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Waning Moon Brew

4 Aug

Red Raspberry Leaf is traditionally known in the midwifery sphere as a uterine tonic herb.  Tonic herbs have the great effect of being generally good for you with minimal risk factors involved.  Uterine tonics are a great way to nourish the womb during pregnancy, and to give it strength for the act of childbirth.  Here’s a nice blog post about red raspberry leaf.  I started drinking raspberry leaf at the beginning of the year for menstrual cramps.  And, interestingly, my cramps this year have been significantly less severe:  except during the month of June when I was traveling and didn’t take my raspberry with me!  So, I think it’s working.  I was inspired to start drinking the infusion while reading Robin Rose Bennett’s book, “The Gift of Healing Herbs.”  She talks about drinking the tea after ovulation each month.  As my cycle has been corresponding pretty closely to the moon these days, it turns out that my raspberry leaf tea has become my waning moon brew.  The most basic infusion method looks like this:

 

Red Raspberry Leaf Infusion

Pour 1 Quart of Boiling hot water over 1 oz of raspberry leaf (about 1 c).  Let the brew steep for about 8 hours, or overnight.  Strain and consume.  Store unfinished infusion in the fridge.

 

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red raspberry:  image from botanical.com

The taste of Raspberry Leaf infusion alone is quite astringent, so you may find that you want to reduce the amount of herb in your infusion.  The resulting brew will be less potent, of course, but if you drink more of it, you will still get the good stuff into you.  Another way to dilute the astringency of red raspberry leaf is to make it into a mixture.  Lately, I’ve been into mixing red raspberry leaf, nettles, and mugwort together, 1/3 cups of each in a quart infusion.  Nettles works kind of a like a general multivitamin tonic.  I drink this frequently anytime, anywhere.  Mugwort is a bitter herb, also, so you may or may not like this added to your brew for taste.  As Bennett, says, though, “mugwort moves energy in the uterus and can be especially helpful for women with clots.  Be aware, however, that it may increase the menstrual flow as it does this. (p. 317).”    So, use mugwort in your brew only if you find it helpful for your particular situation.

I often drink the straight infusion, or the infusion watered down, but sometimes a little extra oomph is fun.  Last month I discovered a delightful way to stir things up and make them into a probiotic ferment, by adding 1/3 infusion, 1/3 maple water, and 1/3 plain tibicos.  I bottled them together, and left them at room temp for a while so that the tibicos could process and ferments some of the sugars from the maple water and build up some bubbles.  Here is the recipe below:

Waning Moon Brew

1.  Prepare plain/ brown-sugar tibicos:

  • Fill a quart-sized jar with 1/4c of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of water kefir grains, and filtered water.  Mix well to dissolve the sugar. 
  • Cover with a cloth to prevent dust and flies from entering, and stir the mixture a couple times a day, for approximately two days, or until the brew is sour enough for your liking.  The longer you ferment, the less sweet it will be. 

2. Prepare your infusion:  

  • In another quart sized jar, put 1/3 cups each of dried nettle leaf, red raspberry leaf, and mugwort.  Pour boiling water over the herbs and let them infuse overnight, or about 8 hours.  Strain the herbs from the infusion, squeezing them well to extract all of their good stuff.

3.  Mix your plain tibicos, your herbal infusion, and 1 quart of either coconut water or maple water.

4.  Bottle the mixture into airtight bottles and leave at room temperature until they have built up some fizz.  BE CAREFUL not to leave them too long, or you can create a bomb!  See this post.  “Burping” your bottles periodically can help to prevent too much gas pressure build-up.

5.  Refrigerate your brew, and consume!

 

 

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mugwort:  image from botanical.com

Sweet Melissa: A Simpler’s recipe.

11 Jan

About a year ago, I wrote a post on Carmelite water, an herb-infused spirit that has many variations, but who’s defining herb is lemon balm.  Lemon balm is also known as sweet melissa.  My first crack at Carmelite water resulted in a spicy brew where I tasted much more clove than lemon balm.  The clove had a numbing effect on my tongue as I drank it– clove oil is known as a good herbal remedy for tooth aches, as it is both antiseptic and analgesic.

