And a sleepy basal rosette of Mullein is slowly unfurling itself in the spring-like sun.
The sun shimmered on the plantain’s frosty sparkles this morning.
~pungent herbal power~
I am spending my day today with a few warming, pungent herbs (basic kitchen staples!!!!): shallots (a mild allium relative to the onion), garlic and mustard seed. I didn’t necessarily plan to spend the day with these herbs… in fact, I really expected to do my taxes and then spend some more time with the bitter herb exploration I set off on yesterday.
But today’s pungent herbal exploration *is* out of necessity. This winter has been a bear on my daughter’s respiratory system. Not even four weeks ago she fought a wicked case of bacterial pneumonia and now she is battling off a case of viral croup.
Thus, I am doing what I should have done a month ago (hence the overdue comment) — spend time with these pungent herbs to become more intimately familiar with their individual plant profiles and herbal action. I will also spend some time to see how they can combine with other herbs to make a syrup with my blend of elderberry elixir and the soothing herbal honeys (like the infused raw honey of elderflower and yarrow shown here) that I’ve got in my pantry.
Of course, the immediate goal today is to see how I can use them to help soothe my daughter’s spasmodic, barking dog cough and help speed her recovery against this new round of virus. I will play around with ways to get her engaged in her own healing process — like help with the shallot saute for the onion/mustard plaster and the stirring of the raw shallot into the raw honey and elderberry elixir for syrup (letting it sit overnight before using).
If my daughter is finicky about taking the syrup concoction, I think I’ll end up putting the shallot/elderberry syrup into our homemade concord grape juice (I make this from the grapes I freeze in the fall). I also thought about using the syrup as a base for an ice-slushy mix with the concord grape juice - and maybe popsicles, too - both of which I *know* she’ll like … but who knows. She might surprise me and take it straight up & throw it back (just like her mamma would).
As for the mustard/onion plasters, we’ll see how Emma does with that. However, I LOVE herbalist Rosalee de la Foret’s idea of a garlic oil for the feet. And while a little different in purpose than a plaster, seems like I could strain off the onion/mustard plaster saute and turn it into a foot rub. Throw socks over top and let the herbs soak into the feet.
I can’t forget the importance of an herbal steam when fighting a respiratory infection… and while getting my kid to sit over a pot of simmering wild bergamot like herbalist Jim McDonald-Style (with his signature duck towel) I will at least get the pot simmering in the house and have some in the bedroom … ooo…. wish I could simmer it IN the bedroom. I need to get a hotplate…
To deepen my exercise in pungent herbs today I am glad to have the writings of a few dear herbalists on hand to lend insight as I go on this pungent herb exploration. Check these readings out:
Rosalee de la Foret: A Summary of Pungent Herbs
Kiva Rose: Onion Poultices, Syrups & Tinctures
And while I am at all of this, I will put up some tincture of shallot, horseradish, and garlic because I don’t have any on hand and just should for future needs.
Love my herbal learning. Glad this day is teaching me something. As each one should.
From Salads to Sipping… Bitters are in.
Bitters. What are their tastes? How do they make you feel? Having a hard time recalling the last time you tasted a bitter food?
Once upon a time - before refined sugars, boxed food and takeout - bitter flavored foods were pretty prevalent in our diets. Wild diets fruits, nuts, berries, greens all provided not only a well balanced course of fats, vitamins, and minerals but also offered up a bitter flavor that helped trigger the body’s response to aid in digestion by kicking into gear the pancreas, liver, and galbladder. This happens when the taste receptors on the tongue come into contact with the bitter-flavored foods.
Now most Westerners get the bulk of their bitters through foods like coffee, chocolate. A lack of bitters in our overly processed diet of course can be connected to the sluggish digestive issues many of us suffer. That said, given the diet and lifestyle we lead as Westerners, I know few people (if any) that couldn’t benefit from the addition of little bit of bitters in their life.
Of course, one of the best ways to add in nutritional bitter foods is to incorporate more bitter greens like radicchio, endive, dandelion, and arugula into everyday meals.
One of our favorite salads in one gathered from our immediate yard — dandelion greens, new shoots of parsley, tender wild garlic scapes. No need to eat the greens plain - a nice lemon vinagrete complements well the flavors of the bitter in the greens.
This re-wilded salad may take getting used to at first, but we are so used to the flavors now that we are craving the spring bitter greens and can’t wait until the thaw!
Bitters can also be enjoyed as beverages. Classic cocktail ingredients like the liquor of Campari, Aperol, and Angostura bitters are popular commercial bitters that are frequently used in drinks served as aperitifs before meals. Coffee and other anise and mint bitter flavored drinks are commonly served as digestifs post-meal to keep the digestion flowing. One of my own personal favorites is Campari and Soda, or a Negroni (which I prefer Hendricks Gin, Campari, and Lillet Blanc).
Wild plants can be found and foraged making your own bitters. Herbalist Jim McDonald made a FANTASTIC extract of Quaking Aspen whose flavor profile I am finding as complex as a simple as Campari is as an herbal recipe. It’s a beautiful flavor - and good enough to be worked into a cocktail recipe or two. I might try making my Negroni with this delicious ingredient.
Other basic culinary foods like garden mints, orange peel, and fennel can be extracted in vodka or organic grain alcohol to be used as bitters and blended into drinks or recipes to help stimulate a slow digestion. The recipe combos really are endless! Welcome to the world of mixology!
Other fun ways to sneak bitter flavors into the diet include popsicles. I think I may try this citrus-based recipe for Campari popsicles from The Kitchn. I’ll play around with it to make a non-alcoholic version for the kiddos while serving the real deal to the adults on my patio this summer.
I look forward to sharing new recipes and creations and love to hear others’ ideas.
How do you like your bitters?
Winter herbal wanderings with teacher and Great Lakes Herbalist Jim McDonald. Here he discusses the rose with his students…
The iodine of the ever-fragrant Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) hull has stained my hands!!
Because of its antimicrobial, antifungal properties, herbalists have many uses for the green and blackened hull of Juglans nigra. Additionally, the hulls contain a significant amount of naturally occurring iodine. Western herbalists Matt Wood and Jim Mcdonald have both referenced the work of Phyllis Light, Appalachian herbalist, for her use of the blackened hulls of Juglans nigra as a thyroid support for hypothyroidism.
I hope to connect with Phyllis at some point to learn from her experiences with Juglans nigra. I’ve managed a hereditary thyroid disorder my entire life and the various drugs I’ve tried (synthetic and non) have not impressed me. Perhaps I will have positive success with Juglans nigra*
And though many a gardener would curse the black walnut in the garden, I am delighted to co-exist with the lovely Juglans nigra that towers over the canopy of my garden’s small trees.
That said, I will not curse the black walnut for growing in my garden. Rather, I will see virtue in its presence where so many other gardeners see vice.
*As a reminder by the FDA, this post is not to infer or say in any way that black walnut hulls, or their extract can cure any disease. :) But who knows, it might work for me. mwahahahah….