Thursday, September 13, 2018

Approaching the end of summer is consistently hard for me. I treasure the summer months with the same savoring quality I did during my elementary summers away from school. It's not just the heightened summer outdoorsy, free spirited, long days and fire-fly filled nights I woefully see slipping's the oppressive summer heat, too. I do love it. I've lived in Virginia most of my life, and although it's not the "Deep South", it's still plenty hot, humid and muggy during the months of July and August, which are, of course, prime months to be outside frolicking, picnic-ing, going to outdoor concerts, backpacking, hiking, lounging in hammocks, dining al fresco, camping, herb harvesting, gardening....etc. All the outdoor things I'll miss. And the warmth that comes with it. But in these last few weeks, when the nights are still warm and the humidity is still hovering, I'll savor the times I get to create late summer cooling spritzers with dashes of herbal bitters to add some refreshing bubbly goodness in the stagnant summer air. 

At some point after 6:00pm most days, I want to be sipping on something, Whether it's a pot of herbal tea or apple cider or yummy wine or fruit flavored kombucha or a cooling spritzer, I find myself pulling out something to imbibe while I'm cooking. Lately, it's been bubbly spritzers that I spike with fresh fruits and little dashes of mild bitters. These are especially fun to whip up and share because they're so easy to make, and folks can choose their bitter preference if they want to! I like keeping friends involved when they're making their own drinks, clearly. I keep a few bottles of single herbal bitters about from Mountain Rose Herbs, including Artichoke, Sage, Gentian & Angelica. These are some classic herbal bitters that range from mild to very bitter and are super fun to play with in mixed drinks or even in kombucha or sparkling water. How to choose? Here's what I tend towards:

Artichoke (Cynara scolymus): When I want a simple, earthy and ever so slightly salty flavored drink. It's a solid bitter, a little salty and on the sweeter side of bitters. It tastes best with aromatic flavors, like peppermint or orange liquors or botanical infused beverages. About 5-7 drops will do the trick in a 6 ounce drink. Bonus - artichoke is supportive of liver health, which is a perk considering alcohol is one of the hardest things for your liver to process. Adding a splash of a liver loving herb to your mixed drink is a great way to give your body just a smidge of extra TLC. 

Sage (Salvia officinalis): When I want a more savory drink with a botanical flavored twist. Sage tends to be on the energetically drying side, so I like mixing this with drinks that are a bit more watered down (like kombuchas, sparkling waters or juiced drinks). It's a little aromatic too, and smells delicious in both teas and as an extract! I use about 6-9 drops in a 6 ounce drink.

Angelica (Angelica archangelica): When I want a more aromatic, drink that's only mildly bitter. This is an interesting taste that I can only liken loosely to celery. It's light, moderately bitter and quite aromatic. I find it to be stimulating and moving to my circulation, so I add it to drinks when I'm feeling kind of stagnant (or it's just so, so heavy and hot outside). I use about 6-8 drops in a 6 ounce drink (and this one tastes especially good with added fresh fruits!). 

Gentian (Gentiana lutea) - when I want a true classic bitter punch to my drinks. Gentian is considered the king of bitters and is very, very bitter. It's also a little astringent and energetically cooling. This is a perfect bitter to add to any drink, but stay on the lower end of dosing - about 3 drops should do you juuuuust fine. As this is a true bitter, it will stimulate digestion fairly quickly, so ideally be drinking this with a side of a meal (because your stomach will be asking for that shortly after your start imbibing this one!). More about Gentian here.

For this simple spritzer recipe, I chose to use Angelica along with a pinch of blow-your-mind delicious smoked sea salt for a savory, aromatic and crisp late summer cocktail. The addition of the smoked salt was a game changer! I tend to like things a bit on the saltier side (including my sarcasm), and this adds a hint of smokey flavor to round out the sweetness of the alcohol base. I often use a simple and affordable vino verde as a base, chilled and a little bubbly. I add in whatever fresh fruits are around, like strawberries or blackberries, blueberries, peaches or cherries, and then just a couple of drops of any bitter of my choosing. For a cocktail for a crowd, it doesn't get much more simple and affordable than this combo. 

Late Summer Spritzer with Herbal Bitters

6 ounces Vino Verde, chilled
2 large organic strawberries, sliced
4 drops Mountain Rose Herbs Angelica extract
Small pinch of Mountain Rose Herbs Smoked Sea Salt
Serves 1

Add the vino verde to a glass. Add just a small pinch (about 1/8th teaspoon) of smoked sea salt and 4 drops Angelica extract. Mix slightly by swishing the liquid around in the glass gently. Slice the strawberries and add in last. Sip slowly on the hottest late summer days. Adjust the bitter dose to your liking, and experiment with other bitters as well!


