holistic health

Understanding the Feminine Cycle (Nourishing Foods / Herbs for Each Phase)

Like so many women, I was never really encouraged to honour my feminine cycle growing up. During those tender years where our bodies change so rapidly, society feeds us the idea that our bleed is a time of the month to dread and hide from. We’re told that there are two stages to our cycle - bleeding or not bleeding - and that PMS symptoms like bloating and fatigue are something to be accepted and endured. With this lack of knowledge comes a disempowerment and a detachment from the beauty of our own bodies. Now, more than ever, I feel that we need to return to this natural wisdom in order to find balance again…

The negative seeds of thought were planted within me but I did not allow them to grow for too long. At the age of 21, after a year taking the contraceptive pill and feeling utterly depressed and detached from myself, I began to question everything related to my health, body & spirit. Once I began to dive into this world of holistic health & healing I couldn’t turn back. Taking responsibility for my own healing has been the ultimate expression of self love in my life.

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When I first began reading about women and cultures who honour their cycle and bleed, I felt resistance. ‘How can you honour something so inconvenient, painful and messy?’ was the question dancing around my head. But still, the more I read, the more something began to stir within me that shifted my whole perspective. When we discover the intricacy of our hormonal system, it’s difficult not to be in total awe of our bodies and what they’re capable of. After all, it’s this very cycle that leads to the creation of life. Without it, you wouldn't be here right now, reading this.

When we nourish ourselves in the right way and connect with each stage of our cycle, we begin to understand our bodies and can recognise our own intuitive needs in a clearer way. It’s been a fascinating, sacred & at times confusing path for me, and I hope through this article we can provide the foundational knowledge for anyone starting this journey or interested in deepening their understanding.


Aztec calendar. “Sun circle, with symbols of months.” Prehistoric America. v.5. 1905

Aztec calendar. “Sun circle, with symbols of months.” Prehistoric America. v.5. 1905

The Four Primary Reproductive Hormone

FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) - The production of this hormone occurs the same time of the cycle that 15-20 eggs start to mature in each ovary. Each egg is encased in its own follicle, and the follicles race to become the largest. Eventually ovulation will happen once one of the ovaries releases an egg from the most dominant follicle.
Estrogen -In order to ovulate the follicles need to produce enough of the hormone estrogen. After our bleed, our estrogen levels will gradually rise until they meet the necessary level for ovulation to occur. Excess estrogen in the body (also known as estrogen dominance) can cause really unpleasant side effects. This can be avoided in various ways…. some example are eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, keeping stress levels low and also avoiding xenoestrogens from plastics, cosmetics and pesticides.
LH (Luteinizing hormone) - Once we reach the estrogen threshold, it will trigger an abrupt surge of LH which leads to ovulation. This hormone causes the egg to burst through the ovarian wall. Once the egg is released from the ovary, the follicle that encased the egg collapses on itself and becomes a ‘corpus luteum’. This stays inside the ovarian wall and begins to release the hormone progesterone.
Progesterone- This is a really important hormone for women’s fertility. As the corpus luteum releases progesterone after ovulation, it prevents the release of any other eggs during that cycle and causes the uterine lining to thicken. It also causes our waking temperature, cervical fluid and position to change. The corpus luteum stays on the ovarian wall until it disintegrates after around 12-16 days. If the egg doesn’t get fertilised, then progesterone levels will drop and the uterine lining will then shed and cause your bleed to start.


The Four Stages of the Cycle and Nourishing Foods/Herbs for Each Phase

  1. MENSTRUAL PHASE (first day of bleed until the end of bleed)
    full moon

    Average duration: 3-7 days

    Day 1 of the cycle begins on the first day of your bleed. If you experience any light spotting on the days before your bleed starts, these would be counted in the previous month’s cycle. This is a time of inner-reflection and many women find that their intuition is strongest during this phase. As you bleed, it’s an invitation to really nourish your body and take things slower than normal. Prioritising time for self-care can be beautiful during these days - whether it’s a warm bath, time in nature, gentle stretching or journalling. In many ancient traditions the women would gather together during this phase and be exempt from their responsibilities..

