Answers to the Big Questions and a Hearty Runner’s Brunch Hash

Lately, I’ve returned to reading two books. First the Purgatorio, the second in Dante’s Divine Comedy. My former English professor and deacon at my church in Corvallis has been leading a weekly class lately guiding us through the Purgatorio and the timing feels just about right since the class began the Wednesday of Holy Week and is leading us through this continued period of staying at home and distancing. Purgatory—the place between two more known-of places—seems the perfect description for where we all are now.

If there’s anything I can pick up from Dante’s 14th century poem, it’s that it gets easier as we keep going.

The other book I’ve begun again is Sajah Popham’s Evolutionary Herbalism: Science, Spirituality, and Medicine from the Heart of Nature—a reading I encourage everyone, yes everyone to read. For it guides you back to a perspective I think we all had as children and lost along the way.

I’ve been considering a lot these last few weeks. About this space, this encouraging journal and recipe guide of sorts, my role as a nutritionist and in the community, health and true wellness, and of course, nature.

On that note, I wrote in two questions for a couple of favorite podcasts a few months ago and surprising to me, both questions were answered by the respective individuals this past week. Unsurprisingly –if you know me—my questions were on the topics of sustainability and having a lower ‘footprint’ as a company, and on navigating faith and spirituality amongst busy seasons and family traditions that don’t partake in that faith. I know. I know. I like to ask the tough questions.

So why am I bringing all that up here? This past week my big questions semi-paralleled with those of Brett Farrell, the founder of Territory Run Co., for which I am a content ambassador and contribute seasonal articles. Brett spoke about his own big questions, the clothing industry’s own climate footprint, challenges with community, and more. Check out those here and here. As well as recent contributions on the Territory Run Journal – there are several excellent and thoughtful articles there lately.

What I was really reminded of however, was that in a conversation with Brett about a year ago, I spoke about the draw of trail running, the joy and peace and healing it has brought me personally, and about getting to the know the medicine around me—literally coming to know the plants I spend time with on the trails. Though I’ve only written or spoken about it in pieces, I came to an interest in herbs and herbalism like a lot of individuals. I was really sick, in a way that modern medicine wasn’t going to cure or even temporarily fix. And after a while of taking various herbs and formulas which my doctor gave me, and around the same period spending more of my running hours in the forest, the plants reached out to me and pulled me in, sometimes sharing themselves in profound ways –like being pulled to a stop suddenly alongside a trail, staring captivatedly at one, and (internally) asking, who are you? Crazily enough at times, I’d find I had my answer when the plant’s name simply came to the edge of my tongue, when if you’d asked on any other day, I wouldn’t have known it.  In fact, it happened again today.

And then Brett asked me another ‘big question’ about what it is I really want people to know in regards to nutrition and health. My answer is one I still will give and one I’ll likely give for the rest of time. What I really want you to know about nutrition and health is that if you get quiet enough – go deep enough into the forest’s eternal wisdom, and your own—you’ll find you already have the answers to the questions you seek.

To explain this more since the concept can be a little esoteric, I’ll refer to a couple lines from Sajah’s first two chapters:
To begin gathering natura sophia (the intelligence of nature), we must learn to see beyond the limitations our modern world has placed upon our perception and see the living intelligence of the Earth. And this can only be done through gnosis cardiaca—the knowledge of the heart.

and

To truly enter the kingdom of nature we must suspend our rational thought, let go of our knowledge of botany and chemistry, even dispense with our systems of herbalism—for any potential interference of the mind will get in the way of our capacities to directly perceive the intelligence within the plants. To move beyond herbal knowledge and into herbal wisdom, we must tread the pathway down the mind into the inner temple located just inside our chest.

Bringing this back down to earth even a little more, the answers to these big questions don’t come easily, they don’t necessarily just appear when we ask them or when we want them to. There can be many layers to the answers of how to be a better patron of the planet, or how to balance a spiritual life in faith with the goings on of the ‘real world,’ or how to heal – truly heal the body and mind.

