If you’re lucky enough to have an herb garden, you can appreciate the absolute pure beauty of herbs growing in all their botanical glory, with aromatics and delicate flowers and sturdy roots. Growing and evolving with our plant allies is the traditional way we’ve continued to partner with our herbal companions. Over time, we’ve grown slowly apart with fewer and fewer of us being able to have time or space to tend our gardens. And as a result, we’ve learned how to preserve and take our herbal preparations in ways that are more accessible to the masses and more shelf stable and long lasting. There are lots of different and effective ways to take herbs these days, each with their specific benefits. Going into the health food store or shopping online and seeing all of the different ways you can take a single herb can be overwhelming, and some herbal preparations work better for different issues than others. This is my quick and dirty little guide to herbal preparations, and my thoughts on when to use tea, tincture, powders or capsules in your own self care ritual.

Read More: Creating an Herbal Apothecary At Home

Teas / cut & sift / dried herbs

Tea infusions are ideal for long term, nourishing support. Most herbs are highly water soluble, meaning when you infuse herbs in (warm or hot) water, many of the medicinal constituents will be extracted. Water extracts starches (polysaccharides), mucilage, proteins, aromatics, volatile oils, glycosides, anthraquinones, enzymes, plant acids, mineral salts, tannins, vitamin nutrients and some alkaloids. Herbs in tea form are wonderful when you want to consume an herbal formula daily and for a longer period of time (like several months). Herbal tea infusions are often nutrient rich, highly and quickly absorbable, and super affordable to take long term. Fall and winter are the best times for energetically matching hot teas with the body, while overnight infusions are ideal in the spring and summer. Generally, when using herbs in tea form, you may notice herbs working in your body within the hour, and when taken long term they will have a tonic, supportive effect on the whole body which can be ideal for more chronic issues.

Pro: Teas are usually very affordable when made or purchased an bulk, often being less than a dollar per cup of tea; Ideal for all ages; Warming, nourishing, and make a great addition to any self care ritual (especially nighttime).

Con: Not always travel friendly; Taste can be a bit potent with certain herbs.

Read More: Intuitive Tea Blending How-To

Tinctures / Liquid extracts

Tinctures are an infusion of herbs in water and alcohol (and sometimes just straight up alcohol if using the folk method of extraction). The benefit of this is two fold: 1) The addition of the alcohol makes these formulas shelf stable and last a good long time (over a year usually), and 2) Water + alcohol extracts nearly 100% of the medicinal constituents in the plant material making them a little more potent than a water extraction alone. Along with all that water extracts (except mucilage and proteins), alcohol extracts resins, chlorophyll and alkaloids as well. Tinctures can be made with alcohol, glycerine or vinegars, and all are shelf stable. For reference: Alcohol will extract about 90% of the medicinal constituents you’ll want from the herbs, glycerine will extract about 15-20%, and vinegars only about 5% (but man, they taste good and are nourishing to the body all by themselves). I recommend glycerine based tinctures for little ones under age 12, or for anyone who has any issues at all with alcohol. The beauty of herbal tinctures is they tend to act pretty quickly in the body, often within 10 minutes, making them ideal for some acute issues. The liquid application makes it easy to adjust how much you’re taking depending on how much you need, and they’re extremely easy to travel with. You can drop the dose right in your mouth, or just dilute in a bit of water.

Pro: Tinctures are easy to travel with; Usually have a very quick affect and readily absorbed; Long shelf life.

Con: Often not so tasty (may need to dilute); More expensive and may not be cost prohibitive to take long term; Alcohol tinctures are not recommended for young children or folks with a history of alcohol addiction.

Read More: Late Summer Spritzer with Herbal Tinctures

Powders

Herbal powders I consider much like food. They’re usually highly absorbable and nutrient dense. Most herbs in powder form come from the root or rhizome (hardier) part of the plant for internal use, but it’s not unheard of to powder flowers and leaves as well but these are more commonly for topical use. You’ve already used lots of herbal powders in your life if you cook with seasonings like turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne…your spice cabinet is literally filled with powdered herbal tonics. That’s why I love using herbal powders every day in your foods to feed your nourishment via your daily diet. My favorite herbs to recommend in powder form are the tonic, long term supportive ones such as medicinal mushrooms (Reishi and chaga!), anti-inflammatories (turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, peppers) or nutritive adaptogens (ashwagandha, chlorella, Angelica, licorice…). The biggest issue with herbal powders is maintaining their efficacy, freshness and storing them appropriately. When you powder an herb, you immediately expose it to the air, leading it to oxidize quickly unless it’s stored in an air tight container out of direct sunlight. Traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine, herbal powders were prepared as needed to maintain their freshness. Today however, they’re often left powdered for far too long. Make sure your powders are fresh and well sealed. They should be aromatic and finely powdered.

