Enjoy Raw Liver ~ A True Superfood

Raw liver is considered the most sacred food among many cultures world wide, including the Sudan in Africa.  In traditional Chinese medicine, liver ~ especially pork liver ~ is used to nourish the yin, and treat night blindness, and other symptoms we now associate with Vitamin A deficiency.  Liver is an excellent source of iron, Vitamin A, folate, Vitamin C, and several B vitamins.  Just one ounce per day can provide a lot of nutritional bang for your buck.  

Since some of the water soluble vitamins are lost in cooking, and since liver can taste very dry, mealy, and more 'gamey'  when over cooked, it is worth trying it raw.  

Fresh raw liver locally sourced from animals raised on pasture is by far the best in taste and quality.  However, even store bought frozen liver is super nutritional, and worth giving a try.  Read more about how the early Taoists and practitioners of Chinese medicine describe your own physical liver, then check out the recipes below.

The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, also called The Niejing,  is a highly revered text, considered among the highest authority on classical Taoism and traditional Chinese medicine.  Huang Di ~ the Yellow Emperor who reigned during the third millennium BCE ~ was considered a child prodigy who grew to be a wise, honest, and compassionate leader, and avid observer of nature.  The Neijing is written in the form of a discourse as the inquisitive Emperor questions his ministry ~ including Qi Bo ~  on many topics pertaining to  health and disease.  

It should be stated that in ancient times, a practitioner to the Emperor was only paid if he helped the Emperor prevent dis-ease.

What does Qi Bo have to say about the functions of our liver according to the ancient Taoists and early practitioners of Chinese medicine?

Chinese medicine took shape over thousands of years of observing patterns in nature.  Each season produced a predominant energy, and thus had different influences on our human body.  The cold of winter causes us to crave more rich and warming foods than during the heat of summer, for example.  When we eat out of season, such as continuing to drink cold raw smoothies, and consume lots of salads during the winter, we are eating counter to what is optimal to maintain a strong immune system, and therefore may contract seasonal colds and flus more easily.

As explained by Qi Bo in the Neijing:

"In the human body there are the hang organs of the liver, heart, spleen, lung and kidneys."  (Zang refers to be more full, as in storing blood and nutrients, versus more 'hollow' like the small and large intestines.)

He continues:

"The qi of the five gang organs forms the five spirits and gives rise to the five emotions.  The spirit of the heart is known as the shen, which rules mental and creative functions.  The spirit of the liver, the hun, rules the nervous system and gives rise to extrasensory perception."  

Hun refers to the corporeal soul in Chinese medicine.  In other words, they believed the liver was the 'seat of the soul.'

Interestingly, according to Ron Schmid, ND, author of Primal Nutrition, Paleolithic and Ancestral Diets for Optimal Health, the Neurs, a tribe in the Sudan of Africa, "believed the seat of the soul was the liver and considered it their most important food.  The growth of a person's character and body was said to depend upon feeding that soul by eating the livers of animals."  

He continues, "In that sense, liver seems to have been considered a sacred food for this culture; a food with both physical and spiritual dimensions not found in other foods."

Huang Di asks Qi Bo to explain the functions and relationships of the organs (the 12 zang fu viscera) and their corresponding meridian  systems.  Qi Bo answers metaphorically, explaining the functions of the body as if an entire kingdom:

The heart is sovereign of all organs and represents the consciousness of one's being.  It is responsible for intelligence, wisdom, and spiritual transformation.  The lung is the advisor.  It helps the heart in regulating the body's qi.  The liver is like the general, courageous and smart.  The gallbladder (the fu, or 'hollow' organ paired with the liver) is like a judge for its power of discernment...."

Advocates of raw food diets believe that important enzymes and nutrients are destroyed when food is cooked.  However, the cellulose or fiber in plant foods inhibits absorption of many vitamins, making the nutrition less bioavailable than the same food cooked.  For instance, the  beta carotene in carrots is less easily to assimilate in a raw form.  Further, many people ~ especially among European and Asian cultures ~ have genes that make them low converters of beta carotene (considered a pre Vitamin A).  

In Primal Nutrition, Schmid summarizes the work of Weston A. Price who studied cultures and primitive populations around the world in the 1930s.  Price found that  the populations that remained immune from modern diseases consumed lots of animal foods rich in Vitamin A.  Their diets also consisted primarily of whole, unrefined, seasonal and regional foods.

