Spring 'Kraut

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

Nettles (Urtica dioica)

When spring finally comes here in the northeast it can sometimes feel like a race against time. After waiting months for the return of the green, the plants seemingly pop-up all at once, with wonderful exuberance, and at a pace that few of us can keep up with. Harvesting spring greens- if you let it- could easily be a full-time job! And there’s not only the challenge of collecting all your favorites during their prime harvest windows, there’s also the challenge of preserving the spring harvest because it’s simply not always possible to eat all the greens at once!

Enter fermentation, a form of food preservation that was developed and utilized by our ancestors for just this situation. What I love about fermentation is that it’s living medicine, and while I love making wild salad, pesto, frittata, soup, vinegar, and more with the wild spring abundance, there’s something special about knowing that the food you’ve prepared is probiotic and teeming with beneficial microbes that we enter into a reciprocal relationship with when we take them into our bodies. Symbiosis is a beautiful thing! You can read more about the benefits of probiotic foods in my recipe for New England-Style Kimchi, and read-on for my recipe for preserving some of my favorite spring greens in a seasonal-inspired sauerkraut.


Spring ‘Kraut

9 cups cabbage, thinly shredded (about 1 medium-sized cabbage)
3 cups Nettles leaves and stems (Urtica dioica), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), chopped
1/2 cup Garlic Mustard leaves and stems (Alliaria petiolata), coarsely chopped
4 tsp sea salt
other nice additions: Dandelion lvs, Wild Garlic (Allium vineale), Chickweed, Violet lvs, Yellow Dock lvs, Garlic lvs

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First-off, this recipe is meant to be played around with. If you don’t have access to one of the greens in the recipe it’s ok to leave it out or substitute it for something you have an abundance of! Start by chopping your cabbage. Pile it into a big bowl and sprinkle with about 2 tsp of the salt and begin massaging it with your hands. The cabbage will begin to breakdown, releasing its juices which becomes the brine. Once the cabbage is thoroughly massaged start adding the Nettles bit by bit, along with the remaining salt, and keep massaging. You can wear gloves for this part if you’re worried about the sting (which will be rendered harmless by the fermentation process). Once you’ve added all the Nettles, add the Garlic Mustard and Chives and mix and massage thoroughly.

Next choose your vessel- a fermentation crock or widemouth mason jar will work. Pack the ‘kraut into your vessel and press in with your hands or use a sauerkraut stamper (also called a pounder or tamper) until the brine covers the ‘kraut. Use a heavy lid or small plate with a sterilized rock on it for the crock or mason jar to keep the brine levels over the veggies, or another good trick for this if you don’t have a small lid is to fill a ziplock bag with water and use that to keep ‘kraut below the brine level. Lastly, you can always make brine to top-off the sauerkraut by mixing 1 1/2 tbsp sea salt with 1 quart water. The bottom-line is that the brine level needs to be over the veggies. Now you sit back and let it ferment! Fermentation time will vary based on the weather, but start checking it after a few days to track its progression. It’s ready when it tastes sour, crunchy, and still salty, but not nearly as salty as it tasted when it first started fermenting. Then put it into a jar with a lid and keep in the fridge or your root cellar, if you’re lucky enough to have one! Enjoy as a condiment, with sandwiches, with breakfast, with a heavy meal, as a base for salad dressing, on a picnic, or even as a simple snack. Happy spring and happy fermenting!

And for any of you wanting to learn more about working with our locally abundant medicinal and edible plants, the summer and fall sessions of our bioregional herbalism series, From the Roots Up, is OPEN for registration! This hands-on course meets outside and in the field and focuses on field botany and plant ID, medicine-making, gaining intimacy with our local plants, reading the herbal landscape, materia medica, and so much more!

Learn More Here


Hungry for more herbal learning? In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer online learning through our Patreon Community! Membership starts at just $5/month and there are offerings like monthly online classes, monthly herbal study groups, and more. Join by June 15th to get my herbal ebook “For the Love of Nettles” as an added bonus and thank you! It’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!


Adaptogen Chai

Ashwagandha Root (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha Root (Withania somnifera)

Winter is a time for nourishment and replenishment and the holidays, fun though the revelry can be, can also sometimes leave us feeling tired and depleted during a season when rest should be paramount. Enter adaptogens! A special class of herbs perfect for this time of year, adaptogens are known to work on what’s often referred to as the HPA Axis, or Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis, which is a complex and integral communication system between our endocrine and nervous systems. Herbs in this category restore frazzled nervous systems, improve energy, encourage proper hormonal rhythms, improve quality of sleep, and increase our body's resilience to stress. In short, they're veritable life-savers for folks trying to balance the stresses of everyday modern life. Adaptogens are tonic herbs safe for daily use, and they have a cumulative effect in the body- the longer you take them the more strongly you’ll feel their effects. They lend themselves incredibly well to food as medicine practices, and one of my favorite ways to imbibe is in an adaptogen-filled chai.