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Alas, I don’t have a personal photo of my own lemon balm. Here’s a public domain shot via wikimedia commons.

 

Lemon balm, or Melissa officialis, is a perennial herb.  It’s calming, cooling, uplifting, and mildly astringent.  Used in formulas for belly aches, anxiety, hyperthyroid, colds and viruses.  (source: Dina Falconi’s Foraging and Feasting: a Field Guid and Wild Food Cookbook.)  Lemon balm is also a great ally in the garden.  Its lemony scent is supposed to repel various pests.

For my second try at a Carmelite water, I decided to go with the fresh herb, and only melissa: no other herbs to distract the taste buds.  In the herbalists’ terms, a one-herb infusion is called a “simple.”   Last summer, I planted a lemon balm that flourished in the high sun of my fire escape.  In June, I took an ounce of the leaves and put them in a jar, and I covered them with about 1 1/4 cups of 80 proof Stoli vodka.  Then, I forgot about it.  Here it is:

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Today, over six months later, I rediscovered the jar in the back of my fermentation cabinet.  I decanted the vodka into a glass measuring cup, squeezed out the extra fluid from the leaves, and then tasted some.  The taste is decidedly herbaceous, decidedly the taste of lemon balm, and of course strongly alcoholic.  The alcohol has quite a bite to it.  Last time I made carmelite water, I skipped the part where you add sugar to the mix.  This time around, I heated up a tablespoon of water, added two tablespoons of honey to it, and mixed that into my brew.  This softened the taste, but it is still sure to put some hair on your chest!  Interestingly, I just found a recipe for lemon balm schnapps, apparently  a Danish recipe.  The author only infuses hers for 48 hours and uses significantly less lemon balm.  I supposed my version is really more like a tincture in its herbal strength.

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The infused alcohol is a deep emerald green, although the lighting doesn’t quite tell you that here.

I would call this experiment a success, although I’ve come to the conclusion  that I like the way fresh lemon balm leaves smell way more than I like the way they taste.  I would call picking a fresh leaf from my homegrown plant and smelling the aroma of it crushed between my fingers a kind of ‘peak experience.’  Eating that same leaf or drinking it in vodka hasn’t done it for me.  Perhaps using my original recipe and reducing the clove will create a more balanced blend that incorporates the taste of sweet melissa but makes it more delicious than this simpler’s recipe.  I’d like to call out to my readers:  do you have a favorite use for lemon balm?

 

 

Fiery Jun Vinegar (A Variation on Fire Cider)

2 Jan

In the last year or so, I’ve noticed this stuff called Fire Cider on the shelves of crunchy stores in my neighborhood.  It’s apple cider vinegar infused with a bunch of spicy things.  It always looks appealing until I look at the price tag, and an 8 oz bottle is easily over 10 dollars.  Then I look at the ingredients and say, “Self, you could make that really easily.”  Months went by and I didn’t get around to it.   But, now it’s a New Year!  After a several-month hiatus from my blogging (not my fermenting, mind you),   I am making a comeback with my own version of fire cider.

P.S.,  Since I first wrote this entry,  I have noticed some prominent herbalists voicing concern over the company that distributes fire cider.  Although Shire City Herbals have popularized it by reaching a wide distribution, they certainly did not invent it.  However,  they have trademarked the name: one which I believe the herbalist Rosemary Gladstar originally coined.  One of my readers recently posted a comment to remind me of the lack of integrity that this company has displayed.  You can read more about the problem in this article she offered me.   So, may I suggest that you don’t support Shire City Herbals with your purse, but instead contribute to the age-old tradition of making your own!

8oz Fire Cider

This is the stuff popping up on my health food store shelves lately.

The choice to compile it was quite spontaneous: I’ve been growing a number of Jun mothers for folks who are interested in buying them.  In the winter, my kitchen runs on the cold side.  My Jun brew ferments, but the mothers grow slowly.  I stuck my fermenting jars on top of a seedling mat to encourage growth, but it has only helped so much.  My most recent SCOBYs have been growing for a month. I have some nice ones now, but alas, my jun has gone to vinegar.  What to do with all that vinegar?

