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.

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Pistachio Rhubarb + Candied Ginger Loaf

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If you search google for pistachio and rhubarb, just about a gazillion delicious recipes pop up. The two ingredients are a classic pairing. But so are strawberries and rhubarb, orange and rhubarb, honey and rhubarb, rhubarb and rose, and of course, ginger and rhubarb. Personally I love them all as well as rhubarb just on its own.

When we moved into our house in early 2016, the first plant to go in the ground was rhubarb. And as a two-person household with four healthy plants, we get to enjoy a lot of it. And by we I mean one of us absolutely loves it in ever-y-thing, and one of us thinks he doesn’t.

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The Recipe Redux asked us to make a healthy-ish recipe to celebrate spring celebrations–something like baby or bridal showers, graduations, and the like. As I’m writing this, it is commencement day for my master of science degree in clinical nutrition, and since I decided not to make the trip back across the country to actually partake in it, celebrating at home with my longest run since Boston and this rhubarb loaf will do quite nicely.

Before we get there, let me tell you a little interesting nutritional tidbit about rhubarb and its oxalic acid content.

Many people know that rhubarb leaves are poisonous and can cause harm if ingested. It’s why they’re never sold with the leaves on. What most don’t know is that they are toxic because they contain a lot of oxalic acid which the stalks also contain, though not as much. Spinach, beet greens, and Swiss chard are also high in oxalic acid, which is why for some they can have that puckery-weird mouthfeel that also presents in unsweetened rhubarb. Interestingly, rhubarb is high in calcium, which spinach and Sweet chard has a bit of as well but the oxalate content interferes with absorption, so much so that when I worked for the Linus Pauling Institute, the researchers there said not to expect to get any calcium from a meal with lots of rhubarb, spinach, or Swiss chard. Other sources are a little more lenient on this topic (1, 2). Though there is nutritional debate on the idea, oxalic acid may also interfere with absorption of the iron content from spinach–which for this or other reasons is not at all a ‘good source’ of iron because of its absorption rate despite myths that it is in the plant-based community and beyond.

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Now, out of the nutritional weeds and into reality. So what is wrong with eating lots and lots of high oxalate-containing foods? Other than needing to get your calcium elsewhere, certain people can develop kidney stones if they consume too much. Otherwise, those leafy greens and rhubarb are packed with lots of other nutrients we need. And this is a good time to remind us all that eating a diverse variety of whole as-close-to-nature-made foods is best for health.

With all that new knowledge circulating in our brains, let’s have a slice of tea cake / loaf and celebrate. Because I’m no longer a grad student, it’s rhubarb season, is May the best month, and the sun rises early and sets late these days making more time for play.

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Whatever your cause for celebration, this is a nice little loaf for an occasion. It’s not overly sweet, not too rich, but has just enough punches of sweetness from the candied ginger and roundness of flavor to make it all come together well. Combined with the pinks and greens in the loaf from the pistachios and rhubarb (more so if you have pinker rhubarb stalks than mine), it’s delicious and in my opinion, a good way to celebrate this classic pairing of rhubarb, pistachios, ginger, and because I couldn’t resist, a bit of orange!

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Pistachio Rhubarb + Candied Ginger Loaf, makes one large loaf of about 10 slices

1/3 cup (70 g) sugar
1/2 cup (110 g) coconut oil
1 cup (110 g) non-dairy yogurt
2 Tbs. ground flax + 6 Tbs. water
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 Tbs. orange juice and zest from 1 orange
2 cups (230 g) chopped rhubarb
1 cup (120 g) chickpea flour
2/3 cup (70 g) sorghum flour
1/4 cup (30 g) arrowroot starch
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (50 g) pistachios, chopped
1/4 cup (30 g) candied ginger pieces, diced small

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a large 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
  • In a small dish combine the flax seeds and water to form a slurry. Allow to sit and thicken up for about 5 minutes.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, oil, flax slurry, yogurt, vanilla, orange juice and zest, and rhubarb. In another bowl, combine the flours, arrowroot, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold in the chopped pistachios and ginger pieces.
  • Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes, rotating halfway through for even baking. A toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean once its done.
  • Remove from the oven, cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before removing the loaf from the pan. Cool completely before serving, and as usual with this type of loaf recipe, the flavors generally combine and improve on the day after baking.

