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!

adaptogen chai.jpg

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!

If you’re interested in learning more about all things kitchen herbalism, including adaptogens, medicinal mushrooms, the medicinal uses of culinary herbs, seaweed medicine, cooking with herbs and more, my new ONLINE series, Spice Rack Medicine, is OPEN for registration! Registration will be open January 8th-January 22nd and class start Feb 1st.

Learn More and Register for Class Here

Ashwagandha-Spiced Ghee

I was inspired to share this recipe after sharing it with a client this morning. This is my favorite way to take Ashwagandha and great for folks who are weary of taking tinctures, tablets and capsules.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a such a wonderful herb.  It comes to Western Herbalism by way of Ayurveda, where it is known as a Rasayana- a supreme tonic herb. It supports the nervous system and helps reduce stress and anxiety and, if taken over time, will promote restful sleep and good energy endurance during the days with fewer crashes and lows.   As an adaptogen, it also helps support an appropriate stress response, taking us from a chronic state of "flight or fight" into a state where we can better manage and roll with the day-to-day stresses of life.  It's a wonderful herb to add to your daily protocol for just about anyone living in the stress of our modern world! The addition of the spices in this recipe supports assimilation and digestion, and add a nice flavor too. It's so easy to make your own and can be a great part of a daily health routine.

Ashwagandha-Spiced Ghee

1 2/3rd cups ghee
1/2 cup Ashwagandha powder
2 tsp Ginger pwd
2 tsp cinnamon pwd
2 tsp cardamom pwd
2 tsp rose petal pwd
Raw honey to taste (optional)

1 2/3 cups ghee is the amount of ghee you will get from cooking down 1 lb of butter, and is also the same amount of ghee in the jar size it is commonly sold in. Combine the herbs and ghee in a pan. Put on low and mix the herbs into the ghee as it melts. Be careful not to burn the herbs. Heat gently for 4-5 minutes. Then pour into a heat-resistant jar, like a mason jar. Add raw honey to taste if desired. Stir occasionally as it cools to ensure that the herbs are evenly mixed into the ghee. A medicinal dose is 3 tsp/day. Eat straight, put on toast, add to warn grains, put in coffee or tea, or use for cooking.

Enjoy!

Pickled Evening Primrose Roots

Evening Primrose (Oneothera biennsis) in flower

Evening Primrose (Oneothera biennsis) in flower

If you have a garden in New England, you probably have Evening Primrose (Oneothera biennsis) volunteering itself as a weed! 

"Cultivating" a Weed

Since this plant loves recently disturbed soils, gardens are one of their primary habitats, although Evening Primrose is a plant I would say I "cultivate" only in the very loosest sense of the word!  The seeds of this plant are often in the seed bed of many soils, and every year Evening Primrose invariably shows-up in my garden.  I always let a few stay and go to seed every year, ensuring that I'll have plenty of plants to harvest the following year.  To better understand this cycle, it's important to understand that Evening Primrose is a biennial, meaning it has a 2 year life cycle.  Its first year it only presents as a simple basal rosette of lanceolate, 2-8 inch long, leaves, and it doesn't flower or set seed.  In its second year of growth, it sends up a thick, branching stalk and bears small, yellow 4-petalled flowers. Then, in the late summer and fall, it goes to seed and eventually dies, re-seeding itself for the following year- this is the basic life-cycle of biennial plants. For more specifics on I.D. if you don't know this plant, check out this description.

Left to Right: Evening Primrose Rt (Oneothera biennsis), Mullein Rt (Verbascum thapsus), Wild Carrot/Queen Anne's Lace Rt (Daucus carota)

Left to Right: Evening Primrose Rt (Oneothera biennsis), Mullein Rt (Verbascum thapsus), Wild Carrot/Queen Anne's Lace Rt (Daucus carota)

Root Medicine

Although the entire plant in flower (and its seeds as well) are a wonderful medicine in their own right, that's for a later post. (In the meantime, check-out any of Kiva Rose's writings on Evening Primrose for more on that).  But it's the roots we're talking about today! The root is sweet, moistening (mucilagenous), and slightly spicy. For best results it should be harvested from first-year plants in the fall, or in its second year in the very early spring while it is still dormant.  It may be cooked and eaten as a nutrient-rich wild food or utilized medicinally....or both! Evening Primrose is a great example of "food as medicine," since you're reaping the medicinal benefits, as well as the nutritional, when you incorporate it into your diet.  The roots are classified as anti-spasmodic, vulnerary (heals irritated tissue), and anti-inflammatory.  They have a special affinity for the respiratory system (think dry, spasming coughs), digestive system (especially for pain, cramps, inflammation, nervous digestion, and leaky gut) and also for general nervous system support.  They are tonic herb in the truest definition of the word in that they work gently on the body, have no negative side-effects, and are safe for daily use.

pickled evening primrose.jpg

Pickled Evening Primrose Roots💛

To make: This is a very simple recipe! Wash and roughly chop your roots. Put them in a glass jar and cover with raw apple cider vinegar. Add some Rosemary to taste (at least a tsp/cup of apple cider vinegar) and a few cloves of garlic, and even a dash of raw honey if pure vinegar is too sour a taste for you.  Let sit for at least 2 weeks, or longer.

To use: Eat the roots (and the garlic!) as is, use them as a condiment, add to stir-fries, greens- you name it! And of course you've made an infused vinegar you can use as well! Use the vinegar to make salad dressings, cook with greens and veggies, marinate meats, and so on. Since it is made with raw apple cider vinegar, it is important to realize though that you will lose the probiotic benefit if you heat it, so best to add when you're done cooking.

Be Creative: This same recipe will also work for raw burdock root, carrots, ginger, beets, radishes, and more! And be sure to mix it up and use your own favorite spices!

Enjoy!