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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.

P1190404 Dandelion Clock..02.05.14

(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:


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.

Bourbon Vanilla Extract

16 Feb

vanilla bean (Photo credit: missmareck)

Early in 2013, I joined a facebook group called “Kombucha Nation,” thanks to one of my blog readers who exchanged SCOBY with me.  The group has been overwhelming to keep up with, but over the months I have found some useful tips.  One of the best was a recipe for homemade vanilla extract.  The original recipe post on Kombucha Nation used vodka as a base alcohol.

Neutral spirits like vodka are useful for an extract when you want the purity of your infused herb to stand out.  My “improved” recipe below features bourbon, however.   Bourbon makes the extract more complex, although potentially not as versatile for baking. Recently, I put some bourbon vanilla in my egg nog.  The result: delicious!

Vanilla beans are expensive, but considering the cost of a good vanilla extract, this recipe probably will save you money.  Also, vanilla beans can be reused.  Mountain Rose Herbs is a great online resource for reasonably priced herbs, including vanilla beans, and no, they have not paid me to say that!

Bourbon Vanilla Extract: 

Cut five vanilla beans into quarters.  Place them in about 12 oz. of good  bourbon.  I used Maker’s mark, and I placed the whole mixture in a used beer bottle with a cork to seal it.  Let the beans infuse for several months, and shake the bottle when you think of it. Check the smell and taste test for done-ness.

I let mine go for 6 months before I used it.  More neutral spirits like vodka can be more ready in as quickly as 1-2 months, but a stronger flavored alcohol will require longer infusion to really capture the flavor of the vanilla.  Alternative:  Rum vanilla is also supposed to be yummy.

Vanilla plant

Vanilla plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Food and Mood

26 Aug
Here’s a recent pro-probiotics article that you may have already seen if you run in the same Facebook circles as I do.  This one is based on a study that shows a correlation between gut bacteria and mood.  Enjoy, and continue to populate yourself with the healthy bacteria that fermentation can provide!


Cartoon of a couple of bacteria having marital...

Cartoon of a couple of bacteria having marital problems (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Probiotics: Food for Thoughts

18 Jul

I pilfered this photo off of Facebook from the George Takei page. Not sure of his sources…!


I was happy to come by an article via Science Daily a little while ago that suggests a connection to probiotic intake and the health of our neurological connections.  The (maybe) bad news is that the UCLA study cited is funded by Danone.  Certainly this company would have a vested interest in proving a food-brain connection to promote their products, but that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a bad start.  I’m excited to stay tuned and see what other benefits and proof our modern-day researchers might dig up about the benefits of fermented foods.

Read the Article Here.

The UCLA study also focuses on one probiotic food, yogurt.   Anything that is fermented, however, has probiotic benefits.  Probiotic simply means that you are eating bacteria that is beneficial to your gut.  Anything made with a SCOBY (Symbiotic colony of bacteria and Yeast) is probiotic.   Anything lacto-fermented is utilizing some strain of  Lactobacillus.



Ancestral technology: sourdough.

3 Mar

Fermentation exists because at one point in time, there were no refrigerators: it is a way to preserve food without the need of cooling devices. Happily, the process of fermentation also makes us hardier creatures because it reinforces the good bacterial population in our guts. Since the advent of preservatives, canning, freezing and other modern technologies, our mainstream society has lost the gist of why we fermented in the first place: even most pickles you can buy commercially are not fermented: they have been sterilized in hot vinegar and placed into jars.

National brand commercial breads have added preservatives in them to maintain their shelf life, and fresh, yeast leavened breads from local bakeries only last a day or two before they go stale and then moldy. Sourdough, however, is a fresh bread that has its own natural preservatives, by virtue of the additional fermentation process that it goes through. I was tickled recently to come across an article in Science Daily entitled Why sourdough bread resists mold.  I’m happy to see that occasionally, modern science remembers that our ancestors had some important technology of their own.


Chick-Chick-Chutney Sandwhich

26 Jan

This Chicken-Chickweed-Chutney sandwich creation was so yummy that I had to share it with more than folks than just my friend Marcy who I had lunch with today– thus this blog post.  The sandwich utilizes my cranberry chutney, a recipe which I posted earlier this month.



Slice open and lightly toast a breadroll.

Layer on your roll: cranberry chutney, fresh chickweed (One of the few green things that seem to be available lately at my local farmer’s market.  You can substitute greens of your choice if you can’t find chickweed arugula would do nicely), and your chicken salad

Chicken Salad

This recipe should last you for 3-4 sandwiches, unless you are Dagwood.

Shred into small pieces:  Leftover cooked chicken:  1 leg or 1 breast

1/3 cup homemade mayo, alter amount to taste. (see mayo recipe below)

1 stalk celery, diced

2 T almond slivers

salt and pepper to taste.

Combine ingredients in a bowl and consume!

Homemade mayo

Whisk ( I recommend using the whisk attachment on a hand blender) 1 large egg yolk with 1 T lemon juice and a dash of salt in a smallish bowl, till smooth.