Eureka!  Fire Jun Vinegar!  I made my first batch today.  I originally looked up the ingredients that the fire cider people use, via their website, www.firecider.com, and then I found another recipe on one of my favorite herbal sites, mountainroseherbs.com.  Mountain Rose herbs is primarily a vendor, but they also have a blog with recipes.  Between the two references, I compiled my own plan, and I threw together some ingredients that I had on hand.  Here’s what I came up with.  If you check out their pages, you’ll notice that both of the other recipes incorporate horseradish.  I may try this in the future, but that’s not an ingredient I keep around my kitchen, so it’s not in there for this round.  Use your own creativity and see what’s in your pantry to make your own.

Fiery Jun Vinegar

In a quart jar, combine:

1/2 onion, chopped

1/4 cup of grated fresh ginger

1/4 cup of grated fresh turmeric

a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme

8 cloves of garlic, crushed

3 chilis de arbol (I have these really hot dried chills from the company Rancho Gordo)

2 Tbsp of lemon juice (Fresh with the rind would be great, but what I had on hand was some frozen cubes of lemon juice from a few months ago when I had a bunch of lemons I couldn’t eat fast enough)

1 Tbsp black peppercorns

Pour your month long-fermented Jun that has turned to vinegar and is way too sour to be palatable as a beverage by itself over the rest of the ingredients.  

Shake.

Wait 4-6 weeks for the jun vinegar to be infused with the spices.  You may want to shake the jar occasionally, and you may want to burp the jar in case your jun wasn’t fully fermented into vinegar yet and starts to build up pressure.  Use a plastic lid if you have one, or put some parchment or wax paper between the jar and your metal lid, as jun likes to corrode metal.

Strain out the spices through a cheesecloth into a new, clean vessel, squeezing the extra goodness out of the spices at the end.  

Mix honey into the brew to suit your taste.  

Your fiery jun vinegar can be consumed by the spoonful– all the spices in it are sure to make a great immune tonic.  You can also use it as a vinegary addition to salad dressings, or to spice up a fresh juice or an herbal tea.  If you try it out, let me know how you decide to use it!

Here’s my ingredients all stacked up nicely like a parfait before I shook it up:

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Dandelion, the nature of tonics, and herbal “coffee.”

18 Jul

A few days ago, I posted a recipe for dandelion burdock soda.  I’ve given burdock a write up before, but now it’s dandelion’s turn.  Dandelion, perhaps the weediest of all lawn weeds, is full of healing powers.  The leaves are edible and make good, albeit bitter, salad greens.  The roots have a nutty flavor to them.  Dandelion root is available to buy commercially both in raw form and in roasted form.  Roasting helps to fill out the flavor, but deprives the root of some of its bitter constituents which are the powerful healing elements of the root.

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(Photo credit: Tadie88)

David Hoffman sites dandelion as an ideally balanced diuretic.  Usually drugs that stimulate kidney function can also cause a loss of potassium, but because dandelion is a rich source of potassium, it replaces what might be lost, and is therefore a nourishing way of addressing water retention, particularly helpful in people who have water retention due to heart problems.

Robin Rose Bennett, in her new book The Gift of Healing Herbs (which I’ve been reading bits of daily lately) also sites dandelion as rich in iron, zinc, beta carotene, and calcium.  She uses it as a tonic for the liver, as a part of reproductive tonics, and to support the lymphatic system.  She also uses the flowers to make a tincture or an oil, which she uses in cases of emotional tension.

Susun Weed, in Healing Wise, also sites dandelion greens as valuable digestive bitters, and flowers as a pain reliever.

