Tag Archives: herbal medicine

Herbal Allies // Ginger, Licorice and Chamomile Tea

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I’ve spent the last three early mornings lingering over the breakfast table, laptop, morning books, and empty porridge bowl all pushed aside. Just me in the early morning stillness facing east towards the bright sun shining into my eyes, a big smile on my face. William came in this morning and asked me what I was doing. Chameleon-ing, I told him. I’ve been soaking up as much of the early morning sun and warmth as I can.

We’ve finally been getting a good stretch of sun and warm days here and it feels just about right as May is the best month, to my way of thinking. Given I’ll be making my way into a new decade in a few days, I’ve been figuring a good way to begin my birthday week celebrations is by starting each day basking in the sun with a mug of tea. It feels like the best sort of end of a decade indulgence.

 

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The other thing I’ve been doing lately is drinking this ginger, licorice, and chamomile tea. It is usually my evening/after dinner drink of choice as the licorice root is naturally sweet, chamomile is soothing, and ginger is warm and zesty.

In my herbal class last term, we experimented with different methods of making herbal tea. Certain herbs, like flowers or leaves, are better prepared by infusing them in freshly boiled water, as I’ve done here. Others, like roots, will have more of their beneficial constituents released by decocting them in gently simmering water for 15-30 minutes. The thing we learned though, is that though medicinally speaking, some methods of extracting might be better, either way will be fine depending on preference. It is something like the people that pour warm water into a mug and then dunk their tea bag in. When I’m offered tea prepared in this way, I often cringe and hesitantly accept, because it’s not the way I prefer my tea (i.e. strong, long-infused, and exceptionally hot, especially if it’s black/Irish tea). But I understand we all have our personal tastes and what might be ‘wrong’ in the recommended way of things may be just what a person needs.

So going against the grain here, I’ve found that I actually enjoy licorice and dried ginger root prepared in the easy infusion method of pouring boiling hot tea over and letting sit for 10-15 minutes, rather than simmering away on the stove. Luckily for me, the chamomile prefers this method too.

 

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I’ve chosen these specific three herbs because they particularly spoke to me to be infused together, but after thinking about their medicinal actions, I came to a good conclusion why:

Ginger // Common fresh or dried ginger is probably my most often used herb/spice, right after cinnamon. It is good in this tea as it is gently warming and pungent, and balances the sweet flavor of the licorice and slightly bitter properties of the chamomile. Freshly grated ginger root can also be used here. Ginger is exceptionally beneficial in controlling inflammation and muscular pain, increases circulation, and also aids in digestion.

Licorice Root // Despite the connotation with licorice candy, licorice root does not taste anything like the red or black ropes I loved to eat as a child. Licorice is an excellent herb for balancing the adrenals, balancing blood sugar, and helping decrease stress and inflammation. It is also soothing to the mucous membranes and GI tract, and makes for a good addition to an evening tea when we are winding down and might be craving extra sweets. Note: licorice should not be taken by those with high blood pressure. 

Chamomile // Chamomile  is an indispensable herb for evenings for so many reasons. Well known as a gentle, calming tea, these delicate yellow flowers help relieve irritability, stress, anxiety, insomnia, upset stomach, and much more.

 

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Ginger, Licorice, and Chamomile Tea, makes 1 12-ounce mug
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.

1 Tbs. dried chamomile flowers
1 tsp. dried licorice root
1/2 tsp. dried ginger root

  • Add herbs to a tea ball or basket and then set in a mug or tea pot. Pour 12 ounces freshly boiled water over the herbs, cover or cap the mug or pot, and then allow to infuse for at least 10 minutes and up to four hours. Drink warm or cold.

 


Herbal Allies // Turmeric Lassi

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I finished my fourth term in nutrition grad school last Friday. I haven’t shared much about it here but this last winter has been intense. It was the best yet in terms of how much I’ve enjoyed the content and knowledge I’m acquiring. It has been a long haul though and because it coincided with tax season (for William) and spring marathon training for me, life has mostly consisted of attempting to completely fill up my brain with tough biochemical and physiological concepts and then subsequently trying to turn it all off, unplug as much as possible, and just run.

