cacao super syrup + a simple cacao tea

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This one is for y’all that really like chocolate. Especially if you crave chocolate, particularly during stressful times.

Cacao Tea Co. recently launched a really delicious (herbal) tea that’s essentially the husks of roasted cacao beans. Brewed into a traditional cup with freshly boiled water, it’s delicious as an afternoon pick-me-up sipper without the caffeine, sugar rush, or cravings for more more more that comes with the otherwise delightful combination of sugar and chocolate.

 

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But after a few days of sipping, I got all sorts of inspired and took it to another level by making a superpower cacao, maca, and eleuthero syrup. I’ll get to those ingredients in a moment but this herbal syrup idea is essentially a tasty traditional way to take in herbs when one might otherwise not. It’s exactly the same method by which elderberry syrup (for cold and flu prevention) is made. Like other herbal syrups, it can be used in whatever way one desires, but I’ve been adding a spoonful or so to my mid-afternoon smoothie snacks lately.

 

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Now, about these ingredients: 
Cacao, 
Theobroma cacao // When we eat chocolate, it’s coming from cacao beans. As we can see, the plant name is derived from two words theos and broma, which are ancient Greek and translate to ‘the food of the gods’. Additionally, cacao is rich in a compound called theobromine, an antioxidant that has a mild stimulant effect, similar to caffeine. Studies show that the husks of cacao are rich in these antioxidants, just like the inside portion.

Maca, Lepidium meyenii // Maca is an herbal root that is often considered an adaptogen, meaning it will restore stress levels back to a balanced state, and it’s particularly helpful for adrenal stress (i.e. the fight or flight side of our nervous systems have been on high alert for too long). It increases energy (making it dually great for athletes) and has many antioxidant properties, as well as much research on its ability to regulate reproductive hormones (1). It is also rich in iron, calcium, potassium, and zinc–nutrients that many particularly female athletes are low in.

Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng), Eleutherococcus senticosus // Eleuthero has an exceptionally long history of use in traditional medicine. It is also known as an adaptogen, a tonic herb, a nervine (to help the nervous system) and is anti-inflammatory. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, eleuthero is used for treating people with wind (spasmodic) conditions, and is also helpful for weak tendons and ligaments, strengthening the qi, and Chinese spleen and kidneys; i.e. it can help extract nutrients from food and is an herb that is really good for “stressed out Type A people” (2). Eleuthero has long been in use in Korean and Russian folk medicine for increasing stamina and promoting overall health (3). Additionally, scientific studies show that it alters the levels of several neurotransmitters and hormones involved in the stress response, chiefly at the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis (1). Further, eleuthero significantly suppresses nitric oxide production, which is a characteristic of inflammation, and has shown strong free-radical scavenging activity. In overworked individuals, it has been shown to reduce their response to stress, and in some studies with both trained and recreational endurance athletes, it has improved work capacity, increased endurance time, and elevated cardiovascular function (1). Overall, I like to think of it as a superpower herb for those that tend to have a lot of stress and fatigue that has accumulated over a long period of time, who wake tired and can’t really get their energy up throughout the day, and whose internal temperature tends to run cool or cold.

I chose to add maca and eleuthero to this cacao syrup specifically because many individuals I’ve worked with clinically present with similar situations in that they are highly driven, are often on the go mentally and physically, tend towards cravings for sweets and chocolate, and experience ongoing fatigue. Without discounting that this presentation can mean there are some truly relevant nutritional deficiencies to be addressed, adding an herbal support that happens to taste excellent can be a great way to return the body to balance a bit more quickly. That’s why I call it super syrup.

 

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Cacao Super Syrup, makes about 3 cups
I often source my powdered herbs such as maca and eleuthero from Mountain Rose Herbs since they are a trusted supplier. Additionally, I highly recommend starting with local, raw honey since it supports your local beekeeper, and contains beneficial enzymes no longer available in processed supermarket honey. If you’d like a ‘purer’ tasting herbal syrup, you can also use sugar in place of the honey.

6 Tbs. cacao tea
3 Tbs. maca root powder
3 Tbs. eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) powder
4 cups filtered water
1 cup honey

  • Combine the cacao tea and herbal powders with the water in a pot. Bring to a simmer and partially cover the pot with a lid. Let simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
  • Remove from the heat  and strain out the herbs – you have now created a strong decoction for your syrup base. I strained mine a little ‘coarsely,’ so there were more herbs in the syrup, but a finer strain using a cheesecloth and/or a fine mesh strainer can also be done.
  • Return the liquid to the pan and add the honey. To retain the beneficial, naturally occurring enzymes in raw honey, gently heat it just until the honey dissolves, being careful not to boil the syrup.
  • Finish by pouring the syrup into clean, sterile bottles, and store in the fridge for up to 3 months.
  • A standard dosage of herbal syrup depends on the herbs used, the situation being addressed, as well as the age of the recipient. A general dosage is a ½ teaspoon to 1 tablespoon taken 1 to 3 times a day. Since we are using adaptogenic herbs that are better used long-term to re-balance, 1/2 to 1 Tbs. per day is a nice starting amount.

 

 
Cacao Tea, serves 1
freshly boiled water
2-3 tsp. cacao tea

  • To prepare a simple cacao infusion, add 2-3 tsp. of cacao tea to a tea ball or infusing basket and then pour freshly boiled water over the top. Cover and allow to infuse for 5-10 minutes before drinking.

 

References:
1. Braun, L. and Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide, vol. 2 (4th ed.). Chatswood, NSW, Australia: Elsevier.
2. Winston, D. and Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Rochester, VA: Healing Arts Press
3. Mountain Rose Herbs. (n.d.). Eleuthero Root Powder

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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.