There are many adaptogens out there, but this recipe features Tulsi and Ashwagandha, two of my favorites that tend to be well-tolerated by most folks (NOTE: a few adaptogens, namely Rhodiola and Ginseng can be too stimulating for some folks and can cause headaches and insomnia at night). Both Tulsi and Ashwagandha are easy to cultivate as annuals here in the Northeast and I grow both in my garden, ensuring a good supply for winter teas and cooking. Both these herbs are not only adaptogenic, but also nervines, meaning they can calm and relax anxiety as its happening-a wonderful added bonus! The classic chai spices in this recipe-called carminatives in herbalism- aid digestion, ease gas and bloating, improve nutrient assimilation, contain antimicrobial essential oils, are enlivening and warming, and add a wonderful flavor. I also love adding medicinal mushrooms to my chai. Medicinal mushrooms contain immune-boosting polysaccharides called beta-glucans that give the immune system a good work-out, so it’s primed and ready when the body encounters true pathogens like viruses and bacteria. They’re an important part of my herbal routine that I would never want to be without! Feel free to make your own additions and subtractions to this recipe to suite you own needs in true kitchen medicine fashion. Read on for the recipe!

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Adaptogen Chai

1 tbsp Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
1 tbsp Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
1 tbsp Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum or G. tsugae), or Birch Polypore (Fomitopsis betulina) Mushroom
1 tbsp Chai spices (I love the pre-made blend by a company called Chai-Wallah or I'll often simply do equal parts ginger, cardamom and cinnamon)
1 can full fat coconut milk (or milk of choice)
3 cups water
Sweeten with raw honey to taste

Simmer it all covered for at least 10-15 min. Strain, and enjoy!


Hungry for more herbal learning? In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer online learning through our Patreon Community! Membership starts at just $5/month and there are offerings like monthly online classes, monthly herbal study groups, and more. Join by June 15th to get my herbal ebook “For the Love of Nettles” as an added bonus and thank you! It’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!


Maitake & Burdock Immune-Boosting Soup

maitake soup.jpg

Lately, this soup has been saving my life! So much so that I just had to share the recipe. During seasonal transitions, especially our current one from late summer to fall (and the on-coming fall to winter), our immune systems need some extra support. And it seems like just about everyone I know is either navigating through or has already dealt with their first cold of the season, myself included! Twice over the past two weeks I’ve caught a small cold. Both times I made a big pot of this soup, had 2-3 hearty-sized bowls of it in the afternoon and evening, and woke-up the following morning with my cold completely gone. Like magic. Only its not magic, it’s food as medicine at its finest! Soups lend themselves incredibly well to healing spices, nourishing roots, regenerative seaweeds, and immune-modulating mushrooms. Read-on for my recipe for the perfect fall soup to nourish your immune system and tend to your health during this seasonal transition.


Maitake, Burdock & Daikon Soup

1 lb (3-4 cups) Maitake Mushroom/Hen of the Woods* (Grifola frondosa), shredded into bite-sized pieces (*use Shiitake if Maitake aren’t available!)
1 c Burdock Rt (also known as Gobo), chopped
1 1/2 c Daikon Radish, chopped into 1-inch cubes
1 Onion, chopped
3 tbsp fresh Ginger, grated
4 cloves Garlic
3 tbsp Tamari
8 cups water, chicken broth, bone broth, or veggie broth
6 inch strip Kombu or Kelp
1 bunch Scallions
Sea Salt and Black Pepper (to taste)
Lemon (optional)

NOTE: If some of these ingredients are new to you don't worry! They are available at most co-ops, health food stores, and grocery stores with good produce sections. Burdock is also often readily available at many Asian food stores under the name Gobo. Maitake is often available dried and you can use this form of it- simply re-hydrate by soaking in water for about 1/2 hr and then cook it as specified in the directions. And you can also use dried burdock for this recipe, just cook it longer than the directions specify to be sure it's nice and soft when you eat it, and use 1/4 cup dried instead of a full cup of fresh!

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Directions
Start by sauteing the garlic, onion, ginger, and maitake in olive oil or ghee until soft.  Next add the burdock, daikon, tamari, kombu or kelp, and water and/or broth. Bring to a low simmer and cook about 10 minutes until the daikon and burdock are cooked. Garnish with 2-3 tbsp of chopped scallions. This soup has a rich, earthy flavor and the addition of a squeeze of lemon will brighten it up a bit, if desired, but it's not necessary. For folks who don't like to eat mushrooms, simply simmer the maitake whole in the broth and remove before serving (best to cook it all for longer-30-45 minutes). It doesn't make the broth "mushroomy," just rich and delicious!

Medicinal Use
This soup is building and supportive to your immune system. Turn to it when you feel like you're coming down with something or when you're already sick and need some strong immune support. I also love making it when I'm at the tail-end of a cold or flu and want a strong final boost to my immune system to really get the remnants of that virus or bacteria totally out of my system. It can also be relied on as a powerful preventative during the fall and winter months to keep the immune system ready and primed. Try making it once a week for this use.  Maitake mushroom has a long tradition of use as an immune-stimulating and modulating herb, and has even been shown to have some cancer-fighting effects. Burdock Rt (Arcticum lappa) is another "food as medicine" from herbalism that can be eaten or taken in the tea to help support all the eliminatory pathways in the body, especially the liver, kidneys, and skin. It’s also extremely nourishing, rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, and many trace minerals. Daikon radish is pungent in nature, aiding digestion, and is also extremely rich in vitamin c, providing still more of an immune system boost! Garlic, onions, and ginger add immune-boosting essential oils, anti-bacterial and anti-viral support, and in combination this soup makes a delicious and medicinal brew. Enjoy!


Hungry for more herbal learning? In addition to our in-person classes, we also offer online learning through our Patreon Community! Membership starts at just $5/month and there are offerings like monthly online classes, monthly herbal study groups, and more. Join by June 15th to get my herbal ebook “For the Love of Nettles” as an added bonus and thank you! It’s also just a great way to say “thanks” if you enjoy the blog!