Oct 102015

I’ve never quite fit into “the box”. It seems that everywhere you go, people want to label you: gay or straight? Dirty hippie or polished professional? Clean-eating juice faster or candy bar craving meat lover? Everywhere we go we are inundated with ads telling us how we need to look, feel and even act so that we can fit into society’s pre-determined boxes. But I’ve never quite fit into these boxes. I’m the kind of person that likes to go out to a fancy restaurant the evening after I get back from a three day backpacking trip. I like to dress up and I like to wear the same thing for a week. I’m spiritual and scientific. These seeming contradictions reach into nearly all aspects of my life and, at one time, served to make me feel isolated in many ways. How could I reconcile my desire to dance in circles around a fire with my love of reading science journals. Weren’t these things mutually exclusive? Spiritual people can’t be real scientists. Worse, how would I combine these worlds, with the people in them so firmly attached to their ideals and so unwilling to see the other side? I needed to pick a box and stick with it.

But there’s a secret that I didn’t know. The box isn’t real. It’s an artificial construct of society, created to establish so-called norms that allow us to label people and convince ourselves we understand them. Once we place people in their corresponding box we can suddenly say “Oh those people” as if their entire existence could be understood based on whether or not they dress professionally or like to read. It allows us to live our comfortable little lives blissfully unaware of the myriad ways in which humans exist all around us. It lets us create artificial divides and prevents us from understanding those who are different. This isn’t to say that we should all have the same interests, far from it. Sometimes society gives you the box and sometimes we put ourselves in the box. But regardless of how we ended up there, the more time we spend in it the more we believe in its existence, and the more power it has over us.

passiflora incarnata

     passiflora incarnata

Choosing naturopathic medicine as my career and future was both an easy and difficult choice. Shortly after moving to Rochester, NY to open my practice as an herbalist I felt unfulfilled. I had such amazing experiences in herb school that forever changed the way I think, and even feel, my way through life. But I wasn’t fully satisfied; though I had learned a lot about health and the human body I felt limited by what I could do. Nine months into my new life in Rochester I embarked on a new journey: I decided I was going to be a doctor. I spent the next three years deep in my studies with fierce determination I never knew I had. I knew that my history of poor grades was working against me and I believed I had to prove that I could be the “good student”. As I dove headfirst into my new path I realized I had a strong hunger for knowledge. I not only liked science, I loved it. But the intensity of my studies came at a cost; I spent less time outdoors, my botany skill atrophied and the part of me that loved plants and their magic seemed lost to equations and graphs. And that was ok because I finally had a box where I belonged: I was going to be a doctor.

My preconceived notions of my future MD box had me searching for ways to increase my chances of getting into it. One of these ways was to become an emergency room scribe at a local hospital. Though I had shadowed several physicians before this job, it was here that I really had my first true taste of medicine and it was awesome. I had the privilege of witnessing people’s lives being saved first hand. Even in non-emergent cases I felt excited. How amazing to be a part of this person’s journey and process as they seek help and care. But while many people experiencing acute and severe disease states were saved, many others with chronic conditions were only palliated, or worse, not helped at all. Patients with laundry lists of medications were the rule not the exception. I couldn’t help but ask myself “how many people here today could have been prevented from coming if they were just able to implement simple lifestyle changes?” but my future MD box, which promised a steady job and good lifestyle said “that’s just the way it goes”.

I don’t remember how I came across it but somehow I ended up reading that Naturopathic physicians were getting licensure in my home state of Maryland. Naturopathic physicians? I knew a little about what they were, I even had a friend who, though no longer practicing, went through the schooling but I didn’t really know what it all meant. That little article, however, had me in research mode and suddenly I was learning all I could. Naturopathic physicians are fully trained as primary care physicians and are taught the same standard of care as taught in allopathic medical school. They are also taught nutrition, herbal medicine, spinal manipulation and much more. The curriculum draws on the ancient art of healing while being grounded in modern science. It values evidence-based medicine which includes both clinical trials and anecdotal evidence. Most of all, it felt like a career in which I didn’t have to live in what was beginning to feel like a very small box. Here I would have options: I would be able to provide lifestyle and nutritional advice to those who want it but I could also offer nutraceuticals or even pharmaceuticals to those who want or need them. Suddenly I was torn. My future MD box wouldn’t allow me to use herbs or spend hours getting to know a single patient. Old herbal medicine boxes suddenly came back into focus, wanting me to jump into them. But maybe I didn’t need any boxes at all? Maybe I could be everything I wanted without having to sacrifice parts of myself.

IMAG1262The decision was both easy and difficult. The path seemed clear, obvious even, but my fears of society’s ideas of success (a box of its own) coupled with my desire to be taken seriously (also a box) wrestled with my newfound desire. Careful thought and meditation helped me take that first step outside of the box I had convinced myself I belonged in. And that’s when I learned the secret: the box doesn’t actually exist.

So here’s my advice: take that scary step outside of your box. Go on, do it! That first step can be a dauntingly hard one to take, but once you do the boxes of the world melt away and you become truly free to be your whole self. And that is one of the healthiest things you can do.

Jun 272012

If you know me then you know I love food. And if you follow my blog or have ever met me you might know that I’m especially fond of wild food, and, if possible, even more fond of sharing it with others. There is something so magical, so primal and so deeply healing in going out to a wild place and foraging for food. Whether at a far away and remote mountain top or in a city park there is always something edible and delicious to be found growing freely (and free!), serving as a delicious reminder that food is all around us, constantly growing, shifting, changing and always offering a tantalizing taste of something once forgotten, possibly foreign but oh so natural all at once.

On Being a ‘Foodie’

My friends often describe me as a ‘foodie’, a title that makes me feel both fond and slightly disdainful to be associated with. The word ‘foodie’ often conjures up images of quasi-intellectual yuppie-hipster types with wannabe food critic tendencies, consuming pretentious foods with even more pretentious attitudes. And yes, maybe there is a bit of truth to this. But underneath the big shades and big words often lies the core of the foodie, a genuine lover of food. Someone who sees a meal as more than just fuel for continuing an already too fast paced day. While foodies are often associated with enjoying abstract and complex meals they are just as likely to enjoy simplicity as well; eating a whole apricot or a slice of melon, for example. For a foodie these ‘meals’ become symbols of something pure, wholesome and wholly good. Because the foodie often has an interest in where their food comes from and how it was produced it’s likely that the apricot is at the peak of ripeness or the melon is perfectly sweet and balanced. When these foods are at their peak, they need no fancy frills to make them better. The good foodie knows this and uses this knowledge effectively. When a peach is, perhaps, just a little under ripe, the knowledgeable foodie might split it in half and grill it to caramelize the developing sugars, maybe adding a drizzle of honey to further enhance the peachy goodness. Rather than view these tendencies as pretentious, one can view them as tools for connecting with something we do everyday: eat. They are powerful ways to transform what is too often an automated and thoughtless process into an enjoyable, sensuous and healing ritual.

