Archives for posts with tag: cinnamon

nettle, hibiscus, rose and cinnamon

Combine 2 tablespoons nettles (Urtica dioica), 2 tablespoons hibiscus, 1 tablespoon rose petals and half a cinnamon stick in a teapot.

Pour boiling water over the herbs, put the lid on and let it steep at least 10 minutes.  This jewel-toned tea tastes divine if you allow it to cool over an hour or more.

Replenish the teapot with room temperature water as required and enjoy this refreshing beverage throughout the day.

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some of the herbs that were used

The first Herbal Creativity Spa Weekend workshop was held this last weekend. It was a thoroughly delicious, educational, creative and fun experience.

in the midst of making Herbal Truffles

Participants learned to make succulent herbal truffles, beautiful felted soaps, and pretty Boudoir Boxes.

fancy felted soaps, made by participants

They enjoyed some herbal teas, made a bath tea, and tasted a Healthy Hot Chocolate.

making some Boudoir Boxes from scratch

They made (and some dared to sample…) a true Love Potion.

pouring something good...

A relaxing, yet invigorating, time was had by all!

finishing touches, choices being made... a Boudoir Box

Stay tuned for the next Herbal Creativity workshop, which will be announced in March…

les pieces des resistances... herbal-infused truffles

Fresh from the oven. They're delicious piping hot, too...

I have been living away from “home” now for four Christmases-worth. Happily, each year I have managed to spend the holiday season with good friends, enjoyed many wonderful meals and parties, and witnessed others’ traditions. There’s no place like home for the Holidays in many things, though… and for me, a big part of what makes up “home” (besides the loved ones surrounding me, of course) are certain treats that I enjoyed pretty much every year of my life thus far.

I have mentioned Mom’s Peanut Butter Balls here, before, and how I changed the recipe to be a little more healthy. Another recipe that I gleaned off Mom via telephone this year was Scuffles.

Scuffles are, for my family, one of the highlights of Christmastime. Despite the fact that they are made with common ingredients (I am on a tight budget at the moment, yet I have all the ingredients on hand…) and take very little effort, for us they are a Christmastime-Only tradition. Perhaps this is due to their fattening-aspects. Hmm. Well, in any event, it turns out that many of Scuffles’ ingredients can be altered to be a touch more “healthy”.

Mom’s Traditional Scuffles

Combine 1 package yeast + 1/4 Cup lukewarm water. Let stand a few minutes.

-Mix: 3 Cups flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 3 Tbsp sugar, 1 Cup butter.

-Add: 1/2 Cup milk, 2 eggs, and the yeast mixture.

-Knead ’til soft. Leave, covered, overnight in fridge.

-Divide into four parts. Roll each part out on a layer of about 1/4 Cup sugar and cinnamon.

-Cut into approx. 1.5″ wide wedges (triangles) and roll up from wide end.

-Bake 15 minutes in 350F oven.

The dough can be frozen, the scuffles can be frozen, all sorts of things can be done to prevent you from eating the entire batch right away. I recommend having friends around when you make them, so that you cannot eat them all yourself.

UPDATING THE RECIPE:

Now, Mom’s recipe calls for some pretty traditional baking ingredients. I have changed this recipe a couple of times, with good results. My tentative changes have been:

-Brown sugar in place of “Sugar”: This caused a marvelous caramelization.

-More cinnamon in place of sugar on the outside: This was good, too. I love cinnamon, more than I love sugar.

-Half Kamut Flour instead of all Regular Unbleached Flour: I didn’t notice any difference, it was still really wonderful in both texture and taste.

-Using organic sugar, infused with cinnamon and vanilla (see previous recipe, thanks Tammy!) on the outside when rolling out dough: Wonderful, and even more delicious than ever.

Indeed, I thankfully have a packet of yeast, some flour and butter, a bit of sugar, two eggs and plentiful amounts of cinnamon. I know what’s for breakfast tomorrow…

Natasha Henderson, Montreal

my little bottle of bitters decorated with a Santa sticker

I made this bottle of bitters so that folks in my family would have a “just in case” digestive boost to carve through the season of excess otherwise known as Christmas.  The small bottle of bitters in the middle of the above photo illustrates the type of approach I like to take for labeling things for myself.  On this little sticker, Santa seems to have a little digestive upset.  His position seems to indicate that he recently may have had a good deal of rich food.  Santa needs some bitters.

