Marshmallow Root Tea

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I won’t ever forget it. We were on the train towards the west of Ireland from Dublin for a weekend. It was the summer we worked on the farm, me amongst the berries, counting, weighing, squeezing juice and testing. Tasting. William at the main office, in accounting. We were away every weekend traveling and on this particular trip one of the train stations, and cities, was Mallow. We didn’t stop in, we were crossing a mid-land area of open fields similar in a lot of ways to home, but I remember seeing the name Mallow and immediately thinking marshmallow.

And then the years passed away. I found a doctor who helped me understand and overcome a lot of my health struggles, who introduced me to using herbs to support and return to health. Who introduced me to the medicine of Marshmallow. Her introduction was very clinical. Marshmallow was an herb I took amongst a blend to help heal my torn up and reactive gut. An herb amongst many who helped me feel better so I could find my way.

Beyond using in a blend for when gluten cross-contamination causes a negative reaction or during heavy run training, too much holiday stress or similar got in the way, I never thought much of marshmallow. Until one day last spring, about a year ago, when I found in the wetland just after the camas waned and the lupines were all in their purple: pale pink flowers rising up. They took my breath away. I stopped and just stared at them for a while before carrying on with my run. Within the next day or two, William, always bringing home new plants for our yard, had a few pots set out on the patio. One of them drew me immediately.

 

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That’s the plant from the wetland. And somehow, before I even looked at the tag, I knew it was mallow, though I didn’t before know the name of those dreamy marsh flowers.

If you listen and let them, plants can tell you all sorts of things.

 

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This spring I’ve been even more drawn to the mallows around us. William planted ours right outside the front door so I’ve watched it come up from the ground this year. Now in nearly full bloom, those little delicate pinky white flowers atop big leafy leaves. Within herbalism, there runs a theme called the Doctrine of Signatures. Herbs that resemble various parts of the body are often most effective in treating ailments of those body parts. A walnut, resembling a brain, is a classic example. A few weeks ago, I plucked a giant mallow leaf from its stem, placed it delicately in a bud vase, and then proceeded to look at it, to meditate on it if you will, for a number of days. Almost immediately the doctrine of signatures came to mind, because perhaps knowing quite a bit about this plant’s medicinal values, I saw all the surface area of the leaf, resembling so much the villi and microvilli of the small intestine. Villi are finger-like projections where nutrient absorption occurs, and flatten in varying degrees in cases of malabsorption, celiac disease, and some severe GI complaints.

 

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The roots of marsh and other mallows have a particularly slimy and mucilaginous quality, somewhat like oatmeal that’s set a while gets, and this quality makes it particularly useful for soothing internal tissues that are sore or irritated. Think how good a nice cup of warm substance on a sore throat, a somewhat bland liquidous soup on a sore tummy, or even an aloe vera on a burn. This herbal action is called a demulcent. Marshmallow root is a particularly lovely demulcent for those sore throats, achy lower abdomens, dry coughs, and even, and not surprising since it likes to sooth, irritated urinary tracts.

Every time I think of using marshmallow, I think of the gentlest medicine. Just like my morning oatmeal, which might provide some of the same actions given its constituency, marshmallow root infused into a tea is incredibly soothing, just a little sweet, and slightly earthy.

 

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According to herbalist Rosalee de la Forêt, marshmallow root is also what is a ‘yin tonic’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and is useful for signs of deficient heat, including hot flashes and night sweats (1).

Unlike most herbs, marshmallow prefers a cold water infusion to extract the mucilaginous and soothing qualities from its ample polysaccharides and starches. So the best way to get its medicine is to put a little of the roots in a jar, pour over room temperature water, and then let it sit and infuse overnight or for a day. As time goes on, you’ll see it change color and become thicker. Strain out the roots, and sip on it hot or cold. It will immediately get to work soothing the tissues you need.

I like to keep it on hand and make a big jar if my throat has been sore or I’ve gotten into a troublesome pattern with foods causing lower intestine pain. And, this last winter and spring, I’ve gotten into the practice of making a jar a week or so to drink as preventative medicine for when running and training a lot, since we now know that a training cycle with lots of challenging running causes just the upset lower GI tissues that marshmallow can assist with.

 

Lastly, if you’re wondering about the name, yes marshmallow was the original plant used to make the white fluffy marshmallows for our summer smores or sweet treats. While no longer used, the candying process apparently results in a somewhat squishy sweet root that resembles modern marshmallows. Also, the plants in the wetland are actually more likely Malva sylvestris or similar rather than marshmallow (Althea oficinalis). Nevertheless, they’re all in the same plant family and can be used interchangeably. Of note: I don’t wildcraft from either public or private property, unless its my own, and I encourage you to be incredibly conscious before harvesting plants from the wild.

 

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Marshmallow Root Tea
In some of these photos, I combined marshmallow root with Slippery Elm Bark since the two have similar soothing properties and work well together. They both can be made separately as I outline below. 

1 quart jar
1-2 Tbs. dried marshmallow roots
4 cups filtered water

  • To make a cold infusion, put the dried herbs in the jar, pour in fresh room temperature water, and then allow to sit for at least 4 hours and up to 12 or so.
  • To drink, strain out the roots and sip either cold or warmed.

 

Reference:
1). de la Forêt, R. (n.d.). The Marshmallow Herb.

Golden Spice, Pear + Tahini Oatmeal

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I read a research paper over the holidays about the healing and health cycles, and their metabolic stages in chronic disease conditions. It was incredibly heavy on the biochemistry, asking me to focus and dig back into my memory bank to follow along, as if the authors were on their own language planet that most of us can’t understand (they are) and that they were trying to prove something with their language use (also likely). But at other times, the message was incredibly clear: Sleep is medicine. Exercise is medicine. A varied, seasonally-appropriate diet sourced largely from the local ecosystem, and lots of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts, which are rich in compounds that produce a long-term increase in antioxidant activity, are medicine (1).