On Accessibility

More often than not I think fear plays a big role in keeping people from enjoying wild foods. While there are certainly many factors that may keep one from enjoying wild and wonderful foods, the fear of things foreign seems to be a recurring theme. Being a foodie, it’s true that I’m more open to ‘different’ flavors; going past the usual salty and sweet I often cook with ingredients ranging from bitter to sour and everything in between. I think many people fear things that don’t taste like either chips or ice cream. There is so much involved here and on so many levels: genetic components, memories and emotions associated with certain tastes and foods, fear of change and of things that taste different. So much goes on when we eat that we don’t even realize. Which brings me to accessibility, making wild foods accessible for those that may not have ever had, or even thought of having, something from the wild. I believe, mostly because I’ve seen it happen countless times (including with myself!) that tastes can change. It may take time but after a time, what often may have once felt harsh begins to mellow out. Flavors that were once viewed as intense become intense cravings and one may begin to desire more, becoming more adventurous by the meal. Of course, we don’t just go from eating from a box to eating a diet of bitter summer dandelion greens in one fell swoop, at least not often. This is why, for those new to foraged goodies, I like to find wild foods that have some element of similarity to more modern-traditional foods. It’s approachable and respectful to both the person eating it and the plant, often resulting in a wild food convert and a lot less waste of unwanted and abstract wild foods.

Minty Things

For the month of June the Wild Things Round Up is featuring Mint and Mint family plants (Lamiaceae). I’ve pretty much been a lifelong foodie, so it might come as a surprise to you that I only recently learned to love Mint (Mentha x piperita). I was never one to love, or even like, minty things. You can take all my York peppermint patties and Life Savers, I’ll keep the chocolate, thank you. I started to enjoy mint slowly, mostly out of what I felt was a necessity. Many (including myself) found it odd that I was “the herbalist who doesn’t like mint”. The first mint that I really learned to enjoy was Spearmint, much less ‘cold’ and spicy than its close relative, I found the liveliness of Spearmint (Mentha x spicata) to enliven my mind and ease my often rumbly belly. As I delved into Mints I found that a sprig or two of fresh Peppermint went rather nicely with a tannin rich black tea, cutting away some of the bitter and adding a non-caffeinated and much needed pep to hot, humid days. Bit by bit my taste started to change and I found myself adding fresh mint to much more than tea. It was great with rich meats, cutting the fat and adding a sparkle of cool energy. It was great chopped fresh over summer berries, aiding their cool nature and playing delicately on their intense sweetness. Nowadays I can even drink straight up peppermint tea, but I, more often than not, prefer it as part of a mix in tea.

Cat Tales

Cucumbers are a funny little vegetable. I can’t count how often I hear how bland they taste and before I gardened, I couldn’t agree more. Cucumbers often tasted of little more than plain water and I always found myself adding intense flavors to them to make them taste like, well, something. Then I grew my own cucumbers and to my surprise I realized just how much flavor a good cucumber can have all on its own. Still, it’s rather rare to get those perfectly perfect cukes and more often than not they need just a little something to jazz them up. Not much mind you, just a little enhancement to emphasize that wonderful cooling and mildly sweet flavor. A little vinegar and oil with a touch of salt and pepper and maybe some fresh chopped mint makes a wonderfully simple and cooling salad on a sweltering day. In fact fresh mint is a near perfect addition to cucumber salad: aromatic and slightly spicy to balance the sweetness of the cuke and the richness of the oil. Patience! I can hear you now “but I thought this was about accessible wild foods?” And so it is. Let me tell you about nature’s cucumber.

Cattails (Typha sp.) are a common and easily recognizable plant by most people. A member of their own family, Typhaceae, they tend to grow in aquatic places, preferring to have their feel wet or at least moist. While there are a number of varying species, all Cattails can be used the same. Cattails are a great ‘beginner’ wild food not only because they are easily recognizable but also because they have many edible parts. The starchy roots can be boiled or baked to make a sweet, potato like food. If you have the time and energy, it can even be milled into a nutritious flower. The mature male flowers, producing the recognizable brown hotdog like appendage, produces a lovely deep golden pollen that can be added to breads, pancakes and the like. But my favorite part is the early spring shoot which is sweet and crunchy and most comparable to a flavorsome cucumber. Abundant and widely available across the country this wild vegetable can be eaten both raw and cooked and made into a number of delicious meals. During the summer months, when the cattails are gaining speed and gathering energy to flower the shoots can still be harvested, just remove the outer sheath to reveal the juicy, crunchy inside (hint: it should be easily crunchable and not be difficult to chop, if it is, continue to remove outer leaves until you hit a tender core).

Natural Pairings


Cucumber and mint seem to go together like peas in a pod. Aromatic, slightly spicy and deeply cooling mint leaves are the balancing act to sweet, cool and crisp cucumbers. It’s also a relatively known summer meal, easily recognizable by foodies and non-foodies alike (read approachable). And just as these well known culinary delights are made for one another, so too it seems are their wild counterparts. Often found growing together, wild mint complements the sweet crunch of young cattail shoots quite perfectly. Add a dash of vinegar and a bit of oil and you have a wonderful cooling salad to accompany grilled fish or chicken. Most any vinegar will do though I am particularly fond of violet and rose petal vinegars as they add just an extra touch of coolness and flavor. The only vinegar I don’t recommend using is balsamic as it tends to overpower the delicate taste of the cattails (trust me, I’m a foodie). Add a little chopped fresh mint and voilà!


Minted Cattail Salad

4 cups cattail shoots, de-sheathed and chopped

4 Tb rose vinegar (or other vinegar)

5 TB Olive oil

¾ tsp Salt

¼ tsp. pepper

2-3 TB chopped fresh mint

Add all ingredients together and mix. Let marinate a few hours before serving with grilled fish or chicken.

May 232012

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written a blog piece. Spring has kept me quite the busy bee! As I thought about what I wanted my next piece to be about I realized I have a lot (a lot) of posts about food. While I love food and will continue to post recipes galore, I wanted to scale back, choose something simple and yet elegant. Something powerful, practical and oh so very beautiful. So I decided on a simple single herb Materia Medica and to do it on a plant that has helped me in many personal ways as well as many others I’ve used her with: Motherwort. This is our relationship, our journey thus far. Enjoy.

Photo courtesy of 7Song

Motherwort-(Leonorus Cardiaca)- Lamiaceae 

Often pigeon holed as an herb for mothers, I prefer to think of her as a mother

Photo courtesy of 7Song

herb, a mothering herb. Her dissected leaves, covered with soft little hairs and her tiny yet striking pink flowers speak of gentle, loving mommey-ness. But one bite of her intensely bitter leaves or a touch of her sharp calyx, like a mother reacting to a child in danger, let’s you know she is no softy.

Heart Tonic and Nervine

Leonorus is a fantastic heart tonic, relaxing to not only smooth and skeletal muscle, but the cardiac muscle itself. As most bitters tend to be, she is a great mover of energy but especially so when ‘stuck energy’, specifically in the heart/chest region, accompany the symptom picture. She helps ease anxiety and tension by gently but powerfully relaxing and moving energy downwards. This downward shift in energy can be utilized for easing constipation, certain types of headaches and as a general way to clear tension in the body.

