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.

Nov 192011
 

 We’re nearing the end of one of  my favorite times of the year,  Autumn and with that comes  change. The intoxicating  smells of rotting leaves mix  with rich earth to create a  heady perfume unparalleled  anywhere else. Death and life  seems to be everywhere at  once: bare trees with their  recently lost leaves swirling in  the sky while little warm spells cause flowers to blossom in a last ditch effort to continue their species. It’s a paradoxical season for an often paradoxical world and it’s beautiful. Now that summer’s high energy has wound itself down and cool weather approaches more by the day I find my energy, like that of the plants around me, moving downward and inward. I seek more solitude and more quiet time, time for reflection and introspection.

In Chinese medicine Autumn, ruled by the element Metal, is characterized as a time of letting go as well as of inspiration. It is ruled by the lungs and the colon, both organs of elimination and so is an appropriate time for gentle cleansing (look for a future post on fall cleansing!)

It seems to me that so many people these days are caught up in the “what can I take for X mentality” that they forget an integral part of true healing: awareness. Awareness comes in many shapes, sizes and forms and it is of course impossible to be aware of all things at one time. However, cultivating awareness, awareness of self and of one’s body, can be deeply rewarding and healing to those suffering from illness or even a simple lack of connection.

I try to be aware of my surroundings, of appreciating all that’s around me but I admit: I’m not perfect. In the height of summer much of my attention is devoted to finding plants, making medicine or otherwise having an agenda. As I seek more solitude from this fast paced life I find myself wandering more through some of my favorite trails or taking naps in a favorite meadow with no real goal or purpose in mind, no task or pretense, just being. This is the time to throw all that away, lay face down on the ground and roll in the leaves until their intoxicating perfume is permeating your very being. Relax, have fun and let go.

Cultivating this awareness can deepen one’s connection to self and to one’s surroundings. It can allow you to have a more complete understanding of what’s happening with your body, something that is too often missing in this modern culture. Don’t get overwhelmed, nobody understands everything in a day. Learning one’s body is an ongoing process, it’s dynamic not static and the body goes through many changes; as we grow so does the body and its needs. Start simple: visit a favorite meadow under a full moon, whether with a friend, a lover or yourself and just be. Watch the sky, smell the Earth below you, feel the wind in your hair. If you’re cold feel it. What does it really feel like to be cold? What sensations or memories does it provoke? Feel your body’s response to it. Try finding some woods or a river near where you live and take a long well deserved nap under autumn’s dying sunlight. As the amber light filters through the trees and brushes your cheeks, feel that last bit of warmth from the fading sun. Soak up the smells and feelings you get and laugh. Laugh at the silliness of the world, laugh when you take yourself too seriously, laugh and feel inspired.

 

As flowers give way to seeds, herbage dies back and energy descends into roots to be stored for the winter take this time to let old things go, old habits die and assess how you are feeling in this season of transition. Take time to be with yourself, nourish yourself and love yourself and you’ll find not only a deeper connection with the world around you but with yourself as well.

 

Nov 032011
 

Nourishing infusions have got to be one of my favorite ways to ingest plants.

Nettle about to be infused overnight (photo by Andrea Salzman)

They are often loaded with vitamins and minerals and are a rich source of phytochemicals. So what is a nourishing infusion you ask? First let’s define what an infusion is. An infusion is basically any plant matter that is covered with boiling water and steeped for anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of hours. A nourishing infusion tends to be an infusion that is made from gentle, nourishing, mineral rich plants and are steeped for several hours or even overnight. This allows for maximum diffusion of the various chemicals from the plant to flow into the water.

I particularly like nourishing infusions because not only do they pack a nutritional punch, they are also easy to make and relatively convenient. I have found the best way to do them is prepare them just before turning in for the night. In this way, I can go to sleep and wake up with a lovely, deep and nourishing drink that I can carry with me throughout the day. In the morning you can strain off the herbs and then either drink it as is or reheat it. Typically I drink them room temperature in the spring and summer and heat them in the fall and winter. Most of these infusions are going to be tonics (read as slow acting) and should be used over a long period of time for best results.

The process: It’s simple. Get a clean quart jar and fill it with anywhere from a ¼ cup to a full cup of plant material and fill the jar with boiling water. Screw on a lid and let it sit. Done. The greatest thing about these, perhaps, is their versatility. Feel free to experiment: try them with honey, herbal honeys, mix and match and have fun. Below are listed some of my favorite plants for these overnight infusions and a little blurb on what they may help with.