Overall, I’ve gleaned that dandelion gets things moving through the body, which is great when we have places that are stuck, whether in our finer fluid systems, our digestion, our circulation, or our psyche.  I know many people who, in an attempt to cleanse themselves of some perceived toxicity, turn to harsh methods such as fasting or colonics, 100 percent raw diets, or yogic salt water drink cleanses.   Many of these fasters end up with worse digestion and depleted intestinal flora after their cleanse.  Our bodies clean themselves if we support them.  If we nourish the organs that cleanse us, we don’t need to resort to deprivation techniques.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

I come across the word “tonic” applied to dandelion and many other weeds.  For a long time this word confused me.  What is a tonic?  Weed says it’s something that “nourishes the functioning (tonus) of a muscle, organ, or system; invigorates and strengthens all activity.”  This definition is odd because it defines tonic with tone.  What is tone?  Hoffman says tonics are “herbs that strengthen and enliven either a specific organ, or system, or the whole body”.   This explanation still left me confused, somehow, until I heard a definition of tone from my yoga and BMC teacher, Amy Matthews.  She defines tone as “readiness to respond.”   When I pair this definition with the understanding that “reaction” and “response” are two very different things, I get a better chance of grocking what tone is.   With balanced tone, our organs are able to rest when appropriate, and become active when necessary. Ready to respond means being attuned to any situation.  Tonic herbs are helpful because don’t just stimulate our organs:  they nourish them so that the organs can do their work and regulate themselves.  Thus, the wise woman tradition refers to herbs as our “allies,” rather than thinking of them like drug replacements.

A year or so ago, I picked up a bottle of Dand-E-Chick, a coffee replacement beverage made by a local Brooklyn lady.  I’ve had other chicory beverages that are just infuriating: I drink them, and I feel resentful that I am not actually drinking coffee.  This stuff, somehow, is better.  It has the bitter-sweetness of coffee without trying to pretend to be coffee.  Dand-E-Chick lady used to sell the grounds at Abhyasa Yoga Center, where I teach.  They haven’t turned up at the center lately, but I’ve taken to making my own version.  I think her ratio is still a little better taste-wise but here’s what I do:

 

Dandelion-Chickory coffee replacement:

Combine:

4 T ground roasted dandelion root

4 T chicory root

2 T cocoa or cinnamon

Add a couple scoops to your french press (just like you would coffee grounds), and pour boiling water over the herbs.  Let steep 5 minutes.  Pour a cup, adding milk to your taste.

Dandelion-Burdock Soda: British and Beautiful.

16 Jul

Recently my sister went on a trip to England, and she sent me this picture of this during her travels.

From my traveling sister in England.  (I've blurred out her student's face for privacy)

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’ve actually seen this soda in New York (yeah, we have everything here).  But, it’s not so common, and it is British in origin anyway.  Nevertheless, her picture and enthusiasm inspired me to try making some of my own dandelion-burdock soda.  I chose a roasted dandelion root, which gives the brew a nice roasted, nutty flavor.  The burdock adds a pleasant sweetness to the drink.  The combination of dandelion and burdock is great therapeutically, as well.  As my friend Maya commented “double ammo for your liver!” Read my article on burdock here, and dandelion here. For my first batch, I went for simplicity and didn’t bother to add any ginger, although I might play with this same soda the next time I make a ginger bug.

Here is how I made my Dandelion-Burdock soda, with tibicos aka water kefir.  Over fourth of July weekend I brought a bottle up to New England for a taste-test from my newly returned sister.  She liked my version better than the commercial brew, which she says was much sweeter and less herbal.

Dandelion-Burdock Soda

In a herb pot or saucepan, combine:

1 and 1/2 Tbsp roasted dandelion root

1 and 1/2 Tbsp burdock root

1 quart of filtered water.  

Bring the herbs and water to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes.

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This is my handy herb pot from chinatown: the best $7 investment I’ve made in a long time! The clay pot keeps my brew hot for longer during steeping time. Any saucepan will do, though.

Turn off the heat and allow them to steep for an additional half hour. Filter your herbs as you put the tea into a 2 quart container.

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The leftover “wort” (herbs) after steeping and straining.

Add an additional:

1 quart of water

1/3 cups birch syrup*

1/3 cups sucanot*

Mix your ingredients well, and test the temperature of the liquid.   It can be warm but should not be painful to the touch before you add your culture, or you will burn the tibicos– it is alive, after all!  They traditionally call this temperature “blood warm.”

Add:

1/2 cup of tibicos grains.

