Tag Archives: health

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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Jun 101

13 Jun

I originally posted the directions for Jun fermentation as an after thought under my Kombucha 101 recipe, because it’s such a similar process. However, I get a lot more emails about Jun than I do for Kombucha sharing, and everyone has questions about it. So here, by popular demand, is:

JUN 101

  1. Get a glass jar that holds ¾ gallons to 1 gallon of water. You might obtain a free one at your local health food store—their discarded olive or pickle jars will do the trick. You can purchase one for about $10 at a kitchen supply store.
  2. Brew the tea. Pour hot filtered water over 4-5 green tea bags or the equivalent of loose tea. Organic is better because anything added to the tea leaves to kill pests can also kill your culture. Add 1c honey and mix well. Only use honey. That’s what the jun culture is adapted to. Let the sweetened tea sit until the temperature is comfortable to the touch—usually I let it sit overnight. If it’s too hot, you’ll cook your mother: she is alive!
  3. Strain out the tea leaves.
  4. Put your SCOBY mother (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) on the top of the culture. She might float down to the middle of the jar. That’s okay. Add ¼ to ½ cups (I just throw in a good sized “glurp”) of starter jun liquid, from your last batch. You can add even more if you want. Using starter liquid from your last batch helps create a pH environment that is inhospitable to molds, so if you have had mold trouble with other ferments, you might want to use more starter.

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    My latest Jun mother, aka SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). This one formed in 8 days.

  5. Cover it securely with a towel. You want it to be able to breathe, but you also don’t want bugs to get in. I suggest securing it with a couple of rubber bands.
  6. Leave it in an out-of-way place, out of direct sunlight for 1-3 weeks. After 1 week, taste it. If it’s too sweet for your liking, then it’s not done. Put it back and let it keep going. If it’s too sour, you let it go too long. It’s still okay, just not as pleasant. Batches will ferment faster in warmer temperatures.
  7. When the batch is done, you will notice that a new SCOBY has formed at the top of your jun liquid. Now you have two mothers. You can save one as a back up, give it away, compost it, or look for other options: if you look online, you’ll find people who have developed recipes for SCOBY (eeeeww). I’ve also heard of people drying them and turning them into fabric.
  8. You can leave your finished jun in a big jar, or you can bottle it. Bottling the jun will help it to build up more bubbles, because you are not constantly opening and closing the same container and the pressure can build a little. If you are bottling, this is also a good time to flavor it. A few pieces of chopped ginger will make an extra fizzy one, or you can add other herbs. I like to use a few dollups of frozen juice concentrate (my favorite lately is pineapple). Edible aloe vera can make an interesting addition to your jun cocktail as well.
  9. Once you have bottled your Jun, you may leave it out for about a day, especially if you have flavored it, to create a secondary ferment which will let the flavors sink in and build up bubbles. Soon, you will want to put it in the fridge, to slow down the fermentation process, or you’ll end up with a super sour and potentially explosive brew (see Cherry Explosion).
  10. Make another batch! If you wait in between, you can store your SCOBY in a little bit of jun liquid, sealed in a jar in the refrigerator. She will lie dormant until you are ready to rock. You can also store her at room temperature in a little liquid, with a towel covering the container. This is what has been referred to by fellow fermenters as a “SCOBY hotel.” If you leave her at room temp, she will continue to grow, so you should check periodically to make sure that there is still liquid in your hotel.

Tips and FAQs:

1. It’s a pretty no-fail recipe, but sometimes things can happen. If you see mold growing on your mother THROW IT OUT! If flies invade, throw it out. But, if there are little brown strands hanging off the bottom of your mother, or if the mother has air bubbles in her, it’s okay.

2. Jun, like kombucha and tibicos, will corrode metal. If you handle your Jun brew or SCOBY intermittently with metal implements such as a fork, or a metal strainer, that’s okay. You do not want it in prolonged contact with metal, or you will both contaminate your SCOBY mother and ruin your metal.  You probably don’t want it in prolonged contact with plastic either.  I can just imagine what creepy chemicals that would leach out.

