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Category: Recipes

Cactus & Corn Tortillas

Last weekend I hosted the incredibly knowledgeable Enrique Villasenor, local healer in training, who taught all about how to use Opuntia species of cactus (aka prickly pear) for healing a vast array of health conditions. It all goes back to “balance” he says, and this plant helps us do that. Even if we aren’t suffering from a chronic disease (such as Type II diabetes which it helps to reverse), it helps the body stay balanced and maintain health. For the event I offered a tasting of what you can do with the leaf pads also known as nopales.

One of my favorite things to eat is tacos and I have been experimenting lately with making them out of different flours and unusual ingredients. For this event I opted to try adding them to a basic corn tortilla recipe. Because I like things to be colorful, I added a generous handful of spinach for added green color. Way better than any sort of artificial food coloring.

Tortillas de Nopales

  • 4¼ cups masa harina
  • 4-5 cactus pads (nopales)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 sprigs cilantro
  • 1/2 bunch spinach
  • 1 tablespoon chia
  • salt to taste

Combine together the cactus, cilantro and spinach together in a high speed blender which will create a thick liquid.

In a bowl, add the masa harina and slowly add the cactus mix and the warm water, until the dough is soft and is not sticky.

Once the dough is at its desired consistency, add the chia seeds, and lastly, the salt.

Separate the dough in even, small balls. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to an hour.

Flatten each ball between two sheets of plastic wrap with a tortilla press, or with a wine bottle or roller. Cook each side for 1 to 2 minutes, or until they puff, on medium-high heat, with a lightly greased skillet or comal. Keep in mind, nopal burns a little easier so keep your eyes on the tortillas so they don’t burn!

These go great with grilled or sauteed nopales, salsa, avocado and cashew cream with a bit of lime. Enjoy!

Read more  by this author  here 

Wild Greens and Pinyon Pine Cream Sauce

I think the first “wild food” recipe that I ever made was a nettle pesto. I would speculate, though, that is probably most folks initiation into wild foods. It is abundant, found nearly everywhere, and quite simple to make without messing it up too bad. Success is fairly inevitable. Now, after many years of diving deeper and deeper into the complexities of flavors in wild plants and mushrooms, I try not to roll my eyes as my social media feeds are flooded with pesto recipes. However, nettle remains one of my favorite greens to use in the kitchen and not to mention medicinal herb.

I won’t go on about its incredible attributes—those can be easily found elsewhere and probably somewhere on an old recipe here for soup. So let’s get on with something slightly different you can do with it (or any other wild or cultivated greens you have on hand).

The first time I created this, I used a wild spinach (also called New Zealand spinach) that grows near coastal regions here in California. I created this sauce to pair with some chia/acorn pasta ravioli with morels for a wild food dinner. I heard from few folks that they were literally licking the plate so as not to miss a single taste of that vibrant green flavor.

Of course, the flavor will have a different profile depending on what greens you use, but this is just a starting point. To be honest, I’m horrible at writing down recipes, much less following them. If I feel inspired, or think of some crazy idea, I’ll find a recipe that sounds similar and then I start substituting and switching things up, tasting along the way. I really have to get better at notes for my book.

Recipe: Wild Greens and Pinyon Pine Cream Sauce

1 lb wild greens, nettle or wild spinach recommended
1/2 c pinyon pine nuts, shelled (or sub commercial pine nuts)
1 yellow onion, diced
1 shallot, diced
2-4 cloves of garlic, diced
1/4-1/2 c mushroom broth (or other broth), plus more to thin
2 tbsp avocado oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt to taste

  1. Blanch your greens: Put a pot of water on to boil while you wash and de-stem your greens. Set aside a large bowl of ice water. If you’re working with nettle, you can use gloves at this point. (As soon as they are cooked, their stinging hairs are no longer active.) Submerge the greens in the boiling water for 1 minute, until they turn bright green. Remove quickly and place in the ice bath to cool.
  2. Heat the avocado oil in a cast iron skillet on medium heat. Add the onion and shallot and saute until just translucent, about 3-5 min. Add the diced garlic and saute for about 1-2 min more, do not allow the garlic to burn. No one likes burnt garlic.
  3. Strain the water from the greens and place them in between a few paper towels and press, removing as much water as possible.
  4. Combine the greens, pine nuts, onions, shallot and garlic into a high speed blender with the broth and lemon juice and blend, adding more broth (or water from cooking the greens), to thin to desired consistency. Add salt to taste, about 1/2-1 tsp.

This could even make a great soup as well, just add more broth or water. I used it recently as a sauce to complement fermented mushrooms in a dish for a wild food tasting:

“Sea of the Land” Fermented lobster mushroom with pickled black mustard seeds and nettle and pinyon cream sauce.

Read more  by this author  here 

Lemon Rosemary Chicken of the Woods Mushroom

I have found that this normally “dry” wild mushroom is an excellent candidate for sous vide, rather than the usual saute. Add in your favorite herbs and seasonings and its lends an incredibly tender and juicy texture. I was a little disappointed in the small size of my only find of this mushroom so far this season, but the younger the mushroom, the better.