    Foods/Herbs for the Menstrual Phase:
    Your body goes through an intense process as it sheds the lining of the uterus, so it’s important to eat nutrient-rich and grounding foods during this phase. As your body loses blood, focus on foods that are high in iron and zinc. Warming foods and teas are also really beneficial - I love eating soups and stews during this time.

    Foods: Root Vegetables, Beetroot, Dark Greens, Kale, Mushroom, Seaweeds, Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Blueberrys, Blackberries, Cacao, Miso, Tamari.

    Herbs: Nettles (really high in minerals), Red Raspberry Leaf, Chamomile, Turmeric (anti-inflammatory), ginger (can help with any cramping)

  2. FOLLICULAR PHASE
    Waning Moon
    average duration: 7-10 days

    As your bleed ends you enter into the follicular phase of the cycle, where the hormone estrogen gradually rises. Many women feel a rise in energy during these days and it’s known as a time of creativity and new beginnings. Instinctually, it’s the time of the cycle where we would normally attract a partner to mate with, which is why we might feel more confident and outgoing during this phase. It’s the time when you will most likely want to be more social, active and try new things.

    Foods/Herbs for the Follicular Phase:
    Fresh, lighter foods are ideal for this phase and will keep you energised. All your hormone levels are at their lowest, so your body can easily tolerate different types of food.

    Foods: lots of vegetables - broccoli, carrot, courgette, parsley, lettuce, avocado, citrus fruits, mungbeans, split peas, fermented foods, olives, brazil nuts, cashews.

    Herbs: schisandra (supports kidneys/liver), tulsi, licorice


  3. OVULATORY PHASE
    New Moon
    Average duration: 3-4 days

    This is the time when many hormones reach their peak level (FSH, LH, and estrogen). As an egg is released, we are at our most fertile time and often women find they are at their peak in terms of energy, confidence and libido. You may feel pelvic pain as the egg is released and on your most fertile days, you should have clear, wet vaginal discharge. This is called cervical fluid and is a really essential sign of healthy fertility. The Ovulatory phase is a good time for communication and expressing yourself clearly - so it’s a great time for meaningful conversations or interviews.

    Foods/Herbs for the Ovulatory Phase:
    As estrogen levels are high, most women have more energy during these days. Sticking to lighter foods will help support this. You want to help your body eliminate any excess estrogen (e.g. from toxins, plastics…) so eating a lot of fiber will help with this elimination process.

    Foods: quinoa, corn, flaxseeds, spinach, tomato, pepper, aubergine, fig, strawberry, raspberry, red lentils, almonds, pecan, pistachio

    Herbs: Red Clover (promotes lubrication), dandelion (supports detoxification), shatavari (supports healthy ovulation), maca (balances excess estrogens)

  4. LUTEAL PHASE
    waxing moon
    average duration: 10-14 days

    The luteal phase begins after ovulation has occurred and it’s when progesterone levels rise. Energy gradually declines during this phase and towards the end you may feel yourself begin to turn inwards and soften once again. Some women have unpleasant symptoms during this time due to the abrupt change in hormone levels, so it can be helpful to recognise the big shifts your hormones are going through and see these symptoms as ways your body is communicating with you. For many, this is a ‘nesting’ time where we feel more called to organise things at home, do some necessary life-admin or take more time for yourself to rest.

    Foods/Herbs for the Luteal Phase:

    Many women experience sugar cravings during this phase. You can navigate this is in a nourishing way by eating foods that are rich in B vitamins and also eating more complex carbohydrates. These natural sugars will help balance dopamine levels and prevent any mood swings. I love eating roasted sweet potato during this phase. Continue eating high-fiber foods to help eliminate any excess estrogens (which can cause PMS symptoms).

    Foods: Brown rice, millet, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, ginger, leek, onion, parsnip, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, apples, dates, peaches, pears, chickpeas, walnuts.

    Herbs: ashwaganda (helps balance hormones and stress), ginger (can help with bloating), tulsi (helps lift mood), Vitex (boosts progesterone levels - helpful if your luteal phase is too short, but do your research before taking!)