Mover of pain, Woman nourisher

Useful from menarche to menopause, motherwort is broadly acting and widely applicable. For women having painful periods with accompanying cramps, eased by cool or cold, will often find a cup of the strong infusion or a dropperful or two of the fresh plant tincture to soothe their pain and with time may find a gentle easing of their overall cycle pattern. The infused oil makes a great belly rub for uterine woes as well as a general pain reliever for overused muscles or for people who hold tension in their muscles.

As an ally for Women going through menopause, her cooling nature can often bring much needed relief to hot, anxious night sweats as well as heart palpitations and hot flashes. As mentioned earlier, I find Motherwort most helpful when anxiety and feelings of stagnant or stuck energy are accompanying the picture.

Yin balancer, Feminine essence

Photo courtesy of 7Song

While motherwort has been, and certainly still is, a wonderful ally for women of all ages, she can also be safely, and most importantly, effectively used by men. I have used her numerous times for anxiety in men, especially when the issues stem around the ‘heart’, be it the physical or emotional. When I had crushing pains, like a weight on my heart and chest, I found 20 drops of motherwort to unravel the tension and send the energy down and out of my body and this seems to be the case with a number of others. Bitter herbs are said to be cooling and to slow down metabolic processes and that’s exactly what she does. When your heart is racing, palpitating or you find yourself clutching your chest out of anxiety or fear, try motherwort.

When healthy we all carry with us masculine and feminine energies. In perpetual dance these energies balance our bodies and minds, yin and yang, soft and hard. Sometimes our energy gets out of balance, our feminine essence gets lost or suppressed. Here you will often find Motherwort excel at addressing these issues, raising our yinny feminine energy and most importantly, helping to balance it. When you need support but don’t know where to begin, try some motherwort. When you need a mother in a bottle, a stern protectrice, try some motherwort. When your inner woman, your feminine essence, has fallen on the dance floor, is being pushed down, beaten down or just can’t seem to support herself anymore, try a bit of motherwort. And when you want to experience a beautiful, abundant and bitterly mothering plant, try some motherwort.



Apr 152012

I love early Spring. Cool days mingle with warmer ones, light breezes tickle your body while bright perfumes flirt with your senses. Days are variable as are moods, full sun mixes evenly (or not so) with gentle rains that nourish the ground and coax it back to life. If there was a color to associate with spring it would likely be green. But those that know Spring, really know it, know that there is a beautiful spectrum of greens, from the deep dark greens of vinca to the light greens of budding maples to the mixed shades of green found on the native honeysuckles. I love green. It speaks of potential, of birth and rebirth. It speaks of desire coming to life, of newness, innocence and the continuation of a cycle that never dies, only sleeps for a time gathering its energies to release them all in full force. And just as I love the green of my surroundings so too do I love the green of my food. Traditional Spring foods evoke images of tender fresh peas, sweet and succulent and lightly dressed asparagus so full of flavor it hardly needs to be dressed at all. Perhaps a touch of lemon to balance the flavor, a splash of oil for richness and a sparkle of salt or just a plain old raw stalk so tender it almost melts in your mouth. Less traditional but equally delicious dock greens, with their slightly sour aftertaste and deeply nourishing nettles fill my kitchen with their wild green selves.

I love soups, they are infinitely versatile, nourishing and satisfying. They make a delicious first course for a fancy dinner but served with a wild salad and a hunk of sourdough (or a few hunks in my case) can make the centerpiece of a comforting meal. Spring soups are some of my favorites. Highlighting the greenness of Spring, they speak of nourishment and health. They are often more versatile than winter soups being delicious served both hot and cold. They live in a kind of in between world, one that whispers gently of life and vitality but contains remnants of a coldness not far in the past. They serve as a reminder of Springs fleeting nature and encourage you to take full advantage of what’s around you and for April’s Wild Things Round Up that’s exactly what I did.

One of my favorite soups is split pea with ham. Warming and filling it is a perfect mix of thick building energy and enlivening freshness. This year, however, I decided to try something new: a sort of wild pseudo split pea soup. The soup is a fusion of two distinct recipes. Recently I received a beautiful new cookbook (oh man do I NOT need anymore, but I love them!). It’s called Around My French Table by Dorrie Greenspan and I highly recommend it. As I was thumbing through the soups section I came across this interesting and unique take on a traditional French Spring recipe, peas and lettuce. Usually made with fresh spring peas and sautéed with onions and fresh young lettuce Mmme Greenspan turned this traditional recipe into a flavorful and unique soup. Hmm thought I. The beginning of something wonderful and unique and that I could call my own. So I thought about it and it came to me to try using Redbud flowers as a substitute for the peas and using a leftover ham hock and a few handfuls of dock to give it that nice Spring green color, Ham and Redbud soup was born.

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is an early Spring flowering tree in the Fabaceae family. Related to the more common garden pea Redbud has delicious slightly aromatic and sweet flavor with a decisive bean-y taste. The buds taste quite different in different stages so I strongly encourage you to taste them and find out what you like best. Personally I like the open flowers the best but since there are few that are fully open at this point, I used a combination of both open and unopened buds. It’s extra work but if you have time it’s worth taking off the brown part that connects the various flower stalk of the flowers together, it has a strong bitter flavor. This soup is very mildly seasoned comprising mainly of pork stock with a little chopped preserved lemon, a touch of clove and lots of black pepper. Sweet and bean-y with an edge of bitter and a lot of wild energy I think you’ll really enjoy it. Best when served drizzled with a little fresh cream or a spoonful of crème fraîche. Make, share and enjoy!

Ham and Redbud soup—with dock!

1 onion

1 Tb. lard

2 qts. Water or broth

1 ham hock with a little meat if possible

3-4 handfuls of dock leaves (Rumex sp.)

3 small potatoes

1 clove

1 tsp. fresh black pepper

1 tsp. preserved lemon

Salt to taste

Slice the onion and sauté in the lard until soft and the pungency no longer makes you want to cry. Add the water or broth and the ham hock and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and allow to simmer with a lid for anywhere from 1-3 hours (the longer the more flavorful it will get). Add 2 cups of Redbud buds and the chopped dock leaves and continue to cook until the dock turns a bit dull in color. Remove the bone and the meat still attached, reserve in a bowl. Puree the soup with the preserved lemon and the clove and add salt and pepper. Remove as much meat as possible from the bone and put it in the soup. Serve hot or cold.

Mar 282012

Spring tonics…? It’s so common in the herbal world to come across the term ‘spring tonic’ in reference to what an herb is or does. But for such a common term it is rather uncommonly defined. Ask any herbalist what a spring tonic is and, much like its loosely defined close relatives the alterative and lymphatic, you will get as many different answers as herbalists you ask.