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  1. Weil, A. (2008). Avoid Vegetables with Oxalic Acid?
  2. WH Foods. (n.d.). Can you tell me about oxalates, including the foods that contain them and how are they related to nutrition and health?

Lemon + Sunflower Spring Quinoa

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A few weeks ago when we were in Boston for the marathon and our post-grad school (me) / post-tax season (William) vacation, we stayed in a cozy third-story Airbnb  apartment atop one of those ancient New England houses with narrow stairs and doors that close in every room. It was lovely and reminded me of my parents’ farmhouse before they tore out walls and opened up the space, but kept the narrow stairs.

The apartment had a tiny kitchen filled with old antique cabinets and a cozy eating nook luckily with skylight to let in more of the morning sun. What I loved about it — and every time we stay in a ‘cozy’ Airbnb actually, is that it reminds me of my time living in Ireland, cooking with whatever slim equipment is on hand, and creating simple meals with minimal ingredients. I’m often asked to share just these types of recipes. Admittedly, at home I prefer to plan meals a little more like a chef with a list of five or so meal ideas at the beginning of the week, and then I make one or two ‘parts’ of more complicated meals each day, often rolling over one component such as a sauce into another day and different meal. This isn’t the usual process for most people, I understand, but being in the kitchen is a major therapeutic relief and creativity space for me.

 

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When traveling, I usually switch up my routine to make the simplest of meals, only planning one meal ahead the night before a major race, and leaving it up to whatever we feel like in the following days. Because of my food and digestion sensitivities, I’m a stickler about making my own meal before races, but then am often a bit more lenient afterwards. When we were in Boston, we ate out about half or a third of the time thanks to ending up in a really great section of the city for delicious and allergen-friendly food. The rest of the time, I improvised with a few of the ingredients I’d stuffed in my suitcase, my tiny Ireland-era traveling spice and seasoning case, and a stop at the grocery for some fresh produce. On our last night there, I ended up with a version of this spring quinoa combination and I immediately knew I had to recapture and finesse it for all y’all that prefer some simple weeknight inspirations!

 

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At home, I added a couple fresh additions I didn’t have on the road like fresh mint and miso paste. I’ve kept them in the finished recipe because if you don’t already keep miso on hand to add umami flavor and depth to sauces, you definitely should try it. And fresh mint, though not always available without a garden, is a flavorful and helpful-for-digestion addition that can be added or not.

 

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Lemon + Sunflower Spring Quinoa, makes main-dish servings for 4 to 5
1 cup dry quinoa, cooked ahead
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans or 1 can
1 small bunch broccoli, chopped semi-small
a couple large handfuls of mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch radishes with greens, washed well and sliced thin
1 cup peas
salt and pepper as needed
fresh mint, minced

Lemon + Sunflower Dressing
1/4 cup sunflower butter
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1  tsp. honey or maple syrup (optional)
1 Tbs. light miso (I use chickpea miso)

  • Cook the quinoa and chickpeas ahead. Or use one can of drained chickpeas.
  • After all the vegetables are sliced, combine them in a large skillet with a little water to steam-fry. I like to add the broccoli first, cover for a few minutes, and then add the rest in stages with the mushrooms, radishes, and lastly the peas. Once they’re cooked through but not soggy-soft, add in the quinoa and beans, stir and heat just until it’s all warm. Season with salt and pepper to taste at this point.
  • While the vegetables are cooking, combine the dressing ingredients in a small dish and whisk with a fork or spoon until they come together well. Add a splash or two of water if needed to thin it up. The consistency should be spoon-able but not runny.
  • Pour the dressing over the quinoa and vegetables, mix it all together, and then sprinkle the mint leaves atop and serve.