Category Archives: herbal medicine

summer calm herbal latte

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Did I tell you my summer term was a real whopper? I probably did because I complained and/or used it as a (valid) reason to opt out of a whole host of summer social activities that I wanted to partake in on many an occasion these past weeks. If I’m remembering correctly, I was singing the same tune last summer too so clearly I need to learn how to say no more to heavy lifting during the long seasons when I want to relax, socialize, and travel more. I somehow ended up taking three of the best but most time-intensive classes and most of my weekends for May/June/July were spent polishing off weekly deadlines and term checkpoints.

Realistically though, it wasn’t all bad. My herbal class textbook went along well with both my pathophysiology and personal life learnings, and I found myself scribbling this recipe for a summer calm herbal tea blend and latte in my notebook while reading the nervous system chapter on herbs on a day that I was also laying on the grass under the tree in our backyard, listening to the buzz of insects and children playing nearby, and feeling generally rather chill. So yeah, it wasn’t all tough going. I had a lot of relaxing afternoons where I could read or study from anywhere as long as I got it done. Many days, I chose outside in the backyard or the local forest.

And then it got hot and term project deadlines brought me indoors and reliant on the internet. And I forgot all about my recipe that includes a few nice herbs to infuse calm.

 

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Since we’re now closing in on just a few last weeks of summer and the back to school or work frenzy has got some of us a little higher strung, it’s definitely time to bring out this recipe. I might just be sipping on it a ways into the next season as well as it will be perfect for those cool, dark afternoons and evenings that are sadly coming our way. It’s got a few perhaps new-to-you herbs that are really good ones too.

 

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Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora // One of the best anxiolytic/nervine herbs for calming a racing mind, or at least I think so! Skullcap is one of the original herbs used in herbal medicine in the United States, and has a rich history of use here since at least the early 1800’s. In addition to being useful for anxious, nervous, and stressed mindsets, it is also a great anti-spasmodic for tight, painful muscles–both of these reasons are why I love it so much! Personally, however, I think its flavor is one that “grows on you.” When I first began working with skullcap, I found its stronger flavor slightly off-putting, but now I use it so much I tend to really favor it.

Holy Basil/Tulsi, Ocimum sanctum // With a very long history of use as a revered herb in India, and used there as a rasayana or rejuvenative, Holy Basil brings about health and long life. It is known as an adaptogen, meaning it will restore stress levels back to a balanced state, and also has antioxidant and neuroprotective qualities.

Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis // In the springtime on my trail runs, I often stop along the way and rub my hands in the lemon balm, especially if I’m in need of a mood lift. The fresh herb smells and tastes very lemony, but in the dried form, it is much more subtle, and acts like a gentle mood elevator. Some studies also show it enhances cognitive function, and may even relieve some symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease like forgetfulness and irritability. It’s also great for stress headaches and improving focus.

Lavender, Lavendula angustifolia // Lavender is a mild nootropic herb, which means it “acts on the mind,” helping cognitive function. Additionally, it is good for nervous headaches, exhaustion, or anxiety. The essential oils in the flowers have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well, and I find their aroma just lovely.

 

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Summer Calm Herbal Latte, makes 1 large drink (18-ounces)
In the last step, I like to combine the steeped tea and warm milk in a liquid measuring cup and then have about a mug and a half of latte, as it tends to be the perfect amount for me. 

1 Tbs. summer calm herb blend (below, or herbal tea of choice)
3/4 cup nut milk
1 tsp. coconut butter
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • Add herb blend to a tea ball or basket and then pour 12 ounces freshly boiled water over the herbs, cover or cap the mug or pot to capture all the beneficial essential oils, and allow to infuse for at least 10-20 minutes.
  • While the herbs are steeping, gently warm the nut milk, coconut butter, and vanilla extract on the stovetop or in a microwave safe dish.
  • Remove the tea ball or basket and carefully combine the tea and nut milk blend.


