Burdock & Rose

wildly-crafted plant tales from herbalist, forager & author lisa rose

The Magic Nectar of Maple Syrup

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Who doesn’t love that dark amber nectar of real maple syrup – the sweetness of the trees and one of the earth’s most decadent and natural sweeteners? Click HERE to watch me rave about syrup on WZZM13.

We treat maple syrup like it’s liquid gold in my house – a precious food that I love to use in cooking. Why is real maple syrup like liquid gold? Because it is! Not only do the sugar maple trees grow in relatively small range across the globe, but it takes up to 60 gallons of sap to produce just ONE gallon of maple syrup. Consider that next time you are incredulous over the price of real maple syrup in the market — most commercial brands are made entirely of corn syrup – not a drop of that natural sap. Cheap and totally not the real deal.

In its raw form, the sap is a drinkable beverage that endurance athletes are realizing has a similar content of electrolytes as coconut water – and local, too. The sap also contains trace minerals of zinc, manganese and some iron, and these minerals remain as the sap cooks into maple syrup.

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A variety of trees and species can be tapped to produce a syrup sweetener (maples and birches), but it’s the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) specifically that produces that sweet, vanillin flavored syrup we all know as REAL maple syrup.  The sugar maple grows as far east across Canada into Vermont, as far west as Wisconsin, and as far south as Georgia – making a heart-shaped area in the northeast in which superior maple syrup can be produced. Read more HERE to learn about the syruping process.

As a sweetner, maple syrup has half the glycemic load of refined or white sugar, making it a good choice for those minding their sugar intake (all of us, right?).

It’s delicious of course in pancakes, stirred into coffee, topped over oatmeal and drizzled over ice cream. But maple syrup has lovely savory uses as well – as a glaze for meats and fish, balsamic dressing, or drizzled atop stinky cheeses.

And the baking and candy making – oy – the candy making. My favorites are turning maple syrup into caramels and toffee. Super yum.

Maple syrup is also a useful sweetener in my herbal apothecary for tonics and tinctures, like my Dark Storm Bitters. The maple syrup can also be used as a base to make an iron-rich yellow dock syrup supplement for those needing an iron supplementation.

And these are just a few maple syrup uses… what are your favorites? Any special ways of using it in the apothecary?

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Maple Fleur de Sel Caramels 

What’s more decadent than a delicious caramel? Why, one that is made with maple syrup, of course! These classic French-style caramels are styled similarly to a Fleur de Sel caramel.

The use of maple syrup in lieu of the commonly-used corn syrup will require close monitoring as the mixture reaches 248 degrees, but results in a much more balanced vanilla flavor that’s worth the effort managing the viscosity.

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Ingredients: 

1 cup heavy cream

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature

1 teaspoon fleur de sel

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

Parchment paper, baking sheet or pan and a candy thermometer

1) Prepare pan with parchment, oil slightly – the caramel making process is a sticky one.

2) Bring cream, butter and fleur de del to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.

3) Boil syrup, sugar, water in a large saucepan, dissolving sugar and gentle stirring until syrup comes up to a boil.

3) Stir in cream, stir constantly and simmer until the candy thermometer reaches 248 degrees.

4) Pour caramel mixture into the prepared sheet, let cool.

5) Cut into strips or bite size candies, wrapping them in pieces of cut parchment, twisting ends.

6) Caramels store in a cool location for up to two weeks.

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Maple Syrup: A Forager’s Sweet Treat

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Can you hear the trees awakening? It’s maple syrup time for the farmers and foragers setting out to tap the maple trees!

Even though the land around us continues to be covered with a deep blanket of snow, there’s a shift in the trees. With warmer days and cold, clear nights, the trees are stretching their hibernating limbs and the sap starts to flow. The birds also begin to sing again. A sure sign of spring and maple syrup’ing!

Maple syrup harvest season begins when the weather stays above freezing for a few days with continued cold temperatures of 20 degrees or so overnight — usually toward the middle to end of February in the Midwest.

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The length of the sap season varies from year to year according to the weather, anywhere between four to six weeks and toward the end of the season, the quality and viscosity of the sap changes considerably and lessens in quality. This year, because of such a late thaw, we can expect a short and fast Sugarbush season.