Tracking your cycle

Photo by Gustav Amestal

Photo by Gustav Amestal

If you don’t already, I really encourage you to track your period from day 1 of your bleed. There are tons of apps you can use or I personally prefer to chart it in my journal. It’s amazing when you begin to recognise the various ways you change during the month and how this correlates with what phase you’re in. It’s also a really interesting way of tracking any symptoms or patterns that occur in your cycle. For example, for a long time I would always have a small breakout on days 18-19 of my cycle, due to a hormone shift. Once I identified this I could work to support my body and balance excess estrogen during this stage.

Recommended Resources

  • Watching this video a few years ago really sparked my interest in this topic. Beautiful advice and approach to the cycle!

  • Woman Code by Alissa Vitti is an incredible book that dives into the feminine cycle in so much detail. Credit to Alissa for the food recommendations that I’ve mentioned in this article!

  • Also really recommend Love your Lady Landscape and Code Red by Lisa Lister.

  • Taking Charge of your Fertility is the fertility bible. Goes into a lot more detail about how to track your cycle and cervical fluid.

  • The Superfeast podcast have an excellent women’s series which covers so about women’s health and the feminine cycle.


We would love to hear about your relationship with your cycle…. let us know in the comments below or on Instagram @putumayo.kitchen
We hope you enjoyed this post and found some wisdom from it!

Travel Essentials - Herbal & Sustainable Products

In a few days we leave for a 6 month trip to India and Nepal. Our packing pile is growing taller and we’re beginning to feel so excited about all the adventures to come. We wanted to share with you some of our travel essentials that we’re bringing with us to keep healthy and happy on the road. If you’ve been to India, you’ll know how shocking it can be to witness the huge amounts of rubbish on almost every street corner. We feel determined to travel as sustainably as possible during this trip and avoid using single use plastics. We intend to tread lightly and respectfully, doing what we can to help the situation rather than adding to the problem. Another big priority is caring for our bodies and keeping energised. The inconsistency of travel can be a real stress to the body, so we have some natural remedies and products to help us feel our best.

If you have any more tips or recommendations we would love to hear from you! We also have this post with some extra tips about how to stay healthy while backpacking.

Travel Essentials Herbal Natural Remedies Supplements

Herbal Remedies / Supplements

ORGANIC ESSENTIAL OILS:
Lavender
for burns, cuts, stressful moments & sleepless nights.
Tea Tree Oil incredibly antibacterial. SO healing for cuts, infections, bites etc.
Lemongrass Oil is amazing as a natural insect repellent

ACTIVATED CHARCOAL | a natural remedy for food poisoning, indigestion, bloating or to take at any sign of a stomach issue.

PROBIOTICS | a good quality probiotic to help strengthen our gut flora - an essential for us in somewhere like India, where digestion is put under a lot of stress.

WORMWOOD CAPSULES | a herb to help clear parasites or toxins if we’re feeling unwell or have a case of ‘Delhi belly’

ADAPTOGENIC TINCTURE | on our last trip to India we ended up feeling quite burnt out and exhausted. This trip, I wanted to bring some adaptogens to strengthen our bodies and help adapt to the stresses of travel. We’re bringing this tincture of schizandra, rhodiola, gotu kola and siberian ginseng,

B COMPLEX VITAMIN | In more attempt to avoid burn out we’ll be bringing some B vitamins to help with energy. I like this variety which is especially high in B6, as it helps the liver flush out excess hormones caused by stress.

INSECT REPELLENT | On our last trip we made a really effective natural insect repellent using essential oils. We found we had so many less bites than fellow travellers who were using harsh, toxic DEET on their skin. We use a recipe from the book ‘A Fragrant Pharmacy’ which combines a ratio of the following essential oils with distilled water and witch hazel (or high-proof vodka) - 8 drops lemongrass oil, 4 drops thyme oil, 4 drops peppermint oil & 4 drops lavender oil.

GOOD QUALITY SALT | It can sometimes be really difficult to find high quality salt abroad, and we’ve found it to be really helpful for dehydration. On days when we’ve been walking around in the heat and sweating a lot, we add a pinch to our water to remineralise.

NATURAL REHYDRATION SOLUTION | We will bring a homemade elcoctrolyte mix in case of diahorrea or dehydration. There are hundreds of recipes online for these but the basic ingredients are good quality salt, bicarbonate of soda, sugar (we’ll use coconut sugar) and dried ginger.