Give the whole thing a hearty stir, and cover it with a breathable lid, like a cloth napkin or a paper towel, and secure the towel with rubber bands to keep flies out. Taste test your brew the next day to see if it is done.  If it is too sweet for your taste, leave it another 12 hours and test again.   Fermentation could take up to 48 hours, depending on your taste and the ambient temperature.  Each time you check on it, give the tibicos a stir.  When the brew is sour enough for your taste, bottle it, and put it in the refrigerator.

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The brew, wedged between my kombucha an djun ferments, on my fermentation shelf. Fermentation time for tibicos is much shorter, though!

You may want to leave the bottled brew at room temperature for a few hours to build up some fizz, but beware of leaving it too long.  Tibicos has exploded in my refrigerator, (see my cherry explosion article).  If in doubt, it’s a good practice to “burp” your container after leaving it for this secondary fermentation.  I recently have taken to using old wine bottles for my secondary fermentation, as opposed to Grolsch bottles.  If the pressure in the wine bottle builds up too much, the cork will pop out and you will get a mess, but you avoid the danger of exploding broken glass!

 

*These are the sweeteners that I happened to use:  Sucanot also goes by the brand name rapadura, or evaporated cane syrup.  It’s just unrefined sugar.  You can find it at most health food stores.  Birch syrup is particularly pricey and hard to come by, so this can be easily replaced with maple syrup or additional sucanot.  I bought some online to try out making birch beer over a year ago, and I’ve had the leftovers sitting in the fridge ever since.  Usually, I deem it too precious to use for any old occasion.  I finally got over that and decided to use it up!

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There is the tibicos and the birch syrup, mid-process.

High Season: what’s brewing in your cabinet?

26 Jun

As we sweat through another midsummer, fermentations thrive! Here’s what I have in my cabinet today. A few are alcohol infusions, most are ferments.

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I have some writing to do about these, I guess! Stay tuned.

Herbal Bouillon

18 May

In early March, I finally managed to catch a meeting with my local fermentation meetup group– yes, that is a thing that exists!  I usually miss them because of my work schedule.  The March theme of the month was booze and bitters, inspired by spring and the upcoming St. Patrick’s day.  The woman I was sitting next to was gushing about a relatively new book:  Foraging and Feasting by Dina Falconi.  She was so enthusiastic about it that I later looked it up online.  She was right!  It’s awesome.  I now own the book, and I have taken some time to page through it.  It’s full of gorgeous and helpful illustrations by Wendy Hollander, along with a host of recipes.

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Herbal bouillon is the first recipe I have sampled from the book.  Falconi includes suggestions for all sorts of wild herb combinations.  My own version is composed of what I had to use up in my fridge one week in March.  It’s a great recipe if you find yourself with more greens than you have time to eat before they go bad.  The high salt concentration makes this more of a preserve than a true fermentation:  these greens will keep almost indefinitely.  I look forward to this as a way of adding a splash of  vibrant summer green into my otherwise cabbage-laden winter cookery.  In the book, the recipe calls for sixteen ounces of fresh greens.  Sixteen ounces is a LOT of plants.  I pared the recipe down to four ounces of greens and once ounce of sea salt, because that’s the amount I had on hand.  You can use whatever amount you like, but the ratio of salt to greens is important to maintain for preservation purposes.  Four ounces of greens was was perfect for stuffing into a half-pint mason jar.

A few teaspoons of bouillion goes a long way in dressing up a soup.  So far I’ve used it in an otherwise bland leftover chicken soup from my mother-in-law figure and to dress up my own lentil soup.  The most specialized part of the recipe is that you really need a kitchen scale to get the proportions of salt to greens correct.

Herbal Bouillion

Clean and mince 4 ounces of greens.  I used:

2/3 oz basil

2 oz cilantro

1 and 1/3 oz scallions

Mix the herbs with 1 oz celtic sea salt.

Stuff them into a half-pint jar, and store in a cool, dark place.  The fridge works just fine.  I took this picture today.  Notice how it’s still vibrant green,  six weeks later.  The salt will corrode metal, so it’s best to use a plastic lid, or put a layer of wax paper or plastic wrap between your mason jar lid and the glass jar.

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Alewife gets a cold, engages with Osha root: Monica’s tincture.