When cooking these mushrooms, as with all wild mushrooms, be sure to cook them thoroughly. I know from experience. There’s a bit of controversy about whether or not the ones that grow from eucalyptus are edible or not. I think it all has to do with proper preparation. These I harvested were growing from a eucalyptus stump and my kids and I all enjoyed them without a problem… except everyone wanted more.

Here’s my recipe for Lemon Rosemary Chicken of the Woods (of course, you’ll need access to a sous vide machine):

Lemon Rosemary Chicken of the Woods

Ingredients:

A good sized portion of chicken of the woods mushroom, sliced
One sprig of rosemary, leaves removed and chopped coarsely
Two-three sprigs of thyme
2 T Soy sauce (or alternative)
1/2 tsp Smoked paprika
3-4 (or more) cloves of garlic
Juice of one lemon
1/4 c vegetable (or mushroom) stock
2 tbsp Avocado oil

Optional finishing: pinyon pine vinegar or more lemon juice

Combine everything except the mushroom in a mixing bowl. Taste the flavoring and adjust to preference. Add the mushroom and toss in the marinade. Carefully pour everything into a vacuum seal bag and seal tightly, making sure to remove all excess air. Cook sous vide at 160° F for 2-3 hours.

Remove mushroom from the bag and either heat to desired temperature (a few minutes in the oven is nice), and serve, with a finish of either pinyon pine vinegar (gives it a wonderful, delicate mountain aroma) or more lemon juice.

Read more  by this author  here 

Tom Kha soup with Chicken of the Woods Mushroom

One of my most favorite soups but with chicken mushrooms in place of real chicken.

1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 onion sliced
2 garlic cloves chopped
a few Thai chiles, halved
3 quarter-inch slices slices galangal or ginger
1 lemongrass stalk pounded with the side of a knife and cut into 2-inch long pieces
2 teaspoons red Thai curry paste
4 cups turkey tail mushroom broth (see note)
4 cups canned coconut cream or coconut milk
6 oz. chicken of the woods mushrooms
8 oz. maitake mushrooms
1-2 Tbsp. coconut sugar
1 1/2 – 2 Tbsp. soy sauce or Bragg’s liquid aminos
2-3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2-3 green onions sliced thin
fresh cilantro chopped, for garnish

Note: Make your own wild mushroom broth by simmering turkey tail mushrooms (or any other edible wild mushrooms) for an immune system boost, or store bought mushroom broths are available.

  1. In a medium pot, heat the coconut oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, garlic, chile, galangal or ginger, lemongrass, and red curry paste and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until onions are softened.
  3. Add mushroom broth and bring to a boil. Reduce head and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. In the meantime, boil or steam your wild mushrooms for at least 40 min.
  4. Add in coconut cream or milk and mushrooms. Simmer until mushrooms have absorbed flavors, about 10 min, then add soy sauce, coconut sugar, and lime juice, plus more of each to taste.
  5. Cook 2 more minutes, then ladle into serving bowls and top with sliced green onions and fresh cilantro.

Read more   here 

Stuffed Yucca Blossoms: Recipe

Yucca flowers are perfect little bite-sized packages, so why not fill them with something delicious? Start with a cream cheese base, then add your choice of flavorings.
In Latin America, yucca flowers are a traditional food, often cooked with eggs or tomato sauce. I haven’t tasted every species, but they’re all considered edible. Some people get an itchy throat when eating the flowers raw, and some people eat only the petals, not the pistils and stamens inside. I eat the whole flower, both raw and cooked with no trouble at all.
You’ll use the whole yucca flower in this recipe, but remove the pistils and stamens first.  Grasp them at the base where they join the flower and give a quick twist. These flower parts cook more slowly than the flower petals, so we’ll give them a head start.

What You’ll Need to Make Stuffed Yucca Blossoms
rinsed yucca flowers, pistils and stamens removed and reserved
½ cup cream cheese, room temperature
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground sumac
¼ cup chopped onions
2 Tbs. chopped green chiles (if you’re not a fan of spicy food, you can substitute chopped, roasted red peppers)
flour
1 egg (beaten)

What You’ll Do to Make Stuffed Yucca Blossoms
Roughly chop the yucca pistils and stamens and the onion, and sauté in olive oil until the onions are translucent. The pistils and stamens may (or may not) turn green.  Add the salt, sumac powder, and whichever kind of pepper you prefer, and stir to combine, then remove from the heat. You don’t need to cook the spices and peppers, just warm them up a little.
In a bowl, fold the warmed ingredients into the cream cheese.
Place a teaspoon of the cheese mixture inside each yucca flower and gently press the flowers closed. Dip each flower in the beaten egg, then lightly dredge in flour and set aside.
In a clean sauté pan, add some more olive oil and fry the stuffed blossoms until the cream cheese becomes soft and melty, and the outside of each flower is a crispy golden brown. Serve warm.

perfect bite-sized morsels

 

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Wintergreen Ice Cream: Recipe