Summer Calm Herbal Blend

Dried herbs are best purchased in small quantities in bulk from a natural foods store, if you have access. Alternatively, an excellent place to source them online is from Mountain Rose Herbs.

2 parts skullcap
2 parts holy basil
2 parts lemon balm
1 part lavender flowers

  • In a jar, or other glass container, combine the dried herbs in parts, either by volume using tablespoons or measuring cups, or by weight. Then gently shake or stir the herbs, cap, and label with ingredients and amounts for future reference.

 

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What I Ate For a Relay Race + Beet and Berries Cacao Smoothie Pudding

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I spent last weekend running around central Oregon in a heatwave with a group of 11 other runners, sharing space in our two vans, running the Cascade Lakes Relay. This year was my fifth relay and though I’ve meant to share some of the food aspect of races in the past, I decided this year it is time. For virtually all races, I have a policy of fueling as much as possible with “real food” that I eat on a regular basis, and don’t like to introduce foods outside the norm, even though they may be more convenient. For relays, I tend to wait until the last day or two before the race and then make about two recipes that sound like they’ll hit the spot food-wise. Essentially, if they sound like something I’d like to eat one-two days out, chances are they’re going to be what I’m desiring throughout the race.

For the past four years, I’ve run with my (now former) work team, and each year it seems, we’ve improved our team time, gaining slightly faster team members when we need a handful more. This year our team finished in the top 10 out of more than 200 teams and averaged a 7:33 pace throughout. The fast pace offered up a whole new learning curve of needing to adjust what I ate as the race progressed based on how much time I had to digest. For me, I always struggle with the balance between fueling and hydrating properly and keeping my stomach happy with minimal sleep and extra hot temperatures (high 90s most years and this year was no exception). Even though I never go into this race with the mindset that I’m tapered and “racing”, I still try to run a good effort each leg for my team while also trying to sustain some more reserve for both another run in a few hours and because I know I’m going into at least another week or more of hard training once I finish the race. After years of observing others’ methods of fueling, I can say it is a highly individual process both in general and for these types of events, but I want to share what worked for me especially because out of my five relays, this year my stomach handled what I did the best.

The Relay started Friday morning and I ran in our team’s first van. We stayed together as a team both before and after the race at my former boss’s house in Bend, and we had a 2-hour drive to the race start Friday morning. The relay conveniently finishes in Bend, only a few minutes from where we stayed.

 

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Thursday Night
Dinner: a version of this Summer Quinoa Salad before heading over to Bend to meet the rest of the team.
Dessert: Apple +  small handful Salt Water Taffys

Friday
5:30 am Breakfast: Chia + Peach Overnight Oats

Morning Snack: 1/2 a Picky Bar
2-3 hrs pre-run: Zucchini Carrot Muffin + apple

12:00pm 7.7 mile run: It was hot already and this was an unsupported mostly-trail run on a sandy path with a 3 mile hot, flat finish on the highway in the direct sun. Temps were pushing 98 degrees that afternoon, and I’m guessing they were at least in the low 90s by about 1:00 pm when I finished. I drank about 10 oz. water throughout and swish and spit the last ~2 oz. in my bottle (I good method in the heat when you don’t truly need to hydrate more but cool water helps the mind/body sustain the effort).

Post Run: Beet + Berries Cacao Smoothie Pudding (Recipe Below)
Coconut Water and Water and a few tortilla chips

Afternoon “Lunch” around 3:00 pm: Cooling Red Lentil Kitchari. It may sound completely unappetizing to eat an Ayurvedic stew during a relay race, but the mixture I made of cold stewed red lentils and brown rice with turmeric, ginger, fennel and coriander spices and some seasonal vegetables really hit the spot.

