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.
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.
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.....
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!
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 of 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!
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!