Food and Cooking

Summertime Fun – When Life Gives You…

Posted on July 24, 2013. Filed under: Food and Cooking, Kitchen Herbalism, Urban Herbalism |

Sometimes you just have to remember to have stop taking herbs so seriously and have fun with them – and luckily that is what this post is kind of about. 🙂

Fun with Lemonade (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Fun with Lemonade (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

The other week Boston was suffering under a heat wave and in a nice bit of serendipity the medicinal herbal CSA I belong to included some Staghorn Sumac berries that week.  Thus Staghorn Sumac lemonade was totally on the agenda.

But, of course, being who I am – I didn’t stop there.   I went all herbal lemonade crazy including making:

  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Jasmine
  • Rose

and more.   I also used blueberries, raspberries and strawberries and limes instead of lemons in my mad experiments.    In the picture above the lavender is on the left and jasmine on the right.

It was all good and so much fun.

The basics are embarrassingly easy.  Make a tea of your favorite herb that you think would be fun, add some lemon/lime juice and the sweetener of your choice (honey, maple syrup, succanat, etc.)  – stir and chill.  You can also add the juice of other fruits – berries especially are awesome.

I did overnight infusions of the herbs in a quart mason jar myself.  And for that size I preferred the juice of a whole lemon/lime and used either honey or succanat.

But that’s me.

Why don’t you go, play and make some for yourself.

Herbs are meant to be fun and are fun to play with.

You won’t be sorry. 🙂

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No Magic About It

Posted on April 29, 2013. Filed under: Food and Cooking, Healing, Random Musings |

I wanted to share a thought that has been bubbling in my brain about herbalism gone wrong or perhaps misused.   I recently had a couple of encounters with what I sometimes call magic pill herbalism or thinking of healing as a magic pill.   Something I’ve always been a bit suspicious of.

Suspicious Cat (Photo by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Suspicious Cat (Photo by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Suspicious Cat is also suspicious of such things!

Not too long ago I had a couple of people tell me about their stress problems, adrenal fatigue and how they were taking adaptogens and licorice to help out with that but how they were still having problems.   And in parallel to that was remembering the seasonal rush in the fall by folks to use herbs that stimulate the immune system during cold and flu season and when they felt something coming on.

But as I mentioned to a couple of people – that’s a classic case of the cart before the horse.  What you really need to be doing is give the body something to support it in doing all these things.   Don’t forget your nutrients – the vitamins and minerals your body needs to deal with the losses caused by stress and to support a ramping up of the immune system.

Otherwise, all you’re doing is flooring the gas pedal and not filling the tank and you’re just speeding up the time until you completely crash.

I think that is one of the things I see happen a lot with folks who go crazy with immune stimulating herbs intending to prevent getting sick.   They keep revving the immune system without increasing the things the body needs to do that, then when they get sick they get sick bad.

As a rule of thumb we in the US don’t have a problem with too little protein or calories in our diet, but we generally have a chronic one with vitamins and minerals – which gets accentuated by stress and illness as the body uses these even more quickly and they were already in short supply.

Now I’m not going to go into a whose diet is better debate or advocate a particular diet – but I do think a parody of West Side Story with Paleos and Vegans would be rocking and I may someday write it.   I will just throw out some things both sides could deal with.

Don’t neglect seaweed in your diet if you can deal with it.  Seaweeds (nori rolls do not actually count since they are so processed the seaweed goodness is essentially gone!) are packed with awesome collections of vitamins and minerals – one of the true superfoods.

In the classic world of herbalism you can’t go wrong with stinging nettles which are practically the next best thing and probably overtaking your yard if you look!  Steam them like spinach, throw them in soups – but probably not  raw salad unless you like a numb tongue. 😉

Even just making sure you get a wide variety of different colored fruits and vegetables in your diet is amazingly important in general, but especially if you’re sick, stressed, etc.  Think soups.  Seriously it is not an accident soups are so helpful when you are sick – it’s probably the largest variety of vegetables most Americans get in their typical diet.  Which is incredibly sad.