Why is real maple syrup like liquid gold? Because it is! Not only do the sugar maple trees grow in relatively small range across the globe, but it takes about 60 gallons of sap to produce just ONE gallon of maple syrup. Consider that next time you are incredulous over the price of real maple syrup in the market — most commercial brands are made entirely of corn syrup – not a drop of that natural sap. Cheap and totally not the real deal.

 A variety of trees and species can be tapped to produce a syrup sweetener (maples and birches), but it’s the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) specifically that produces that sweet, vanillin flavored syrup we all know as REAL maple syrup.  The sugar maple grows as far east across Canada into Vermont, as far west as Wisconsin, and as far south as Georgia – making a heart-shaped area in the northeast in which superior maple syrup can be produced.

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Want to tap your own trees? To produce maple syrup in any quantity, first identify maples of the right size for tapping. Tap only mature sugar maples at least 12 inches in diameter, placing the spike or tap about 4 to 5 feet off the ground. Hang a bucket off the tap, check it daily.  It’s helpful to have the trees close to where you will be processing the sap; as hauling, storing, and boiling down the sap is quite an operation.

To make syrup you will need to boil the sap down into syrup. Boiling off the water from the sap is a lengthy process and it puts off a lot of moisture into the air. You can build a temporary sap boiler outside to boil the sap down into syrup, or you can collect the sap and deliver it to an established sugar shack in your area. Search for local farms and nature centers across the Midwest that may have them on their properties.

Just note – Don’t boil the sap inside your home! Boiling off the water will literally peel the papers off your walls and will leave a sticky residue all over the kitchen. Not good. Not worth it – even to make syrup.

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Once the sap is boiled down into the syrup, it can be poured into bottles and canned by water bath or stored into the refrigerator.

Inspired to do your own Sugarbush? For more information check out Michigan Maple Syrup Association for news on events and backyard sugarbush training. Want to visit a local Sugarbush? If you are in the Grand Rapids area, check out Blandford Nature Center’s event happening in March!

A Winter’s Foraging Walk

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Folks frequently ask, “Can you forage in winter?” and my response is always a resounding yes! While there aren’t the summer’s berries and flowers to be found in the deep snow of the Great Lakes; a forager can delight that there are barks, buds, and even sap to be gathered in the cold of January and February.

Not only are there plants that can be gathered in the winter, but wintertime is a perfect chance to practice your plant identification skills – you can practice keying out plants and trees from last season’s leaves, stalks and barks as well as discover new plant stands for spring harvesting. Moreover, I am a believer that we should spend time outdoors in all four seasons – it helps with seasonal depression, can boost immunity and is just all around good for the soul to get outside and appreciate the natural world around us.

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Just this past weekend, I headed out with my trusty and patient companion, Rosie, to walk along the icy Lake Michigan shoreline in northern Michigan. As I made my down the beach, I said hello to the overwintering uva-ursi who will soon have pink flowers again in May.

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I saluted the stately milkweed, whose pods looked like a well-crafted sculpture against the white snow. I even bent down to collect a few handfuls of juniper berries for spice and tea in my kitchen.

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I hiked along the front dunes, stopping at the clustering stands of Poplars to gather their aromatic and resinous buds to make a Balm of Gilead warming muscle salve.  Stopping at each tree (stands of P. grandidentata; though stands of P. tremuloides, P. balsamifera, and P. deltoides are also common on the foredunes of this area), I tasted the buds for that signature resinous-camphor-like flavor on my tongue so I would know which buds to gather. My dog stopped along with me — patient and musing as to why her human companion was tasting trees again. I tasted to be sure they were the most strong buds. Not surprisingly, the flavor varied from tree to tree.**

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The large-toothed aspens delighted me with super resinous buds – way more warming, resinous and spicy than the quaking aspens (P. tremuloides) back downstate in my own woods and in the nearby back dunes, from which I’ll gather bark later in the spring for bitters blends. The buds will vary from species to species and from locale to locale. Use your senses to determine strength and how you might want to use them.