Travel Essentials Sustainable Zero Waste

Sustainable Travel Essentials

KLEAN KANTEEN BOTTLES | We love Klean Kanteen bottles - we both have a 40z (1.2 litres) and one 900ml bottle which we use every single day. They are incredible quality and we can tell they will last a life time.

SURVIVAL PRO WATER FILTER | After a lot of research we’ve just invested in this water filter for our trip. This filter not only makes tap water safe to drink, but it also filters out heavy metals. We really want to avoid buying any plastic bottles during our trip and this felt like the best solution for our health and the planet.

MENSTRUAL CUP | Buying my moon cup is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! A menstrual cup is an essential to avoid using tampons or pads that will go to landfill.

STAINLESS STEEL CUPS | we love to be able to make herbal teas in the mornings so these mugs are really useful. Also really handy if we go out for juice and the only other option is plastic cups.

METAL STRAWS - We plan to always keep these in our day bag to avoid ever using plastic straws. They come in a sweet little cotton bag too!

CUTLERY, KNIFE & TUPPERWARE | All of these are so useful if you ever plan to cook when travelling or want to store snacks for journeys. We use this opinel knife which is really high quality and perfect for chopping fruit. You can purchase bamboo cutlery or we bring fork/spoon from home.

COTTON BAGS | Another absolute essential which we always have with us if we’re abroad or not! We use these whenever we buy anything to avoid plastic bags.

BAMBOO TOOTHBRUSH | We love these sustainable toothbrushes with charcoal bristles.

Natural Toiletries

Travel Essentials Natural Toiletries

NATURAL SUNCREEN | We swear by This hemp sunscreen for body and I love this for face.

ANTIBACTERIAL SPRAY | This Dr Bronner’s lavender spray is really useful for train/bus journeys.

LIVING LIBATIONS SOOTHSAYER SERUM | Living Libations is my favourite ever company - their products encompass all of mama nature’s beauty. This serum has been so healing for my skin the past few months and is rich with high quality oils of sandalwood, frankincense and rose. It’s a higher price range but is so potent that only a few drops are needed.

LYONSLEAF BEAUTY BALM | This calendula infused balm is ideal for travel as it is multi purpose. I love to use it as a cleanser, which I remove with a hot flannel, and it feels like it melts away all the stress from the day. It can also be used as a moisturiser and to help heal scars or cuts!

GUA SHA | Gua sha and jade rollers have had a lot of publicity recently. I started using this gua sha a few months ago and really love the ritual of massaging my face and neck with it. Not only does it feel incredible to really take the time to care for your skin, but it’s great for draining the lymph and moving circulation around the body. This video shows the technique I’ve been following.

What are some of your natural or sustainable travel tips? We would love to hear any recommendations from you below!

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Keeping Healthy as a Vegan (or Non-Vegan)

Veganism is such a hot topic at the moment. There are strong opinions coming from all angles and it can sometimes feel hard to find reliable information that isn't fuelled by judgement or anger. No matter what your opinion, the vast majority of us desire health and vibrancy in our lives. We are all so unique and this looks so different for every person. One size does not fit all. But whatever our choices are, it's important to take the time to check in with our bodies and how we're feeling. Do you feel energised by food? Or do you feel endlessly tired and sluggish? 

Personally, we stopped eating all animal products around 2 years ago for a variety of reasons; for our health, the environment, ethics and more. It's been a hugely positive journey for both of us and I can't say that I've been tempted to change during that time. However, we recognise the importance in being mindful about what we eat and being intuitive about what feels good. Eating plant based doesn't always translate to eating healthily. You can still serve up junk food at every meal and label it as 'vegan'. So rather than focusing on labels such as 'vegan', 'keto', 'paleo' etc, I think it's crucial to observe how you feel eating certain foods and see each meal as an opportunity to nourish your body and express gratitude. 

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“Be good to yourself. If you don't take care of your body, where will you live?” - Kobi Yamada

Our bodies communicate with us daily in so many ways. From our skin, to our eliminative system and energy levels. If we become deficient in certain vitamins or our body is off balance, this can show up in a variety of ways - tiredness, dull skin, acne, hormonal issues, poor digestion and more.