5pm snack at the park after our first van exchange: watermelon

Dinner around 7:00 pm: Cooling Red Lentil Kitchari with tortilla chips

10:00pm 4.4 mile run: Physically and mentally, this was my hardest run of the race, even though on paper, it was by far the easiest. Physically I felt great at the park during our rest break, had stretched out, self-massaged, relaxed, and done some yoga to keep from getting too stiff. After two hours back in the vans, however, my body was not happy. On top of that, my stomach was a little wobbly for the first couple miles or so. I tried to not focus on the discomfort too much and eventually it felt better. After about a mile of a smooth paved road, the pavement ended and I hit a tough gravel road for the duration of the run. The vans were all driving alongside us and with a strong direct-in-the-face wind, dust from the vans in my eyes and headlamp, and a body that was less than happy, I was glad this was a short run. I ran the best and picked up my pace every time a van was behind me (because it was much brighter and I could see the road ahead more clearly), and I chose to do something throughout the run that I would normally never do: each time a van was behind me and I was about to pass a person, I chose to move a little more in to the center of the road and make the van wait so I could pass the person rather than me waiting for the van to go around. I did this only because I knew at that hour and because we were so remote, the only vehicles out there were relay vans going slow, and making them wait so I could have more light and less dust was a real mental boost.

Post run: apple + small handful of a teammate’s Jelly Bellys

 

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Saturday
intermittent uncomfortable napping in the van post run

3-5am: 2 hr nap

5am early wakeup call: our team was ahead of schedule and I had an OH SHIT moment as soon as we got our gear packed and loaded and were on the road, knowing I needed to eat something before my last run in an hour, but had limited time to digest. Ultimately I chose a Picky Bar and a small plum. It was enough to help me feel ready to run, but the peanut butter in the bar was not the best idea that close to a hardish effort on close to no sleep.

~6:30 am 7 mile run of a slight gradual uphill: The last 4 or so miles were on a gravel forest road away from vans. It was downright cold, I took water but didn’t really drink it, wore mittens and left them on the whole time, silently thanking my wise insight for packing them, and though I was tired physically and mentally and not particularly happy with the somewhat difficult-to-run-fast-on washboarded gravel, I really enjoyed the serenity of a quiet, early morning mountain road. I saw absolutely no one and it was extremely peaceful.

Post run within an hour or so: Overnight Oats with Chia + Peach plus Elk Lake “Resort” coffee to warm up. I’m not normally a coffee person as I prefer black tea, but that coffee tasted amazing and it was so nice to have something warm in my system for the first time in over 24 hours. The post-run damp cold had started to set in and bundling up in all my layers, standing in the early morning sun, and sipping mountain coffee was pure bliss. I was warm again in no time.

Snacks: a tiny handful of nut + seed trail mix from a teammate.

Lunch: Back at our lovely abode post shower and almost ready to go to the finish line to run across with our team: Summer Quinoa Salad.

Post-Race: 2 glasses Lemon Ginger Kombucha, which really helped to settle my tired stomach.

Intermittent drinks throughout the relay: water (lots of it, as determined by thirst), and coconut water, often diluted to 1/3 coconut, 2/3 water.

Post Race Celebration Dinner, prepared by my former bosses: Run Fast Eat Slow quinoa salad and cabbage salad, grilled Steelhead, and more tortilla chips + guac.

Dessert: small plum +  a couple squares of dark chocolate

 

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Beet + Berries Cacao Smoothie Pudding, serves 1
I developed this “smoothie pudding” specifically for this race to enjoy post-run or in the afternoon as a hefty snack. It’s got a good mix of carbohydrates and protein in the 3 to 4:1 ratio as recommended by much of the sports nutrition literature for post workout recovery, and due to the nature of the event and because I broke my food processor/blender earlier in the week before the race, I wanted to include some of the beneficial phytonutrient and vitamin/mineral-rich foods like greens and beets, but do so in a tasty, appliance-free way. If you haven’t access to beetroot powder, finely grating a small raw beet will work also but won’t yield a result that is quite as smooth. Also, I included an adaptogen powder in my blend since I’ve been developing one in my herbal classes this year, and using daily for stress reduction and workout recovery. My current formula contains reishi, cordyceps, rhodiola, ashwaganda, amla, eleuthero, and ginger. You can essentially use any of those herbs or other adaptogens, or leave them out entirely. This recipe is definitely going into my regular rotation because it is so, so good, kind of like a chocolate pudding with the season’s best berries mixed throughout. Enjoy!