The actual term ‘spring tonic’ most likely originated in Appalachian folk medicine where the qualities of ‘blood’ are assessed and herbal prescriptions made based on those findings. However, tonics have been used the world over in various different cultures in various different settings. While the terminology is surely different, it is well known that both TCM and Ayurveda, two ancient systems of medicine that have survived to this day both have their share of ‘tonic’ herbs. In the modern world of herbalism tonics are often said to restore function and/or balance the functioning of a system. While the general concept of that seems true, I feel it is important to point out where the word tonic comes from and how it has developed into how we use it today. So what is a tonic? In the most basic sense a tonic is simply something that tones. The word itself comes from ‘tonify’ defined by Merriam-Webster as “to give tone to”. Tonics as used by the eclectics were used for tissues that were atonic, or lacking tone. This would be tissues that are leaky, drippy, atrophied, damp, etc. Often I hear various ‘spring tonics’ being offered to just about everyone in a very cavalier way: “take this herb, it’s a spring tonic! It’s good for you”. The upside to this approach is that, in general, most ‘spring tonic’ herbs are very safe and aren’t going to hurt a person. The downside, however is that this approach leaves out the person’s individuality, their body and mind and most importantly it leaves the practitioner with a very limited understanding of a potentially useful category of herbs.

In Chinese medicine Spring is associated with the element of Wood, which has a rising and growing energy. Its flavor is sour and it is associated with the Chinese concept of liver.  In TCM the liver is responsible for the smooth flow of both blood and qi. The liver is most prone to deficiency and stagnation causing symptoms of restlessness, anger, irritability and frustration. Here we can equate this to the more western concept of ‘thick’ blood. Stagnation comes in many forms, some more recognizable and others less so. The most easily recognizable form of physical stagnation manifests itself as constipation while the most obvious mental form manifests itself as stuck depression.


Before globalization and importation existed as it does today (imagine that) seasonal eating was not only a good-for-the-planet-earth-connecting activity but a necessity. In Winter, a time characterized by heaviness, quiet and contemplation, richer meals were used to fortify the body against the invading cold. As Autumn’s last harvest was preserved for the cold months ahead we prepared, both physically and mentally, to fill our bodies with the deeper, heavier nourishing foods that would sustain us for the coming cold. Vegetables were what could be kept in the cellar and greens were scarce if available at all. In a time before electricity our bodies were attuned with the natural cycles of light, often rising with the sun and going to bed with its setting. Due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis Winter is a time of weaker sun and fewer sunlight hours, often leading to less activity and productivity and more time for rest. In contrast to the high energy and productivity of Summer, Winter was a time to give preference to resting and rebuilding. In Winter it was said that blood would often become either deficient, stagnant or both, largely due to the heavier diet, longer hours of sleep and general underactivity. In a class I took recently we talked about how we as a society like to live perpetually bouncing back and forth between Summer and Spring which for me calls into question the use of spring tonics. Perhaps, rather than using spring tonics we should be teaching people to live in the letting go season of Autumn and the recuperation and contemplation season of Winter. Just a thought.

We’ve made it through the harshness of a cold Winter and Spring has arrived. With her arrival she has brought new growth, new ideas and new energy. Just as the sap of trees begins to rise in response to her arrival so too does our ‘blood’ begin to rise. As the ‘blood’ rises, new energy is sent to our muscles and our minds allowing for productivity, creativity and energy. When blood is stagnant or deficient, it can not rise and consequently we remain in winters clutches: stuck, stagnant and fatigued.

But fortunately we have herbs! In a broad sense, any spring pot herb (edible greens) can be spring tonics.  As we talked about already, Spring’s flavor is sour and indeed, many spring greens have varying amounts of flavonoids and/or plant acids which provide a little sour-green bite to them. These can include nettles, dock leaves, speedwell flowers and greens, purple dead nettle, etc. I like to encourage people to make these a regular part of their diet in the spring and early summer. I liken them to an oil change; regular use keeps the car running smooth. However sometimes we need a more hefty tune-up. When ‘toxins’ build up and blood becomes too thick or stagnant we might need to look for more specific remedies. This could manifest as excess uric acid causing symptoms of gout or a bout of constipation from an underfunctioning liver. This is where traditional spring tonics come into play but first let’s define them a little more clearly.

Spring tonics are almost invariably alteratives and lymphatics. Like ‘spring tonics’ alteratives are often a hard to define clearly word. The following is a loosely reworded definition taken from Jim McDonald: alteratives are essentially herbs that increase and support various metabolic systems and/or organs by increasing their ability to eliminate wastes. They often affect some or all of the following organs: liver, spleen, kidneys, lungs, skin and lymph. Without going into too much physiology the job of these organs is to remove waste, foreign material and infection and in some cases to screen for and protect against invading pathogens. Lymphatics are ‘alteratives’ with a specific affinity for the lymph system. So essentially a spring tonic is an alterative herb used at an appropriate time of year to capitalize on spring’s energy of growth and movement and used to help us transition from quiet Winter to energetic Spring. As mentioned above, most herbs categorized as ‘spring tonics’ are safe and widely applicable. That said knowing some of their nuances and organ affinities as well as their energetics can help better match herb to person and provide deeper and more lasting results. Below is a list of some of my favorite ‘spring tonics’. By no means is it meant to be a complete list, rather it is a list of herbs I have used and feel most comfortable with. Enjoy!

Burdock- Energetics: Cooling, sweet, bitter, slightly oily

Burdock is a nourishing, building tonic. Its liver and kidney stimulating action coupled with its diuretic nature make it useful for removing toxic build up such as uric acid, calcium deposits, etc. It is nourishing to ‘blood’ and can improve its quality. Historically used for syphilis, gout and skin eruptions it is still a valuable tried and true alterative. It is still used for gout as well as kidney stones and eczema/psoriasis. It is specifically indicated with accompanying tissue dryness from lack of oil. Its high levels of inulin make it a valuable tonic for improving overall immunity and gut health. Consider using Burdock when clients present with typical burdock conditions (such as gout, eczema, etc.) and accompanying signs of digestive and/or immune weakness. A good tonic for Vata.

Dandelion- Energetics: Root: Cool-cold, bitter, dry. Leaf: Cool, bitter, salty, dry

Root: Dandelion root is a great mildly bitter spring tonic. Like burdock it is useful for ‘toxic’ accumulations, moderately stimulating the kidneys and lymph while cooling a heated, overfunctioning liver. Its bitter nature makes it draining and resolving to dampness. It is one of the first herbs I choose when treating constipation, especially when accompanied by tissue fullness and edema. It is also a good choice in sluggish digestion resulting in symptoms of bloating, gas, etc. Its bitter taste stimulates gastric secretions and can be useful in improving fat absorption. Its better for a ‘hot’ liver (hot liver folks look cold, they are slow—because their hot liver makes mostly building material and little fuel) A good tonic for kapha.