I got to thinking about bitters and better labeling after seeing a cute little kit of on the market. I love this little kit because it is downright adorable! It is so cute it might work as a gateway to herbalism. Who knows? However, these bitters are primarily intended for enjoyment.  It kind of irks me that all of the ingredients do not appear on the label. Knowledge of the ingredients and their constituents is essential for the wise deployment of any herbal concoction. Perhaps this is normal in the beverage world. One of the world’s the most popular drinks (sometimes promoted by Santa) does not label all of the specific ingredients on the bottles either.*

Taken before a meal, bitters increase digestive secretions. Thus they promote an appetite and gear-up the system for optimal digestion. Bitters taken after a meal will help with digestive disturbances and decrease flatulence. Although generally distasteful, bitters can counter balance other flavours such as sweet. Think of bitter leaves in a salad, coffee, beer and Angostura bitters.

Bitters range from mild – like dandelion root and leaves, chamomile and yarrow – to strong – such as horehound, gentian, goldenseal. A more extensive knowledge of herbalism includes how certain bitters have affinities with particular systems of the human body.

Bitters stimulate actions in the body as they enter the mouth and are received by bitter taste receptors at the back of the tongue. They have a broad range of actions in digestive system including: stimulating an appetite; regulating blood sugar, insulin and glucagon hormone production; stimulating self repair of the gut wall; aiding the liver in it’s work of detoxification and increasing the flow of bile; encouraging the release of digestive juice. All of these actions depend upon the ingredients and their constituents.

Further study of herbalism shows how subjecting the digestive system to bitters can illicit actions upon other systems in the body: relaxing bitters can ease digestion therefore take pressure off the cardiovascular system, including the heart; certain bitters help with expectoration of mucous from the respiratory system; some bitters bring on late menstruation; bitters help with the assimilation of food, leading to less metabolic waste in the musculoskeletal system; herbalists often use bitters in depression and nervous system debility; and bitters can help to clear up skin conditions.**

Care needs to be taken with certain herbs, since the effects of plant constituents are often powerful! For example, strong bitters are contraindicated in pregnancy, kidney stones, gallbladder disease, menstrual cramps, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hiatus hernia, gastritis and peptic ulcers.  In these cases, bitters stimulate actions that are either unnecessary for the body or beyond its systems’ capacities to cope with.

How I make my DIY bitters

Here are some suggestions for bitters. I consider the actions I want and go for the plants that have these actions.  I macerate these plants by completely covering them in a strong alcohol like vodka or brandy for 2 weeks, shaking the bottle daily.  Then I strain this, putting the menstruum in an amber bottle and the herbs in the compost.  I label the bottle of tincture.  If it is for others, I am sure to label all of the ingredients, the date it was made, who made it and suggested use.  When working on herbal formulas, it is recommended that one researches each herb using three different academic books on herbalism.  If I do not have access to this, then I stick to the herbs I know.

If a plant is noted as a strong bitter, please consider consulting an herbalist about this bitter. Always use organic herbs in formulas. Other than that, make a small amount, keep great notes on what you do and see how it turns out.

Possibilities that come to mind:

Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis) is mildly bitter and mildly stimulating for the digestive system.  Around 20% of the formula can be comprised of dandelion root.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) tastes great and will be a welcome carminative *** to the formula  Use around 15%.

Anise (Pimpinella anisum) is also a great tasting carminative.  Use around 15%.

Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) is an anti-inflammatory carminative that acts as a bit of a catalyst for other herbs in the formula.  15% of the formula can be fresh, use a much smaller amount if you are using dried, like 1 – 5%.

Gentian (Gentiana lutea) is extremely bitter.  Generally, not more than 5 – 10% of the formula is gentian.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp) is a tasty gastrointestinal tonic, a stimulant and carminative.  Do not use more than 5% in a formula because it tends to thicken the tincture.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is also a tasty carminative, use up to 5% of crushed seeds.

organic Orange Peel is a lovely aromatic carminative.

Celery Seed (Apium graveolens)  is an important carminative digestive tonic that assists in the removal of uric acid.