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The buds will be extracted into a coconut oil base to be made into a muscle salve. If I have enough, I will also extract the buds into a tincture of high-proof alcohol to make a topical liniment for tight and sore muscles. The poplar buds can be formulated also with goldenrod, St. John’s Wort, and yarrow for a well-rounded muscle salve or liniment.

Balm of Gilead Infused Oil Recipe : Add 1 cup fresh Poplar buds (taste for resinous and aromatic flavor) to a mason jar, cover completely with olive or coconut oil. Let steep for 6 weeks and then strain. For faster extraction, simmer mason jar in a double boiler with water or in a crock pot. Finished oil can be used alone as a massage oil or used as a base for a nice salve.

**A note on sustainability: Poplars drop their branches during heavy windstorms, making it most sustainable foraging to gather barks and buds from fallen branches. Buds can be gathered from live trees, but do gather only a handful from tree to tree, and be sure to give thanks for the harvest the trees offer. 

 

 

 

Are you a worry wort?

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The darkness of winter gives us a chance to rest and replenish as the days begin to grow longer and progress toward spring. In addition to nourishing the body with good foods and healing flavors, now is the time to experiment with ways to address stress, insomnia, and worry and find out what works for you to help you have a better handle on life to address your stressors year-round. There are many things we can do on a daily basis to help manage stress, anxiety and worry including use herbal therapies to help us achieve the life style changes we need.

Stress & Our Body. Physiologically, it’s important to remember that when we are stressed, many of the body’s processes get put on hold. The body’s energy is diverted away from the immune responses, making it hard to both defend against viruses and infections – even chronic disease.  We stop digesting when we are under stress, reproductive hormones decrease, our glands dry up, and our respiratory response quickens. This, over-time, can have huge impacts on our immune system and quality of life.

Herbs aren’t needed for exercise! Get moving! Movement and physical activity (especially movement in the brisk, winter’s air) is something all bodies regularly need to both fight stress and build immunity: With proper hydration, movement keeps muscles and ligaments juicy and lymphatic glands moving. It helps blow off elevated cortisol from a stressful day and over time and in tandem with a healthy diet, can have a significant impact on blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Aromatic Herbals for Energy. Instead of that extra shot of espresso, go with an aromatic herbal blend.  Rose, Mints, Lavender, Lemon Balm — all have aromatic oils that are uplifting and can provide a boost of energy without adding the extra stress on the system that caffeine offers. These herbs can help clear a foggy head in the middle of a workday, break up tension from stress or soothe a headache caused by dramatic changes in the weather patterns.  Try adding these aromatic essential oils in a bottle for a refreshing face mist or room clearing spray to help lift the mood.

Still tired? THEN SLEEP MORE!  Regular sleep patterns seem to be quite a luxury nowadays, but sadly, this lack of sleep is a contributing factor to weight gain and deprives our body of the desperately needed rest and restore time so it can recover from our demanding wake time.  How to support a regular sleep schedule? Reduce after-hours activities that include screen time. Late night computer and television use can actually disturb the REM sleep patterns later in the evening. Try to cut off screen time after 9 or 10, and certainly avoid the urge to turn the screens on if you are unable to fall asleep.

Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. This can affect the body’s ability to fall asleep later at night. Limit alcohol consumption to dinner time.  Having the proverbial nightcap may be a relaxant beverage, but regular, late-night consumption of alcohol can also disturb REM sleep patterns (not to mention, relying on alcohol or other heavy narcotic to support regular sleep can lead to longterm dependency).

Insomnia? Relaxant herbals can help you catch some Zzzzz’s. The ritual alone of bedtime tea can help you unwind at the end of a busy day. Try blending relaxant herbals like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Catnip, Rose, Blue Vervain, Scullcap or Kava Kava. Hops and Valerian can also help and relax the body for sleep.

Try these as tinctures, teas or even as massage oils and balms to help the body relax and relieve the stressors of the day. Or perhaps a hot bath? Herbs can be infused into bathwater as a tea or infused into an epsom salt bath. This can be done with whole herbs or by using aromatic essential oils.

Upset tummy? Try bitters. In times of stress, the body slows the digestive process and this can inhibit the proper uptake of core nutrients leading to a different sort of malnutrition. Bitter herbs are a MUST for helping stagnant digestion that is symptomatic of excess stress.