This post is sponsored by my friends at Mountain Rose Herbs. All thoughts and opinions are my own. It is my goal to use and recommend only the highest quality herbal products from companies that I wholly trust and fully support. Industry standards including sustainable harvesting, quality control, organic / fair trade standards and responsible sourcing are all things I care deeply about when working with herbs and herbal companies. I have been using Mountain Rose Herbal products for almost a decade, and have always been so impressed with their commitment to environmental stewardship. You can sign up for their newsletter here to receive extra tips, tricks and monthly product specials! Thank you for supporting the brands that help to make this blog possible.

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September, you're a little bizarre and special. Always the start of a new beginning, Septembers past have been the start of new schools, new semesters, new apartments, new jobs, new opportunities. This has never been a month of maintaining the same old rhyme and rhythm of steadfast summer. I feel the most open to change and challenges in September, and in my adult life it has never failed to deliver just that. Reflecting back on a September ten years ago, I was living in Galway, Ireland, settling into a new (yet very old) apartment, gushing over my new University syllabi, developing an addiction to earl gray tea and getting a crash course in UK city biking. One of the things I loved most about living in Ireland was their fondness and skill at beverage making (not coffee, alas), but crafty teas and otherwise caffeinated mid-afternoon beverages. Early in September of that year, by some happy accident I stumbled upon a magical form of hot chocolate marshmallowy milky heaven in a cafe not far from my apartment and it routinely became my weekly indulgence every Sunday afternoon. It was smooth and salty with a subtle sweetness but savory too...energizing but relaxing...decadent but rustic....oh it was an incredible liquid contradiction in the best way. I've never had anything quite like it since living there...until I discovered Four Sigmatic Mushroom Elixirs.

I picked up a little packet of Reishi Mushroom Elixir several months ago from Boketto (as I can't resist a creative way to take medicinal mushrooms). As soon as I came home, I dropped the contents into some piping hot water and added a pinch of sea salt and experienced an intensely real time transport back to that little Irish cafe with my beloved imbibed Sunday contradiction. It was just a faint reminder of that liquid heaven I had in Galway - enough so that I subsequently bought a sample of every mushroom elixir available and started playing around with recipes to try and recreate it just as I had remembered. "What luck, too!", I thought, "that it's mushroom based!" I love mushrooms and any excuse to take them excited me to no end. All this time I'd been taking mushroom tinctures almost daily...and those are fine and all, but certainly don't taste as good as these little packets of nostalgia. 

I eventually struck upon a combination that was blissful and true to what my tastebuds remembered with the addition of homemade almond milk, a pinch of pink salt and a dollop of intensely delicious coconut butter infused with building and invigorating Shatavari from Laka (another incredible find from Boketto). This midday elixir has everything I've been craving lately with a texture that's absolutely transporting and as creamy as freshly melted chocolate. 

The addition of mushrooms into my daily health regimen has been steadfast over the past several years and I'm a huge proponent of incorporating medicinal mushrooms into our medicine cabinets and our kitchens! I'm fascinated with mushrooms and their eclectic and diverse use as a tonic and supportive remedy of the immune system plus about a hundred other potential uses currently being researched. Medicinal mushrooms like Reishi, Chaga and Cordyceps are some of the few natural medicines being thoroughly researched in specific health conditions, giving them some major clout and potential to be accepted and utilized by the western medical community (it's all about evidence based, evidence based, evidence based and mushrooms are starting to prove themselves in that niche way too, despite their hundreds of years of medicinal use...). Mushrooms are something that I would consider a food source of tonic health, and I often think that's the best way to take medicine - in our daily diet. 

Use any milk base you'd prefer. I like to use freshly made almond milk, lightly sweetened with dates. My favorite mushroom elixir to use in this recipe is the Chaga blend but honestly all of their mushroom blends are decadent and delicious in this recipe. I add in a bit of ashwagandha root for added adaptogenic support. Top with fancy flora of your choosing if you're feeling like some mid-afternoon decadence. 

Mushroom Elixir with Infused Coconut Butter

1 cup Almond Milk
1 tsp Ashwagandha Root
1 Packet Four Sigmatic Mushroom Elixir
1 tsp (Infused) Coconut Butter
1 tsp Raw honey
Serves 1

Heat one cup of almond milk with 1 tsp ashwagandha root on low heat for 7 minutes. Add to a high speed blender along with the mushroom elixir, coconut butter and honey. Blend for about 60 seconds until smooth and frothy. Serve warm, toped with a bit of cinnamon or rose petals. 

