even possible, in certain places, to buy it as a health drink, where it is mixed with herbs and flavoured with citrus fruits, or else incorporated into soaps and shampoos. This last use is actually perfectly feasible, as urine was always the main cleansing ingredient employed in ancient Roman laundries.

The most likely use for my bottle, however, seems to be as a fertiliser and bio pesticide for the pot plants clinging to survival on my balcony. If it kills them stone dead, I will let you know!


Bee Larvae

Category : Food

Wandering through the early morning farmer’s market in Luang Prabang, I was tempted by the honey stalls. I love honey, and always try to buy some interesting new variety on my travels. One of these stalls, however, had something I’d never seen before.

Roasting happily over a small charcoal stove on the ground were pieces of what looked like honeycomb wrapped in banana leaves. Closer inspection revealed that this was honeycomb long before the stage where any honey is involved – this was the structure, but each section still contained the grub which would grow into the bee.

It looked fascinating, it cost pennies, and I have tried various bug like things before without ill effects, so I decided to give it a go.

The banana leaves are supposed to make the larvae aromatic, and prevents them from drying out as they roast. They also make for a handy wrapping and keep the whole thing from falling apart in your hand. So far, so good. Trying this very local snack, however, was a bit of a challenge. The roasted honeycomb cells were very soft, and broke away from each other into individual tubes. Each of these was gooey and squidgy with the cooked larva inside, and I found the texture to be deeply unpleasant in my mouth.

Let us say I shall chalk that down to experience. An experience I will not care to repeat…


DIY Herbal Hair Oil

It’s always fun to try some homemade beauty treatment, from yoghurt and honey face packs to beer and egg yolk hair conditioners, so I had to snap up this DIY herbal hair oil remedy on a recent trip to India.

In the southern state of Kerala, fabulous herbs and spices are a constant temptation in the local stores. You can buy fresh peppercorns and nutmegs by the sackful, countless types of fragrant green tea, plus fascinating health and beauty products.

Kerala claims to be the home of Ayurvedic treatments, and many of the spas suggest an appointment with the doctor before a course of massage and or medication is prescribed. We didn’t have time for that, but after experiencing the type of all-purpose massage which left us dripping in aromatic oil from head to foot, abandoning everything for a swift return to the hotel for a shower, the idea of an at-home treatment at a later date was quite appealing. No looking (and smelling) completely bizarre as you try to hail a taxi to go clean yourself up. No rescheduling or cancelling of plans because you can’t possibly carry on with your day right then.

This charmingly basic DIY hair treatment looked like a lot of fun – simply a plastic bottle filled with a twiggy collection of herbs. The idea is to cover the contents with coconut oil, preferably the local variety, leave it all for 3 days until the colour of the oil changes as it absorbs the goodness from the herbs, then apply to your hair. As with most of the hair oils available from the big brand names, you can either apply this as a pre-shampoo treatment, or as a leave-in conditioner afterwards.

I was quite surprised to see that the coconut hair oil I’d bought in India came out of the bottle looking dark turquoise in colour. It also needed a little help with hot water to melt the bottle contents sufficiently to pour them out onto the herbs.

Over the course of the 3 days, the oil then turned a startling dark red colour, which I was half afraid might actually dye my hair. It managed to smell strongly both of herbs and medication, and in retrospect I should probably have considered filtering the oil from the twiggy bits before trying to use it.

The verdict? This was quite entertaining, and worked reasonably well, leaving my hair soft and shiny without turning it red or smelly. But to be honest, it is far easier and a great deal less messy to use normal hair oil, which is what I shall continue to do.

 


Adhesive Earrings

Another treasure from Daiso at the usual bargain $2, I bought these as a joke and sent them to daughter #2.

The premise is simple, you just peel the earring carefully from the backing card, attach it to your ear holding the end of the tape, then either cut or pull the tape away leaving the earring stuck firmly to your skin.

I was expecting to hear these were useless, but to my surprise daughter #2 thought they were great. They apparently stayed on for days, survived repeated hair washings, and were easy to reapply with the spare sticky patches provided once the original wore out.

Not bad for $2!


Pho Flavoured Beer

Category : Food

I know, it sounds diabolical, but there it was on the menu and I could not resist.

Pho is of course the noodle soup which is possibly the signature dish of Vietnam, and according to the label, this craft beer, made in Hanoi by Furbrew, uses light roasted malts to get the umami flavour of broth before adding the five big spices together with an infusion of red chilli.

To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy this, but was pleasantly surprised. Not that I was completely convinced that it tasted of pho, which I’d already had for breakfast that day, so the flavour was fresh in my mind.

I was at a small place run by someone who’d got his big break on the Vietnamese version of MasterChef, and was eating a very interesting deconstructed banh mi. This beer, with its tagline:  ‘Untraditional. Unconventional. Unexpected.’, matched the concept behind the food very well. Although at 110,000 Vietnamese dong it cost twice the price of regular Hanoi beer, the chilli kick was great and it really complimented the herbs and pickles in the banh mi. One was enough, but I would definitely consider ordering it again.


Bamboo Straws

In these days of environmental awareness and sustainable living, there are all kinds of easy and interesting ways that anyone can make a difference.

Take these straws, handcrafted from bamboo by Vietnamese and Cambodian villagers – they not only offer a way to stop the ocean filling up with the discarded plastic version, but buying them gives new economic opportunities to women in rural backwaters. It’s a win-win situation.

Bamboo grows ridiculously quickly, so this is a source of raw material that will not run out any time soon. It is also fully biodegradable and compostable when you can’t use the straw any longer, so it will help something new to grow.

I can see that keeping the straws clean might be a problem, but the instructions are to wash with warm soapy water and leave to dry, and I expect it will be obvious when they have reached the end of their useful life.

The idea is great, and at about $1 a straw they are perfectly affordable. They do feel slightly strange in use, though, perhaps because after all this time sipping through the thin and delicate plastic version, they seem bulky and over-long. I feel sure, however, that in the interests of saving the planet this is something you can quickly get used to.


Ginseng Skin Tonic

Just a few kilometres away from the DMZ is the North Korean town of Kaesong, which is famous not only for being the sole place that switched from South to North Korea after the armistice was signed, but also for its ginseng. Something about the soil and the water supply there means that it produces a high quality crop which is much sought after.

You can buy this special ginseng and the various products made from it in other places, notably Pyongyang, but Kaesong itself is the best place to go shopping.

Face packs, candy and natural roots aside, the item which particularly caught my eye was this skin tonic, mostly because it comes with an actual ginseng root suspended in the bottle. (Spoiler alert for family members: I brought several of these home to stash away as quirky Christmas presents…)

The Koreans call ginseng the ‘elixir of life’ and make many claims as to its properties if you eat it. I can’t say I agree with any of them, as eating ginseng tends to make my nose bleed, but this skin tonic was irresistible.

Not only does it claim to maintain the moisture balance of your skin, keeping it smooth and elastic, it also apparently improves the colour and prevents your skin from aging. The product is unisex, and the instructions say to massage it into your skin with your fingers after washing or shaving.

I actually found it quite drying, although it would probably work very well for oily skin. The jury is still out on the anti-aging, so one can but hope.

At the moment, the only way of getting more seems to be to go back to North Korea. Unless of course there is a breakthrough at the summit in Singapore next week….


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