Leaf: Taraxacum leaf is a mineral rich moderate-strong bitter diuretic. It is useful for clearing out metabolic wastes while simultaneously increasing minerals. Unlike conventional diuretics which leach potassium and other minerals from the body, Dandelion replaces lost minerals with its naturally high content of potassium, magnesium and calcium. The salty taste indicates that it is tissue building and resolving to lymph swelling. As part of a formula or on its own, it can be useful for clearing out remnants of recent illness.


Sassafras- Energetics: Root: sweet, spicy, cool/warm, stimulating, dry

Sassafras is a warming, stimulating circulatory tonic. In the past used to treat such sever conditions as syphilis and gonorrhea, it is still useful as an alterative to underfunctioning tissues. Being both warming stimulating and mildly astringent, Sassafras is best suited to tissues that are cold, depressed and lack tone. It is believe to ‘thin the blood’ and is useful for stimulating stagnant, cold and congealed blood. It was employed by natives as a stimulating diaphoretic, another way to remove metabolic wastes and is still used in this way today. Matthew Wood says that, like Elder and Yarrow, it draws blood up from the core to the periphery and is useful for cleaning out arthritic deposits. Conversely, its ‘blood thinning’ properties make it cooling. Best used in early spring to wake up, invigorate, thin and move blood and break up stagnant congealed blood. Look for dark complexion around veins, heavy dragging thick pulses and bruising.

Oregon Grape- Energetics: bitter, cold, stimulating and dry.

Oregon Grape is a great tonic alterative that clears heat and infection. Unlike Dandelion which cools an overactive liver, Oregon grape stimulates an underfunctioning liver. It is best suited to hot, excited tissue states and constitutions with symptoms such as bright red tongues, yellow coating, indigestion with poor protein metabolism and a penchant for ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­‘yinny’ foods like carbs/sugar. Though it is drying, Michael Moore says it is suited to persons with thin, dry tissues. This is because the thin, dry tissues are a result of faulty anabolism and catabolism mechanisms. Essentially the liver and gallbladder are undersecreting and underfunctioning; the liver attempts to build (anabolism) but is unable to maintain it, resulting in breakdown of tissue (catabolism) and consequently ending with thin, dry and atrophic tissues.  Look for symptoms such as lack of appetite, constipation due to lack of secretion, dry scaly and irritated skin and thinness. Good for Pittas.

Cleavers- Energetics: salty, sweet, cool, neutral humidity.

Cleavers is a nourishing and gentle lymphatic alterative. It has an affinity for the muscles, kidneys and lymph and has the ability to move and break up calcifications and fibrous tissues. It is a good remedy for swollen glands, cysts and fibrous breast tissue where there is accompanying mild inflammation and subjective feelings of warmth. It is mildly diuretic and combines well with other herbs for removing urinary and kidney gravel. It is suited to irritated and atrophic tissues and is a great tonic for Vatas.

Calendula- Energetics: Sweet, Bitter, resinous, warm, sl. moistening

Like Cleavers, Calendula has a strong affinity for the lymphatic system as well as for the digestive system. It is a tonic for swollen lymph with signs of hypo-immunity and cold. The corona is resinous astringent and drying, offering a nice combination of antimicrobial and vulnerary effects while the petals are slightly mucilaginous and sweet offering further vulnerary and soothing qualities to affected tissues. Calendula is one of my favorites for people who just can’t seem to shake the winter blues or who are holding onto anger and need something to boost their moods and shake things up. In keeping with its ability to move and transform that which is being held on to, Calendula also has a place in helping the body be rid of old, lingering infections.

Nettle- Energetics: Salty, cool, dry

Nettle is a nourishing, building tonic rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. As opposed to Dandelion, it lacks a bitter taste making it less useful for draining dampness and more nourishing overall. It has an affinity for the adrenals and kidneys and through a mild but noticeable diuretic action increases the elimination of wastes while building and fortifying the body. It is useful for removing hardness, swellings and toxic accumulation, especially when accompanied by atrophied tissue. Tonic use can build up muscles, bones and adrenal function resulting in more and better quality energy—without depending on caffeine. Nettles is one of my favorites because it is usable by most anyone and so nourishing and grounding. If (like me) you find nettles to be too drying (as in you are running to urinate constantly) add a bit of mallow leaves, roots or elm bark.

Birch- Energetics: Warm, aromatic, bitter, dry

Birch is a warming, aromatic tonic for ‘thinning blood’ and increasing vitality in spring. Often, blood stagnation leads to pain in muscles, tendons and joints. Birch’s aromatics help to break up and move the stagnation while its high concentration of methyl salicylates are useful in reducing the pain and inflammation associated with stagnation. It is best for those who are made better with heat. It has an affinity with the musckuloskeletal system and kidneys and has a mild stimulating and diuretic effect. It can be used, like most spring tonics, to remove wastes and build up of ‘toxins’.

Willow- Cool-cold, bitter, dry

Willow is similar in use to birch, but better suited to those made better by cold. Not a traditional spring tonic but I want to compare and contrast with Birch, which is.

Poke- Energetics: Pungent, dry, bitter, burning

The young leaves were often consumed as a spring tonic. Considered to cleanse, rejuvenate and bring vitality they are still eaten to this day. It is recommended that they be boiled and cooked in three separate changes of water, although I find that just cooking them once suits me. As a gentle spring tonic the leaves work well, however, more serious issues such as severe stagnation, resulting in purple/red discolorations, severe lymph stagnation, mastitis, etc. respond better to both berries and root. I find the berries a bit more gentle and as such are my preferred remedy. It is best suited to thick, bulky and larger persons. It is a good remedy for Kapha.

Mar 222012

I just finished reading this magical journey of a book: A Year in the Village of Eternity.

It chronicles the life of the author, Tracey Lawson, during her three years living in this beautiful mountain town in the heart of Italy. In Campodimele, the town of eternity and the place where the author made her three year home, the residents seemingly live naturally long lives with an average age of 95. Scientists, journalists and others have researched this town, trying to pinpoint exactly what it is that contributes to the residents long lifespans. Lawson, after reading about the town and doing her own research decided she too wanted to know. She moved from her home of land and set up life in this little town of only 671 people. During her extended stay she learned much about the people, the culture and lifestyle of Campodimele. Indeed, instead of finding a single reason for the amazing longevity of the Campomelani, she discovered a beautiful, seasonal and natural way of living which all together contributes to the deep and real health of its citizens.

The book is divided into months in which Lawson describes the various seasonal and food related activities that occur during that time. Whether it’s the pig slaughter of January or the harvest of the little sour-sweet amarene cherries of July Lawson describes every facet of seasonal living in Campodimele in earthy, living detail.

Each month also contains recipes. Yes, real tried and true—authentic—Campodimele recipes. Many of them All of them sound delicious. Particularly delicious sounding to me was a recipe in the month of February called Tagne. When I first read about Tagne and then conceived of writing this post I had grand dreams of researching Tagne and getting all the history behind it to share with you lovely readers…well life doesn’t always work out that way. My several hour-long research into Tagne turned up nothing. So all information about this traditional dish is taken directly from Ms. Lawson and the residents she learned from in Campodimele. We just have to trust them.

