Roasted Dandelion Root-Pumpkin Spice Latte

Ok, so I know this post is a little whimsical….but I must admit that I am a huge fan of pumpkin spice, but having a sugar-y caffeinated drink is not always my cup of tea so to speak, so I invented my own!

Fall is for grounding roots and warming spices.  The bitter and cleansing roots we harvest in the fall, like Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Burdock (Arcticum lappa), and Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus), help support our organs of elimination (liver, kidneys, skin, lungs), helping us enter the cold and flu season in better health and less susceptible to sickness. This is why in Ayurveda cleanses are often done in the spring and the fall.  In the herbal wheel of the year, fall is for letting go of what we don’t need, be it emotions, experiences, possessions/stuff, or accumulated metabolic wastes and toxins (this is where those fall roots come in handy). If you need a little inspiration for letting go of that which you no longer need, take a look at the plants this time of year, which model it for us so beautifully, or read my post here on the fall and letting go.

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Dandelion Medicine

So Dandelion is a potent tonic this time of year.  It is often called food for the liver, and for good reason! Dandelion leaf and root (but especially the root) has been shown time and time again to strengthen and support the liver. In herbalism if you’re thinking about liver health, you’re immediately thinking about Dandelion as a part of the protocol. Its bitter flavor stimulates bile flow, which aids in digestion and nutrient absorption of fat soluble vitamins. It filters the blood coming from the digestive tract and breaks down harmful chemicals and substances, some of which are then excreted into the bile through the large intestine and the feces, and some of which are excreted into the blood (in a broken-down form) and sent to the kidneys which then further filters the blood and excretes the waste through the urine. The liver literally filters every foreign substance that comes into our body, and our own metabolic waste from normal cellular function, and even excess hormones too. 

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We often talk about the liver only in terms of detoxification, but it is a nourishing organ too! It stores iron (this is why eating liver is so good for you- it’s not as bad as you might think!), filters out nutrients from the blood for the rest of the body, stores-up glucose to be released as needed, and even helps immunity by helping remove bacteria from the bloodstream. Supporting the liver is square one in so many of my client’s protocols, be it hormonal/menstrual/pms issues, poor digestion/nutrient absorption, low energy, chronic skin issues, and even emotional imbalances (especially excess anger and frustration). I most often work with the leaf as a nourishing food as medicine and the root in the form of tinctures, teas and decoctions. The root has a mild bitter taste that is delicious in a savory beverage like the recipe I’ll be sharing with you below- it’s bitter, but not too bitter. It’s about the same level of bitterness as coffee, but nothing even as remotely bitter as Goldenseal, if you’ve ever tasted that!

Pumpkin Spice Medicine

And what about those warming spices I was mentioning too? Well, “pumpkin spice” is of course not an official collection of spices, but this blend most often contains Cinnamon, Ginger, Clove, Allspice, Nutmeg, and Clove- yum! These spices (often called carminatives in herbalism) invigorate digestion and stoke the digestive fires, aiding in nutrient absorption, increasing circulation to the digestive system, and boosting metabolism.  They are also potent anti-spasmodics, easing digestive pain and reducing gas and bloating. Being rich in essential oils, we can infer that they have some level of anti-microbial effects as well, and indeed many of them have been studied for this, particularly Cinnamon.  And speaking of Cinnamon, this spice is particularly well-known for its blood sugar-regulated effect, and considering millions of Americans are pre-diabetic and don't even know it, that's an added bonus for all of us!  Plus all of these spices are uplifting, warming, and have an over-all mood-enhancing effect- they just feel good. By imbibing in these warming spices as the wheel of the year turns to the colder seasons of fall and winter, we are providing our body with much-needed warmth and stimulation to adapt to the seasonal transition at hand.

So, yes, drinking a pumpkin spice latte (provided it’s not loaded with sugar and caffeine, of course!) is actually quite good for your health and seasonally appropriate! The current craze of pumpkin spice everything actually makes me smile because I can’t help but to think that deep down in our souls- even though our culture’s largely SO removed from food as medicine- we still intuitively know that the warming, carminative spices are good for us this time of year, because it just feels right!