3. What does it taste like?  My Jun has a ‘lighter’ taste than kombucha, perhaps more astringent.  If you let it go too long, I think it gets even more vinegary than kombucha.  Sorry I can’t be more specific– I don’t have the language of a wine connoisseur.

4. What’s the difference between kombucha and Jun? Kombucha is a culture adapted to fermenting tea and sugar, whereas Jun takes green tea and honey. That’s the big difference.  I’m sure a bioscientist could tell you more specifics about the organisms in there.  I have found that my Jun tolerates cooler brewing temperatures better than kombucha in the winter, and it will grow a thicker SCOBY more rapidly.   Jun also tends to develop more sediment than Kombucha at the bottom of the bottle. This is the lees, in brewers terms.  Lees forms in wines also.  You can drink the sediment or filter it out.

The batch after I bottled most of it.  Notice the cloudiness at the bottom of the bottle, from the sediment.

Goji-Chia Kombucha: a superfood triple threat

23 Jan

The following recipe is equally delicious for both kombucha and jun. I love it in the same way I love bubble tea: you can drink your drink, and eat it too. Once you’ve fermented your brew (refer to my post Kombucha 101), it’s a dump and drink creation. It also combines probably the trendiest superfoods out on the market.

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Triple Threat Superfood Kombucha:

Put 1/4 c chia seeds and a small handful of goji berries into a pint-sized bottle.

Fill the bottle with kombucha.

Stir, or seal the bottle and shake gently to distribute the chia seeds.

Put it in the fridge and let the mixture sit at least overnight. This will allow the kombucha to absorb the flavor of the goji berries and it will allow the chia seeds to develop their jelly like consistency.

If your chia seeds stick together, stir the mixture a little more before consuming. The berries will float to the top of the mix, and the chia seeds sink. Both are satisfying textural additions to your kombucha experience.

Purported Health Benefits

If you look at the marketing for these superfoods, you would believe they are magical. Each superfood holds claims to do things like cure cancer, heart disesase and diabetes, help you lose weight, and anything else you can imagine that is wonderful. Here’s some basic facts from what I can see:

Goji berries are very high in antioxidants, have a healthy combination of monounsaturated fats, trace mineral contents, and amino acids. High in Vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), C (note that A and C are both antioxidants), and contain some B vitamins, too. gojijuices.net has an interesting breakdown of nutrition info.

Chia seeds seem to derive a lot of their nutritional heavyweight from the fact that they are super high in dietary fiber. They also contain ALA: an omega-3 fatty acid that is also found in walnuts, flax seeds, brussels sprouts and kale.

Kombucha’s biggest claim to fame is probably its debatable glucuronic acid content: an antioxidant that is supposed to be a major fighter of cancer. It’s also beneficial because it is undisputedly probiotic– the culture helps to give the gut good bacteria.

 

Yogis drinking: Goji Beer

2 Aug

The yogi who drinks goji beer:  if you were questioning whether or not I am a certified hippie, you may have found your answer in this post…. anyway, the following youtube is a homage, if you can call it that, to yogis and goji berries.  The drink I’ve made is nearly identical to my cherry soda recipe.

Combine in a glass jar:

4 c water

1 generous handful of goji berries

1/4 c sucanot or rapadura. 

1/4c tibicos (water kefir) grains

Mix. Cover your jar with a towel so the culture can breathe, but so flies can’t get in.  Let it sit for about two days, stirring a couple times a day if you think of it.   Warmer temps will make it ferment faster.  The brew will bubble vigorously when you stir.  When you suspect it is ready, maybe even after day 1, taste it.  If it’s too sweet, let it go longer.  If it tastes good to you, bottle it in an airtight bottle.  Leave the bottle at room temperature for a day or so: less if it’s really hot in your fermentation place, like it is in my kitchen!  Bottling will allow the brew to build up bubbles.