Winter isn’t the most productive time to forage where I live. On a February visit to NH, I was able to score some fresh wintergreen, which I brought home and turned into an extract. I love the flavor of wintergreen (think teaberry gum) but it isn’t always easy to use in food and drink. I thought ice cream would be the perfect vehicle for the wintergreen flavor, and I was right, but boy it took a long time to nail this one down. The extract had a strong flavor and fragrance on its own, but my first ice cream attempt was a miserable failure. The eggs in the custard base completely overwhelmed the wintergreen flavor. My second attempt was only slightly more successful. I used a corn starch base, which let the wintergreen flavor come through, but it was far too faint for my taste. Third time was the charm. With triple the original amount of wintergreen extract, I had a delicious, perfectly textured wintergreen ice cream. This recipe is a keeper.
The first step in making your ice cream is to make the extract. It takes six weeks. (Have I lost you?)
fresh wintergreen in vodka (and snow)Fill a jar with wintergreen leaves. It’s ok to add a few berries, but, honestly, the leaves have more flavor. I use both, and the fruit adds a little more color, which, by the way, will be brown, not red. Add vodka to fill the jar to the top of the wintergreen, put the lid on the jar, and give it a good shake. Store the jar someplace out of direct sun and give it a shake once a day or whenever you walk by and remember. After six weeks, open the jar and give it a sniff. It will smell wonderful. Strain off your solids and return the liquid to a clean jar. This is your wintergreen extract.
Not only is wintergreen a great flavor for ice cream, but a few drops in a mug of hot chocolate makes a wonderful flavor combination. And it would make a great addition to frosting for brownies or chocolate cake. But I digress.

What You’ll Need to Make Wintergreen Ice Cream
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs. light corn syrup
1 1/2 Tbs. corn starch
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
3 Tbs. wintergreen extract

What You’ll Do to Make Wintergreen Ice Cream
The corn starch and light corn syrup in this recipe give the ice cream a rich, scoopable texture that doesn’t turn icy in the freezer.
Combine the cream and milk, and warm them over medium heat. You don’t want the milk to boil. When you start to see steam rise, or tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan, take the pan off the heat, and whisk in the light corn syrup.
Combine the sugar, corn starch, and kosher salt in a large bowl, then slowly pour in the warm liquid mixture, whisking to combine. Return the batter to the saucepan and continue to cook over medium low heat until it coats the back of a spoon. When you notice the liquid beginning to thicken, dip a soup spoon into the batter and run your finger across the back of the spoon. If your finger leaves a trail behind it that doesn’t immediately run together, you’re done. If the batter is runny enough to immediately come back together, you’ll need to cook it a little longer.
When the batter is done, add the wintergreen extract and whisk to incorporate it evenly. This is more extract than I’ve seen in ANY wintergreen ice cream recipe. By a lot. So maybe my home made wintergreen extract isn’t as strong as a commercial extract made from processed wintergreen oil, but dammit, it’s delicious.
Refrigerate the batter to cool it down, then churn according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. And if you feel the need to add a few semi-sweet chocolate chips, well, who could blame you?

 

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Quench Your Thirst With Mint Sekanjabin: A Summer Drink

sekanjabin
As the days grow hotter and more sweltering, I’ve been reaching for glasses of a favorite summertime cooler: sekanjabin!

Sweet and tart, sekanjabin is an Iranian syrup with a rich history; it was mentioned as far back as the tenth century in Al-Fihrist, a catalog of books in Arabic. Similar to an oxymel, sekanjabin may have originated as a simple preparation of vinegar (serke) and honey (angobin). In medieval Persia, these syrups were used for therapeutic effects and often contained medicinal herbs.

How to Enjoy Sekanjabin

Today, sekanjabin is typically infused with mint. The syrup is often served as a dipping sauce for crisp romaine lettuce leaves — a fresh snack that can take the edge off a hot day.

Sekanjabin also makes a delicious beverage (sharbat-e sekanjabin) when mixed with plain or sparkling water. Adding some grated cucumber makes it even more refreshing. If you haven’t had a drinking vinegar before, you might think of this like lemonade, which is sweet, sour, and thirst-quenching.

To make the sekanjabin below, I experimented with recipes from Iranian cookbooks and food blogs and settled on the ratios of ingredients that I enjoyed most. I especially appreciated reading personal stories about sekanjabin on sites like The Persian Fusion, Turmeric & Saffron, and Fig & Quince.

Before we get to the recipes, let’s take a look at some of our ingredients…

sekanjabin

Mint

Native to Africa, Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas, mints have appealed to humans for thousands of years. These days people often use a sprig of mint to garnish a glass, but mint can offer much more than that! In addition to its fresh flavor and uplifting scent, mint can promote good digestion, relieve tension headaches, and freshen breath. This sekanjabin recipe really infuses mint into the whole drink, and it’s perfect for summer days when you feel hot and sluggish.

When making sekanjabin, I typically use spearmint (Mentha spicata), which is sweeter and milder than peppermint (Mentha x piperita). However, you could experiment with peppermint, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), and other delicious mint-family herbs.

sekanjabin

Vinegar

People have been drinking vinegar for many millennia, often relying on vinegar to make water safe to drink, to preserve medicinal herbs and seasonal fruits, and for the benefits of the vinegar itself. The acetic acid in vinegar can help the body absorb essential minerals from the foods we eat, and its sour taste can stimulate saliva production and quench thirst.

I like using white wine vinegar in the recipe below, as it has a crisp, clean flavor that goes well with mint and cucumber. You could also try grape vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, or other types.

sekanjabin

Cucumber

They don’t say “cool as a cucumber” for nothing! Consisting of about 95% water, cucumbers are hydrating, cooling, and refreshing when enjoyed in foods or drinks. Cucumber slices or poultices can also be used externally to soothe inflamed skin, such as a sunburn.

Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) originated in India, where they have been cultivated for over 3,000 years. Now cucumbers are some of the most popular fruits to grow in gardens around the world, and there are numerous varieties for eating fresh or pickling.

For the Cucumber and Mint Cooler recipe, I especially like using small Persian cucumbers, which are crisp, slightly sweet, and devoid of tough seeds. These cucumbers have delicate skins, so peeling is optional. Other burpless varieties such as long, slender English cucumbers make a good substitute.

sekanjabin

Mint Sekanjabin

What you’ll need…

  • 1 1/3 cups mild honey or 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  1. Combine the honey and water in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve the honey.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the vinegar and continue simmering for 20 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to a syrupy consistency.
  5. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam. Stir in the mint. Let cool completely.
  6. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer; discard the solids.
  7. Transfer to a clean container with a nonreactive lid. (Vinegar can corrode metal. If using a jar with a metal lid, place a piece of plastic wrap, waxed paper, or parchment paper between the jar and the lid to prevent it from corroding.)
  8. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
  9. To serve, mix with still or sparkling water to taste or use in the Cucumber and Mint Cooler recipe below.

Yield: About 1 3/4 cups

 

Need organic herbs or supplies?
Get them here!

This post is sponsored by our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs.

 

 

Cucumber and Mint Cooler

What you’ll need…

  • 1 1/4 ounces (2 1/2 tablespoons) Mint Sekanjabin (above)
  • 1/4 ounce ( 1 1/2 teaspoons) fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons grated cucumber
  • Ice cubes
  • 1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) white rum (optional)
  • 6 ounces (3/4 cup) chilled club soda
  • Fresh mint sprig, for garnish
  1. In a tall glass, stir together the Mint Sekanjabin, lime juice, and grated cucumber.
  2. Fill the glass with ice and stir in the rum (if using) and club soda.
  3. Garnish with the mint, and serve immediately.

Yield: 1 serving

Recipes and photo reprinted with permission from Wild Drinks & Cocktails: Handcrafted Squashes, Shrubs, Switchels, Tonics, and Infusions to Mix at Home by Emily Han (Fair Winds Press, 2015).

 

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Now I’d love to hear from you!
Have you ever had a drinking vinegar?
What are your favorite drinks to cool off in summer?
Please share in the comments below.

Emily

About the Author – Emily Han

Emily Han is a naturalist, herbalist, writer, and educator focusing on intersections of nature, culture, and food. She is the author of Wild Drinks and Cocktails, co-author of Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods & Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine, and Communications Director for LearningHerbs. Learn more at EmilyHan.com

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Beat the Heat With These Herbal Ice Pops

ice pops

With these high days of summer, I’ve been swimming in lakes, kayaking down the river, and soaking in all of this heat and sunshine. Hot days, cool nights, and the garden bursting at the seams — this is my favorite season. Summer always seems to pass too quickly and I spend the rest of the year pining for heat’s embrace.

As much as I love summer, I know it can easily become too much of a good thing. Excess heat withers my flowers too quickly, makes my lettuce bolt, and can even cause me to feel too hot and irritable. (Which then has me reaching for herbal ice pops — more about that in a moment.)

As creatures of nature, it serves us well to understand that just as the hot summer affects the plants, animals, and insects around us, it also affects us.

In fact, the high temperatures of summer is the perfect time to understand heat as it relates to energetic herbalism.

Admittedly, when I first started studying herbs, my approach was straightforward and simplistic. I eagerly wanted to know what herb was good for what disease.

In my head it was a simple equation. “XYZ disease” + “XYZ herbs” = cure.

For years I tried to make that equation work and sometimes it was actually successful! But more often than I liked, it didn’t work.

Then I was introduced to energetic herbalism. The term “energetics” can seem ethereal or even a bit woo-woo, but the concepts are rooted in our everyday practical experiences.

Energetic herbalism is based on the four qualities of hot, cold, damp, and dry.

Both people and plants contain these qualities. You might know, for example, someone who tends to be cold often and may be wearing sweaters while others are in T-shirts. Or someone who radiates heat as if they have their own inner fire constantly raging. In energetic herbalism we describe these people as having more coldness or more heat.

If I gave you a cucumber and a cayenne pepper, I’m sure you could easily tell me which one was cooling and which one was heating simply by taking a bite out of each.

The basics of energetic herbalism are simple, and as your understanding grows, it can become more nuanced and enlightening.

For this article we are specifically going to look at two aspects of energetic herbalism: heat in people and plants that are cooling. And then we’ll make a recipe for herbal ice pops!

What is Heat?

Heat is a simple word for something that can be felt and experienced in many different ways.

Heat is warmth. It’s the feel of the hot summer sun on your skin as well as the internal heat of a high fever.

Heat is excitable. It moves. Boiling water bursts with bubbles. Hot lava flows down volcanoes. Flames jump, reaching out to consume more fuel.

Heat transforms. Fire transforms wood to ash. When exposed to a hot oven, raw eggs, flour, butter, and sugar transform from dough to cake.

Your digestive system requires inner heat. Metabolic warmth is needed to transform whole food particles into nutrients your body can break down and use. When you have a balanced amount of heat, your body transforms nutrients and moves well.