Catnip Oatstraw infusion ready to be strained (Photo by Andrea Salzman)

Nettles-(Urtica dioica)- Often hailed as the king of mineral rich plants, nettles are indeed a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. They are a great tonic to worn out adrenals and can help build up nutritionally deficient constitutions. Here’s a little tidbit I picked up from herbalist and friend Kiva Rose, if you find that drinking nettles is causing you to need to visit the bathroom more than usual (and believe me, I do) try adding a bit of Marshmallow (althea/malva spp.) leaves and/or roots or a bit of licorice. Their moistening nature can counteract some of nettles dryness.

Hawthorn-(Crataegus spp.)- Well known for being a functional heart tonic, Hawthorn also has a place in the emotional realm. For functional heart problems (mild CHF, arrhythmia, palpitations, etc.), Hawthorn needs to be drunk regularly and in large quantities and a nourishing infusion is a great way to get in all that flavonoid-rich goodness. Emotionally, I have found hawthorn to act quicker and find it cheers me up when I’ve had a long, stressful and emotion filled day. It is used to ease heartbreak and can have a place in treating emotional trauma.

Oats-(Avena Sativa)- If Nettles is the King of mineral rich plants than Oats is his Queen. Oats are also a rich source of vitamins and minerals (and yes, it is the same plant you get your oatmeal from). Oats are useful for building up energy and stamina to a depleted nervous system. They are also useful as tonics to those of us who don’t get enough vitamins/minerals in our diets (you know who you are). Oats are also useful in building up energy after being sick. Combine them with nettles to kick things up a bit.

Tulsi-(Ocimum tenuiflorum)- Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is a sacred herb in India with a long history of use. It is aromatic and warming and just all around wonderful; I like to call it a hug in a mug. One of its constituents (eugenol) is the same chemical responsible for giving cloves their earthy warm taste which, unlike regular basil (Ocimum basilicum), places it on the more warm end of the spectrum making it an ideal fall beverage.Often cited as helping to lower elevated cortisol (the ‘stress’ hormone) Ocimum is wonderful for calming an overexcited nervous system. Conversely, its aromatic nature also gives it a place in treating stagnant depression by helping to move things along. I like it combined with nettle or on its own.

Chamomile-(Matricaria recutita)- Chamomile. It’s an herb that almost everyone knows, even those that don’t ascribe to herbal medicine will often be heard telling people to drink chamomile. Chamomile is probably the archetypal remedy for all things involving digestion and indeed it is quite useful. It’s bitter and aromatic and can help ease gas, chronic digestive upset and symptoms of GERD. It is also useful for mild anxiety and stress, particularly when they involve GI upset. An herbalist friend who uses chamomile for insomnia says it works best with a bit of honey added. Try it and let me know.

Catnip-(Nepeta cataria)- Catnip is an underrated and underused herb in my opinion. I have to admit I’ve always thought of it as, well, weak. However during a period of intense anxiety I found a strong cup of catnip to calm me down so well I could hardly believe it. When I combined it with a little Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) it nearly knocked me out! It is great for digestive trouble that moves up (i.e. vomiting, burping, gas) and like chamomile, great for anxiety that causes GI symptoms (though I find Nepeta a bit stronger). It definitely works acutely but it is still mild enough that it can be taken long term for more chronic issues.

Raspberry-(Rubus spp.)- Like both Nettles and Oats, Raspberry leaves are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. They tend to have an affinity for the female reproductive system and make a wonderful, nourishing tonic for female-bodied folks to drink on the regular. They are slightly astringent and can help tone loose, lax tissues (as in excess bleeding, etc.) and consumed regularly and as part of a larger protocol may help many functional female disorders. Like Nettles, they are a rich source of Iron and are especially beneficial when drunk during menses.

Meadowsweet-(Filipendula ulmaria)- Meadowsweet is best known as a gut anti-inflammatory. Like a few other plants, it contains salicylates (specifically methylsalicylates) which are in part responsible for its anti-inflammatory action. Methylsalicylates is the taste of Wintergreen and at one time was a part of what gave root beer it’s creamy, aromatic flavor. Meadowsweet is a great nourishing infusion when you have chronic GI problems from simple gastritis to more complex Crohn’s. It won’t solve everything but it’s a great start and it tastes good. What could be better?

There are many more herbs that can be made into nourishing infusions, these are just a few of my favorites. When thinking of herbs to use remember to keep it simple, safe and nourishing and it will make a great nourishing infusion.

Sep 272011
 

Walnuts, who doesn’t love them? How about Black Walnuts? I can’t believe I’ve spent so much of my life not enjoying this delicious wild (and free!) edible. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is a robust tree in the Hickory family, Juglandaceae, with alternate pinnately compound leaves and grey-black bark. In older trees the grey-black bark is deeply furrowed and the tree can reach heights of 138 ft making this tree both magnificent and beautiful. It is bisexual, meaning it has separate male and female flowers. This time of year the female flowers develop into its fruit: a walnut surrounded by a hard shell and a beautiful light green hull.