So, ready to make your own? Here’s how.....


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Roasted Dandelion Root-Pumpkin Spice Latte

1 tsp ground, roasted Dandelion Root (see instructions/where to buy below)
1 tsp pumpkin spice blend, powdered (see below)
1 cup full fat coconut milk from the can, or milk of choice
raw honey to taste

To make: Combine all the ingredients in a pan and bring to a simmer for about 3-5 minutes. Turn off heat, pour into a mug, add a dash of raw honey to taste, and serve! Make sure to eat/swallow any ground-up roasted dandelion that ends-up at the bottom of your cup for full medicinal effect.

To make your own Pumpkin Spice Blend: You can often find this blend ready to go this time of year, or you can make your own. My favorite blend is 3 parts cinnamon rt, 2 parts ginger, 2 parts nutmeg, 1.5 parts allspice, and ½ part clove. You can make each part any unit you want, ie 1 tsp, 1 tbsp, 1 cup, etc. My recommendation is to make a big batch and powder it up all at once or as needed (or buy the spices pre-powdered...just make sure they're fresh- a strong aroma indicates this). This makes a fabulous mulling spice blend for cider too!

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To make your own Roasted Dandelion Root: This is also often referred to as “Dandelion Coffee” but that’s kind of misleading because, well, it's just not coffee. Kind of like carob vs chocolate, they’re both just they’re own thing! It does contain the nice, satisfying somewhat bitter flavor or coffee though which can make it a nice swap for someone trying to ditch caffeine or just have a non-caffeinated alternative from time to time. So, first-off, I just want to say that you can buy Dandelion already roasted online, from one of our wonderful local herb shops (see my Resources page for a directory). Look for the dandelion labelled “roasted dandelion root.” You can also buy the regular dried root, and pan-roast it in a cast iron pan until it starts to become aromatic. Make sure you remove it from the heat while it is still toasted, but not burnt- it just takes a few minutes. Or, you can be an herbal superstar, and harvest and make your own! I won’t lie- it’s a time-consuming process, and the yield is pretty low for time spent and amount of plant material it takes...but it's still a super-fun endeavor for a kitchen medicine enthusiast! Chop the fresh roots as small as you can, then spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast at 350 degrees for 1/2 hr, checking and stirring often to prevent burning on the edges.  Then remove from the oven and grind it in a coffee grinder until it's pretty fine. Then spread it out on the baking pan and roast again at 350 for 2-3 minutes to makes sure all moisture is baked-off. Then you're done!

Enjoy!

Wanting to learn more about the wonderful world of Kitchen Medicine, and ways to incorporate the powerfully medicinal spices and culinary herbs into your diet and daily life? My winter class series, Spice Rack Medicine, is OPEN for registration! Class meets 1 Sunday/month January-March in Greenfield, MA. We cover the medicinal uses of the culinary herbs, food as medicine, remineralizing, herbal energetics, medicinal mushrooms, cooking with the culinary herbs and tonic herbs, harmonizing with the seasons, and so much more!

Learn more and register here!

 

 

 

 

Chopped Purslane Salad with Cilantro

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is a super common weed that pops-up in almost any garden this time of year- don't weed it! Instead, harvest it for the amazing food and medicine that it is. This unassuming weed has been identified as the richest known plant source of alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid! Remember that omega-3's are the anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, heart-healthy "good fats" most concentrated in fish oil, so having access to a local, bioregionally abundant plant source of this is fantastic! Also, most people's ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is waaaaaay off, which means more inflammation. Researchers think that ancestrally our ratio of 3's to 6's was a about a 1:1 ratio. The ratio in an average adult nowadays is about 1:15 to 1:17! Read: inflammation and cardiovascular problems that are epidemic in America and the developed world-basically the ills of the modern world.  So, you can easily see how consuming ample amounts of Purslane while it's in season is beyond good for your health.  It is also quite vitamin and mineral-rich, most notably in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Potassium, and Calcium.  If you don't feel solid on identifying it, check-out this great resource

Purslane also contains high amounts of mucilage- a thick, moistening substance with a borderline gooey consistency, which can be difficult for some people to get past.  The good news is that mucilage is very nourishing and healing to to the lining of our gut and intestines- a support many people need.  And I've found that when its prepared in a salad, it can be a lot easier to enjoy! It has a lovely, somewhat sour flavor that pairs especially well with tomatoes, herbs, and a lemon-y dressing. I hope you'll try the recipe and think twice before weeding it from your garden!