What is Excess Heat?

Heat in itself is not inherently bad, but too much heat is challenging.

You can experience excess heat both acutely and chronically.

Acute heat is often brief and intense. It’s the symptoms of a high fever, feeling hot, sweaty, and in pain. Or it can be the effects of too much time in the sun or a sauna, when external heat has overridden your body’s ability to maintain internal balance. Another example that is easily found in the summertime is allergic reactions to bug bites, which can leave the area around the bite feeling hot, painful, and swollen.

Chronic excess heat can manifest as inflammation.

Chronic systemic inflammation is increasingly believed to be a major underlying cause of many modern diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and more. Your heart and cardiovascular system are especially vulnerable to chronic inflammation.

Many people in the United States are dealing with chronic inflammation and the health challenges that come from it. I believe we could see a huge shift towards better health if we simply assessed chronic inflammation better and then addressed it at the root cause.

Unfortunately, the root cause of chronic inflammation is not always easy to find. The reason for it can vary by person and it’s seldom one thing that causes it. Sleep deprivation, excess sugar, sedentary lifestyle, mouth breathing, excess daily stress, and a poor diet can all be contributing causes.

Another contributing factor to chronic excess inflammation could be what is missing from our diets. Many people eat plenty of calories a day but not nearly enough phytonutrients.

Phytonutrients are the many properties within plants that provide us with a range of nutrients that go beyond simple building blocks like fats, proteins, and carbs. Examples of phytonutrients include flavonoids, polysaccharides, lignans, tannins, and more. Many of these phytonutrients are able to strongly modulate inflammation.

So while it’s important to address the root causes of excess inflammation in regard to lifestyle (like sleep, movement, etc.), we also can joyfully add foods and herbs into our life that are rich in phytonutrients.

And it’s not just about taking a bite of a carrot here and a sip of tea there. Something I learned from my mentor, Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, that has always stuck with me is that we need to saturate our lives with herbs. It’s not simply about taking a moment to take a bit of herbal medicine, but it’s also about incorporating herbs into our meals, beverages, desserts, snacks, and on and on.

In other words, every time we eat or drink something, it gives us an opportunity to consume the benefits of phytonutrients!

With that in mind, I’ve created a delicious and fun recipe for herbal ice pops that address heat and inflammation in various ways. This recipe is also filled with herbs that are good for your heart.

Before we get to the ice pops recipe, let’s take a look at the ingredients.

Hawthorn Berry (Crataegus spp.)

Hawthorn’s richly colored red berries are filled with flavonoids that modulate inflammation.1 Hawthorn has a special affinity for helping people maintain and improve their heart health. Much of the heart disease in the western world is related to chronic inflammation, and regularly enjoying herbs and foods high in beneficial flavonoids can protect the heart from oxidative stress.

Large long-term and short-term studies have shown that hawthorn offers many benefits for people who already have mild to moderate heart disease. Studies have specifically shown improvement for ankle edema, general cardiac performance including reduced blood pressure, improved cholesterol, fatigue, pain with increased exertion, and palpitations.23456 Researchers have concluded what herbalists have long known, that “hawthorn has a clear benefit for patients with mild to moderate heart failure.”7

Hibiscus Calyx (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

Hibiscus, also known as roselle, has a sour taste that quenches summer thirst. It’s both cooling and moistening, a perfect combination for the heat and dryness of these hot months.

Hibiscus calyces contain a variety of phytonutrients that are associated with modulating inflammation, including anthocyanins and flavonoids. They can also contain a significant quantity of polysaccharides, with 28% of the dry weight being attributed to mucilage.8

The calyces also contain vitamin C, β-carotene, calcium, and iron.9

Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)

Red and black raspberries are a delicious food high in nutrients. The berries are exceptionally high in fiber for a fruit, containing about six grams of fiber per 1/2 cup.10 They are also rich in flavonoids and vitamin C.

Numerous studies have shown that regularly eating red and black raspberries can improve heart health by reducing high blood pressure and by improving cholesterol levels.1112

A 2019 study showed that red raspberries can be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes because they “lower postprandial hyperglycemia and inflammation.”13

Honey

A gift from the bees, honey is filled with nutrients that go beyond its sweet taste. Renowned for its ability to heal wounds and modulate the immune system, local honey can be a sustainably produced sweetener. Look for honey that is local, raw, and, if possible, made by untreated bees.

Coconut Milk

Coconuts are a traditional food that probably originated in Asia and now grow all over the tropics.

Coconuts are a fruit! For a fruit they are unusually high in beneficial fats while being low in sugars. Coconut water and coconut milk are popular ways to enjoy coconuts. The milk is made by blending mature coconut meat and then straining it.

Coconut milk can help maintain a beneficial electrolyte balance, perfect for those hot summer months when dehydration is common. It’s also high in lauric acid, a beneficial fat that has been shown to improve heart health.

Look for coconut milk that doesn’t have any added preservatives and comes in a box or BPA-free can.

Any type of milk or milk alternative can be used in this recipe; however, the high fat content of coconut milk gives the ice pops a creamy texture, whereas other lighter milks may have a more icy texture.

Want More Herbal Energetic Ahas?