In the end, the article gave me lots to think about in terms of future breakthroughs in healing chronic health conditions, but it also reminded me that sometimes the simplest measures work the best. Like adequate rest and restorative sleep, movement that’s enjoyable, and comforting food that’s also nutritious and seasonal.

This recipe is my answer to that. It’s the morning meal I’ve been enjoying often the last few weeks. Creamy, slightly sweet, with a little spice. I make my own golden spice blend, based off of Sara Britton’s, but it seems that a good pumpkin or apple pie blend with turmeric will also do the trick.

 

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Golden Spice, Pear + Tahini Oatmeal, serves 1 or 2
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats
3/8 tsp. golden spice blend, below
1 large pear, chopped
1/2-1 Tbs. tahini
1/8 tsp. sea salt

  • Bring the water to a boil in a small pot. Then turn down, add the oats and spices, as well as the chopped pear. Cook until creamy and nearly done, about 5 minutes.
  • Then stir in the tahini and salt.
  • Dish into one or two bowls and add sweetener of choice, if needed. This will largely depend on personal preference and the ripeness of the pear.

 

Golden Spice Blend
For this, you’ll need a spice or coffee grinder or starting with a complete list of ground spices. To make a big batch measure parts using either weight in grams or in teaspoons.
10 parts turmeric
4 parts ginger
2 parts cinnamon
1 part black pepper
1 part cardamom
1 part cloves
1 part nutmeg
1 part star anise
1 part coriander seeds

  • First add the spices that are whole (such as coriander seeds or star anise) to a spice grinder. Blend until as fine as they will get.
  • Then mix all remaining spices together. Store in a glass jar in your spice cupboard and add frequently to anything that could normally use cinnamon. :)

 

References:
1) Naviaus, R.K. (2018). Metabolic features and regulation of the healing cycle–A new model for chronic disease pathogenesis and treatment.

Winter Herbal Chai

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Winter is the time for drinking chai, and by chai I mean all the warming winter spices blended and infused into tea. This winter herbal chai has been my daily blend for the last month or so and it’s full of lots of goodies to keep the winter body well and balanced. Plus, it simply tastes delicious with no need for sweetener or diluting down with milk.

Like many herbal students, when I first began to study herbs, I was especially taken with all the more complicated ways to ingest or use them, not really factoring in how much value drinking them in tea can have. As it turns out, when the scientists decide to determine nutritional values of foods in the lab, herbs and spices consistently rank as especially potent sources of nutrients, but we never seem to eat enough of them to add much value. That is, until drinking daily cups of herbal tea.

 

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This blend has many of my favorites for assisting proper digestion (fennel, ginger, coriander, licorice), supporting the immune system (ginger, orange peel, astragalus), regulating blood sugar (cinnamon), and helping the liver detoxify heavy meals and daily toxins (dandelion root). Plus, it is a well-rounded combination of sweet, spicy, warming, and just enough bitter to balance.

One of the slightly less common and optional herbs in this blend is astragalus. Astragalus root is slightly sweet and warming, and it is best known for its ability to stimulate the immune system, thereby helping to prevent viral infections such as the common cold and flu, as well as assisting cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy by preventing immunosuppression (1, 2). Additionally, though not listed above, astragalus has also been shown in research trials to assist in healthy digestion and blood sugar regulation, so like most herbs, it’s uses are multi-faceted (1). Astragalus is a well-known and used herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and under that paradigm of medicine, it is not recommended to use when suffering an acute infection, because it is believed it can feed the illness. (1, 2).

 

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When it comes to brewing herbal teas, there are two general methods. The first is boiling water and then pouring it over the top of the herbs to infuse, as is traditionally done with black and green teas. (Dunking a bag of tea into warm water does not have the same brewing effect, mind). This method of boiling water over herbs is called an infusion and it’s usually done with blends that consist of leaves, flowers, and aerial parts like chamomile, holy basil/tulsi, lavender, and the like.

The second method is called a decoction and it is how to properly extract the flavors and medicinal constituents of roots, heavier spices, and sometimes dried berries or fruit. This method is a touch more time-consuming because the herbs are gently simmered on the stovetop in water for 20 to 30 minutes. This herbal chai involves the decoction method of course, due to the ingredients, and the best way to do it is to make a big pot and then reheat and drink the tea for a couple days or more rather than making multiple small pots each time.

 

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Herbal Winter Chai, makes 4-6 cups
If you do not quite have all the ingredients for this blend, don’t despair. I’ve listed them in order of most important in terms of flavor, so if after the star anise you’ve exhausted your immediate resources, make as is and enjoy. Licorice, dandelion, orange peel, and astragalus are more commonly found at well-stocked bulk shops or online from herbal shops such as Mountain Rose Herbs (my local favorite). Additionally, the orange peel does add a lighter, citrusy quality to this blend, and the flavors will be deeper and more spicy, more like a traditional chai, without.  

6 cups water
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. dried ginger
3/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1-2 petals star anise
1 Tbs. licorice root
1 Tbs. dandelion root
1 tsp. orange peel powder (optional)
1 tsp. astragalus root (optional)

  • Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan, covered with a lid, and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Use a tea strainer or fine mesh strainer to filter the tea into mugs or into a clean container to store it in.
  • Serve immediately or alternatively, store chilled and reheat over the next couple days.

 

References:
1. Braun, L. and Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs & Natural Supplements: an evidence-based guide. (Vol. 2). Chatswood, NSW, Australia: Elsevier. 
2. Winston, D. and Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.