Take 1/2 c olive oil, add by drop-fuls until the mix begins to turn thick and stiffen. After about half of the olive oil is added, you can start to add it in more steadily. Make sure each addition is blended fully before you add more. Once the oil has been fully combined, add freshly ground pepper to taste.

Pomanders: Fermenting Decorative Potpourri Balls for the Holidays, or anytime

7 Dec

Historically, a pomander is a ball of scent, often worn on the body to guard against either foul smells or disease.  I imagine the popular Thieves Oil, which is supposed to be based on a recipe that grave robbers wore to protect themselves from the black plague, would likely have been worn by said thieves as a pomander.  orange-by-nicubunu

I grew up knowing and making pomanders as decorative pieces of fruit studded with cloves.  Flower pomanders (globe shaped bouquets, basically) are also a modern-day variation on the theme.



Take an apple or orange.  Push whole cloves into it in a pattern that suits you.  

You may want to wear a thimble because the cloves are sharp.  I have tough enough fingers, so I usually brave it out.  It can get a little uncomfortable by the end, but I’ve never broken my skin on a clove.  If you have more tender fingers, keep in mind that clove is both antiseptic and analgesic (wink).

 If you want to get fancier, tie a ribbon around the fruit to hang it up, or simply display in a bowl or dish.  Enjoy!

As the fruit decomposes, it perfumes the room with a lovely fragrence.  The pomanders I make tend to mold after a week or so as their fermenation sets in.  Of course, once they are moldy it’s time for the trash.   You can make them last for over a year, according to online sources, if you go through the proper curing process that includes a few extra herbs, sandalwood oil, a brown bag, and time. Of course, once they are cured, they are no longer fermenting, and therefore unsuitable for this blog!


A Night of Sandorkraut

31 Jul

The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz, has been out for a little bit now.  I just got my copy at Brooklyn Kitchen, at a talk with the Man himself!  Yay.  I just wanted to display tonight’s trophy.  Guaranteed to be a good read!  One day I’ll make it down to Sandor’s farm in Tennessee to pick his brains more.Image

What is an Alewife?

14 Jan

Why alewife?  I found this word referenced first in Jessica Prentice’s Full Moon Feast.   The word sparked my interest partly because of the historic relationship between alewifery and midwifery.  An alewife would brew more than just beer– her job would overlap a bit with the wortwife, who grew and sold herbs, and the wortwife often dealt in midwifery.  It’s reasonable to think that in some villages these roles were all combined in one woman.  Some people think that my energy is widely dispersed:  I work as a dancer, a yoga teacher, a prenatal yoga teacher, a birth doula, I study Body Mind Centering, and I ferment.  I’m doing so many things, and yet, somehow it all feels the same to me.  “Alewife” clarifies the  link between my fermentation practice and the rest of what I do .

I haven’t made a true beer yet.  I may at some point.  My fermentation practice started with Kombucha, next I experimented with chutney, then Tej, a form of mead, then saurkrauts. I’m sure there were a few other things in there.   Lately, I’ve expanded to tibicos, also known as water kefir.


1.  a beer (compare lager) fermented in an open vessel using yeasts that rise to the top of the brew

2. (formerly) an alcoholic drink made by fermenting a cereal, esp barley, but differing from beer by being unflavoured by hops

3.  (chiefly) another word for beer

(thank you, World English Dictionary)


for my purposes:  woman


1.  a species of shad or herring

2.  a woman who brews and sells ale, or who operates an alehouse (archaic).

yes, this is an alewife fish.


transitive verb
1:  to prepare (as beer or ale) by steeping, boiling, and fermentation or by infusion and fermentation
a : to bring about : foment <brew trouble>b : contrive
3: to prepare (as tea) by infusion in hot water
intransitive verb
1: to brew beer or ale
2: to be in the process of forming <a storm is brewing
(thank you, Webster’s dictionary)

1.  Also called organized ferment. any of a group of living organisms, as yeasts, molds, and certain bacteria, that cause fermentation.
2.  Also called unorganized ferment. an enzyme.
3. fermentation.
4.  agitation; unrest; excitement; commotion; tumult: The new painters worked in a creative ferment. The capital lived in a political ferment.
verb (used with object)

5.  to act upon as a ferment.
6.  to cause to undergo fermentation.
7.  to inflame; foment: to ferment prejudiced crowds to riot.
8.  to cause agitation or excitement in: Reading fermented his active imagination.
(thank you,

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

Women & Children's Herbal Clinic, Vermont Herb School, & Ramblings on Family Herbal Wisdom


A great site

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Ayurvedic and homemade solutions for healthy living

Brooklyn Alewife

a record of home brewing experiments

Conscious Baby

Respectful baby sleep, toddler challenges, motor development

Tea Foodie [#cookingwithtea]

a journal of tea-inspired recipes

Adventures in Local Food

Transforming Communities Through Food

Urban Herbwifery

your source for herbal wisdom, green living tidbits, and natural pregnancy and labor information


Salvador Martinez, SF Bay Area, E-RYT 500, YACEP

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