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The winter solstice has always been a magical night in my eyes. Being the shortest day of the year, it seems to feel dark for ages, and heralds in the first of many winter nights to stay at home, bundled up with the lanterns lit, snow falling (maybe), music playing, Christmas cheer permeating through the house, and slow moments of imbibed goodness with either tea...or something a little stronger. For moments or activities structured around some intentional act, I like to drink something that feels like it's offering something a little woo woo, or something that adds an etherial vibe to the moment. Every winter solstice, I craft a short list of things in life that are showing up really well, things that could use some positive improvements, and things that I'd like to work towards making a reality. Some might consider this a "manifestation" list, but I think of it of more as a gratitude list and an empowering way to make intentional changes and offer some glad reflection on the previous year. Drinking an herbal infused beverage also makes me feel powerful and curiously connected with the source, so these activities usually go hand in hand. For this winter solstice, I chose to imbibe Damiana (and some other warming winter spices), because for several months now I just can't seem to get enough of Damiana's spicy, earthy rich goodness that stimulates my (sometimes dormant) creative flow. Also, Damiana + Brandy is a dreamy combination. 

Damiana has a unmistakable peppery, zesty, flowery and aromatic aroma that smells and feels super stimulating. It just fills up all my senses when I take a deep inhalation of dried damiana herb or Damiana tea. Damiana should always be aromatic - if it's not, then you've got a pretty poor quality (or very very old) herb. As with most herbs these days, Damiana has kind of gotten pigeonholed into one category, and that's "aphrodisiac" and "libido enhancing". To it's credit though - it has been used for this purpose for decades, and there are plenty of folks who resonate with Damiana in that way. Personally - I've never had this effect, (bummer, I know), however Damiana has more of an effect on my mood than anything else. It has this gentle yet stimulating uplifting quality to it that's perfect for the despondent individual who always wants to hibernate but can't. A person who may feel a little creatively stifled, spiritually murky, or gets the blues in the winter time. That's why it's the primary ingredient in my Heart Rise tea, but it's also why I LOVE it infused into brandy to give it an even more powerful creative punch. 

Brandy is a beautiful carrier for a mix of Damiana, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom & nutmeg to carry all of the flavors of the holiday season with the added powerful flavor of brandy itself. This makes a strong cocktail that's delicious by itself, or combine with a spritz of freshly squeezed orange or diffused with a bit of sparkling water.  Herbal liqueur's can infuse for up to 4-5 weeks, and with this formula you can let it sit for that long, or do a quick infusion of 4-5 days and still come out with an absolutely delicious little herbal potion. Start now, and serve at your New Years Party!

Winter Solstice Damiana Liqueur

2 cups Brandy
2 tbsp dried Damiana
Seeds from 10 Cardamom pods
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1 Cinnamon stick
1 star anise

Combine all ingredients in the bottom of a mason jar and cover with 2 cups of Brandy. Cover with a tight fitting lid and let sit to infuse for 5 days - 4 weeks. Shake at least once daily. Taste after 5 days and onwards to determine your ideal length of infusion. Once infused to your liking, strain out the herbs and store in an air tight glass container. Serve with a spritz of fresh orange juice, or sparking water.  


Joyful wishes and happy holiday blessings to everyone!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Herbal medicine is the people's medicine. It started with individuals, then communities, traveled into your kitchen and has now made it's way (albeit with some resistance) into mainstream medicine. The whole point of herbal medicine is to harness our relationship with the plants around us to develop healing allies that are accessible, affordable, and available for everyone to use. No patents. No astronomical costs. No ownership of the plants or their medicines. I hope that it always stays this way. I hope that no one ever is allowed to take ownership of a plant, or patent an herb, or restrict the availability (or affordability) of a traditional herbal medicine. This just goes against everything herbal medicine is about. And this is why you'll likely never find an herbalist who is "in it for the money". 

I'm also all about herbalists being able to make a living and support themselves sharing their formulas and gifts of knowledge with the people. Throughout all of history, in every community, there have been herbalists / medicine people who make it their life's work to utilize plants in the healing of people, and even today this hold true. Maintaining a thriving business as an herbalist today requires a considerable amount of craftiness and flexibility - and I can tell you there are still a million hoops to jump through and endless compliance procedures to stay on top of. However, one thing herbalists rarely had to take much notice of was naming their products. This is usually the fun part about making new formulas - birthing them into creation with their own special name. Or, as many herbalists have done - naming generational medicines after their predecessors of very similar formulas. One such example is Rosemary's Gladstar's tried and true (hugely famous) formula of an apple cider vinegar based concoction she called Fire Cider which was introduced by her into the world some 40 years ago. It's become an herbalists kitchen staple for immune support, digestive aide and even as an addition to everything from salad dressings to soups and stews. Everyone makes it a little differently with their own tweaks and variations, and the name has always passed along with each generation of formulas. 

