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

Dec 162011

Kukicha is a true tea; that is to say it comes from Camelia sinensis or the tea plant. It comes from the same plant that gives us black tea, yellow tea, white tea and green tea. Kukicha is actually classified as a green tea but it differs from most in that instead of being made from the leaves it is actually made from various twig parts of the tea bush. Green tea has gotten much press in the last few years and its virtues are well known if not exaggerated. Whether or not green tea is a miracle drink remains to be seen but it is no less true that it is a rich source of antioxidants such as EGCG and other polyphenols that have been shown to be cell protective. Regardless, it is a delicious drink that is often uplifting and energizing—without that shaky caffeine high often experienced with other caffeinated beverages. Theories abound as to why this is and like others I am apt to believe that its relatively large quantity of L-Theanine, an amino acid with ‘calming’ effects counteracts the small amount of caffeine in a cup of the tea.

Typically I drink green tea in late spring and summer. Though the flavor profile varies greatly amongst types and styles of the tea, green tea is almost invariably light and clean and usually requires no added flavorings. The exception is Kukicha, whether roasted or unroasted it has a deeper flavor suggesting more elements of earth and soil, perhaps due to being made of the twigs and not the leaves. Unlike ‘normal’ green tea I like Kukicha with a dash of honey and a bit of cream. Those of you who follow my blog (or worse, my facebook) might be aware that I have a certain love (read: obsession) for cream. You might think this is just another excuse to add cream to something, but in this case at least I can truly say that Kukicha’s robust flavor stands well and is even enhanced by the addition.

Lately I’ve been drinking a lot of this too oft neglected green tea and, because it’s winter (and I love spices) I’ve been spicing it up. Below is a recipe for a nourishing and opening morning beverage. Filled with both warming and cooling aromatics it is a delicious way to say hello to the morning.

Spiced Kukicha Tea

For 1 cup

1 tsp Kukicha

½ tsp whole coriander

3-4 cardamom pods

Good pinch of rose petals

Grind the cardamom pods and coriander seeds together and fill a vessel with the kukicha and the herbs. Pour over water just under the boiling point and let steep a good 4 minutes. Strain the herbs and add a bit of ginger (or regular) honey and a splash of cream if desired. Enjoy!

Dec 122011


It’s Winter and with that comes scintillating snow, scarves and, well, colds.

Both colds and flus are common viruses that affect our health. A brief differentiation between the two: colds tend to come on slower and are often shorter lived. They don’t tend to cause systemic reactions such as fevers or aching muscles, rather they are more superficial affecting only the upper respiratory tract. Flus or influenza virus tends to hit hard and fast and have the added loveliness of lasting longer. They are more likely to cause that aching feeling in muscles and are often accompanied by high fevers. Conventional medical treatment is OTC decongestants and antibiotics. Antibiotics are given not for the actual infection (antibiotics don’t treat viruses) but to prevent secondary bacterial infections such as pneumonia. While antibiotics do sometimes have a place this laissez-faire attitude seems largely unnecessary.

Colds and flus have long been associated with the cold weather season. In fact, colds and flus are around all year long but it is my (and others) hypothesis that the shifting in temperature from outside to inside during winter months makes us more prone to getting sick. Regardless, people do seem more prone to illness this time of year. So what can you do?

For starters it should be remembered that getting sick is a natural part of life and that it is often beneficial for us, building up our long term immunity and serving as a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder that we need to slow down. That said, there is a lot that can be done to boost one’s immunity, especially if you are prone to being sick every other week. First things first eating healthy, nutrient dense foods are chief in the prevention category. Bone broths with lots of garlic and aromatic herbs are a great way to boost ones immunity. Tonics are a wonderful category of herbs that serve to boost whatever body system they have an affinity for. In regards to immunity, one of the most commonly thought of herbs is astragalus, a member of the pea family or Fabaceae. Slightly warm and moist in energy, Astragalus is a wonderful building tonic for those who find themselves always tired, constantly depleted and catching every single bug that comes their way. Try decocting a teaspoon in 10 oz of water. Astragalus often comes in tongue-depressor shaped cuts, these can be decocted, just a few to a cup or two of water, simmered 20 minutes or alternatively may be added to soups and stews. It has a slightly sweet and neutral taste, adding just a touch of flavor and a whole lot of immunity to winter bone broths.

So you did what you needed to and you got sick anyway, what now? There are as many cold/flu remedies as there are herbalists, if not more, so the following are just a few of my favorites. To start, at the first sign of a cold/flu you can often sweat it out by making really strong ginger tea (simmer a good amount of fresh root for 10-20 minutes), get into a really hot bath and sip the tea until you are sweating profusely. Then get out of the bath, wrap yourself up in a big robe or towel and get into bed with as many blankets as you can. Go to sleep. If you don’t have a bathtub simply skip that step and get wrapped up in bed. You will often wake up feeling like a million bucks with no trace of sickness. Some people use Elder berry at the first sign of sickness and I have seen this work numerous times, try 1-2 dropperfulls of tincture every couple of hours. Most famous is probably Echinacea, well known to boost the immune system. Take 2-3 dropperfulls every couple of hours.