This brief look at heat and inflammation is just one small aspect of herbal energetics.

If you’re interested in learning more about herbal energetics, then check out my Taste of Herbs online course.

Hawthorn and Hibiscus Ice Pops for Beating the Heat (and Inflammation)

Cool down with these refreshing ice pops, which are bursting with flavor and color. They are filled with herbs that are high in flavonoids and healthy fats to cool heat and inflammation. To make these you’ll either need ice pop molds or paper cups and popsicle sticks.

What you’ll need…

  • 1/2 cup dried hawthorn berries (60 grams)
  • 1/2 cup dried hibiscus calyces (20 grams)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup honey (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen)

 

Need organic herbs or supplies?
Get them here!

This post is sponsored by our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs.

 

 

  1. Combine the hawthorn, hibiscus, and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the herbs, reserving the liquid.

ice pops

ice pops

  1. Add the honey and salt to the liquid and stir until combined.

ice pops

ice pops

  1. Add the coconut milk and stir well. Allow to cool.

ice pops

ice pops

  1. Add raspberries to your ice pop molds or paper cups. Then fill with the cooled liquid mixture, leaving a little room at the top to allow for expansion. Insert your popsicle sticks.

ice pops

  1. Freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.

  1. If using popsicle molds, run them under warm water for a few moments to help slip the ice pops out. Enjoy immediately.

Yield: 3 cups of liquid, which makes approximately 10 ice pops

ice pops

Substitutions:

  • Any type of milk or milk alternative can be substituted for the coconut milk. The high fat content of coconut milk gives the ice pops a creamy texture. Lighter milks may have a more icy texture.
  • Any berries can be used in this recipe, including blueberries, black raspberries, and blackberries.
  • Any sweetener can be used; amounts may vary according to the product and personal taste.

These Ice Pops are Kid-Approved!

I was thrilled to have a visit from my honorary nieces, Pearl and Lulu, this past weekend. I made these ice pops for them to try out and they were a huge success. Phew! It’s not just loved by adults but also kid-approved. It was extra special to have them in the photos since they were also featured in my other popsicle recipes (Chamomile and Lavender Lemon).

 

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ice pops

Now I’d love to hear from you!
Do you saturate your life with herbs?
Do you look for new ways to include herbs and plants high in flavonoids into your life?
Or do you simply enjoy herbal ice pops on a hot summer’s day?
Please share in the comments below.

 

Date and Nut Apple Pie Bites with Maca

apple pie bites
We’re so excited to share with the LearningHerbs community one of our favorite fall-inspired recipes: Date and Nut Apple Pie Bites with Maca. This herbal recipe is one of over 75 included in The Kosmic Kitchen Cookbook.

Where we live, nothing says fall like apple pie. Apples are a big deal here in west Sonoma County! The heritage variety Gravenstein has been cultivated here for commercial production since the late 1800s and provides the Bay Area with fresh apples all season long. Instead of baking a pie with sugar and flour, we decided to make snack-sized versions to enjoy all the seasonal spices and sweet apples.

Maca has a nutty flavor that plays well with walnuts, and is a warming and energizing adaptogen, great for the cooler fall months.

apple pie bites

A Look at Fall Energetics

This time of year is synonymous with drier, cooler weather, reminding us to nourish and ground ourselves. To ward off cold and dry imbalances, it’s important to focus on foods that have the opposite qualities: heavy, oily, and moistening. Look for flavors that are wholesomely sweet such as root vegetables, squash, and pumpkins.

Soups and stews are perfect for daily meals, as they provide easily digestible nutrients that keep skin, hair, and nails supple. Enjoying seaweeds cooked in broths and adding sea salt to meals will help moisten the body as well.

It’s no surprise that many foods during this time of year feature warming herbs and spices—apples stewed in cinnamon, squash with savory garlic and sage, a warm mug of tea sprinkled with nutmeg—these flavors impart comfort and nostalgia as well as aid in warming the body and stoking digestive fire.

As the season is changing, rituals should transition from the lighter, cooling qualities of summer to heavier, warming qualities. Taking hot baths to soothe muscles and calm any anxiety will be a key practice to balance the body. Slathering on and massaging the skin with oils will help create a protective barrier from the dry air and further relax the nervous system.

Taking time to give extra attention to the body through food, herbs, and rituals will make you less susceptible to the common colds floating around this time of year. Spending time listening to your body, creating space to be alone, and enjoying the stillness of resting are just what this season calls for.

apple pie bites

Key Adaptogen: Grounded Energy with Maca

This recipe calls for maca powder, but feel free to use another adaptogenic powder or restorative blend that works well for you and your unique body. Maca is perfectly warming and sweet, which helps to balance out some of the elements of the fall season.

Maca (Lepidium meyenii)

Energetics: Warming, sweet, slightly bitter

Parts Used: Root

Benefits: Maca root, endemic to the Andes of Peru and Bolivia, has long been a traditional food source for its high nutritional content of amino acids, vitamins, fiber, and fatty acids. This warming, slightly sweet, and nutty-flavored root is used to promote stamina, fertility, and healthy libido while helping bring balance to the endocrine system.

apple pie bites

Date and Nut Apple Pie Bites with Maca

Recipe from The Kosmic Kitchen Cookbook by Sarah Kate Benjamin and Summer Singletary (Roost Books, 2020).