If there is a need to relax:

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a nice carminative that is also relaxing for restless individuals

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is calming and antispasmodic in the digestive system

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a really fine carminative with nervine and sedative properties that is suitable for all ages when taken as a tea.  Can also be added to the formula.

Generally, I take a small amount, like a 1/4 teaspoon of this bitter blend in a small amount of water, either before or after a meal.  If I forget to make bitters, I take an after dinner tea instead.  Bon appétit!

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

* Coca-Cola

** Hoffmann, David Medical Herbalism; The science and practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

*** A carminative action generally involves volatile oil plant components which encourage the expelling of gas from the stomach and intestines.  Carminatives are often anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic.

elderberries, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves & elderflowers, yarrow, peppermint

Elderberry syrups are everywhere these days.

I love the fact that these products are available but I often wince at the price tag.  It is like anything though, you are paying for the convenience and the availability… and maybe a touch of hype?  I know how to make elderberry syrup, and I can tell you that it is not very expensive to make.   It’s no wonder that this syrup is in demand: elderberries are anti-inflammatory, relaxingly diaphoretic, antiviral against many viruses and a wee bit laxative in regular doses.  These little berries are helpful in cases of colds, sore throats and flus.

I like to keep elderberries on-hand. One of the advantages in doing so is that I do not have always make a syrup.  I can make a decoction of the berries, and then add little honey. Sometimes I forego the honey, since  it’s important to avoid sugar; too much sugar gives my immune system a lot to deal with. This will ultimately set me back.  On the other hand, there is a disadvantage to avoiding sugars in herbal preparations. In this case, an elderberry decoction has a much shorter shelf life – like between 24 and 72 hours – if kept in the fridge.  I add honey and make an elder berry syrup in cases where I want a longer shelf life, if I am dealing with people who are new to herbal remedies, or who have sensitive palates.

Elderberry Syrup

The most basic syrup is elderberries simmered for a long while in water, then squished, strained and composted. Add honey to the final decoction.  As always, I can add all sorts of tasty and useful ingredients to make it my own lil’ creation.

First Step

1/2 cup dried elderberries (50 grams)

3 cups of water

In a sauce pan, bring cold water and berries to a boil, then slowly simmer until it is reduced to 1/2 the amount, between one cup and one and a half cups.

Second Step: Squish the berries to release the juice, Strain with a strainer lined with cheese cloth.  Compost the berries.

Third Step: Mix 1 cup of raw honey into the hot decoction.  Sometimes I add tinctures, like 50 ml of echinacea.

Fourth Step: Put the syrup into a suitable container with a tight fitting lid, making sure that there is not a lot of head space.  Label clearly, note ingredients, suggested uses and the date it was made. Use within 2-3 months (before the end of the winter).

How I use the syrup: I take a teaspoon of the syrup several times a day if I am fighting a cold or flu because it will generally decrease the severity and duration of the illness.  It is nice to stir it into a tea… perhaps the elderflower, mint and yarrow tea?

The decoction: Take 1 tablespoon of the berries and put in a sauce pan with 2 cups of cold water.  Add fresh ginger or cinnamon if you would like.  Slowly simmer this until it is reduced by half or for a half an hour.  Remove from the heat.  If you want, add a teaspoon or two of dried leaves and flowers to this (yarrow, mint, elderflower) and steep for 10 minutes before straining everything.  This might seem like a strong brew, so I take a 1/4 cup every couple hours.  I drink other tea and water in addition to this because I know that I want to get a lot of fluids into my system when I am fighting something.

THE DIY elderberry syrup kit!

Take the ingredients of your choosing and put them in a little muslin bag.  Or put them in a cute jar that could hold the syrup after it is ready made.  Attach clear instructions on how to make, use and store this syrup.  Add a little container of ye olde traditional blend of peppermint, elderflower and yarrow. Decorate as desired.  The ready made syrup is a nice gift too.  I like the dried berries and such because it is easier to transport and people have the choice of making a decoction without sweetener or a syrup.

optional additions:

1 stick of cinnamon , 5 cloves, 3 crushed cardamom pods, 1 tablespoon echinacea root, 1/4 tsp ginger powder, a few slices of raw ginger

*glycerites of elderberry are also wonderful.

** the elderberries I am referring to are Sambucus nigra and Sambucus canadensis.  Be sure to know what berries you are working with.  The red berry elders are toxic.

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

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