Tag Archives: Herb

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.

Featured Ingredient: Nettle

15 Aug

Nettle is one of my favorite herbs, but maybe I say that about all of them…. It is best harvested in the spring, and if you live in an urban area like I do, then you can look for it in the spring at your local farmer’s market. Not all farms will carry it, but I manage to find fresh nettles once or twice a year. I’ve made nettle quiche and nettle soup from the fresh stuff. If you do ever work with fresh nettles, you must be careful– they are called stinging nettles for a reason. Cooking nettles well will neutralize their sting, but they must be handled with gloves when raw. The stingers are tiny and create an uncomfortable rash.


Stinging Nettles: Urtica dioica

For the rest of the year, nettle leaves can be used in dried form. I recently came across a recipe by a fellow blogger who sited an infusion technique by Susun Weed:

To make an infusion of nettles that’s much stronger than a tea– The ratio is one ounce of dried nettles (about a cup) to 4 cups of water. Pour the 4 cups of boiling water over the nettles and let it steep for at least 4 hours or overnight. Put it in the refrigerator after that, and drink within a couple days.

Susun Weed makes these strong infusions with a variety of different herbs.  I had read about this nettle infusion a little while back, and forgot about it until last weekend, when I went to a meeting with the doula collective that I just recently joined. Low and behold, the doulas were all passing around a jar of strong, vibrant green nettle infusion.  It was in the universe for me to start drinking this. I highly recommend the infusion around the time of menstruation, as it is generally a blood tonic and helps to replace what you lose at this time of month. The doulas were all aware of nettle because it is also just about the best thing to drink for pregnant women. It’s like a multi-vitamin in itself: high in both calcium and magnesium as well as chlorophyl and many other trace minerals are present. Weed advocates the use of nettle leaves for diverse needs. It’s supposed to help with stabilizing blood sugar, normalizing fatigue and weight, restoration of the adrenals and kidneys, for general digestive health, against rheumatism and arthritis, and for lessening allergies as a potent antihistamine. A few years ago, I stopped in an herb store looking for allergy remedies, and the man at the counter pointed me to a supplement made by New Chapter, which specializes in “whole food” supplements. The pills were pure nettles.

Stephen Buhner in his book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers talks about how nettles were known traditionally as one of the harbingers of spring. Being one of the first greens available in the new year, people used nettles to treat nutritional deficiencies such as scurvy, that occured from their limited winter diet. Buhner lists a few recipes for nettle beers which I haven’t tried yet– that experiment will probably wait until next spring when I can get the fresh nettle tops once more.


My nettle infusion brewing tonight, to be drunk in the morning, next to a glass of nettles infusion, filtered from yesterday’s batch.

After a couple of days, the infusion will start to spoil.  At this point it is still useful as something to water your plants with.  In fact, I have been saving my already used nettles and adding them to my watering can.  I also add eggshells to my plant water, which is another great natural and free fertilizer. Don’t water with this potion when you are expecting guests.  It quite literally smells like shit!

Marshmallow Marshmallows

23 Feb

Okay, so this recipe is not a fermentation.  I feel that it’s a worthy addition to this blog’s subject matter though, since I’ve touched so frequently on herbalism.  I’ve been curious about the discrepancy between marshmallow the herb and marshmallow candy for some time. Same name, very different thing! A little research will tell you that the original marshmallow candy was, in fact, made with the mucilaginous sap of the marshmallow plant, and the candy was first developed as a kind of ancient variation on the cough drop, since marshmallow herb is soothing to sore throats. The Egyptians combined marshmallow sap with honey, nuts, and grains.

Marshmallow image from riversidegarden.wordpress.com

The French turned marshmallows into a confection in the 1800s, whipping it into egg whites, much like a merengue. Eventually, marshmallow root was replaced by gelatin because of practical concerns, aka, money. Marshmallow root is much more expensive these days than gelatin. The other thing you will find with modern marshmallows is that they are all made with corn syrup: an ingredient I’d rather avoid.  I searched a while to find a marshmallow I’d rather eat, and I came across a recipe at herbmentor.com that combines marshmallow with rose water and honey. This recipe doesn’t use the marshmallow as a binder anymore: gelatin is added to the mix as well. Not having any rose water on hand, I replaced changed the recipe a little and added some rose hips, which I find always go nicely with hibiscus that was already added to these marshmallows. My results were fluffy and a little fruity. Quite good, and very unique!


Marshmallow-Marshmallows with Hibiscus and Rose

Combine 1 c water with 1 T marshmallow root powder, 1 T dried hibiscus, and 1 T rose hips in a small saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat and let them cool in the fridge. When cool, strain the mixture and add more water so the liquid equals one cup.

Take 1/2 cup of your tea concoction and mix with 1 packet of gelatin in a medium bowl. Mix until well dissolved.

Put the other half in a small saucepan. Combine with 1 c honey, 1 tsp vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until your mixture reaches 230-240 degrees Fahrenheit. This is called the soft-ball temperature in candy-making terms. Use a cooking thermometer to keep track. I found that the temp is hard to keep low enough on my gas range– the mixture kept fizzing over, so you may have to babysit the process quite a bit.  A flame spreader might also come in handy to diffuse the heat.  This is the tedious part.

When your mixture is hot enough, slowly combine it with the gelatin mixture, mixing on low, using a whisk attachment on your mixer or hand-blender.  Once they are combined, mix on high for several minutes, until the whole mix is frothy. The color will be brown-pink-creamy.

Line an 8×8 pan with oiled parchment paper. Pour your mixture into the pan, and let it set at room temperature. You could also set them in the fridge. I’ve been storing mine in the refrigerator. If the mix didn’t totally emulsify, like mine, then you might end up with a thin glaze of honey on the bottom of your marshmallows.


A few days later: Marshmallows half eaten!


Benefits of Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis):

Marshmallow root is primarily wonderful as a demulcent, meaning that it creates a soothing film over mucus membranes.  This makes it useful for conditions like bronchitis, ulcers, or inflammations of the mouth.  It can be used on the skin for conditions like boils or abscesses as well.  Both the root and the leaf can be used.

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

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

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


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