Tag Archives: bitters

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:

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.

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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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