Really, all I’m saying is I love herbs…they’re great, but step away from treating them like magic pills and remember about eating right.    Don’t just go for herbs when you are under stress, tired, sick or taking things to up the immune system, remember that is the best time to add more vitamins and minerals into your diet through eating a variety of good foods too.  Use the herbs to support you while you work to provide the body with what it needs to work with them! 🙂

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Bracing for Winter Part 1 – Food!

Posted on January 7, 2012. Filed under: Food and Cooking, Seasons and Climate | Tags: , |

Here in Boston we just recently had our first real blast of wintery cold with lows in the single digits and wind chills below zero. The kind of days where you feel the cold creeping deeply into you and you can feels parts of yourself withdrawing inward.

All of which got me thinking about things that I like to help deal with winter’s onslaught.

Ice Fortress of Doom (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

For me, it boils down to incorporating three types of things into what you eat, take and do – things that are:

  • Grounding,
  • Nourishing, or
  • Warming

are so important.

Let’s start today with food because one of the foundations of health and happiness is what you eat. Let’s look at a soup I made the other day.

Root Soup (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

It was really a thrown together soup of assorted root vegetables including daikon, potatoes, golden beets, celeriac, garlic and onions with some seaweed and spinach thrown in – and seasoned with a bit of gluten freed tamari and maple syrup.

Non Recipe (I don’t “recipe” but instead tend to just throw things together and they work): I started with about a quart of water (I added more water as it looked like it needed in the course of things), threw in a couple of tablespoons of tamari and a 1/2 cup or so of dried seaweed. I love the stuff from Maine Seaweed I turned it on high and while it was warming up, I chopped up a half a garlic bulb and a couple of yellow onions and threw them in. I left it to simmer while I peeled and chopped a couple of each of daikon, potatoes, beets and celeriac and threw them in. Then washed, chopped and threw in a bunch of spinach. Simmered for an hour. About half way through, I threw in a couple of table spoons maple syrup. When done – pure awesomeness.

Root vegetables can be very grounding (and nourishing!) and I like incorporating them in a lot of things. Beyond the ones above parsnips, carrots, turnips and rutabagas work well for soups.  I also love incorporating the wonderful varieties of winter squashes around.

I also like  bakes like the one I made the other week:

Root Bake (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

(This was just some peeled and chopped winter squash sweet potatoes and walnuts with a little olive oil and water to keep in moist baked for just around an hour at 400 F)

Other great things for winter bakes are beets, parsnips and carrots.

As part of the nourishing, I like to also have greens in things – plus they can add that feel of spring’s hopeful return.  Never underestimate the awesomeness of spinach, chard, kale and collards in things. Plus if you can get them dandelion greens, are a great addition.

I also love cooking with seaweed and I keep a variety of dried seaweeds around. The easy to cook ones like dulse, I just throw into potato bakes or stir fries. The longer cooking ones I put in soups, cooking rice and cooking beans (Paleo pals can just ignore the last two and just cook it with your meats but soak them well first – all day or overnight – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.)

The better mushrooms (like Shiitake, portabella, etc.) are nourishing and grounding. I like putting them in where I can find the excuse – and when I have them around! You can use them into just about anything or centerpiece them like maybe make a mushroom based soup with a couple of varieties and throw in some leeks, greens and maybe serve over some quinoa! (I’m going to have to try making that, it sounds great!)

It’s not thought of in this way, but sweet is nourishing to your spirits in proper amounts. (Wean yourself off adding processed sugar to things. The less of that crap you have in your diet the more you appreciate the nourishing ones in cooking.) In winter, I like throwing a touch of maple syrup in soups, bakes, stir fries and sautes. It really makes a difference. And throw in honey with tea or a little with heated cereal in the morning!

For warming things – garlic, onions, leeks are my frequent friends. I sometimes like turmeric, mustard and even a dash of curry in things. Or I put some sliced ginger root in bakes, soups, etc. for just that extra kick. If some of these things bother you, try smaller amounts and pre-cooking them by starting them cooking in with the water and sauce on a low simmer while you chop and prepare everything else, then cook them with the rest of the food as normal. That way the warming effect can suffuse through, but mellow a bit so it is easier to deal with.

Wow, that’s a whole lot about foods in winter. Part 2 will be either be about herbs or about actions – with Part 3 being whichever I don’t do in part 2! 😉

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