1/2 cup unsweetened plain coconut yogurt
1/2 a medium banana, mashed and chilled
1 Tbs. beetroot powder or finely grated small beet
1 Tbs. raw cacao powder
1/2 tsp. spirulina
1/2 Tbs. adaptogen powder of choice, if desired.
12 grams // 1/3 scoop vanilla protein powder (I used plant-based Vega)
1 2/3 cups blackberries, raspberries and blueberries (fresh or frozen)

  • Stir the mashed banana and powdered ingredients into the yogurt until thoroughly mixed.
  • Spoon into a jar or bowl and then top with the fresh or frozen berries. Chill for best results, as the berries will slowly soften and drip their juices down into the pudding.
  • When ready to eat after a workout, push or stir the berries into the mixture gently so you’ll taste bursts of smoothie pudding and berries together as you enjoy!

Rhubarb + Ginger Shrub (Drinking Vinegar)

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It is Recipe Redux time again(!) This month’s theme is Cocktails and Mocktails for May Celebrations. Since showers and celebrations with friends abound this time of year, we were challenged to share our healthy, colorful drink concoctions for festivities like bridal showers and graduation celebrations.

Generally, due to having a slightly finicky relationship with both alcohol and drinking my calories, I’m more in favor of drinking water, lemon water, or (hot, unsweetened) tea for most occasions. It is why I share few drinks here. Occasionally however, I enjoy a nice glass of something special at social events. Cider, wine, or slightly sweet and vinegary lemon ginger kombucha are then my go-to special occasion drinks.

 

 

Aside from those options, have you heard of drinking vinegars/shrubs? They are a quite old way to preserve seasonal fruits–and then drink them with or without alcohol. Shrubs have become quite popular in recent years as a flavor add-in to mixed beverages at nicer restaurants and drinking establishments, and when I first discovered them a few years ago, I went through a short phase of experimenting with vinegary blackberry, pomegranate, and orange concoctions. And then I forgot all about them.

We experimented with many traditional folk methods of using herbs last term in my herbal pharmacy class and the base recipe for a fruit + herbal shrub was the showcase during one week, so I went with the old-time method of reaching for the flavors of the season. What resulted was this rhubarb + ginger shrub which has equal hints of rhubarb, ginger, and vinegar, and is very mildly sweetened up with honey. I prefer the very plain jane method of enjoying just a splash of it in a glass of ice water, but it is often added to sparkling water, and in various ways to enhance cocktails.

 

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Rhubarb + Ginger Shrub (Drinking Vinegar)
The amount of ingredients here are part of the base recipe for fruit and herb shrubs, so if you’d like to experiment with other flavor combinations, choose any other fruits and herbs/spices to use in the same amounts. There are also several methods of macerating the fruit, which will yield slightly different flavor profiles. Here is a good video, if you’re interesting in exploring. 

1 cup chopped rhubarb
2 Tbs. freshly grated or minced ginger
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup raw honey or maple syrup

  • Add the chopped rhubarb and ginger to a clean pint jar. Add vinegar and honey and stir well.
  • Put a small square of parchment paper over the top of the jar and then cap the lid. The parchment will prevent the vinegar from breaking down the metal of the lid.
  • Let the jar macerate (infuse) in the fridge for one week. Try to shake up the jar about once a day for a better infusion.
  • After at least a week, strain the rhubarb and ginger from the vinegar mixture using a fine mesh strainer. Press out as much of the liquid as possible. If you have cheesecloth, putting a square of it over the strainer and then squeezing the rhubarb in your hands in the cheesecloth ball to finish straining will help get all the liquid out.
  • Then use right away or pour the liquids back into the jar and store in the fridge for up to a couple months.

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