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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Character Training- A Running Update + My Good Energy Maca “Latte”

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I’m re-reading one of  my favorite books about running right now. It’s Ryan Hall’s Running With Joy, which is his daily journal that he kept in preparation for the 2010 Boston Marathon. I seem to quote Ryan a lot on this blog because he’s my first and favorite elite athlete. Ryan offers a Christian perspective to his training that can be applied to any area of life and it’s one that I relate to and gain perspective from often, both as a runner and in my faith-life.

 

One of the latest little gems that I picked up from Ryan was on character training. …I’m trying to keep a positive attitude but it’s tough, Ryan says. I want to see this as an opportunity for Christ to work in me and develop my character. Character training is harder than any workouts I do. 

 

If you’re a regular reader, you may or may not remember that I went into a running slow-down a few months ago around the turn of the year. I stopped running completely due to a weird foot injury. The whole experience brought about an unearthing of a lot of deep emotional baggage through which I’m still sifting and processing. The short and simple update on the injury is that I’m still working through it. My feet seem to bounce back and forth between one hurting one day or week, and the other the next. I’ve come back up to a few miles a week and people ask me all the time how I’m doing, whether I’m back to running. For the most part, my answer is “no, not really.” I say this even though my garmin and training journal clearly show progress. Some part of the perfectionistic, type-A runner in me does not consider 10-15 easy miles per week running even though it’s clearly what I’ve been doing. To be clear, this outlook only applies to myself. If I had this conversation with any other person, I’d want to smack them on the forehead and affirm, “You’re a runner. You’re running!”

 

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I bought the training journal in the above picture as a gift to self last fall, after a particularly big-for-me accomplishment. I saved it up for the beginning of the year, as I was looking forward to putting it to use to accomplish some big goals. When the injury appeared and I had to stop running completely, I did not want to use it. It made me feel like crap to be logging zero-miles for weeks at a time, even worse to have gone to the gym to cross train and realize I couldn’t do that either. I made a pact with myself that I’d still use it though, choosing to write down where I was at both mentally and physically and provide an accurate recording of the experience. In the past, I haven’t been so good about this and I look back at old training journals and see only a record of miles or times logged. There’s never been much description of where my head has been or how my body has felt. I have had lots of past injuries and none of them have been as mentally traumatic as this one. From the beginning, I have felt there is something significant to learn from this experience.

 

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I find that life often throws messages at me from all angles, bombarding me when there’s something I need to work on. Last week, it was the idea that I do A LOT of negative self-talk. I do it without realizing. I yell fairly violent words at myself for being clumsy, for forgetting, for being less-than-my-best. I bottle up and resent parts of me, I throw angry thoughts at my feet, and then push them as far as I know they can go in running. I will them to feel better, all the while silently berating them for being so broken. It was suggested that I recognize when I’m being negative and simply work on stopping those thoughts at their very beginning, with the idea that illness begins in the mind and can subsequently influence bodily illness. After having multiple professionals look at the physical reasons/weaknesses that might be causing and perpetuating the injury to no avail, I feel even more resolute in this.

 

My New Year’s Resolution was Thankfulness brings Increase, the idea of taking what God has given, no matter the joy or suffering, give thanks for it, and use it for His good. This practice has helped me to feel unbelievably blessed in much of my life, and I’ve been able to recognize there are far more important things than me, my problems, and what I want to do. In the past week too, since the beginning of simply recognizing my personal negativity, it has been curbed dramatically, likely in part because I don’t truly think so little of myself as all the negative thinking might imply.

But–I’m also a pusher. I want to see progress of the physical sort. What was a celebration last week, if not progressing, feels like stagnancy and/or going backwards this week, and on and on. It is character training to not always be moving forward, getting better. I had a thought when I was in the middle of the zero-miles months that this phase is true preparation for the goals that are still waiting for me. I am being prepared mentally in ways I never could have been without this phase, for the time when I’m ready to be tested again physically.

 

I cannot agree more with Ryan’s words. Character training is far harder than any workouts I do or have doneIt is far harder than any physical pain I have endured in this or previous injuries. And for that, today, I am especially thankful, for I see very real progress in character training. :)

 

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Good-Energy Maca “Latte”, makes 1 steamy cuppa

Adapted from Laura, this is my good-energy drink of choice lately. There’s a lot of talk that maca, a root vegetable from the Andes, is an adaptogen, and helps the mind and body positively respond to stress. I’m not really interested in the exact science of it because I feel a genuine lift every time I sip it. The taste of maca reminds me mildly of butterscotch which pairs nicely with the flavors of ginger and turmeric, and the color, too, is cheerful, so there we have it. The pinch of black pepper isn’t necessarily noticeable in taste, but helps the turmeric be more bio-available. Add it if you like.

12 oz. unsweetened almond milk

2 tsp. maca

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/8 tsp. ground turmeric

a pinch of black pepper

sweetener of choice

In a small saucepan, whisk the maca and spices into the milk over medium heat. Once the mixture nearly begins to simmer, remove from heat, pour into a mug, and add sweetener to taste.