Bitter foods ~should~ be had as food and a main staple in our diets (think dandelion leaves, Romaine lettuce, fennel, Chamomile tea) but they can also be integrated into our diets as classic digestifs (such as commercial Campari or Angostura) or tinctured bitters (variety of herbs can be used for homemade bitters, such as orange peel, cinnamon, aspen Bark, fennel, chocolate, etc).

Lemon balm or catnip does wonders for soothing an anxious stomach. Blend it with aromatic herbs like cinnamon or lavender.  Chamomile also does wonders to calm nervous anxiety.

Ulcerations: If there extreme digestive deficiency and there is ulcer, etc., more must be done with diet and herbs that can support the mucosa to heal should be introduced (marshmallow, slippery elm, etc). Reduce alcohol, sugar and refined foods. See an herbalist to formulate an herbal protocol to best help gut healing.

Can’t get out of bed? Herbs for Grief, Sadness or Depression. Herbs like tulsi basil, hawthorne, rose petals, lavender, and lemon balm can offer comfort for a sad heart. Aromatic herbs are uplifting and help clear away the dark clouds and offer some clarity and peace of mind. And of course, see a professional if your stress simply is hanging over you to the point where are are affected and family and friends can no longer help. There is a role for pharmaceuticals, and many can be used in combination with herbals – just first consult an herbalist familiar with both therapeutics.

Nourish your nervous system for the long term. Build back up your nervous system with herbs that can actually restore tone to the central nervous system used over time . These herbs include milky oats (Avena sativa), nettle, passionflower, skullcap, ashwaganda, burdock root, and American ginseng. There are others, but those are a few favorites (and toning needs to be done with lifestyle change).

Lisa Rose’s Time for Sleep Tea**

1 Part Passionflower

1 Part Catnip

1 Part Elderflower

1/2 Part Holy Basil

Steep, covered in hot water (in a french press or tea ball) for 2 minutes and then sip. Promotes restfulness, focus and soothes an anxious mind and stomach so you can sleep.

**Bulk, dry herbs are available via Mountain Rose Herbs

Nourishing With Herbal & Bone Broths

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Broths! This may seem like the newest food trend but alas – herbal and bone broths have been in simmering on the stoves of healing kitchens across the globe and across time. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, broth is a key component to building yin deficiency and nourishing the body, and the Jewish bubbe knows that chicken soup is her form of penicillin. It’s an ancient food.

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A mug of gelatinous beef broth, a good replacement for that second cup of morning coffee.

Is it broth or stock? There is much banter back and forth between culinary professionals as to the difference between stocks and broths: To me, that’s like asking the difference between potato or po-tah-to. Personally, I consider stock (made from bones, meat and soft tissue – and sometimes prepared with herbs and veggies) a key staple in every kitchen. I consider broth the final preparation that is actually served at the table.

As an herbalist (and home cook, athlete and MOM), my focus is on making broths with nutritive benefits that come from cooking the bones (preferably from pastured, organic animals), soft connective tissue, herbal plants and mushrooms. Broths can be especially powerful when power-packed with nutritive herbs and medicinal plants like nettle, red clover, oatstraw, seaweeds, horsetail, astragalus, burdock and wild foraged medicinal mushrooms like reishi, maitake, shitake, and chaga.

Sun curing foraged Reishi for my broths

Sun curing foraged Reishi for my broths

I use broths as a simple soup and in many cooked dishes in my kitchen. It is a very nutrient dense, healing food! With the bones, connective tissue, herbs and veggies, a long cooking time (about 2 days, consistent heat, immediate storage) plus an acid added to the simmer (vinegar or tomato paste) extracts the minerals and amino acids found in bone and soft tissue into the broth.

Gelatin is made in the process of boiling stock that comes from the bones and the soft tissues of cartilage — which then produces collagen and thus amino acids for the body. These are then are the foundational building blocks for developing the body’s muscle and soft tissue. Consuming these as a broth makes them bioavailable to the body and easily digestible to nourish both the tissues and the immune system. ***

Broth can provide these building blocks to nourish the gastrointestinal tract, lubricate joints, re-vitalize skin, build muscle fibers, and enriches the blood. Consumed as part of a regular diet, broths can ease inflammatory bowel disease, serve as a preventative for rheumatoid arthritis (offering a food source of glycosamine), ease ulcerative colitis and gastritis, and address mineral deficiencies from a whole foods-centered perspective.