Chopped Purslane Salad with Cilantro

2-3 cups Purslane, chopped leaves and stems
1 medium Cucumber, chopped into 1-inch squares
1/2 Onion, chopped
1 pint Cherry Tomatoes, quartered or halved
1 1/2 cups Cilantro, chopped finely

If you have a salad spinner, give the Purslane a quick spin (or be sure to rinse well), as it can often be dusty due its creeping growth form.  Then combine all the ingredients. Toss with dressing of choice- I like a combo of nettle-infused raw apple cider vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt. Enjoy as it's own, or it's also great on a bed of quinoa. To bulk it up into a very filling and extremely omega-3 rich meal, add a can of sardines (they're yummier than you might think)! Additionally, the large amount of Cilantro gives this recipe another layer of medicinal action- it's a potent digestive aid which supports nutrient absorption and assimilation, is extremely mineral rich, and helps the body remove accumulated heavy metals

Enjoy!

References & Resources

Purslane Weed (Portulaca oleracea): A Prospective Plant Source of Nutrition, Omega-3 Fatty Acid, and Antioxidant Attributes
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3934766/

Foraging: Identifying and Eating Purslane
http://foragedfoodie.blogspot.com/2015/11/purslane.html

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/

Placenta Medicine

Note: This piece was originally published on the Birth Institute Birth Wisdom Blog in 2016

Prepared Placenta/Zi He Chi

Prepared Placenta/Zi He Chi

In our current model of healthcare, there is often quite a bit of emphasis put on pre-natal care and preparing for the birth itself, but when it comes to postpartum times, quality care (and education) for the mother is often lacking. However, in many traditional cultures the proper postpartum attention for both the mother and baby is of the utmost importance, with a myriad of time-honored treatments and protocols adhered to. In some of these traditions, incorporating the placenta as medicine is an important part of the postpartum recovery for the mother.

Medicinal Use

The oldest recorded use we have of the use of the placenta as medicine comes to us from Chinese Medicine, the system of medicine in China that is over 2,000 years old and still in use today.  In this system the prepared placenta (more on how to make this preparation later) is called Zi He Chi, is considered a supreme medicine for restoration, and is said to store the vital essence for the baby.  Some specific indications for its use postpartum in Chinese Medicine are fatigue in the mother and insufficient lactation.  It is also used during menopause- a testament to the high hormone levels it contains.

Modern-day science on the benefits of ingesting the placenta (called placentophagy) is lacking, but on the rise, and we do have some scientific studies (see references below) and lots and lots of empirical evidence.  Once study by the National Institute of Health showed that the placenta is very rich in Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH), which is a stress-reducing hormone, and that the placenta secretes so much into the bloodstream during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy that the CRH levels increase three times their normal levels.  Normally this hormone is secreted by the hypothalamus, but during pregnancy it isn’t, as the placenta takes care of that.  After delivery of the placenta, however, it takes the hypothalamus some time to get the signal that CRH levels are low and that it needs to start producing it again, and ingesting the placenta- rich in this hormone, and others- can help mitigate this fluctuation and also shows some scientific evidence for its use to prevent postpartum depression.  Also, interestingly, nearly every mammal consumes its placenta after birth- even herbivores- and one study showed that animals refused to eat other meats offered and preferentially ate their placenta.

Other medicinal benefits observed by midwives, herbalists, placenta consultants, doulas, birth professionals and traditional healers include increased general energy, better mood and prevention of postpartum depression and the “baby blues”, improved sleep, improved milk production and nutritional quality of the milk, prevention of iron-deficiency anemia, and faster postpartum healing.  The placenta may also be used anytime a mother is going through a time of increased stress- even if it isn’t immediately postpartum- and can be helpful during menopause as well, as mentioned above. It is sometimes recommended for the child too if they are undergoing a lot of stress.