If you're a vegan (or non vegan!) that feels consistently tired and you notice some imbalances in your body, then it's so important to look at your diet to see how you can create harmony in the body again. A great way to to do this is by having a blood panel test done, which tests for specific vitamin and nutrient levels to find any deficiencies. For all our readers based in USA, Health Labs offers a 'Vegan Wellness Panel Test' which checks for the 11 most common deficiencies. If you're vegan and want to make sure you're supporting your body the best you can, then it's such a great resource to consider.

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These are some of the 11 vitamins/nutrients that Health Labs test for, why they're important and how you can incorporate these more in your life with plant power, herbs or supplements...

IRON
Iron deficiency is a growing problem for many women - vegan or non-vegan. When consuming plant-based sources of iron, combine them with Vitamin C when possible to help absorption. Good sources of iron are:
Nettles (no.1 tip for iron is daily nettle infusions!), blackstrap molasses, dark leafy greens, organic spirulina, cacao, quinoa, buckwheat, black beans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, avocado. 

Herbs- Nettle, parsley, dandelion, yellow dock. 

CALCIUM  
A hugely important nutrient for bone health. Good sources of calcium are:
dark leafy greens (collard, mustard, kale), organic tempeh, tahini, broccoli, figs, black strap molasses, organic almonds, chia seeds. 

Herbs - nettles, horsetail, oat straw, alfalfa.


ZINC
Zinc is such an important nutrient to support our immune system, regulate hormones and metabolising carbohydrates. Good sources of zinc are:
Black beans, chickpeas, lentils, organic tempeh, oats pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, cashew nuts, quinoa, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, wild rice, shiitake mushrooms, flaxseeds, asparagus, cardamom. 

Herbs: oat straw dill, rosemary, sage, chervil


B12
B12 is a complicated issue for those eating plant based, as unlike all the other vitamins/minerals, it's extremely difficult for us to obtain the amount we need from a natural food source.  However, our bodies our capable of creating B12 if we have optimal digestion. In the past, we absorbed B12 from fresh spring water and from the soil, but now that so many pesticides are used to cultivate our food, it's very difficult to find natural sources. Even those who absorb B12 from animal products may only be doing so because the farm animal they are consuming was supplemented with B12 when it was alive. This article is highly recommended if you wish to learn more. 

We supplement with a liquid B12. This is our favourite product in the UK, and we have heard excellent reviews of this brand in the USA & rest of the world. 

FOLIC ACID
Folic acid, or folate, is a B vitamin that assists the body in creating red blood cells and repairing DNA. It's especially important in pregnancy, as it helps the foetus develop. Good sources of Folate are:
organic spinach, broccoli, asparagus, lentils, black beans, pinto beans, avocado, beetroot, romaine lettuce, papaya.

 

More Helpful Resources


'Vegan done right' with Dr Stephen Cabral - Melissa Ambrosini Podcast
This podcast episode is so informative and helpful, diving deep into common deficiencies for vegans and how we can help to avoid this through diet, Ayurveda and lifestyle.  Cannot recommend this enough!  

Health 101
An amazing website full of so many eye opening articles. The article on B-12 deficiency is incredibly interesting and is such an important thing to get educated about. 

Health Labs  (US) 
As we mentioned above, the Vegan Nutritional Maintenance Panel is such an effective way to ensure that you are receiving enough nutrients from your food. The test reveals any deficiencies you may have, so that you can address them and adjust what you're eating. They also offer other tests for food allergies. 
Use the code 'PutumayoKitchen' to receive a 25% discount on tests. 

Cerascreen (UK & Europe)
A test centre based in Europe, offering deficiency tests. 

Our Favourite Nutrition Books
  See our 'Essential Book' list for some recommended nutrition books that can help you on your journey! 
 

Have you ever considered testing for vitamin deficiencies? We'd love to hear how you keep healthy eating a plant based diet. 

If you enjoyed this article or found it helpful, please share it! 

Thank you to Health Labs for supporting this article. 