So what is Tagne? Essentially it is a frittata with the eggs. Frittata without eggs? Yes, in Campodimele in a time of great poverty, eggs were reserved for special occasions and so the Campomelani devised this version of an eggless frittata. In Campodimele, Tagne is a species of Clematis (Clematis vitalba) that is chopped, boiled and mixed with a bit of flour, olive oil and salt. Where I live we don’t have Clematis vitalba nor do we have any Clematis in February (or March!) and so I thought to myself ‘why not Tagne with dock leaves?’ Dock leaves also called Yellowdock (Rumex crispus and obtusifolium) are a delicious, slightly sour green vegetable. Because of their high oxalic acid content I tend to eat them cooked only. So I tried it and voila…crisp but soft in the center, warm and green tasting with just the barest hint of sour from the oxalic acid all beautifully wrapped up in silky olive oil. I made mine with Hemlock needle oil but you can make yours with any conifer oil or even plain old olive oil (but trust me the dock goes really well with the woody flavor of conifers). So without further ado, my recipe for Dock tagne.

Dock Tagne

Five large handfuls of dock leaves

Few splashes of Hemlock or other conifer oil

Pinch of Salt, grind of pepper

3 tsp flour (I used a locally ground ‘half wheat’ but I imagine any would work, even gluten free flours. It’s just there to bind things a little).

Chop and then boil the dock for 5-10 minutes and drain in a colander. Run cold water over them to prevent further cooking and to refresh them, then squeeze out as much water as you can. In a bowl toss the dock with the olive oil, salt, pepper and flour. In a round frying pan on med-low heat form the tagne into a disc and fry gently until crispy on one side, then flip and fry the other. Makes a great first course or paired with a few slices of home cured meat or bacon and a piece of fruit, a lovely simple lunch. Enjoy!

Mar 082012

Today is a deep-gray-wet day. Tomorrow could be a dark-stormy-gray day or a light-misty-gray day or a low-brown-gray day; in Rochester, you never know.

Before moving to Rochester gray days were simple, they were gray. Winters in Rochester are filled with predominantly gray days, for days on end, seemingly unchanging. Or so it would seem, until you’ve been here for a while. But as days of gray continue for weeks on end little patterns begin to make themselves known and you learn that there are not just gray days but many shades of gray days. Some are easier to handle, others are worse and some just plain suck, but regardless all contribute towards the high prevalence of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) that occurs here in Rochester.

SAD or winter blues is a common syndrome experienced by many people, particularly those in countries or areas with less than optimal winter light. It is characterized by feelings of fatigue, low energy, lack of concentration and tendencies to oversleep and over eat. While the medical community is worrying about differentiating between subsyndromal seasonal affective disorder (what they term as mild SAD) and more serious or debilitative SAD, I think it’s safe to say that most everyone has felt, at one time or another, the winter blues. Living in Rochester has given me the opportunity to work with a few cases of SAD including my own feelings of winter blues that I am sometimes prone to. One of the least invasive and successful conventional treatments is light therapy. Light therapy is a great non-pharmaceutical approach that is often met with success. It involves exposure to artificial sunlight, or specific waves of light, that are designed to mimic sunlight exposure. As always, diet can play a crucial role in SAD and feelings of winter blues. Specifically associated are omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Lack of these two nutrients has been shown to increase symptoms of SAD and depression. Most Americans are particularly low in these nutrients and fail to obtain adequate amounts through their diet. Vitamin D can be manufactured by the body with adequate sun exposure, unfortunately that requires that the sun be shining and that naked skin be exposed to its rays, difficult to do when the sun doesn’t shine very often. Some statistics suggest that in winter, even when the sun is seemingly shining bright, if you live above Atlanta the sun is not able to get high enough for its UV rays to penetrate the atmosphere, thus making it impossible for you to manufacture vitamin D. Omega-3’s provide many building blocks that our body needs to manufacture hormones that can affect our moods and other bodily processes. Adequate omega-3 intake can go a long way in keeping our mood and energy up and our concentration strong during long winter months. While I don’t often recommend supplementation, preferring to obtain nutrients from the diet, this can sometimes be difficult due to lack of availability of these nutrients. For this reason I often recommend people take 5,000IU of vitamin D daily and a good dose of fish oil, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500mg daily.

There are as many herbs for treating symptoms of SAD and feelings of the blues as there are herbalists, not to mention all the combinations one can make. Here are a few of my favorite remedies, with some differentiation between them. These are formulas that I have had personal experience with and seen help both myself and others. Enjoy!

Goldenrod Joy

2 pt. Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)

1 pt. Rose (Rosa sp.)

½ pt. Citrus

Combine herbs, infuse 1-1.5 tsp per cup of water for 15 minutes. Add honey.

This delightful and bitter-sweet combination makes a wonderful tea as a general pick-me up when feeling sad, overwhelmed and emotional. It is best when sweetened with a bit of honey. When feelings of cold and lethargy are present I am fond of very heating and stimulating hemlock needle honey. When my anxiety is getting the best of me I reach for cherry bark, or better yet, cherry flower honey. Just a dab will do.

Mugwort-Basil Mover-Shaker

1 pt. Holy basil (Tulsi sp.)

1/2 pt. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

¼-1/8 pt. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Combine herbs, steep 1-2 tsp. per cup of hot water for 15-20 minutes. This blend is particularly useful for stagnant, stuck depression. The aromatics of the basil and lavender serve to move about energy and stuck emotion while mugwort helps to ground. If (like me), you find mugwort a bit too drying, add a bit of mallow leaf, root or some elm bark.


Traditional Tea

1 pt. Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

A squirt of St. John’s Wort tincture (Hypericum perforatum)

1-3 tsp. of lemon balm per cup of water, infuse 10-15 minutes. Add a squirt or two of SJW tincture. This is a more classic combination for SAD and it is quite effective. I’m not very fond of SJW as a tea, I’ve read in numerous places that the dried herb doesn’t last long and is not very effective. I’ve made the tea and every time find that it is simply bitter and astringent, lacking the complex flavor of the tincture. Lemon balm, on the other hand, makes a delicious tea. These days, I find myself recommending people combine the tea with the tincture. Lemon balm has a particular affinity for the stomach. When anxiety/depression sets in causing gastric upset, try Lemon Balm with a little St. John’s Wort.

*Note* If you have found SJW tea to be more useful than an astringent-bitter tea, please don’t hesitate to let me know.


Feb 232012

Mmmm the warm smell of nourishing bone broth fills my home with its rich scent and heady perfume. The combination of roasted bones and aromatic vegetables mingle for hours, and I mean hours, slowly extracting every last bit of yummy goodness. Can mere writing extol the virtues of something so primal, so deeply nourishing and satisfying? I don’t know, but I feel bone broth is such an important thing to share that I’m going to attempt it. Here we go!