13 Mar

Brooklyn Alewife has a cold.  I thought I got through this winter without getting  sick at all.  Till now.  I do recall some time in mid-January, I almost got sick and warded it off with plenty of sleep, elderberry brandy, herb teas, and an amazing Osha root-based tincture from my friend Monica.   She discovered the root via her now ex-boyfriend, who left a bunch of it behind, and she began chewing it straight-up to help her overcome a lingering illness.  Liking it a lot, she found that she particularly liked it in combination with both red root and cherry bark.  Periodically when I got a threatening tickle in my throat this year, instead of taking cough drops I took a half-dropper of Monica’s tincture.  It soothed my throat as well as warding off whatever germs were attacking me.

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These halls ads were all over the subway a coupla years ago. I feel like this lady right now.

Osha root (Ligusticum porteri)  is an herb that Monica introduced me to last year.  It’s native to the Southwestern US and Mexico, and my herbal books seem to have a blind spot for it.  My wellness wall chart in my kitchen sites it for sinusitus, because of it’s anti-viral and anti-bacterial qualities.  A quick google search led me straight to Wikipedia, and the picture of Osha looks much like poison hemlock, which is not too surprising because both plants are in the parsley family.  The plants are easily distinguished by smell, however.  Hemlock has a mousy smell when the leaves are crushed, whereas Osha has a celery smell to it.  This celery smell and taste is noticeable to me in consumption of the dried root.   Osha is sometimes called bear root, because brown bears are attracted to it, both eating the roots and rubbing it on their fur.

Researching Osha today, I find via both Susun Weed’s website  and on the Mountain Rose herbs website an advisory that Osha is an at-risk species, to use sparingly.  Guilt rises in me, as I just bought two ounces of the root yesterday (okay, that’s not that much).  Because of the scarcity of the root, you should be mindful of your herbal sources:  Do you get your supplies from someone who harvests sustainably?

English: Ligusticum porteri variety porteri (o...

English: Ligusticum porteri variety porteri (osha, Porter’s lovage, Porter’s licoriceroot, loveroot, etc.), showing flowers and part of seedhead, Winsor Trail, Santa Fe National Forest, near Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Weed sites Osha as a very powerful herb that helps to prevent against anaphylactic shock and other extreme reactions to both allergens and venoms.   She also refers to it as “singer’s root,” because of its soothing effect on the throat.  I have noticed it listed as an ingredient in prepared herbal remedies such as “Singer’s Saving Grace,” and “Old Indian Wild Cherry Bark,”  two remedies that I have used over the years when I am sick.  The good news is, a little goes a long way.  I was not sparing in my use this winter, and an ounce of diluted tincture lasted me the entire season.

Here’s what Monica did.  Keep in mind, neither Monica nor I are trained herbalists, but amateurs dabbling in herbal crafts, experimenting researching, and having conversations.  Do your own research.  Check out the resource linked, for instance in this article.  Take your herbs with respect and caution.   Via Weed, 2 oz. of dried roots should be combined with 10 oz. of high-proof alcohol.

Monica’s Osha tincture:

In a glass jar, combine

2 oz coursley chopped osha root

2/3 oz cherry bark (read more about it here)

1 and 1/3 oz red root. (read more about it here)

Cover the roots with 20 oz. 100-proof vodka.  Cap the jar tightly, and let it sit for a year.  If some of the alcohol evaporates, you can top it off.

Tinctures are generally consumed  a few drops at a time in a glass of water.  Monica chose to dilute her master tincture with distilled water to a still strong but more directly ingestable level (Dilute yours to taste if you go this route:  she just said, “I put a lot of water in there.” I’m going to guess my bottle is half distilled water).  If you dilute the whole tincture, you will shorten the shelf life, but is a nice way to carry it around and apply at will on the bus, on the road, whatever, even if you don’t have a bottle of water with you.