It’s also important to take a moment to discuss the nutritional content of the placenta. Remember the placenta is an organ, which makes it an organ meat, which are universally revered in traditional cultures for their life-giving properties due to their high vitamin, mineral and hormone content, and the placenta is no different! We know it is high in protein, fat, iron, minerals including sodium, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese.  It is also rich in hormones- many of which are in flux in the days and weeks following birth- including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, prolactin, oxytocin, thyroid stimulating hormone, corticotropin releasing hormone, cortisone. (For specifics on how these hormones effect the postpartum body please refer to item #3 in the references below).

Preparing and Using the Placenta for Medicine

There are many ways to take and prepare the placenta as medicine, including eating it cooked or raw, tincturing it, and preparing it according to Traditional Chinese Medicine and making a tea, or powdering the prepared placenta and putting it into capsules. The latter is my favorite for to work with the placenta in my herbal practice, and is the form I have the most clinical experience with and have seen excellent results both in myself and others. One study even showed that certain nutrients were increased by the heating process. I love it when scientific study validates centuries of traditional use!

Here’s how to prepare it according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. (This recipe comes from licensed acupuncturist Amy Mager of Mager Healing in Northampton, Massachusetts):

How to Dry a Placenta

Ingredients:

1 Placenta
1 Peel of grapefruit, lemon or orange
2-4 One inch pieces of fresh ginger
1 Fresh jalapeno pepper

Scrub out your sink and clean your counter to be used as well.  Use a large clean bowl to rinse the placenta, removing any clots or loose blood. Wash and cut the other ingredients.

Place the ingredients in a stainless steel or cast iron pot and cover with filtered water. Simmer until completely cooked.  Test with a fork: No blood should run and it should feel tender and not tough.  Usually this takes about an hour and a half. 

Remove the placenta from the liquid and cool to room temperature on a plate on which it can be cut.  Using a very sharp knife, cut the placenta into very thin, long strips.

Lay the strips upon either oven racks, cookie sheets or on food dehydrator trays.  Allow them to dry in the oven (or food dehydrator) on the lowest possible setting.  Dry until the pieces snap. This may take 5 hours or longer. Leave in an uncovered glass jar for 1 day. Cover the jar after that for storage. Store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.

A few more notes on this:

This is an excellent job for the partner, a close friend or family member, postpartum doula or a placenta encapsulation professional (a quick internet search may yield some in your area). The bottom line is that this is not a job for the mother.  Also a few more considerations: For hospital births, bring a cooler to store the placenta in if it cannot be immediately refrigerated and be sure to communicate that you do not want it to be disposed. If birthing at home the placenta should be refrigerated immediately.  If it cannot be processed as above with 24 hours of the birth it should be frozen. It can then be thawed out and prepared according to the recipe.  Once it is prepared and stored in the jar in pieces, it can be ground as needed into powder and then put into capsules, which are available at most health food stores. A clean coffee grinder does a great job of powdering it. In my herbal clinical practice I have seen a dosage of 2 capsules/day be enough for most women, and taking them for 6-8 weeks after the birth is recommended, although I have often seen women intuitively know when they no longer need them.

The placenta can provide amazing postpartum support and I believe the more of us birth professionals sharing this option and information with our clients, the better!

References:

1.      Phuapradit, W. (n.d.). Nutrients and Hormones in Heat-Dried Human Placenta [Abstract]. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand,83(6), 690-694.

2.     Bensky/Gamble. 1997. Materia Medica, Eastland Press, 549.

3.     Research Studies Supporting Placenta Encapsulation. (n.d.). Retrieved June 22, 2016, from http://www.placentawise.com/research-studies-supporting-placenta-encapsulation/

4.     Amy Mager, Lic. Ac., MS, Dipl. O.M. (NCCAOM). http://www.wellnesshousenorthampton.com/