Broths should be a part of anyone’s approach to healing illness or debility. Recovering from the flu? Broths are easily digestible and can offer the immune system nutrients to rebuild while recovering from illness.

Healing a bone fracture, herniated disc, torn ligament or rebuilding dental deterioration? Because of the proteins, collagen and amino acids, the nutrients in broths can facilitate wound healing and support tissue repair.

Undergoing surgery? Broths can be included also as part of a pre- and post operative care regime to ensure the body has accesses to the most nutrients to endure surgery and facilitate recovery.

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A staple of my own diet, it’s great to see bone broth is becoming mainstream! I stock my own kitchen with broth for use across the year. It makes it super-easy to have on hand for both cooking and use when one of us in the family is sick.

I’ve learned many things about stock making over the years, and will say this: While there are a lot of techniques to produce the perfect stock, don’t stress. It doesn’t have to be perfectly clear like a consumme, or kept on a low simmer (we are extracting minerals here, so turning up the heat high if you don’t have a lot of time won’t matter – because heat doesn’t destroy minerals).

I invite you to learn more about broths and herbs I use to fortify my broth.  Read more ON MY BLOG for my recipes (with vegan tips as well). For classes on broths and broth making, check out my upcoming CLASSES.  To purchase my foraged herbs and medicinal mushrooms for your broth, visit my ONLINE shop.

Here are some recent links on the subject for your discernment:

Click HERE to see my most recent convo with WZZM13’s Healthy U and Val Lego on broths.

Jim McDonald’s recipes, musings and links on Broth

Chef Michael Rhulman’s Recipe for a Stovetop Stock plus links & Yummy bacteria convo

The Nourished Kitchen on Bone Broths with links to easy crock pot recipes.

More broth safety tips from The Kitchn.

My favorite SeaWeed Source: NatureSpirit Herbs

Need herbs? Organic, bulk herbs available from Mountain Rose Herbs. But they can also sometimes be sourced locally using LocalHarvest.org. 

Grassfed, pastured healthy bones for stock: LocalHarvest.Org for a farmer nearest you

Mushroom sources at Mushroom Harvest

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Broth on the run: Enjoying a bowl of Vietnamese pho, with rare brisket and extra tendon. One of my favorite nourishing dishes if I am out and about, or after a long run.

***Vegans will miss these benefits from stock, but there are herbal broths I recommend to provide key minerals for the body including magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and silica. READ MORE for tips I offer those wishing to follow a plant-based diet.

Holiday Cooking with Pines, Spruce & Firs

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Spruce tips (Picea spp) are a wonderful culinary flavoring in the kitchen.

 

From firs to pines to spruces– these favorite evergreens adorned many homes for the holidays with their fragrant boughs.

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to take down the trimmings– but wait! The boughs can serve an additional purpose: Before directing that greenery out to the compost or to the curb for recycling, think about repurposing those evergreens in the kitchen for both culinary flavorings and herbal medicine.***

Pines, firs and spruces are all edible and have various notes of flavor in their needles and branches. There is no finer way to bring the aroma of the forest into the kitchen and onto the plate than by cooking with these evergreens. High in vitamin C, the needles of pines, firs and spruces are notably bright, slightly sour, and citrusy in flavor. The needles can be used as a culinary flavoring in most recipes that call for lemon. Chop the needles and use them as an herb to flavor salads, butters, and vinegars for dressings. Add the needles to potato salads, bean salads, and pasta salads with other fresh salad greens. The needles, chopped, can also be used to flavor rustic breads in place of rosemary.

For the bar, spruce and pine needles can be made into a simple syrup or infused honey that can flavor mixed drinks or martinis. Beer brewers are becoming interested in using foraged ingredients and can use the fresh spruce or pine tips as a flavoring agent in the second fermentation cycle of brewing. A short fermentation will capture the desired aromatics and citrus high notes for a Belgian or wheat-styled ale without making the brew overly “tree” flavored.