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A note of Carmelite and Chaga

25 Feb
A black polypore fungus on a white birch...

Chaga:  A black polypore fungus on a white birch… (Photo credit: Charles de Mille-Isles)

Two nights ago, a friend and fellow fermenter came over to visit. When Monica called, I was in the midst of making some chaga tea for a trial tasting. Chaga is a new acquisition of mine.   I sent Mark, a fellow blogger, a Jun SCOBY a week or so ago, and he sent me the chaga he hand-harvested in exchange. What a fun gift! I had never heard of it, but Monica had, and was super enthusiastic about having some.  Chaga is supposed to have many  health benefits, as in it’s anti- anti- everything.  Cancer, Candida, HIV, Malaria, Inflammation.  You name it, Chaga kills it!  Believe the claims as much as you want to.  Anyway, it’s pretty yummy, and I don’t think it’s even something you have to acquire a taste for, like kombucha can be. My boyfriend’s testament to chaga is that it smells like cooked bananas.  (Smelling is as close as he’s gotten to it:  he is not as adventurous with me when it comes to wildcrafted and fermented things.   He does, however, eat my kimchi with a vengeance).  Chaga is sweet and earthy. The first couple nights I drank it plain and liked it a lot. Tonight I’m sipping it as I write, with a little milk and honey mixed in. Like this, it seems to be a great coffee replacement. It satisfies the same flavor craving, even though it doesn’t really taste like coffee.

Monica samples the Chaga. The bricks of mushroom are there in the baggie by her on the table.

While the chaga was simmering in my Chinatown herb pot, I was also straining out my Carmelite water, an alcohol infusion that I’d been letting sit for the last month.  I discovered this recipe from a book that I randomly picked up at Integral Yoga one time when I was working at their bookstore:  Wild and Weedy Apothecary, by Doreen Shababy.  It’s a fun book written in an almost journalistic way, with herbal inspired recipes from A to Z.

A "bare foot" Carmelite nun

Carmelite water is so called because it was allegedly first created by the Carmelite nuns in Paris in 1611.

A web search on the stuff will offer you a few variations on the recipe, but the ingredient they all agree on is lemon balm, also known as Melissa.  Lemon Balm is known as a nervine tonic.  It’s good to calm the nerves, and also good for digestion, headaches and menstrual cramps.  Monica and I found the combination of  lemon balm and the high alcohol content to be very effective in calming our nerves.  Nuns in the carmelite order are known to have a proportionally large amount of holy visions.  If they were drinking this stuff all the time, I know why!

Monica double fisting the chaga and the Carmelite water. Notice the “calming” effect that Carmelite water has had on her after one sip! Later I read on Mark’s blog that Chaga and alcohol don’t mix well. Oops!

Shababy adds sugar to her Carmelite water.  I omitted the sugar to keep the brew more versatile:  aside from being a beverage it can double as a perfume (haven’t tried that part yet), and I didn’t want to be spraying  sugar on my body.  The other change I made was replacing her angelica leaves with angelica root, because that’s what I found at my local herb store.  The resulting recipe is spicy and bitter.  I can see how it would make a great digestif.

Carmelite Water

4 Tbsp dried lemon balm leaves

3Tbsp dried angelica root

2 Tbsp whole cloves

1 Tbsp whole coriander seed

1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

2 c good quality vodka.  I used Stolichnaya, 80 proof.   A high proof liquor is safer for tincture infusions because it kills off any bacteria that might spoil the infusion.  Shababy says the infusion should have a shelf life of 6 months.  I’m guessing that the high proof vodka would help it last longer.  Another recipe I saw online is a wine version of the beverage, if you want to go for something lighter to drink.

Combine all the ingredients in a jar, cover and let infuse for a month.  Shake it every day, whenever you think of it.  The infusion will turn a dark brown.  The proportions I used make it very spice heavy.  You could certainly play with different proportions of herbs and spices for a lemon-balmier blend as well.   After a month, strain out the herbs, and consume.  We drank it neat, in little sips the other night.  It is basically a bitters, however, so I think it would be great in small amounts to spruce up a cocktail.  I can also easily imagine drinking it with ice and a little simple syrup or honey mixed in.

English: Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), her...

English: Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), herb garden, St. Andrew’s-Sewanee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Ginger Beer: Warmth in a Cool Drink

14 Dec

Last month I made my latest batch of ginger beer, a project which I tend to do once a year around this time.  Ginger is great at any time, but cool weather prompts me to use warming spices.  There are different ways to go about making ginger beer.  Three methods are listed below.