Recently, the name has been taken away from traditional herbalists and trademarked - assigned to one company and one company alone. Other herbalists who continued to sell their products with this name were being sued for infringement (which is kind of an herbalists worst nightmare). In the herb world, the trademarking of this name by a single company (who didn't actually come up with this name or this formula themselves) was not super well received. The herb world is small. Grievances travel quickly and stick around for a while. Not surprisingly, stuff like this happens all the time in a product based society. Using a trademarked name is a no-no if you want keep your product on the market. Obviously. In the herb world though - this just doesn't happen. And people freaked out. Herbalists have enough to worry about people coming after them for all kinds of contrived reasons, but having herbalists come after herbalists is really disheartening. 

My personal opinion about the whole situation is not really relevant. Let's bring this around to the present, and why I've added this gorgeous, delicious and exciting new product to the shop. My local health food store approached me about 6 months ago after they had gotten a whirlwind of complaints from consumers, local herbalists and people who were "in the know" about what was happening with this formula. The product they were currently carrying (now trademarked) was just sitting on the shelf with a healthy customer population not wanting to support a company going after small herbalists. They asked if I would be interested in coming up with a similar formula, with my own twist, and naming it anything I liked. After some initial hesitation (and lots of encouragement from my own community), I decided, what the hell. Go for it. 

So, here she is. My apple cider vinegar based Flaming Elixir, infused with the most potent and stimulating immune and digestive supporting herbs your tummy will likely experience this season. Robust and flavorful schisandra, immune supporting garlic, onion and thyme, liver loving, anti-inflammatory turmeric and spicy potent cayenne flavor this amazingly strong traditional kitchen remedy.  There's 2 sizes: one for home, and one for travel. I like taking about 1 teaspoon or up to a tablespoon (mixed in just a bit of water) before meals to stimulate digestion, and I also use this as a base for homemade salad dressings and take shots of if if Ive got a cold coming on (or lingering). I love the taste of vinegar, and the intense punch of the herbs really makes it powerful. (Side note - contraindicated if you already have heat related imbalances in your gut, like ulcers, GERD or inflamed digestive tissue).

My take away from all of this is not to take business away from any herbal company, or to pass judgement on any companies decision to basically help them find their niche and make a living as a small, herbal business. In the herb world I'm trying to contribute to - we all support each other and I sincerely hope that every herbalist succeeds and thrives in a modern world that often pushes them down. Flexibility and adaptability is necessary for any industry to move forward, and names don't really matter as long as the relationship with plants and people continue to be mutually beneficial. 

Joyous early fall wishes, friends. I hope you love our new Flaming Elixir :)

And feel free to use the name. 

Visit the Shop --->

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Sunday, January 03, 2016

"Meanwhile', said Mr. Tumnus, 'it is winter in Narnia and has been for ever so long, and we shall both catch cold if we stand here talking in the snow. Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?"   --C.S. Lewis

At the beginning of every year when winter is settling in, and the dark, cold days are confining us all to the warmth of cozy homes, I ritually go through my arsenal of herbs in my home apothecary and make sure I'm stocked up with my immune supporting remedies to tide me through the rest of the winter season. It's the worst when a cold sneaks up on me and I feel completely unprepared or didn't re-stock my cold and flu remedies (because I never want to venture out in the cold WITH a cold to get what I need) Among my essential immune remedies is my elderberry syrup tonic which is a lifesaver for preventative immune support. I take some of this elixir every day for at least half the year to help ward off colds and flu before it even settles in. 

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) are fantastic little herbal powerhouses for immune support because they're not only acute remedies, they're fantastic as a long term tonic for prevention because they're antibacterial and antiviral. Energetically, elderberries are considered a cooling diaphoretic, helping to keep the body temperature modulated especially when you have a fever. The berries (and flowers!) are rich in antioxidants as well, supporting the cell membranes and reducing systemic inflammation. But my real devotion to elderberries is for their anti-viral properties, and in the winter months we could all use some support warding off viruses. To add to their charm, elderberries have been an herbal ally to people for centuries, and they're affordable, available and super easy to make an at home tonic whenever you need one. 