What you’ll need…

  • 2 apples, cored and diced
  • ½ tablespoon maca powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons raw hemp seeds, divided
  • Pinch of sea salt

 

Need organic herbs or supplies?
Get them here!

This post is sponsored by our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs.

 

 

  1. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the diced apples, maca powder, spices, and water. Cover and cook over medium heat to let the apples soften, making sure to stir to prevent burning.
  2. Once apples are softened, remove from heat and let cool.
  3. Then add the mixture to a food processor along with the walnuts, dates, 1 tablespoon of hemp seeds, and a pinch of sea salt and pulse until the mixture becomes doughlike. Add 1 teaspoon of water at a time if the mixture is too thick and hard to work with.
  4. Scrape down the food processor, removing the mixture and adding it to a mixing bowl.
  5. On a small plate, add 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds in an even layer.
  6. Wet your hands to make the bites easier to handle, then scoop 1 tablespoon of the dough into your hands and roll it into a little ball.
  7. Once all the bites are made, roll one side in the hemp seeds.
  8. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Yield: Makes 12 Bites

apple pie bites

Kosmic Creative Team: Photos by The Kosmic Kitchen, Anna-Alexia Basile, and Jorge Novoa. Styling by Alysia Andriola. Cookbook cover and interior design by Amy Sly. Cover and title page lettering by Alicia Schultz.

apple pie bites

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apple pie bites

Five-Flavored Beet Hummus Recipe

beet hummus

I grew up in the middle of the United States where the sweet taste was highly featured in common foods and meals.

Sweet cereals and pop tarts for breakfast; pizzas and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch; and pasta, rice, or potatoes as a key part of dinner; followed by green Jell-O and carrots (yes, that’s a real thing) for dessert.

Growing up, I ate plenty of fresh green veggies from the garden, but I was never taught to relish the bitterness of salad greens (only iceberg in our house) or experience a side dish with a strong sour or bitter flavor.

Getting Results With Herbs

That’s a big contrast to what is now my favorite cuisine: Indian food.

At one of my favorite Indian restaurants, the owners have a welcome page within their menu where they describe the 6 flavors (according to Ayurveda) and share why they  include all flavors within a meal.

For me, a variety of flavors is simply more enticing. When we experience a wide range of tastes, our senses are heightened and meals are more scrumptious and satisfying.

The wider range of flavors a meal has means there’s a larger variety of phytonutrients, making our meals more nutrient dense (and often more colorful as well).

beet hummus

Taste isn’t just important for meals, it’s often the basis of herbal medicines found around the world. Traditional Chinese Medicine focuses on five tastes. Ayurveda classifies herbs within 6 tastes, and Western herbal medicine has its roots in flavors as well.

I love teaching about the taste of herbs because it’s practical and experiential.

When you learn about the tastes of herbal medicine, it’s not just about memorizing what someone says about a particular herb, but instead it’s learning how to really feel how that herb works. The end result is that you really get herbs on a visceral level.

For example, have you ever eaten a spicy pepper or even a meal and then felt your sinuses start to run? Or have you eaten something sour, like a lemon, and realized you were salivating more?

Those actions are herbal medicine at work! And it’s not something you have to memorize, it’s something you’ve been experiencing your whole life.

The following recipe for beet hummus shows you how you can incorporate the five flavors of herbal medicine into one delicious and colorful snack.

But before we get to the recipe, let’s take a closer look at the tastes and ingredients.

beet hummus

The Sweet Taste

The sweet taste easily evokes images of sugar, honey, or other overtly sweet flavors, but in herbal medicine it’s more nuanced than that.

Herbs within the sweet taste are often our nourishing and building herbs. We reach for these herbs when someone is feeling weak and could use an overall building tonic. These are our adaptogen and immunomodulating herbs like astragalus or codonopsis. They also include demulcent herbs like aloe gel and marshmallow root.

There are two sweet ingredients into today’s beet hummus recipe.

Beets

Beets are a nourishing food for the heart! They even look a bit like a heart with their dark red coloring and shape. Beets have become well known for helping endurance athletes stay strong.

They’ve also been shown to be dramatically helpful for heart disease patients. In a small study, the researchers found that beet juice may help boost muscle strength among heart patients. One of the researchers reported, “The magnitude of this improvement is comparable to that seen in heart failure patients who have done two to three months of resistance training.”1

Chickpeas

Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are a fabulous source of plant-based protein and fiber. Chickpeas have been cultivated for thousands of years and there are over 70 varieties that come in a range of colors. With their sweet, slightly nutty flavor and creamy texture, there’s a lot to love about chickpeas.

There’s also lots to love about their health benefits. As one study reports, “emerging research suggests that chickpeas and hummus may play a beneficial role in weight management and glucose and insulin regulation, as well as have a positive impact on some markers of cardiovascular disease.”2

beet hummus

The Pungent Taste

The pungent taste is the flavor of spice and aromatics. Practically all of our culinary herbs, like cumin, rosemary, thyme, garlic, etc., are pungent herbs. These herbs wake up our senses and add delicious and nuanced flavors to our meals.

In herbal medicine the pungent taste is warming and active. It wakes up digestion and moves stagnant energies. The example I gave earlier of eating a spicy meal and then feeling your sinuses run is a classic example of the pungent taste.