Goji beer consumer

Goji Beer fanatic.  Feel the fizz!

If too many bubbles build, you will have a big explosion when you open it, and you will lose most of your brew, not to mention creating a grand mess in your kitchen.  At the talk I went to on Tuesday, Sandor Katz had a great suggestion:  if you bottle it in plastic, you can tell when the brew is ready because the bottle will be firm.  My only qualm is that the paranoid health fanatic in me likes to err away from plastics:  especially when I’m working with reactive fermentations.  Kefir will do a number on metal, so why wouldn’t there be plastic chemicals leaking into my drink…?  The plastic bottling is a good call to start with if you feel unsure how long to let the bottles sit, and certainly if you start to make larger batches, you could put a little bit into a plastic bottle and the rest into glass.

Beer?  So, is it alcoholic?

It can be alcoholic.  I’ve made some unexpectedly boozy kefirs lately.  According to Katz (Yeah, him again.  Keep in mind that talk was just two days ago.), if you let it ferment without exposure to air, like once you’ve bottled the stuff, then it will go into an anaerobic fermentation, which creates alcohol.  If the culture can breathe a lot, it should be less alcoholic.  Based on his premise, perhaps stirring more could help create a less boozy brew.  I’ve been pretty lazy about stirring.  I have a feeling that the high heats in my un-airconditioned apartment cause a more rapid fermentation process which might also lend to the alcoholic content of my stuff lately: I’ve only been bottling it for an afternoon and, whew!   I can feel the fizz.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Today’s featured ingredient.

23 Jul

I’ve written a bit on Sassafras, Sarsaparilla, and Gentian within the context of a few recipes, but I have yet to highlight licorice (sometimes spelled liquorice), a common ingredient in all my root beer recipes thus far.  I use it because it adds a potent sweetness to an otherwise sour and bitter combination of herbs.  The amount of licorice in my root beer recipes is probably not going to affect you in a therapeutic dosage kind of way, but it’s interesting to look at it’s effects in the body anyway:

A member of the legume family, the dried root is best gathered in late autumn.  It’s commonly used to soothe bronchial problems such as coughs and bronchitis and is also used for symptoms of stomach distress such as colic, acid stomach, and ulcers.  It’s general actions are expectorant (makes coughs productive), demulcent (soothes mucus membranes), anti-inflammatory (sometimes indicated for disorders like eczema), adrenal agent (boosts the adrenals:  sometimes used in glandular problems such as Addison’s disease), antispasmodic (suppresses muscle spasms), and mildly laxative.

One of the chemicals derived from licorice, glycyrrhizinic acid, is used in Japan for the treatment of hepatitis, and it is commonly extracted for use as a sweetener.  Most commercial licorice candy is usually made with more aniseed than actual licorice.

Because of the way licorice affects cortisol metabolism in the kidney ie. for the same reason it is good for people with Addison’s disease, it is contraindicated for people who have hypertension.  Excessive use of licorice can deplete potassium levels in your body.

licorice root, compliments of naturalherbsguide.com

Beet Kvass and Lacto-Fermentation Basics

21 Jun

Beet kvass, a traditional drink from Russia, is one of my favorite (okay, they are all my favorite) lacto-ferments.    Another traditional kvass is made with sourdough bread and raisins or other fruits.  I haven’t made that particular recipe yet.

Beet kvass is sited as a healthy tonic:  good for liver, as a blood tonic, for general digestion, and even kidney stones.  I got this recipe from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, one of my food bibles, and I’ve been making it for years.

Put 2-3 beets, peeled and coarsley chopped in a 2 quart glass jar:  Not grated.  Grating will create too much juice and the rapid fermentation that results is apt to create alcohols instead of lactic acid.

Add 1/4 c whey (see my post on curds and whey) , 1T sea salt, and fill the rest of the jar with filtered water.