Introduction to broth

Bone broth has been made for thousands and thousands of years, transcending cultural bounds and is found amongst nearly all traditional cultures the world over. Strictly speaking bone broth can be defined by a combination of simple ingredients, boiled together with water for anywhere from an hour to days at a time. While some may associate beef with bone broth, and indeed it is common, bone broth can be made from chicken bones, wild animal bones and even fish bones! Most often bone broths have some element of vegetable which not only enhances flavor but adds even more crucial minerals. Every culture will have their way of making bone broth, largely influenced by the animals and vegetables available to them and every modern cook will have their own way as well. That said following a few simple guidelines can enhance both the taste and nutritional content of your broth. In general it is recommended to add a splash of vinegar to bone broths, aiding the water to pull out minerals from the hard and dense bones (do not despair; you won’t taste it in the end!). Bones other than chicken and fish do well by browning them in an oven before making stock. While not necessary for nutrition, this action caramelizes some of the sugars and will go a long way in enhancing the final taste of your stock. As mentioned above, the addition of some vegetables and/or scraps will further enhance both flavor and nutrition. These can include carrots, onions and their skins, celery and other aromatic or root vegetables. Aromatic herbs can also make a delicious addition to stocks and can include thyme, sage or more exotic flavored herbs like monarda or wild thyme.


Ok so we’ve espoused the flavors of bone broth and talked a bit about how to enhance the flavor even more but what about the health benefits? Bone broth is a nutritional powerhouse full of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and trace minerals. While calcium, magnesium and other minerals may be obtained from other dietary sources (and should be) bone broth provides them for your body in a very easily digestible and absorbable form. Minerals are especially important to our health as they are responsible for not only structural formations, maintenance and repair of our bodies but are also crucial elements to many enzymatic reactions. Broth is also a rich source of collagen, a necessary component for the development and maintenance of various tissues including bones, ligaments, tendons, skin and cartilage. Collagen, known as gelatin in its food form, is a rich source of chondroitin sulfate. Yes, chondroitin sulfate, that overly priced and well-touted supplement that you are purchasing from the store. Chondroitin sulfate is a structural component of cartilage and has been shown to help with arthritis, degenerative joint disease, inflammatory bowel disease and lowered immune function. My opinion…ditch the supplement and drink more broth. Gelatin is rich in the amino acids proline and glycine which are integral to many functions of our body. Glycine supports proper digestion by enhancing gastric secretion, supports the liver’s natural detoxifying abilities and acts as a precursor to glutathione, the body’s number one endogenous antioxidant. Proline is an essential part of the structure of collagen and therefore enhances the health and nutrition of our bones, skins, tendons and joints.

See that spoon practically standing up? Beautiful gelatin!

Adequate nutrition is vital to our health. Unfortunately, subclinical deficiencies left untreated often fail to express themselves as pathologies until it is too late. In the US, true clinical nutritional deficiencies are rare. Syndromes such as rickets and scurvy have largely been eliminated due to the fortification of foods and better nutritional intake. However, while many people will survive and live “healthy” lives without developing pathologies or clinical disease many of the subclinical illnesses such as poor digestion can later morph into more serious problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease, osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Ensuring adequate nutrition early on in life and maintaining it throughout can go a long way in preventing these diseases and drinking bone broth daily or weekly is a great way to get these vital nutrients and components into your body. Of course, should these diseases develop bone broth can be a vital (and tasty) part of their treatment.

Bone broth is also extremely economical and can be made for mere cents. I buy them 15 lbs at a time for about 15 dollars. That boils down to about $1 a quart, a savings of over 80% if bought at a store (not to mention the nutritional inferiority of store bought broth). If that’s not incentive, what is?


The Sticks

Being an herbalist I have to mention a bit about herbs or sticks (right?). Sticks, here referring to rooty herbs and mushrooms can be a wonderful and healing addition to broths. Occasionally I find I want a little extra punch in my broth, so to speak. Adding roots and mushrooms can be a great way to tailor broths for more specific needs. For example, to enhance the immune boosting effects of bone broth add a bit of astragalus. Or, to enhance the gut healing action add some licorice or for a more neutral flavor, hemp seeds. Many mushrooms have wonderful immune enhancing effects and are also tasty. Try maitake or shiitake for flavor. More bold mushrooms like Reishi have strong immune regulating effects but also an accompanying strong flavor. Keep in mind many herbs come with strong flavors and thus will affect the final flavor of your broth. I encourage experimentation, in small batches.

The broth

Every cook will have their own special recipe and way of making broth and I encourage you to develop your own. Instead of a specific recipe, I want to share with you a loose guide that I hope you will adapt and make your own. General rules of thumb: fish, due to their small frames and strong flavor need only 1-2 hours to make good broth. Chicken, beef and game benefit from a longer cooking period, sometimes as long as 24 hours. Beef and game should be roasted at 425 degrees for 15-25 minutes or until browned.

5lbs bones (roasted or unroasted)

A good handful of vegetable scraps- onion skins, carrot peels, celery ends etc.

5 quarts of water

A splash of vinegar

Salt to taste

Herbs if using-half a handful

Roots and mushrooms if using- to taste or as desired for medicinal effect.

Place all ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil. During the first half an hour impurities will rise to the surface, referred to as scum in cooking terminology. Using a spoon, skim off the scum until it stops forming. Turn heat to low and cover, simmer for hours. Enjoy the smell as it fills your home with its yummy goodness.

Once done, you can let it cool and refrigerate it. Remove the fat layer from the top and save it if desired. Put the broth into jars or other containers and either refrigerate or freeze.

Boiling broth. On the left side of the photo is 'scum'


Broth after refrigeration. Note the (beautiful) layer of hardened fat on top. This can be skimmed off and saved for cooking or discarded.




Jan 292012

January is all about alcohol. Alcohol and wild food. Is there any better combination? This post is going to cover a few of my favorite cordials as well as some tinctures and elixirs. First however, I want to cover alcohol; what it is and what it does.

From an herbalist perspective alcohol is almost indispensable; it acts to preserve herbs, capturing their essence and making them stable for years on end as well as being a powerful and effective way to give medicine. While all alcohols will differ somewhat, from beer and wine to straight up ethanol, it can generally be said that all alcohol is warm-hot in action and energetically dispersive, that is to say quick acting yet often short term in effect. Unlike water, which must pass through the digestive tract all the way to the large intestine to be absorbed (and thus absorbing the medicine therein), alcohol is absorbed by capillaries in the mouth as well as being absorbed in both the stomach and intestines. This is part of why alcohol makes such a good medium for delivering medicine to cells in a quick and efficient manner. Being composed of varying amounts of water and ethanol, alcohol also makes a superb solvent. Unlike water, ethanol is able to extract both fat-soluble and (depending on water content) water soluble molecules. It is not, however, a good solvent for extracting starches.

Amongst herbalist, the argument that herbs extracted in alcohol is a relatively new phenomenon is common and to a point, true. The use of tinctures and fluid extracts can only be traced back to the 1800’s, the time of Eclectic Medicine. However, consumption of ethanol can be traced back to at least 10,000 BC if not before. While the ingestion of tinctures as we know it today, that is to say the standard amber glass bottle with dropper tops made with high proof ethanol, is scarcely a few hundred years old, ingestion of herbs in alcohol is far older. Ancient alcohols were mostly either some form of wine or beer. Alcohol itself was often seen as medicine but there is no doubt that hundreds of cultures around the world added various herbs, roots and seeds to enhance and extend the medicinal properties of various alcoholic preparations.