Juglans nigra fruits

Black Walnut as used in medicine can be traced back to at least the 17th century where it was employed in Russian folk medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine states that eating Black Walnuts builds strength. Juglans is an abundant and useful medicine that is still in use today. Modern herbalists employ the hulls and leaves (more precisely the leaflets) for digestive issues, low thyroid function and sometimes to kill parasites. This post, however, will focus on a too oft overlooked part of this incredible and versatile tree: the fruit.

As I mentioned above, the fruit which ripens around now, is covered by a hard outer shell (and I do mean hard!) which in turn is covered by a somewhat soft-fleshy husk. The husks are easy enough to remove and can be covered by oil, isopropyl alcohol or ethanol and used for medicine (more on that in a future post). Once the husks are removed many people suggest to let the nuts sit in their shell for a few days which matures the fruit and deepens the flavor. I have not yet done this but I intend to try it, let me know if you do!

So if this fruit is so spectacular, why is it so often overlooked? Perhaps it’s due to that hard shell I keep mentioning. In this microwave savvy fast-food society it’s east to see that it might be just a bit too much work for people. But listen up folks! The effort pays off, promise. Nothing can compare to the delicate and yet complex flavor that this nut offers. Somewhere between intoxicating perfume and deep earth this nut is the perfect accompaniment to, well, everything.

 So how best to crack open this  nut? I think there are as many  answers as there are people  who are willing to do it. One  popular method is to place  the hulled nuts in a sack and  run them over with a car.  Haven’t tried it but it sounds  promising. At this point I have  just done the slow and steady  method of beating them with a  hammer. As we begin to shed our leaves with the trees and begin our descent into warmer, richer and deeper foods that will nourish and sustain us in the coming cold months I particularly like it in this adaptation of a walnut cake. The original recipe was adapted from Gourmet magazine and I have further adapted it from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve adapted it to make it lower in the sugar and gluten department and of course we’re using wild walnuts in this recipe. Rich in protein and fat plus trace minerals like manganese, phosphorous and zinc this walnut cake is nourishing and even a little bit healthy. The jam can be anything but this time of year I especially like elderberry jam,
and if you’re lucky fig jam.

Cake 

1 1/4 cups walnut, toasted

1/2 cup honey

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Topping
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional)
1/2 cup elderberry or fig jam

2/3 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

 

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan, best if it has one of the cool, removable bottoms.

Pulse cooled walnuts and in a food processor until finely chopped. Cream butter and honey, then add eggs and vanilla. Add to walnuts and process until combined. Add flour, baking powder, and salt and pulse just until incorporated. Spread batter in cake pan.

Bake until cake is just firm to the touch and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 15 minutes in pan, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.

Whisk lemon juice (if using) into jam. Spoon jam over cake.

Beat heavy cream with sour cream and vanilla until it holds soft peaks, then spoon over jam. Try not to eat the whole thing all at once.

Aug 292011
 

One of my favorite wild foods to eat are grapes and their leaves (vitis spp.) The grapes themselves are delicious, especially as a sauce for wild meats. I could do a whole write up on the grapes themselves (and will soon!) but for now the focus of this post is on the leaves. Wild Grape is a flowering dioecious (separate male and female fowers) vine in the Vitaceae family, found throughout the Northern hemisphere. Grape leaves have been eaten by many people throughout the world and are still consumed to this day. One of their most famous incarnations is as dolmas: preserved grape leaves stuffed with various vegetables and/or meats and served with sauces, often yogurt.

On their own, grape leaves have a kind of sourness to them that pairs well with bright citrus flavors as well as aromatic and spicy flavors. They are abundant and versatile and as such I love to find new ways to use them. Of course, old standards are sometimes just the thing you need and as we transition to a more cool autum I find myself desiring one of my favorite incarnations of grape leaves. That is to say stuffed, with a spiced meat mixture and cooked in a mushroomy-tomato sauce. Below is the recipe.

 

Stuffed wild grape leaves in tomato sauce

1 large onion

1 cup mushrooms

2 cups tomato puree

1 lb ground beef

1 egg

1 tsp salt

2 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp coriander

1 tsp chopped preserved lemon (optional, but yummy!)