Over time, I’m beginning to realize my role here is to educate about true wellness, about true healing, to be more of the guide—the Virgil and/or the Beatrice (though I claim no Godlike abilities)—and no longer the lost and hurting Dante who I was for a long time. To provide encouraging words yes, and recipes to nourish the body yes, and with those working with me clinically, proven scientific strategies to heal root cause imbalances yes. But it’s also to remind you, to remind us, that we also have the answers. That we’re not victims.

In every relationship whether it’s with me your nutritionist, your coach, your chiropractor or PT, your family and friends, your life partner, or with the plants in your window box, yard, locally farmed vegetable box, or forest, there’s an opportunity for a two-way conversation, a partnership to come to the answers that are already within you waiting to be revealed.

Maybe that’s the point of this slow down period we’ve been given, for I know it’s not for many millions to suffer. Maybe it’s the time to return to our childlike ways, picking the dandelions and blowing our wishes into the big questions, letting the answers present themselves in their own time and way.

Now for this hearty brunch hash.

You’ll need a hearty, though not heavy, meal to refuel the system after your time in the forest– or wherever you go to dwell in your own big questions and their answers. I’ve shared the recipe over on the Run Journal at Territory Run Co. Get the full article and recipe here.

Golden Fire Cider for times of illness

One of the most practically useful classes I took in grad school was an herbal elective on how to make my own herbal medicines. Each week we used a different method for preparing herbs, from medicinal herbal infusions and decoctions (often simply called herbal tea), herbal honeys, infused vinegars, salves, tinctures, and even herbal baths. As a runner, the best information on the benefits and how-to’s of water therapy for exercise recovery was actually gained in my herbal medicine making course!

Beyond being able to make my own tinctures for potent low-dose, completely natural medicines to help with everything from boosting the immune system, relieving nervous tension, and putting my spinning 2am brain promptly back to sleep, this recipe for fire cider is by far my most repeated recipe that came out of that course.

Fire Cider is a kitchen-hearth recipe originally created by herbal elder Rosemary Gladstar. If you’ve never heard of Rosemary, she is a founder of the Traditional Medicinals tea brand you’ve more than likely seen on shelves in the supermarket tea aisle, among her many other accomplishments.

The idea with fire cider is that the ingredients are easy to access, likely already on hand, and make for a warming, stimulating and potent combination that gets your blood moving, with the heat from the ingredients pushing pathogens and heat to the surface of the body during times of illness. The real key to the formula is movement, using herbs to stimulate and circulate movement through the immune system, lymphatic system, cardiovascular system, and digestive system.

Fire cider is great to take as a tonic all season long, or in larger amounts if you’ve contracted a virus. One to two teaspoons daily mixed in with a little water is usually a good way to take it.

My recipe for Golden Fire Cider varies slightly from Rosemary’s. For one, I add turmeric since it is incredibly anti-inflammatory and pungent, and thus supportive in times of illness. I also don’t add honey to my formula. The honey was originally included to make the stimulating herbs more palatable so can be added if one desires. Lastly, the fresh horseradish root can sometimes be difficult to source. I’ve got a jar of wasabi powder in the back of my pantry that has served as great substitute in those instances. Ideally, the ingredients are infused in the vinegar for at least a month, so if you’d like some to carry you through cold and flu season, start a batch now!

Golden Fire Cider, makes 2-3 cups
¼ cup grated horseradish root
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 Tbs. minced garlic
2 Tbs. fresh minced ginger root
1 small hot pepper such as jalapeño or serrano, minced
1 tsp. dried turmeric root or 1 Tbs. fresh root, minced
a couple pinches black pepper
raw apple cider vinegar
raw local honey, to taste

  • Add all chopped ingredients to a quart jar.
  • Add apple cider vinegar to three inches above herbs. Cap the jar and shake. Infuse for about 28 days before straining, and shake/mix daily or as often as you remember.
  • Add honey to taste, if desired. (I don’t).

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