Motivation for any sort of inspired eating kind of went by the wayside. And I never realized how much being able to share just one meal a day with my favorite human is helpful for me to maintain a healthy relationship to food until he worked the craziest hours. Turns out, I’m equally good at doing the same when he wasn’t around to stop me.

It is time for a short stint of rest and focusing on other projects now, for the both of us.

Did I tell you I (of course) chose the longest concentration option of my nutrition program? I am focusing on herbal medicine as a component of clinical nutrition. Back in early 2016, I spoke to why I hadn’t enrolled in the nutrition program at my nearest university and really searched around for one that fit, that merged my interest in herbal medicine, ancient healing modalities such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, and had the rigorous scientific component I was craving. The program I ended up with fits me so well. I’ve pretty much loved every class, even as the content has gotten much more technical. The herbal classes, while still plenty intensive, have been welcome to continue engaging in creativity with the content I’m learning during this time.

One of the practicing herbalists in my program taught me early on that specific herbs will speak to us, we will develop an affinity for them, and we should trust that. Cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric are my little trinity that ‘speak to me’ the most and I find myself adding them to meals and drinks on a fairly daily basis. I’ve shared about them more than once before in Turmeric Ginger Seed + Nut Bars, Tahini, Date + Turmeric Bars, and my Good Energy Maca Latte.

Now that the weather has warmed a bit too, I’m more inclined to incorporate cooler, smoothie-type snacks and mini-meals into my routine. This Turmeric Lassi is my longtime go-to smoothie when I feel like I need a refresh/mix up in my eating patterns, and I often reach for it during an interchange of seasons. With this stint between school trimesters and welcoming William back to regular dinners at home, it’s definitely a new season for us.

 

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So what is so great about the common herbs/spices in this recipe?

Cinnamon // While most of us know cinnamon as the comforting and feel-good spice for baked goods, there’s actually a fair bit of evidence to suggest cinnamon can be used in higher, medicinal doses to improve blood sugar imbalance in type 2 diabetics. That isn’t why I enjoy it, however. I like it because it is warming, stimulating, and improves circulation. Plus, it simply tastes and smells delicious.

Ginger // Common fresh or dried ginger is exceptionally beneficial in controlling inflammation and muscular pain, increases circulation, and also aids in digestion. Like cinnamon, it is a warming and pungent spice, and I particularly enjoy it both through the winter and on chilly spring days.

Turmeric //  One of the current “superfoods,” turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Much of the recent research points to it as a highly beneficial nearly catch-all herb, but it is most often associated with controlling inflammation and therefore improving joint and muscular health. The thing about turmeric that is not often shared, however, is that the beneficial curcumin compound it contains is exceptionally difficult to become bio-available in the body. Taking it with a small amount of ground black pepper and with another ingredient that contains fat helps turmeric work its magic in our systems.

Rosehips // The berries from wild dog roses are among nature’s richest and most-potent sources of Vitamin C, the vitamin we all associate with improving the immune system and warding off illness. It is a good herb to add in any time physical or mental stress is high.

 

Turmeric Lassi, makes 1
The spices here are in a higher, more medicinal dose than might be used in a standard smoothie recipe. I enjoy them but if you’re a little wary, begin with less and add more as desired. Though I make this with either applesauce or a banana, (and sometimes both instead of yogurt), I enjoy this more with applesauce. Using a banana will result in a sweeter smoothie if that’s more your interest. The photo above has a teaspoon of elderberry syrup swirled in for even more immune-enhancing effects. Elderberry is a tasty option for including if you feel a seasonal cold coming on. 

3/4 cup unsweetenened applesauce or 1 frozen banana
3/4 cup unsweetened plain coconut yogurt
1/2 – 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 – 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
dash of ground black pepper
1 tsp. rosehips powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. chia seeds
1 oz. fresh lemon juice (about 1/4 of a large lemon)
sweetener to taste, if needed (honey, maple syrup, powdered stevia leaves, etc.)
1 tsp. elderberry syrup, optional

  • Add all the ingredients to a food processor and puree until smooth. Serve immediately or chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour to allow the chia seeds to thicken it up a bit for a smoothie bowl.