My recipe for Elderberry Syrup has shape-shifted for years until I landed on this one that has been my go-to recipe for a while now. It's of course mainly elderberry based, and I add in extra immune tonics like Astragalus, adrenal support with some Licorice, Vitamin C with orange peel, and spicy hot heat with chili pepper and ginger to get my lymphatic system moving (a BIG immune component in the body). A splash of honey gives it just the right amount of sweetness, and mixing it with a bit of sparkling or mineral water makes for a decadent bit of medicine. 

Ginger + Licorice + Elderberries + Astragalus + Chili pepper + Orange Peel

1 teaspoon elderberry winter immune tonic+ sparkling water = daily dose

Elderberry Winter Immune Tonic

2 cups filtered water

 1 cup dried elderberries

 1 tbsp cinnamon chips or 1 cinnamon stick

 1 tsp dried or fresh, chopped ginger

 1 tsp dried, chopped licorice

 1 tsp dried, chopped astragalus

 1 dried chili pepper

 2 tbsp honey

Combine in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and strain out the herbs completely, storing the syrup in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Take 1 teaspoon daily for deep immune support during the fall and winter (and mix with a little sparkling or mineral  water for an extra delicious dose!) Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. 



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Welcome to the season where bitters have their time to shine.

As November and December come and go, we indulge ourselves in copies amounts of sweet, savory, seasonal and glorious foods around tables (hopefully) surrounded with family and sweet friends. For centuries, this has been celebration. This is Joy. And for centuries, herbal medicines have been used as our medicine allies, to enhance and support the body in times of good and ill. Whenever I incorporate Gentian into my day-to-day routine, I'm reminded of how magical historical herbs and rituals are present in our modern lives and in our celebrations. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, Gentian is a fantastic herbal ally for digestive support especially around the holiday season when we put a little extra strain on our digestive tract. But using straight bitters can be a little....harsh, and a little.....abrupt if you're not used to eating bitter things (which most of use are not). So although some hardcore herbalists are out there taking shots of straight up bitters and swigs of gentian right out of the tincture bottle (been there, I'm not that hardcore), I often take a more subtle approach to bitters. As you probably know, gentian is used to flavor a fair share of cocktails because it's a perfect flavor for that kind of beverage, and a little bit goes a long way. Traditionally, we used to drink bitter cordials called Aperitif's to stimulate our digestion before meals and they usually taste amazing. Not only that, it's a perfect little beverage to sit around and sip on before a holiday dinner to enhance digestion. Delicious and effective. Win Win. 

My version of this Gentian Apéritif was adapted from a 200 year old historical recipe I found a few years ago when I started experimenting with herbal cordials, digestif's and aperitifs. When you make a cordial the historical way, it's quite a bit sweeter than my Gentian Aperitif, as I omit the sugar and rely on the cherry bark and licorice + other flavors in my cocktails to add the sweet. I like this recipe for 2 reasons: 1. It can be made the slow, traditional way, or sped up if you're in a pinch, and 2. It tastes sublime and fresh. It carries the bitter along with the myriad of other flavors, making this an ideal before-holiday-meal aperitif! 

Historical Gentian Bitters | Traditional Preparation

Gentian Root, 1 ounce (28 grams)

 Fresh Orange Peel, 2 ounce (57 grams)

 Cinnamon Bark, 1 ounce (28 grams)

 Licorice Root, 1 ounce (28 grams)

 Wild Cherry Bark, 1 ounce (28 grams)

 Cardamom Seed, 1/4 ounce (7 grams)

 Angelica Root or Seed 1/16 ounce. (3.5 grams)

 Grain Alcohol, 1 pint (2 cups)

 Water, 2.5 pints. (5 cups)

 Sugar, 2 pounds.

Chop the Orange Peel fine and grind the herbs to a coarse powder using a spice grinder. Place in a large, glass jar and cover with the alcohol and let sit for 3 days. After 3 days, strain out the herbs and pour off the alcohol (save the alcohol!). Place the macerated herbs into a percolator and percolate with the alcohol tincture first, then percolate with the water. When all of the liquid has been percolated, dissolve the sugar in the water & alcohol mixture completely. At this point, you should have a combination of the twice used alcohol, water and sugar. Strain through a very fine strainer, or through a cotton cloth, obtaining as much of the liquid as possible. Discard the herbs, and store the liquid in small glass dropper bottle.  


Gentian Aperitif Cordial (featured)

3/4 cup Reeds Extra Ginger Beer

1 inch slice freshly squeezed orange

1 dropperfull (30 drops) Gentian Apéritif

1-2 pieces fresh rosemary (plus a sprig for flare)

Optional orange rind for flare. 

Sip slowly starting 30-45 minutes before the big meals to enhance digestion

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Herbal medicine and nutrition is my expertise. Understanding plants, their properties, and their powers is my passion.


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