Schmid summarizes the findings of Price, stating that:

"Foods rich in fat-soluble vitamins and fatty acids formed substantial parts of traditional diets.  These foods fall into three categories:  

  1. Seafood, especially fatty fish such as salmon and herring.
  2. Animal and fish organs, especially liver, brain, marrow, and intestines.
  3. Dairy products from animals feeding on fresh green pasturage, particularly cheese and butter, which feature concentrated fat-soluble nutrients."

Price also analyzed the nutrient content of dairy from all around Europe and America.  His analysis showed the fat-soluble vitamin content to be much higher in dairy products from animals raised on pasture.  Dairy products from animals not raised on pasture did not have significant amounts of fat-soluble vitamins.  

Price also found that as soon as members of a particular population began to consume the refined foods of civilization, not only did they lose their immunity, but they suffered from tooth decay, and pain of the  joints.  The fat-soluble vitamins, including Vitamins A, D, and K work synergistically together to support healthy teeth and bones.

Eating regionally available animal foods, of both land and sea, along with other whole native foods provided many populations worldwide immunity from crippling disease.  

While we may not all have the opportunity to source the highest quality, locally raised or hunted foods, adding some fresh raw liver to the diet can be an important step towards ensuring a healthy immune system, and optimal overall health.

As Schmid writes, "Seafood, organ meats, or raw dairy products of the proper quality are, in my experience, essential for full recovery from chronic disease and the maintenance of optimal health."

In summary, if your eyes are not in good health, or you experience night blindness, weak immunity, fatigue, irregular menstrual cycles, or infertility, try incorporating liver ~ especially some raw liver ~ into your daily meal routine.  

Getting a nutrient-dense food is a far superior way to supplement health than dietary supplements which are isolated nutrients created in a lab, and taken in a pill form that the body does not recognize as it does a whole food.

Fresh raw liver from local animals raised on pasture, and freshly butchered the day prior to purchase as this was is AMAZINGLY tender and juicy.  It is not at all as gamey as what many expect of raw or cooked liver.

This, by contrast, is Strauss brand Calves Liver, purchased frozen in pre-cut fillets.  You can observe the difference in quality.  The fresh raw liver above is much more plump, tender, juicy and deep red. But, this liver is still not bad, and a good alternative to not eating liver!

We keep the liver frozen, cutting one ounce each per day that we let thaw only slightly.  We have both found that it is easier to eat (other than it being a little cold to handle) when in a semi-frozen state.  The more it thaws, the more it will take on a slightly rich flavor that may not appeal to those more squeamish about eating raw liver.

Once upon a time, I would never have imagined consuming liver or other organs raw myself, but it isn't that bad at all.  And, it's gone in just a few bites.  Chase it down with an eggnog made with raw pastured eggs for even more nutrient-rich goodness.  The fat from the eggnog will help improve absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins.

Not quite read for 'naked' raw liver?  Try these simple preparations:

Recipe for two:

  • One ounce raw liver per serving ~ cut into small pieces while still a little frozen
  • 2 tsp. whole grain mustard
  • 2 tsp. Carlson Norwegian Lemon Cod Liver Oil (high in Omega 3)
  • 1 tsp. horseradish

Combine ingredients.  Adjust to taste.  Adding the cod liver oil will improve absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins, and provides a nice lemon flavor.  You could alternatively add a squeeze of lemon, and add a different oil, such a 1-2 tsp. xvoo.

An alternative option is to mix fresh lemon juice and sour cream with the diced liver.  Don added a tiny bit of melted Kerrygold butter on top one time.  It solidified on the cold liver, making it look like an icing.  It actually had a taste and texture reminiscent of eating cheese cake!  Yes, cheesecake.  Really, it's better than you would think!

If you are not feeling courageous and ready to try raw liver, it could indicate that your own liver needs to be tonified!  As stated earlier, the  liver is considered the seat of the soul ~ akin to being the general of the body, "courageous and smart."

Qi Bo also explains:  "With the arrival of spring the weather warms the earth.  All plants begin to sprout and put forth green leaves, so the color associated with spring is green.  Since most fruits and trees are immature and unripe at this time, their taste is sour.  The sour taste can strengthen the liver, and the liver can nourish the tendons and the tendons muscular channels. The wood element of the liver can produce the fire element of the heart; thus, it is said that the tendons produce the heart.  Liver connects with the eyes through its channels, and thus it is said that the upper oriface of the liver is the eyes." 

Let your inner wild self out, and try eating some raw liver!  It's only your mind that gets in your way!

Below are links to the Carlson Labs Lemon Cod Liver Oil, and both books, of which I highly recommend.  For more information, visit the Weston A. Price foundation website.  

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