Roasting meat or fish? Water-soaked boughs and needles can be used to roast or steam white-fleshed fish to infuse the meat with the flavors of the evergreens.

And for dessert, concoct a pine or spruce-infused honey to drizzle over ice cream (or can flavor ice cream!). The infused honey can also be served alongside a Stilton or local cheddar cheese — It is a sumptous way to savor the magical forest flavor.

These conifers also have a place in the herbal apothecary. As an herbal remedy, spruce, fir or pine needles can be made into a tea. Add boiling water to a pot of needles, cover, and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Its aromatics can open up stuffy sinuses and the astringency of the tea can help dry up runny noses and sinus gunk. Sweeten with honey, sip, and inhale the aromatics for best results.

Other musings on these conifers and their uses:

Pine needle tea

Fir body balms: (My friend and herbalist Rebecca McTrouble makes a divine White Fir Body Butter)

Spruce tip beer

Aromatic steam inhalations for colds and flus

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***Foraging note: Some things to give consideration before using the evergreen boughs for food and herbal use — make sure your boughs were sourced from a tree farm or nursery that uses chemical-free growing practices. It’s common in commercial Christmas tree farming to spray the trees with a fire retardant also, in addition to possible herbicides and/or pesticides used in the fields.

Don’t decorate your home with conifers for the holiday? The branches and boughs can be sustainably harvested off the forest floor after a winter’s wind storm without having to gather directly from a mature tree. 

Holiday Merriment Means Movement

IMG_2009It’s that time of year again when holiday stress is high.  Holiday parties, plates of butter cookies, and glasses of cabernet are the temptresses: singing to us like sirens on the rocks with their promises to way-lay the best set plans for getting in some exercise. We all kvetch that there is little time to “get it all done,” much less build in time for movement and exercise.

But movement and physical activity (especially movement in the brisk, winter’s air) is as important as making healthy choices during the holidays and getting adequate rest. Movement is something all bodies regularly need to both fight stress and build immunity: With proper hydration, movement keeps muscles and ligaments juicy and lymphatic glands moving. It helps blow off elevated cortisol from a stressful day and over time and in tandem with a healthy diet, can have a significant impact on blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Too many group commitments? Instead of another cookie party meet up, suggest a walk around the neighborhood as a way to get in some movement and fresh air. Or consider other group activities — from ice skating to sledding to roller skating, a group could even hit up the open swim at a local pool for a game of Marco Polo. It doesn’t really matter your current physical fitness level — it just matters that you make the decision and move!

And don’t let the snow and cold be a deterrent to getting outside.  The cold winter air is great to help build immunity and stay strong during cold and flu season — it just requires a mental re-frame about the winter weather and a bit of clothing planning. Remember, there is never the wrong weather — only the wrong clothing.

Here are some ideas to try that will keep your heart rocking, your glutes burning and will mix it up for the holidays. The tips are Grand Rapids specific, but wherever you are located, you can check into community resources in your area for similar activities — and all these suggestions are group and family friendly! Mix it up and get moving!

Ice-skating. There’s nothing more picturesque during the holiday season than an outdoor ice-skating rink.  Grand Rapids locals know one of the most fun and magical locations for ice skating is outdoors at Rosa Parks Circle located in downtown Grand Rapids in the city’s center adjacent to the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It’s our own little Rockefeller, and has affordable ice skate rentals. Afterward, you can stroll the local streets for some last minute holiday shopping or stop into the Art Museum to check out their most recent exhibit. There are also many private rinks in the area featuring rentals and open skate throughout the holiday season.

Skiing. Whether it’s classic cross country or downhill adventure seeking you crave, the snow machine has been ON in Michigan since Thanksgiving, allowing nearly all the local hills and resorts to have established base conditions for this early in the season. For cross country lovers, Kent Trails provides miles of fantastic cross trails, and many ski resorts offer both rentals and groomed trails where you can spend the day testing your cardio, quads and glutes on the skis. For a resource on all things ski related, including resort and conditions reports, check out MISkiReport.

Sledding Hills. Yes, wax the toboggan, it’s time for some sledding. West Michigan boasts some great sledding hills especially at the lakeshore state parks (Hoffmaster is especially nice) as well as in the city here in Grand Rapids (GR Kids GR Sledding Hill Guide), Pando is also a local favorite for tubing down the hills, and also has trails and gear for the ski enthusiast.