A few years ago, I invested in a ginger beer plant from a fermenter in England.  Ginger beer plant purportedly is the most “genuine” way to make ginger beer.   Unfortunately, my ginger beer plant did not last very long.  The process of using it is a little bit like fermenting with water kefir, but the grains of ginger beer plant reproduce more slowly and are much finer than tibicos.  With each ferment I did, I lost some of my grains.  I was using a kitchen towel to strain the grains out, and inevitably, the fine grains would adhere to the towel and I would not be able to recover them all.  I already have three other types of starter to play with, so I was only a little sad as I watched the ginger beer plant whittle itself slowly away.   The beverage that the ginger beer plant produced was pleasant and different, but not necessarily superior to my tastes.

If you have water kefir (tibicos) grains hanging around, this would be another way to make ginger beer.  The brew method would be comparable to making ginger beer with the ginger beer plant.

I’ve taken to the ginger “bug” method to make ginger beer.  It’s a wild-ferment way to create your own scoby culture.  I would compare it most to the concept of sourdough, as the process is about feeding a culture every day with the right stuff to attract the right local yeasts to your jar.  The ginger bug method I use method comes from my Nourishing Traditions Cookbook, by Sally Fallon.  Sandor Katz also offers an adaptation of Sally’s recipe in his book Wild Fermentation.  You could also get creative with ginger bug as a starter,

and create any number of flavored sodas with it.

Making a ginger bug:

IMG_1675

That’s the ginger bug right before I decanted it. It got to a point where it was bubbly enough that I was keeping the jar inside a bowl in case of overflow, to save my countertop from stickiness.

Grate 2 tsp of fresh ginger.  Put it in a pint sized jar.  Get as much of the juicy stuff in as you can.

Add 2 tsp of white sugar, and 1 c water.

Seal the jar and shake it.  Let it sit.

Every day, add another 2 tsp of ginger and 2tsp of sugar, and shake the jar daily or more.

After a few days or up to a week, your mixture will get bubbly.  You will see the bubbles when you shake, but also beforehand.  This bubbly brew is your ginger bug.  You have effectively  invited the yeasts from the air to inhabit your sugar-ginger-water mix.

Making ginger beer from your bug:

Boil half a gallon of water.

Add 1 to 1.5 cups of sweetener to the water.  While the ginger bug is necessarily made with white sugar to attract your yeasts, this sweetener could be anything:  maple syrup, birch syrup, sucanot, brown sugar, molasses.  I recommend staying away from honey.  This last batch I did was with molasses, and it gave the whole drink a beautiful, rich color.

Mix well to dissolve your sweetener, then mix in another half gallon of water.  Your mixture should now be cool enough to comfortably touch.  Add the juice of 2 lemons, and the liquid from your ginger bug.  Taste your mix.  If you want it to be more gingery, grate some more fresh ginger and squeeze the ginger juice from your gratings into the pot.  Let this mixture sit for about a week, covered to keep out flies, and then bottle it.

IMG_1677

The bottled brew. Notice how I have a couple plastic bottles in the batch. These are handy in testing your carbonation levels: when the plastic bottle gets more rigid to the touch, you know it’s ready to transfer to the fridge.

Depending on how active your culture is, you can leave the bottles out at room temperature for some time to build up bubbles.  A good test is to use at least one plastic bottle.  When the plastic becomes rigid from the pressure of gas build up, it’s time to “burp” your bottles and put them in the refrigerator.  Otherwise, you can end up with glass bombs that are quite dangerous!  (See my cherry explosion incident from last summer).  The safe bottle time at room temp could be as short as a few hours, especially if you do this in the summer, to about two weeks.  I have had batches at both extremes.

If you really dig ginger beer, you could now add another cup of water to the sediment left over from your ginger bug, and begin feeding it sugar and ginger every day again.  The culture may be ready sooner this time, as you have already gotten the organisms started.  I’ve never tried to keep my bug going, as I couldn’t keep up with drinking it.

If you want to make this an especially “warming” drink, add some dark rum to your glass, and an optional wedge of lime.  Now you have a dark n’ stormy!

Old Ways Herbal: Juliette Abigail Carr, RH (AHG)

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