There are several pungent spices in this beet hummus recipe.

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)

Cumin is a warming aromatic spice (with a hint of bitterness) that originally came from the Middle East, India, and northern Africa. Colonists bought it to the Americas and it is now a prominent part of Mexican cuisine. Cumin is an excellent herb for digestion. It increases circulation, dispels gas, and can sooth nausea. It’s one of my husband’s favorite spices and hardly a day goes by without it being featured in one of our meals.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic is a famous pungent spice, both in flavor and smell! It’s a bit daunting to try and summarize garlic in a few sentences … what doesn’t this herb do! Whether it’s promoting digestion, supporting heart health, or helping to ward off infections, garlic is a medicinal herb that’s just as comfortable as a simple culinary spice in your homemade spaghetti sauce.

Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)

Possibly the world’s most popular spice, black pepper helps you digest food better and also to assimilate nutrients better. Piperine, a constituent within black pepper, has been studied extensively for its biotransformative effects.3 In other words, it’s the ultimate catalyst for getting the most nutrients from the meals you already eat. I add black pepper to most meals and keep it readily available to add as a finishing touch.

The Salty Taste

Just as the sweet taste doesn’t always mean sugary sweet, the salty taste doesn’t always taste like table salt. These herbs are commonly nutrient dense and have a mineral or bland taste. These herbs are often used to help people build stronger bones and more luxurious hair. Classic examples include stinging nettle and oatstraw.

While there are a lot of salty herbs out there, this recipe brings out the salty flavor with salt. For those who are more adventurous, you could substitute or add kelp flakes to the recipe.

beet hummus

The Sour Taste

Sour herbs can be overtly sour like lemon, or the more subtle sour of a ripe fruit. These herbs are often used to enhance digestion and can be either warming or cooling in nature.

The predominantly sour taste within this recipe is the classic lemon.

Lemon

Lemons are both food and medicine. They are overtly sour and pleasantly cooling, which is why lemonade stands with entrepreneurial kids dot neighborhoods. Lemons also enhance digestion and can modulate inflammation. Much of lemon’s benefits are found within the peel and zest, which is why I rarely just use the juice, and almost always include the zest as well.

beet hummus

The Bitter Taste

Of all the tastes, bitter is often the hardest for people to love. But, for those willing to adapt their tastes, bitter herbs can easily become our most favorite. Stimulating bitter herbs like cacao and coffee are easily some of the most popular herbs worldwide. In the past decade, digestive bitter preparations are popping up everywhere from people’s kitchens to fancy cocktail bars.

The Five-Flavored Beet Hummus doesn’t have a strong bitter flavor, but it has two slightly bitter ingredients.

Tahini

Tahini is a paste made from hulled sesame seeds. You can buy tahini at the store or look for recipes to make your own. Tahini has a slightly bitter flavor, but store-bought tahini can also be rancid, so it’s important to know the difference between bitter and rancidity. (Another great reason to develop your sense of taste!) Sesame seeds are one of the oldest cultivated plants and have been used extensively as food and medicine.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

I’m sort of pushing it to put turmeric in the bitter section rather than the pungent section, but it does contain both tastes. It’s a reminder that herbs aren’t only one thing, but instead contain a multitude of flavors.

Turmeric is well known for its ability to modulate inflammation, which has been shown to have numerous benefits for the heart and liver especially. You can read more about turmeric in my book Alchemy of Herbs: How to Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies that Heal.

beet hummus

Five-Flavored Beet Hummus

Five flavors blend together to create a beautiful and delicious snack that is an instant crowd pleaser. With the plethora of phytonutrients in this dip, you could ask, “Is this food? Is it medicine?” Don’t consider this for too long; otherwise, your friends and family will have already eaten it up.

Serve this beet hummus with bread, crackers, or veggies, or use it as a spread on sandwiches. 

What you’ll need…

  • 2 medium beets
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil. divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 3 garlic cloves, mashed and minced
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

Need organic herbs or supplies?
Get them here!

This post is sponsored by our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs.

 

 

  1. Begin by cooking the beets. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Wash the beets and then cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. Peel only if desired. Place them on a single layer in a baking pan, drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and stir to mix.

beet hummus

  1. Bake the beets for 30 to 40 minutes or until they are tender. Stir once during cooking. The beets can be cooked up to three days in advance if desired.
  2. Now for the hummus. Drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid.
  3. Place all the remaining ingredients, including the beets but excluding the reserved chickpea liquid, in a food processor.

beet hummus

beet hummus

  1. With the food processor running, slowly add the reserved chickpea liquid until the mixture is smooth. You may or may not use all of the reserved liquid.
  2. Taste the hummus and add additional salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.

beet hummus

beet hummus

  1. Serve this beet hummus with crackers or a variety of vegetables for dipping (carrot sticks, watermelon radish slices, cucumber slices, etc.).

beet hummus

beet hummus

 

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beet hummus

Now I’d love to hear from you!

Do you get all five tastes of herbal medicine in your meals?

Have you found that you tastes have changed over the years? Perhaps you used to hate bitter but now you crave it?

I’d love to hear your herbal medicine taste stories in the comments below.

Please share in the comments below.

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