Tahini, Date + Turmeric Bars

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Over the summer, I learned about 30 herbs and/or spices that are commonly used in western herbal medicine in my second herbal medicine class, and I really relished the opportunity to both broaden and deepen my understanding of natural plant medicines. In addition to learning that skullcap, the plant I had chosen to focus on learning about for an entire term in my first class, is the most popular herb sold through my university’s herbal dispensary, I spent the summer delving into a lot of research about specific herbs for treating inflammation and allergies due to my project for a client with seasonal allergies. I was limited to working with only the herbs in our class list, however, and because of that I chose a fairly non-traditional approach to working with allergies. Turmeric was among the herbs we studied, and though I did not end up recommending turmeric for allergies, I realized I easily could have and was probably expected to.

Though I know a lot more about the benefits of turmeric than I did before, there is much research to suggest that the curcumin compound it contains has extremely strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant abilities and it is beneficial in all manner of disorders and imbalances. Among others, it has antibacterial, anticancer, anti-rheumatic, anti-tumor, antiviral, anti-phlegmatic, and anti-parasitic properties. I’ve recommended it to my mom who has arthritis, runner friends for pain, and have taken it myself for (nearly instantaneous) relief after slamming my knee into a door. Though my knee incident was an exception, I take a different approach to using herbs than we would for pharmaceutical drugs; I don’t take them for their quick effect. Instead, herbs work to slowly and gently bring the body back into balance, and they work better in conjunction with other lifestyle supports, like getting enough rest, a balanced diet, exercise, etc.

Turmeric is extremely trendy right now, and while there is good reason for it to be, I also like this article about practicing caution with it, as with all herbal medicines. Too much of anything, even a supposed health food, can push us into imbalance. While I came to this conclusion on my own and no longer pop a curcumin supplement for running recovery “insurance” on a regular basis, I do tend to use it in small amounts frequently–and mostly because I really enjoy its flavor.

What I really enjoyed about the class is that we delved into the research on a number of common herbs and spices–ones we are already using and that aren’t the new trendy superfoods–like the ginger and cinnamon these bars contain. After 14 weeks of reading a ton of research articles, I finished the class even more in support of the importance of eating healthfully as the norm and using herbs and spices in small amounts throughout the day in whatever foods we’re eating so perhaps there’s a little less need to use any medicines–herbal or otherwise–to “fix” imbalances.

 

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Tahini, Date + Turmeric Bars, makes 8
I regularly rely on bars for after workouts and for busy afternoon snacks on the go. While I have a few versions of granola or energy bars on this blog that I do go back to, for the last few months I’ve been opting away from oats and grains as a main ingredient. Instead, I’ve been adapting a new favorite packaged bar. It has taken many renditions but now that I’ve finally gotten the base consistency to my liking (actually better than the packaged bar which I find a little too sweet,) I’m excited to begin delving into a few different flavor combinations, especially as William doesn’t favor my heavy affinity for the ginger/cinnamon/cardamom/turmeric spice combination and prefers the berry/fruity realm instead. For these bars, don’t forego the black pepper, as it helps the turmeric to be become more bioavailable. Additionally, for the options I’ve listed, the first is my favored ingredient but I also enjoyed the other options listed. Enjoy!

1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup cashew or almond butter
3 medjool dates, pitted
6 Tbs. hemp protein powder or hemp seeds
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cardamom, optional
dash of black pepper
1 Tbs. brown rice syrup, apricot jam, maple syrup or honey
1-2 Tbs. water, as needed
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried figs or apricots, diced
2 cups crispy rice cereal or 2/3 cup oats, finely ground

  • Puree the tahini, nut butter, dates, hemp, salt, vanilla, spices, and syrup in a food processor until completely combined. Add 1-2 Tbs. water as needed to bring it together, if it’s a little dry. You can also a little more syrup or another date but I found that option a little too sweet.
  • Then add the raisins, diced figs or apricots and crispy rice or finely ground oats. Puree a couple more times until these last ingredients are just incorporated but not completely broken down.
  • Turn out and press into a 8×8-inch baking pan, or something of similar size. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, and then cut into individual bars, store, or eat as needed. They will last in the fridge for at least two weeks with no change in texture/consistency.

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