You eat well, took the herbs and your still sick, what now? It happens. But there are still things you can do to alleviate some of the symptoms. Since you are already sick, the goal here is to boost your natural defenses, such as the fever response. The use of diaphoretics (herbs that induce sweating) is often useful here as can be immune stimulants like Osha, Lomatium and Echinacea. For general congestion I have found herbal steams to be of particular use. Boil a pot of water and add a handful of any highly aromatic herb. I like Bee Balm but more common Thyme or even Basil can help. Throw a towel over your head and bend over the pot, breathe the steam in deeply for ten-15 minutes. The aromatic oils from the plants will be carried by the steam into your nasal and respiratory passage way, clearing out the stuck mucous and helping you to breathe, at least for a while. This can be repeated as often as necessary and don’t forget to drink the tea too for added benefit.

Everybody reacts to colds and flus differently and consequently will have different symptoms that are best addressed by different herbs. Below is a small list of herbs I use most frequently and who they would fit best based on energetic and constitution.

Marshmallow-(Althea/Mallow sp.)-Given for signs of dryness: dry hot fevers without perspiration; dry throats; difficult to expectorate mucous; dry inflamed nasal/sinus passages. I use powdered roots stirred into water or a cold infusion of the leaves. Equally useful but somewhat less cooling is Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva)

Boneset-(Eupatorium perfoliatum)-When muscles ache and there is fever alternating with chills, Boneset is my herb of choice. Frighteningly bitter this herb can stimulate immunity, help a fever along and alleviate some of the restlessness often associated with flus.

Osha-(Ligusticum porter)-While I continue my life-long search for something comparable on the East, this Western plant is fantastically useful. Warm to hot and dry it can help loosen stuck mucous (combine with Marshmallow or Slippery Elm) or can help dry out boggy, mucous filled lungs. I use Osha mostly when the infection has moved from nose and pharynx down to the lungs.

Yarrow-(Achillea millefolium)- Yarrow is an eccentric and versatile herb useful as an antiseptic agent as well as a fairly effective diaphoretic. Yarrow is rich in microbe killing volatile oils and its influence over blood can move heat from the inside out, helping along a natural fever. For diaphoresis it is best drunk as hot as possible while in a hot bath or wrapped up tight under a warm wool blanket. It combines well with Elder flowers, Peppermint and Spearmint and for further stimulation with more warming aromatic mints such as Thyme and Monarda.

Oregon Grape/Barberry-(Mahonia/Berberis sp.)- I am still working out the differences between Western and Eastern Berberis but there is no doubt in my mind that both make a wonderfully antimicrobial tincture and decoction. I use more tincture, chiefly because I have yet to convince anyone to drink that golden yellow potion known as Barberry decoction. Containing one of the same infamous components of the often over-used Goldenseal, Barberry is an especially useful herb when flus present with signs of heat. Think thick, yellow-green mucous; hot fevers and subjective sensations of heat. Try half a squirt of tincture every few hours.

Bayberry-(Myrica cerifera)- Bayberry is one of my favorite plants for congestion. Warming and stimulating it seems to have a special affinity for the sinus cavity. When mucous is just stuck and the pressure behind the eyes and in the ears is threatening to make you explode, try a bit of bayberry. Also a warming lymphatic, Bayberry can be useful after an illness when the lymph nodes seem a bit clogged and refuse to go back down to a normal size.

Wild Cherry-(Prunus serotina)- Wild cherry is a member of the Rose family and like most of the plants in this family is cooling and mildly sedating. A cold infusion of the bark or a couple of drops of tincture can help quiet an overactive but underproductive cough. Unlike the modern medical approach, herbalists (including myself) often discourage the suppression of coughs, at least initially. Coughing is a natural reflex to remove bacteria, irritants and dead cells from our lungs and body. That said, sometimes coughing is unproductive and can keep us up all night. When your lungs feel as though they are burning, your chest is tight and you just want to stop for five minutes, try some Cherry. It has an added benefit of tasting pretty good and combining well with honey (though really, what doesn’t?).



Dec 082011

On cold, frosty mornings nothing starts my day better than a rich decoction of dandelion and burdock with maybe a little something warming, like ginger or cinnamon. It’s a time of roots and seeds, of deeper energies and heavier foods. It’s a time of cooler winds and frost in the air and a time to prepare for the long, dark and introspective months ahead. Roots are said to have the ability to get to the root of a problem. How true this is I can’t say but they do often make superb tonics and they can help connect one to the colder seasons. They often work on the liver and as such can help with many systemic problems such as arthritis, excess estrogens, underproduction of bile, digestive malabsorption, etc.