Pro: Least expensive way to take herbs; Creative and fun to use for cooking; Easy to travel with.

Con: Oxidizes more quickly (shorter shelf life); Taste is hit or miss; Often harder to get kids to take consistently.

Read More: Nut Butter Balls: Adrenal & Energy Boost

Capsules

Probably the most common way folks are taking herbs these days, encapsulated herbs are essentially powdered herbs that are encapsulated at a standardized dose. Almost any herb can be encapsulated, making capsules one of the most convenient ways to take herbs. If you’ve been recommended to take a very specific dose of an herb and you need to keep this super consistent over a long period of time, then capsules are a great way to do this. You can also make your own with a capsule machine which can be much more affordable if you’re wanting to take capsules for several months at a time. Capsules, like powders, do take more time have an effect as they are not as readily absorbed (they need to basically be digested like a food). But long term, capsules can be extremely effective for chronic issues.

Pro: Very consistent with dosing; Travel friendly; No taste for the more potent herbs; Travel friendly.

Con: No taste (which can eliminate part of the medicine); Takes a bit longer to absorb / not as fast acting.

Read More: Guide to Herbal Formulating

When I’m stocking up on herbal teas, powders, tinctures and capsules I’m often sourcing from Mountain Rose Herbs. It’s a big, big deal today to make sure your herbal supplements are coming from reputable, quality controlled companies (because the supplement industry is unregulated in the US). I like knowing for certain that what it says on the bottle or package is actually what’s IN the bottle, and that’s why I always trust Mountain Rose Herbs (and if you have doubts, they can send you Certificates of Analysis of every single herb or formula). If you’re just starting out with herbs and not sure whether you’re drawn to tea, tinctures, or powders, start by trying just small amounts of each (in the 4 ounce packages) and see what’s best for you!

PS – if you’re still growing and tending your own herbs garden to harvest for teas or tinctures or whatever, tag your herb gardens with #myotherhouseisagreenhouse so I can swoon over your gardens!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

On the weekend, there’s more time for coffee. I go on and on about herbal tea (and honestly, that’s usually what’s in my mug), but little known fact – I LOVE coffee just as much as tea. Not being one to pass up extra lounge around time, I make a big French press of herbal chai black coffee on the weekend and sip into the early afternoon. I’ve always preferred straight up black coffee, never putting anything in it. So I’ve historically been a bit of a snob about really good quality coffee because I don’t mess around with the flavor. This version though, is a coffee + herbs potion I’ve been making for a few months now, and I’m loving it just as much.

One of the best/worst parts about working from home 100% of the time is keeping a separation between working hours and non-working hours. I have a tendency to just get stuff done if it’s on my to-do list, regardless of the day. I have a “touch it once” mentality. I don’t like leaving things undone if I know it’s just hanging out waiting on me to do it. I’ve put lots of systems in place to shut off during certain times of day and they’ve all kind of been semi-successful. But the number one thing that actually works for me to separate when I’m working and when I’m not is what I’m drinking. When I have coffee, that’s morning time, and usually around 6am-9:30am. I’m not working then, and I don’t start until coffee is done. Then I switch to tea, and my mind is super focused and ready. Weird I know, but it works. It makes morning coffee time all the more valuable for me. It’s not something I usually skip. This morning in particular, I took an extra hour to start my February book of choice, Boundaries and Protection and got halfway through in a wave of glorious headspace. Highly recommend this one. I know I’ll be going back and re-reading this a couple of times this month to let it all really sink in.

Read More: Book Nook 2019

Short and simple, I prefer using a strong coffee roast, coarsely ground up, and then adding some herbal chai herbs like dandelion, cinnamon, ginger or a bit of nutmeg. These days, I just empty a bag of Traditional Medicinals Dandelion Chai into the French press along with the ground coffee to let steep together. My coffee of choice has for ages been La Colombe (Corsica in particular) and then I add a dash of raw cocoa powder too. In my mug, I add a bit of coconut cream powder and Reishi mushroom powder to stir up a true potion feeling elixir. It’s subtle and sweet but comforting with the chai herbs and their aromatics. Sipped slowly, it’s one of my favorite parts of a morning.

My favorite go-to meal in winter is hands down a “whatever’s in the fridge” savory buddha bowl. I’ve perfected about a dozen 20 minute messy buddha bowls that take so little effort and essentially clear out most of the lingering veggies in my refrigerator at the end of any given week. I make each one differently, but the base is usually the same: A whole grain, cooked in broth. Some roasted or steamed vegetables. A fresh veggie. Seeds. Something salty, brine-y, pickled or fermented. A drizzle of plant based oil. Protein. Herbs. Spices. Cheese (sometimes). Favorite bowl.