Though there are both advantages and disadvantages to alcohol, its effectiveness and practicality make it one of the most common forms of medicine used by herbalists and everyday people alike. Tinctures, or alcohol extracted herbs are especially practical because they are easy to use and easily transportable. I find myself suggesting tinctures often because, well, frankly because it’s easy. Before I hear cries of outrage at suggesting ease let me explain. It’s all well and good to tell someone to take a handful of herbs, put them in a jar and cover with boiling water, strain…blah blah. Sometimes this is exactly what I think a person needs but it’s no good if they won’t do it. You see one thing I have realized over the past year is that despite me thinking I know best and coming up with the best (read complicated) treatment plan possible…none of it matters if they won’t do it. So that brings us back to tinctures: reliable, effective and easy. As mentioned above they are also easy to transport. You can tuck them into your purse or man bag or what have you. You can take them on planes in your carry on (yes you read that right, I do it all the time). So we have medicine that is both easy to use and transportable.

So with all that in mind how about we get to some recipes! Below are a few of my favorites in the moment. Some are medicinal, some for pure pleasure and some a little bit of both. Enjoy.


Spiced Brandy

½ cup dry fragrant wild rose petals

1 Tb. Cloves

Zest of 1-2 oranges

2 large knobs fresh ginger, chopped

3-4 sticks of cinnamon, crushed

2 vanilla bean pods, seeds scraped.

Fill a jar a little more than halfway with brandy. Add herbs and vanilla pods along with scraped seeds. Top off with honey and shake. Let sit for at least a month before bottling and then letting rest for another few months (if you can wait).

Goldenrod, Hemlock, Rose elixir and tincture

This delicious combination is both medicinal and pleasurable, especially as an elixir. It’s a great formula for mild UTI’s as well as symptoms of SAD. The goldenrod is antimicrobial, diuretic and astringent while the hemlock lends anti-inflammatory and more diuretic components. Rose is astringent and anti-inflammatory and overall cooling, balancing the warmth of the goldenrod and hemlock. I typically make formulas separate and then combine but I like this to infuse together. I like 2 parts goldenrod, 2 parts hemlock needle and 1 part rose, all dry and infused 1:5 in brandy for 2-4 weeks. Add honey if desired.

Rosehip-Ginger Elixir

Fill a jar half full of rose hips, add a bit of fresh grated ginger and fill ¾ full with brandy. Top with honey and let infuse 2-4 weeks. This tangy warm elixir is great in teas, cakes and by the spoonful J

Cherry-Spicebush Liquor

Spicebush, a member of the Lauraceae family, is a lesser known relative of the well known cinnamon and bay plants. It is said to have an allspice like taste but instead of comparing them, try them! This is a delicious combination of wild cherries, spicebush berries and leaves and calvados, an apple liquor. I think it would make a good mead as well but I haven’t yet gotten around to it. Fill a jar half and half with 2 parts cherries, 1 part spicebush berries and ½ part of spicebush leaves. Top with calvados and enjoy! Use in apple pies, cherry pies and coffee.

(pictures soon!)

Dec 282011

December’s Wild Things Round Up is all about our favorite wild food recipes. This is definitely one of my favorites, especially in the month of December.

Whenever I come home for the holidays I inevitably end up eating things I don’t really want to eat. I’m not complaining; I’m not perfect and no one is. Often I eat the main meal with everyone but the rest of the time I end up cooking my own meals for myself; a bit isolating but it’s what I need to do to nourish and honor my body. But this year I wanted to do something different. Sure I still ate the myriad of pastries and cookies that float around my parents’ house this time of year but I also decided that after the holiday craziness I was going to make a nourishing meal for my entire family. After lugging 20lbs of frozen venison from New York to Maryland this is the result (and well worth it, I might add).

I love meat, especially wild meat. There is something indescribably nourishing about it. Wild meat is naturally grass-fed and is truly free-range making it some of the healthiest meat available. But more than just nutritionally speaking there is something just different about it. When my mother finished eating she said “I can’t find the words to describe it, I want to say rich but that’s not quite right…Deep. Deep feels like the right word, yeah deep”. And truly that is one of the best words to describe it. It fills you up inside, it satiates to the core and fills you with energy both rich and invigorating and somehow simultaneously centering. Nutritionally it is a wonderful source of protein and Iron and is a good source of Zinc, B vitamins and some trace minerals such as phosphorous and selenium.

Venison is one of my favorite wild meats; it’s plentiful, nutritious and the flavor is not overly gamey (read can be served to those hesitant to eat wild meat). This recipe is largely based on one by Guy Grieve and Thomasina Miers in their fantastic book The Wild Gourmets with a few adaptations from me. As wild currants aren’t very plentiful around me I replaced them with the much more available autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) and used wild juniper berries (Juniperus virginianus) in place of store bought ones. Of course, any fruit jam would do but there is something to be said for pairing wild fruits and berries with wild meat. Autumn olives are a rich source of the antioxidant carotenoid lycopene (up to 16x as much as tomatoes!) and have a wonderful sweet tartness that matches well to rich dark chocolate. The chili adds fire to an already full flavored dish, providing an extra bit of warmth when the weather is causing bones to chill. Finally, the juniper berries provide a wild aromatic note lifting the whole dish to nirvana.

Bubbling stew

Venison braised with chili, chocolate and wine

For the marinade:

1 bottle red wine

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 fresh red chilis, deseeded and minced

3 Tb. Olive oil

15 juniper berries, crushed

Salt and pepper

For the stew:

4.5 lbs venison (shoulder or haunch)

1 large onion

2 carrots, diced

5 celery stalks, diced

3 parsnips, diced

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 dried chilis, crumbled

2 cups stock

2 cups red wine

3 oz dark chocolate

1 Tb. Autumn olive jelly


Cut venison into cubes, removing large bits of fat and gristle. Place in a bowl covering with marinade ingredients and let marinate in refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

When ready to cook, remove meat from marinade and save marinade for later. Heat a large casserole or dutch oven on high heat; add a tablespoon of olive oil and sear the meat, a few pieces at a time, on all sides until browned. Set aside.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and sweat onions for 5 minutes. Then add other vegetables and cook a further ten minutes. Add the garlic and cook another five minutes.

Return venison to casserole along with reserved marinade and the rest of the ingredients. Bring up to a simmer and stir to melt the chocolate. Cook in a preheated oven at 375 for 1.5 hours. If the chocolate is too heavy or gritty feeling bring it back to a boil on top of the stove with the lid off and add a splash of wine or vinegar. If desired, add a slurry of flour and water to thicken and let cook a minute or so more, adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a bed of whipped mashed potatoes.

Venison stew atop whipped potatoes with butter and cream