Roller skating. Roller skates! Yes, the 80s are alive and well (infused with a bit of Taylor Swift top 40 hits) at local rinks in the West Michigan area including Tarry Hall in Grandville. So, get your best Limbo and Hokey Pokey ready — it’s time to lace up and go for a roll!!!

Trampolines. Want to blow through a ton of calories playing on trampolines? Check out SkyZone Indoor Trampoline Play . This is exactly what is sounds like! Indoor trampoline play great for kids and adults alike—  you can even book “court time” to accommodate a group for an organized session of Dodgeball.

Hiking.   Grand Rapids is surrounded by extensive trail networks that are ready for a nice Christmas or New Year’s hike with family, a trail run or even a session on snow shoes. Enjoy the benefits of the great Michigan outdoors in winter. It’s magical and good for your spirit as well as body, and a great time to practice winter botany for upcoming spring foraging haunts!

Foot Races. There are some of us running junkies (ahem, you know who you are) who will want to get a race or two in over the holiday. Well, I am not going to say no to that one. The classic year-end Wolverine World Wide Resolution 4 mile Run/Walk is a great way to wrap up 2014 on New Year’s Eve, and then you can wake up and race all over again with a New Year’s Day race at the lakeshore for the Sgt Preston Yukon King Run.

All in all, don’t sweat the small stuff — just make sure you do sweat some over the holidays. It’s that first step that’s always the most difficult, but in the end so very worth it for your health. Your body and loved ones will thank you!

Happy Holiday Trails!

Surviving Holiday Stress: Have a Cup of Tea

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We all know the holidays can be stressful- even lonely for many people.  The stress can take its toll — not just impacting our relationships, but excess stress can set us up for getting sick … and no one wants to suffer thru the holidays with a cold virus. While I cannot help you with your in-laws, shopping list or wild holiday calendar, I can suggest a few favorite de-stressing herbal teas that you can keep on hand to help you have a more bliss-ful season. 

Need an energy boost? Go with an aromatic herbal blend.  Rose, Mints, Lavender, Lemon Balm — all have aromatic oils that are uplifting and can provide a boost of energy without adding the extra stress on the system that caffeine offers. These herbs can help clear a foggy head in the middle of a workday, break up tension from stress or soothe a headache caused by dramatic changes in the weather patterns.   

Trying to catch some Zzzzz’s? The ritual alone of bedtime tea can help you unwind at the end of a busy day. Try blending relaxant herbals like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Spearmint, Catnip, Rose, Blue Vervain, Scullcap or Kava Kava. Hops and Valerian can also help and relax the body for sleep.

Nervousness giving you a tummy ache? Lemon balm does wonders for soothing an anxious stomach. I love it in my Melissa Bitters Blend. Chamomile also does wonders to calm nervous anxiety.

Can’t stop thinking about that To-Do list?  I like Passionflower, Wood Betony and Blue Vervain. Great to add to sleepy-time blends when your list-making gets in the way of falling asleep.

Heavy hearted? For those missing loved ones over the holidays, loneliness and depression can set in. While herbs can’t replace the presence of those loved ones, herbs like hawthorne, rose petals, lavender, and lemon balm can offer comfort for a sad heart. I find aromatic herbs are uplifting and help clear away the dark clouds and offer some clarity and peace of mind.

Build up your nervous system. Stress can take its toll on the body and weaken the immune system, making it more vulnerable to illness. Herbal teas (or infusions) that can actually restore tone to the central nervous system over time include Nettle, Red Clover, Oatstraw, Burdock Root.

The pressure of parties and gift-giving can be manic and overwhelming, leaving little time left to savor the the season. Take a few moments for quiet reflection to appreciate all of our gifts during this holiday season. Moments taken to remember what we do have can offer true healing and feelings of abundance.

Join me for an upcoming workshop on stress and herbs on January 26 at Acorn Studios! You’ll learn about these herbs and others, and make your own personalized tea, herbal salt scrub and herbal spritzer. Register here, spots are limited!

