Food from the wild: go with your gut

April Danann and husband Max with children Dara and Trevor. “I can smell it off food, if there has been plastic on it,” she says.
April Danann and husband Max with children Dara and Trevor. “I can smell it off food, if there has been plastic on it,” she says.

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy talks to Nutritionist April Danann who will reveal secrets of “Energy Medicine” to a Galway audience this month

New Year, new you? If that’s your aim, then maybe it’s time to go with your gut. Scientific research shows that a healthy gut is vital to keeping the entire body and mind healthy and in a state of balance. And that involves eating probiotic food.

Vegetables, fruit and water can be turned into healthy, tasty and probiotic gut-friendly food via the age-old practice of fermenting, and a workshop being held at Galway City Museum on Monday, January 30, will give people the skills to start home-fermenting.

The Wild Fermentation Class is being given by Clinical Nutritionist April Danann, who practises what she describes as “Energy Medicine” from her West Cork home. Canadian-born April, who lived for some time in Galway, near Monivea, previously worked as a food hygiene inspector.

In her 20s she studied massage therapy, kinesiology and healing touch, among other complimentary practices, including medical intuition – a skill she says she’s had since childhood. She also has a Masters in Nutrition from the University of Chester and a PhD in Naturopathic Medicine.

“I even have a diploma in food packaging technology,” says the mother-of-two with a laugh. That’s in addition to a BSc in Food Management and Supply and a Masters in Exercise and Nutrition Science. So, she combines science and naturopathic medicine in her work as a nutritional therapist, a rare combination, especially in this country.

And she’s fascinated by food, from the humble dandelion; “immerse it in water, vinegar or brandy and it becomes a magic elixir” – to vinegar; “I make it from hawthorn, elder, red clover and other local flowers”.  Other mixtures include Turmeric and Ginger Apple Cider Vinegar, and Wild Blueberry AC Vinegar. Her Fire Tonic Apple Cider vinegar with wild herbs, garlic, hawthorn, turmeric and ginger is an ideal pick-me-up and is just one of the blend she makes for different needs.

A fermentation expert, who is revered by those who espouse healthy diets, April has made a series of Youtube videos for the Happy Pear restaurant in Wicklow, demonstrating what’s involved in the process.

Her love of wild fermentation grew organically, she explains. Cider vinegar is beneficial for the gut and when April first started taking it, she used to buy an organic commercial brand.

“But it was too acidic and was hard on my stomach,” she recalls. “Then, I was on a fast one time and decided to make my own, because commercial vinegars didn’t have the local organisms that my stomach needed.

“It wasn’t difficult but it took time and it’s much more palatable,” she says of the process.

April began by capturing what’s known as “a vinegar mother”, the starter culture for all her subsequent vinegars.

“I put open pots of liquid in our garden in West Cork, which I was able to develop into a vinegar mother. I now use that mother all over – it’s travelled to Singapore, Thailand, America, Australia and Canada.”

However, the bacteria and yeast it contains means it’s particularly well adapted to Ireland and April gives it to people who attend her classes and who want to make their own apple cider vinegar.

“Once you have the ‘mother’ the hard part is done. Then you just need time and patience to produce it the old-fashioned way.”

She does that using “pristine well-water and old whiskey barrels; no plastics or metals”.

That’s because metal can affect the taste and acidity of the finished vinegar. As for plastic, “you never want to put anything acidic near plastic”, she says firmly. “Anything with an acid base will be affected by what it’s fermented in.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.