The newly combined ingredients

Stir, cover with a lid, and keep at room temp for 2 days.  After two days, the mixture will be beautifully red and have a salty-sour taste.  Put it in the fridge to drink at will.  You can re-use the same beets to make a second batch, but this one will be considerably weaker.  You can also eat the beets– they are now pickled beets.   Also, for the second batch, you can use 1/4 c of leftover kvass instead of whey as your liquid starter.  Occasionally, as with any pickling process, mold can grow on the top.  Originally I was afraid of this mold, but I have since come to understand that you can skim off the mold– it is only growing where the mixture comes into contact with the air.  Beware:  after you drink this, you may be in for a surprise on the toilet.  You are not bleeding to death.  It’s the pigment from the beets.

What is Lacto-Fermentation?

Lacto-fermentation is a traditional method of preserving vegetables and fruits.  It also increases their digestibility and vitamin levels.  It is so-called not because of the addition of dairy to the mix (although we are using whey in the above recipe), but because the fermentation process results in lactic acid as a byproduct, and encourages the growth of the lactobacilli bacteria– a beneficial microbe.  This is one of the microbes you might find in supplemental probiotic solutions.   Lactic acid is what preserves the veggies, and also what promotes the growth of healthy intestinal flora.  Kimchi, sauerkraut, and umeboshi plums are some of the things you can create from lacto-fermentation.

Anything that you find on the grocery shelf that is canned or jarred and not refrigerated comes from a slightly different process, generally involving the use of vinegar.   Canning involves using heat to kill all resident bacteria, whereas fermentation creates an environment for the correct bacteria to thrive.

Unpasteurized fermented foods will continue to ferment and become more sour if not slowed down by refrigeration.  Salt is used in the fermentation process because it inhibits bacterial growth that can cause rancidity while the lactic acid is being formed from the foods.  Once enough lactic acid is present, the environment for lactobacilli is prime and this beneficial organism will crowd out any of the bugs you don’t want.  Adding whey to the ferment helps to reduce the need for salt because it is rich in lactic acid, thus acting as an inoculent for your culture.

Here is the top of the kvass after 48 hours.  At the end of the fermentation process, you probably will see a healthy “scum” on top of your ferment. Sometimes this scum includes mold. This is normal. Skim off the scum from the top and drink the rest.

Why filtered water?  

1.  Tap water is often treated with chlorine and other chemicals.  These chemicals are present in your tap to kill microorganisms.  We want to create an environment that microorganisms can thrive.

2.  Sometimes tap water still has microorganisms in it that could compete with the population that you are trying to grow.

I’m sure there are other good reasons.  These are the two that occur to me immediately.

Why sea salt?

Table salt is highly processed.  It’s like salt’s equivalent to fortified white flour.  To keep salt dry, producers use additives, including aluminum compounds (can’t be good for you).  They also add iodine to replace some of the naturally occurring mineral content that is eradicated from industrial processing.  Dextrose must be added then to stabilize the iodine– this turns the salt purplish, so then they have to bleach it also.  Hmph.  Salt is often sited today as the cause for a variety of health problems.  Partly this is because so many processed foods on the market contain an excess of salt, and it’s not natural sea salt.

Salt extracted from dried seawater is a whole food as opposed to an engineered derivative.  It is usually grey in color and is high in trace minerals, particularly magnesium.  It is a little bit clumpier than the commercial stuff you might be used to, but it is nutritionally so0o much better.

Salt is an important nutrient:  in my college dance training experience, I suffered from grueling calf-cramps.  I would wake up screaming in the night from a charlie horse.   One of my teachers asked if I was getting enough salt in my diet.  After I increased my salt intake, my cramps went away.  Many pregnant women that I work with in yoga class also suffer from the same type of cramps.  I always suggest that they add sea salt to their diet.  On the subject of cramps, coconut water seems to be a great cure too.

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