Winter is a time when most folks crave sugars and carbs. Makes sense – sugars and carbs both mean energy for the body. From an evolutionary perspective, finding a starchy sweet tuber or winter berries (treasures!) were totally prized because these provided the most storable form of energy for our seasonally imposed fasting and hungry body. Tubers and berries eventually turned into cravings for processed sugars and refined carbs as these are now readily available literally everywhere you go. Same foundational craving, but way less nutrient dense food choices.

One of the best ways to beat these cravings now? Load up on nutrient dense, whole grains and mineral rich foods in the winter months. This helps to keep us satiated and nutritionally balanced during the time of year when we have fewer fresh options. Buddha bowls are my favorite way to do this because they never get old. You can make these a dozen different ways every week and use whatever you have around to fill out your bowl. With every variation, add in different herbs and spices to change the flavors. Mountain Rose Herbs has a huge variety of high quality, incredibly delicious seasonings and herbs to create endless flavor combinations. My favorites are the garam masala and garlic pepper. I’m sprinkling these on everything I make lately, from scrambled eggs to broths, savory toast and crock pot soups.

A few more Nutrition Tips for Winter:

  1. Focus on energetic/seasonal shifting support. Winter is a time many of us go through a state of depletion. From the cold. From the holidays. From lack of fresh vegetables. It’s the time when colds, flu and bugs are everywhere. Including seasonal foods (and colorful foods!) in your diet is essential. Mushrooms are amazing for this time of year (including Reishi, shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, and chaga (sparingly). Also incorporating elderberry syrup this season is wonderful through the end of March.
  2. Hydrate, even when you don’t feel thirsty. Try to drink at least half your body weight in ounces daily, and herbal tea is an excellent way to do this. Ginger, dandelion root, CCF tea and herbal chai are some I recommend in winter months. My personal favorite piece of advice, make a cup of herbal tea part of your daily wardrobe.
  3. Consume at least 5 different colors every day. The more color you can consume in your foods = the more vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antioxidants. Buddha bowls easily accommodate five colors!
  4. Increase zinc rich foods in your meals. Zinc is an essential nutrient for our immune health, and it’s easily depleted in winter months with a limited (or processed) diets. Some options include legumes (chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans), seeds (sesame, hemp, pumpkin), organic red meats, shellfish, dark chocolate, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats) and mushrooms (cooked).
  5. Keep at least 80% of your foods/meals cooked (vs raw). From an Ayurvedic perspective, consuming cooked and warming foods is ideal when the weather is cold and damp outdoors. This helps to keep our body in balance, and support overall digestion. I’m a huge proponent of this.
  6. Utilize warming herbs with every meal for circulatory support and stoking digestive fire. Ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, garam masala, curries, peppers and cardamom are ideal to sprinkle on meals to enhance the warming quality of your foods and stoke the digestive fire.
  7. Seasonal greens + bitters for digestive support. I love bitters all year long, but especially in the winter when our body can be sluggish from too much processed food, lack of exercise or increased stress. Bitters (and bitter greens like kale, collards and chard) are some of the best to consume to keep our liver strong and supported.
  8. Craving carbs? Try roasted root vegetables instead of processed carbohydrates. Roasted sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, squashes, turnips and parsnips, when roasted, release more sugars and satisfy the sweet/starchy craving in a much more nutrient dense way than consuming sugary breads. And they keep us satiated longer, too.

This is my foundational buddha bowl recipe. I prefer to use short grain brown rice which has a longer cook time, but you can also use basmati rice or short grain white rice which cooks in 20 minutes or less. Alternatively, you can batch cook the rice in a large pot to add to your buddha bowls throughout the week, making the rest of this recipe easily thrown together in 15 minutes. You can add SO much more to these! Cooked and seasoned lentils, stuffed grape leaves, chickpeas, boiled eggs, quinoa, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, roasted parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes or cauliflower, sautéed mushrooms, grilled chicken, roasted salmon, tempeh, marinated and grilled organic tofu, chopped and sautéed rainbow chard and onions, pickles…omg the options are endless. Experiment. use whatever you’ve got around. But I’d strongly encourage the mushroom broth option when cooking your grains. I prefer using dried shiitake and reishi slices. Top with your choice of plant oils. I use olive oil, but sesame seed oil and avocado oil are also great options. Finally, just a pinch of smoked sea salt – totally makes it.