As I mentioned in my last post, now is a good time for gentle cleansing. The season’s many roots and seeds, which often have gentle tonic cleansing effects, can be included in the diet as both food and beverage. They help prepare your body for the seasonally appropriate heavier foods that one needs for a cold, dark winter (and I’m not just talking cookies here, folks!). As we switch from eating lighter raw foods, fish and lighter meats and we begin to incorporate more starchy tubers, roots and heavier, darker meats into our diet it can be beneficial to include some bitter tonics. Bitters are traditional for prepping and improving digestion, especially fat digestion. When the bitter flavor hits corresponding taste buds on the tongue a myriad of reactions is set off by the body. First, your mouth begins to secrete more amylase, an enzyme essential for carbohydrate digestion. Soon after your stomach secretes HCL, your pancreas releases yet more digestive enzymes and your gallbladder releases stored and concentrated bile. These actions work together to prepare your GI tract for food. Combined, they help nutrients to be better assimilated, peristalsis to be more rhythmic and can tonify overall digestion. Bitters also stimulate bile production in the liver as well as increasing the livers detoxification abilities.

Especially seasonally appropriate are two of my favorite gentle liver tonics: dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and burdock (Arctium lappa and sp.) sometimes called gobo. Both of these herbs are gentle enough and tonic enough that they rarely cause any side effects and can be safely used by most constitutions. On the scale of food vs. medicine, both dandelion and burdock sit just right of food. In fact, burdock is commonly consumed in Japan, usually as a part of a stir-fry.

Dandelion is perhaps the archetypal liver remedy. Cooling and nourishing with a slightly bitter burnt caramel flavor, it is wonderful for chronically inflamed livers or just as a tonic for those wanting to gently increase digestive power. Dandelion takes well to being roasted; the heat caramelizes the sugars and adds a silky malt flavor compounding its already complex earthy flavor, but it’s equally good unroasted. It is indicated in weak digestion, liver stagnation and constipation. In TCM, the liver is said to control the smooth flow of Qi. What does this beautiful and accurate metaphor mean? Essentially, when the liver is congested, emotions get ‘stuck’ and build up resulting in feelings of irritability, lack of joy and quick anger. Regular use of dandelion root, whether as tea or food, can improve the flow of bile, improve digestion and help emotional rollercoasters to be, well, less of a rollercoaster. Dandelion is also a rich source of inulin, a pre-biotic or food source, for the myriad bacteria in your gut. By feeding your gut flora you allow them to better perform their many jobs such as converting B12 into usable forms, manufacturing vitamin K and boosting your immune system.

Burdock is another favorite liver remedy and as mentioned above is almost closer to food than medicine. It is delicious in soups, stews and stir-fries as well as just a simple decoction, alone or combined with dandelion and other ‘rooty’ herbs. Like dandelion, Burdock is rich in inulin, perhaps even more so and makes a great tonic not only for the liver but for feeding one’s gut flora as well. It is a gentle diuretic (meaning you won’t have to pee every other minute, just a notch more than normal) and consequently can help the kidneys to more effectively flush out the waste they so want to be rid of. Burdock is also said to have an affinity for the skin, helping to clear up eczema, acne and various rashes and even playing a role in the more complex psoriasis. Remember, it’s more tonic than overt medicine and results with burdock may take time.

Daily use of these wonderful, gentle cleansing herbs can tune-up our systems and prepare us for the long and often too cold winter ahead. As you cook your fragrant stews, rich with root vegetables and silky meats and as you consume more healthful fats (grass-fed butter, pastured lard, coconut oil) try drinking a nourishing root decoction a couple times a week. Your body will better handle the increased caloric load and you won’t feel heavy and lethargic; rather you will feel energized as your body uses the essential nutrients needed at this time for the thousands of functions it performs on a daily basis. Below is a recipe I love this time of year. It’s rooty with notes of bitter, slightly sweet and aromatic which combine to not only get my digestion going but to reduce post-meal bloating and gas as well. The base is Chaga, a delicious medicinal mushroom with no overtly strong flavor. Instead, it gives good body and color to the decoction. The recipe is in parts so you can easily adapt it to make a lot or a little as needed.

Nourishing Root Decoction:

3 pt. Chaga

1 pt. Dandelion root

1/2 pt. Licorice root

1/2 pt. Ginger root

1/2 pt. Cinnamon bark

¼ pt. each Black pepper, Cardamom, Allspice and Clove

1-2 good Tb. per cup of water. Add herbs to cold water, bring to a boil and simmer 20-45 minutes. Serve warm with fresh cream, if desired.