½ tsp black pepper

1 Tb lard, butter or olive oil

10-20 grape leaves depending on size

Pre-heat oven to 375. Halve the onion and chop it into slices, then dice the other half. In a skillet over medium-low heat sauté the onions in fat for about ten minutes, sprinkled with a little salt. Chop mushrooms and add, cook another five or so minutes. Then add 2 cups of tomato puree. Meanwhile, mix the ground beef in a bowl with the diced onion, salt, spices and an egg and the optional chopped lemons. Spoon some of the beef mixture into the center of each grape leaf and fold the sides and then the bottom and top towards the middle, forming a little package. Sometimes they stay together better than other times so if need be brush them with a little egg white mixed with water to make them stick. When all the  leaves are stuffed place them into the pan and spoon a little sauce over them. Throw the skillet in the oven and let cook for 30-45 minutes (depending on the size of the leaves).

(pictures soon!)

Jul 212011
 

“Welcome home…” I can still hear it in my head. Hundreds of people welcoming me to a beautiful national forest. I just got back from the 2011 National Rainbow gathering in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest of Washington state and what an experience it was. This was my second year going and also my second year working at C.A.L.M., the medical area. Rainbow gatherings are a national gathering of as many as 20,000 people from all over the country all converging in one place (some national forest somewhere) for a week of camping, music and fun. As you can imagine, that number of people all in one place for a week provides plenty of first aid opportunities.

A welcome home sign, from beneficiofamily.com

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the gathering as a whole, I’m certainly glad that this space exists and happy to be there helping but I wonder how I would feel if I didn’t have C.A.L.M. to work at? Would I feel out of sorts? It’s hard to say. At Rainbow you can meet some of the most amazing, talented and sweet people you could ever imagine; you can also meet some of the most angry, sad and disparaging of people. I suppose that’s what you get when you have a completely free event and some 20,000 people show up. It’s definitely not the happiest place in the world and yet some part of it feels very home like, very comfortable. Regardless, it is the best place that I know of (actually, the only) where an aspiring herbalist like myself can go and practice first aid herbal medicine with such openness and essentially no regulation. The advantages of this are clear: a huge population of people all with varying maladies and injuries, receptive to alternative treatments provides one with experience and lots of it. People are generally open and willing to allow you to experiment and most everyone is just so grateful. Grateful to be there, grateful that you are there and grateful that someone is willing to take care of them and so many others.

This year was even better than last; there was virtually no police presence and having previously experienced a national Rainbow, my confidence was up and I felt more comfortable experimenting and treating than I did last year. Some of this year’s case highlights include an infected dog bite, a staph infected spider bite, a bad stomach bug and every kind of respiratory malady you could imagine all exacerbated by too much smoke inhalation from the hundreds of fires around the gathering burning wet wood in a low valley.

It’s a very intense experience requiring quick thinking, an ability to improvise and a general understanding that you are in the middle of a national forest and not necessarily able to get exactly what you may need. Working in an office or even out of one’s house is so comfortable, familiar it’s easy to get stuck in that mindset. When you need a pot for soaking a wound or boiling tea, chances are you have several to choose from. You also probably have tools galore, spoons for measuring herbs or mixing poultices, knives for chopping herbs and preparing medicines. In the woods you are limited to what you have around you. You need that soaking pot but so do 15 other people who are working right beside you; you need to stir that slippery elm powder but all the spoons are gone; you need to chop ginger for tea but there’s not a knife to be found. Working in the woods certainly takes some ingenuity, some improvisation but that’s also some of the fun of it. It keeps you thinking and allows for creativity to come through, maybe even more creativity than if you were in your office or home amongst what’s so familiar to you. It’s this ability to be creative that draws me so much to Rainbow, and it’s not just found at C.A.L.M. but throughout all of the gathering. From the many bridges built of fallen trees and tied with various cordage to the clay ovens built out of clay found right on site. Rainbow is a place to express oneself and one’s creativity. I used to think I wasn’t creative; I can’t draw or paint and I’m not especially gifted at sculpting. But then I found cooking. I’ve been cooking since I was 12 and since then I have experimented and experimented some more. Not all of my creations worked out and as I’ve grown older I understand more and more what works together and what doesn’t. But I am creative, my food and meals are my creations. As I’ve found herbalism, another side of my creativity comes out. I love to experiment, to try new things, to try things that aren’t common or maybe even a little bit weird and here I can do that, freely. I get to express myself and be free and help others at the same time. Maybe this is why Rainbow feels a little like home to me.

I am very grateful for this experience and I look forward to doing it again next year. I am thankful to my teachers: CoreyPine Shane, who took me for the first time last year and 7song who took not only me but 17 others so that we could have this first hand practice. It’s hard to put into words just how important this is and how unique of an opportunity it is and I am eternally grateful to be a part of it. I’m not sure what the future holds but I do hope to continue working Rainbow gatherings for the next coming years, improving my skills and helping as many people as I can.