Purple Sauerkraut with Fennel Seeds

We're back with another fermented recipe ... this time, it's our favourite sauerkraut recipe - made with purple cabbage and infused with fennel seeds. We love eating this with just about anything, it's such a delicious addition to a meal. You can make this recipe with green cabbage too, but we love the vibrant colour of red cabbage & the fact that it's more nutritionally dense. In fact, we recently read that purple cabbage actually has more vitamin C than oranges, as well as so many antioxidants that are healing for the body. 

Eating sauerkraut regularly has really transformed my digestion over the past couple of years. During a difficult patch of stomach issues a few years ago, I dove deep into so many nutrition and holistic health books/podcasts to try and find a cure. Once I started to uncover how much our digestion is linked to our entire system, I became so determined to heal my gut and find balance again. It's pretty fascinating that our gut bacteria is so related to our brain function, immune system, happiness and so much more.

Food can be such a powerful medicine if we look at the source of illness instead of trying to suppress the symptoms. Alongside avoiding stress, one of the most important ways to strengthen our digestion is to feed our guts with friendly bacteria. Making your own fermented foods at home is such an affordable and tasty way of doing this. Especially as it's been shown to be more beneficial if the sauerkraut has been made and fermented in your local area. This is due to the relationship between the bacteria in your environment and the original bacteria in your gut. If you buy a sauerkraut that has been produced far from where you live, you may not receive the full benefits. For more fermented recipes, click here!

Purple Sauerkraut with Fennel Seeds
Purple Sauerkraut with Fennel
Purple Sauerkraut with Fennel
Purple Sauerkraut with Fennel

Vegetable to salt ratio - the magic formula for ferments
After a lot of experimenting, we've reached a good understanding of the salt/vegetable ratio for pickles and ferments. As a general rule of thumb, we always weigh our vegetables, then add 1.75% of this weight in salt. For example, 1kg of cabbage will need roughly 17.5g of salt. 500g of cabbage will need roughly 8.75g of salt. For reference, 1 teaspoon of salt is 5.7g. 

To make 1 large jar you'll need:
1 large jar, sterilised with boiling water
1 large red cabbage, sliced finely
1.75% weight ratio of good quality salt (see above)
6 whole peppercorns
3-4 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds

Method

1. Before you chop your cabbage, peel away 1-2 of good quality outer leaves and put to one side for use later.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients so that the salt is thoroughly mixed with the cabbage. If you have time, leave it for 15-30 minutes - this will help draw the moisture out of the cabbage. 
3. With clean hands (or with gloves if you don't want purple stained fingers!) begin to mix and massage the cabbage. Continue for around 5-10 minutes, until liquid squeezes out of the cabbage. This purple liquid will help the fermentation process.
4.Add all the ingredients to your sterilised jar, pushing down as you go so that no air is trapped in the bottom of the jar. Keep pushing down as you add more cabbage (the back of a wooden spoon is helpful for this). The idea is to pack everything really tightly into the jar. 
5. Once you've added all the cabbage to the jar, continue to push it down until the cabbage is submerged in some of its liquid. If your sauerkraut seems dry, leaving the jar for an hour or so between pressing down can allow more of the liquid to release. 
6. Fold the cabbage leaves you set aside at the beginning to form a 'lid' that will fit in your jar. Place this on top of the sauerkraut and again, push the ingredients down with the back of the wooden spoon. Add a weight on top of the cabbage to keep it submerged in liquid. We use a small glass with some weights inside. Cover the jar with a fine cheesecloth. 
7.Now it's time to let the cabbage ferment! Around 7 days is the perfect amount of time. If you live in a very hot climate then you may need less time. Everyday, check on your jar and firmly push down the sauerkraut with the back of a wooden spoon. You should see air bubbles rise from the bottom of the jar. The cabbage should remain submerged in liquid.
8. After around 5-7 days, taste the sauerkraut to see if it suits your taste buds. 
9..Once your satisfied with your flavour, secure the jar with a tight lid and store in the fridge. It's now ready to be eaten and shared and should last for months if sealed well. The flavour generally improves after the sauerkraut has been in the fridge for a few days. 

Purple Sauerkraut with Fennel
Purple Sauerkraut with Fennel
Purple Sauerkraut with Fennel
Purple Sauerkraut with Fennel

Have you ever fermented anything at home? We'd love to hear your experiences! 

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