Wild Flavors of Thanksgiving: Chestnuts

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In Michigan and across much of the Midwest it’s a SNOW DAY! The snow out my window already blankets the ground with drifts in some areas over 2 feet deep!

This makes me glad for the season’s harvests that already are packed away in my pantry for hearty winter meals — the acorn flour, the fruit jams, the herbal simple syrups and the dried herbs for cooking and for tea. As I plan my holiday meals, I turn to the rich flavors of my autumn harvest to add wild flavors to my table.

One of my favorite flavors from the fall harvest for a forager’s Thanksgiving’s feast is the chestnut. The chestnut (Castanea spp.) is a delicious and nutritious edible, whose spiny shell can be found on the ground when the nuts ripen in late September.  Chestnut trees can be found growing along the edges of the mixed hardwood forests, in areas with well-drained soil and sunshine. Chestnuts are also a specialty crop for tree farmers. Check your local food guide for a chestnut grower who may have u-pick or who sells chestnuts at the farmers markets if you’d like to try this delicious fall wild edible.

With a neutral, buttery flavor, the chestnut is very versatile in cooking.  It can be dried and made into chestnut flour, cooked and pureed into a creamy soup. For me, I can’t do Thanksgiving, Chanukkah or Christmas without preparing simple, but classic roasted chestnuts. These delicious morsels can be savored steaming, right out of the pan or integrated into Thanksgiving’s stuffing. 

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Roasted chestnuts are a quintessential holiday dish (cue Nat King Cole) and is an easy appetizer that even the kids will enjoy. I like to roast the chestnuts in a heavy iron skillet on the stovetop (first score a slit with a sharp knife in the bottom of the shell to allow the moisture to escape). Once roasted, they can be easily peeled and enjoyed warm from the shell. 

With an abundance of gratitude, other wild foods that will find their place on my holiday table — nettles, serviceberries, acorns, autumn olive, wild apples, linden cocktail syrups and the needles of conifers to flavor my roasted meats. What foraged flavors will be on your table this season?

Crafting Your Cold & Flu GamePlan

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It’s unavoidable — being human means we will get the icky sniffles at some point this winter season, but the good news is that our bodies are of amazing design. We have built-in immune responses to help defend our system when we catch a virus or bacterial infection.

The trick is ~working~ with these immune system responses to ensure we can defend our body from further debility and return to everyday life just as strong as before.  Here’s a general game-plan for you to consider BEFORE you start to get sick so you can choose helpful therapeutics, recover and get back to the game of life.

Recognize the early warning signs. Stressed? Feeling worn out?Aches? Pains? These may be early signs that your body is giving you to SLOW DOWN. You may be under excess stress, making you more susceptible to viruses and illness. Dial back and rest, and most likely you will be able to negotiate the coming weeks sans illness. Make sure you nourish your body with good food, sleep, and Vitamin D.

Early-on Herbal Therapeutics. When you first start feeling crappy, try to kick the ick early and employ herbal therapeutics to support your body’s immune processes. Bust out the elderberry syrup – it can help inhibit the virus’ ability to reproduce. Echinacea also can help boost the peripheral immune system. Combo teas like mint, yarrow and elderflower are a must-have to help early on in a cold or flu, helping stimulate the immune system and relax the body.

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Elderberry syrup is a must-have staple in every home apothecary.

Rest up to kick it quick. My theory? Cut your losses early, rest and get better more quickly. Renegotiate any short term commitments to allow for some significant rest. I know this is hard for us parents, or folks with work that isn’t very flexible. Do what you can to re-arrange the workload so your immune system gets a bit more bandwidth to fight an infection. Remember, energy put into work while you are sick is energy that could be used for your healing. And the potential cost of pushing through a cold or flu virus? A secondary bacterial infection. No one wants that.

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Mandatory bed rest for your herbalist: At the corner of sick and miserable.

Got sniffles? A fever? At this point, you are sick and the hypothalamus is calling in the troops.  Don’t try suppressing those immune responses like the sniffles and a fever. Remember — these are not illnesses. They are ways the body helps fight illness. They are on your team!!! Fevers are not inherently bad (read more on fevers HERE thanks to Jim McDonald)– Support the fever’s therapeutic actions with herbs like elderflower, mints, yarrow, ginger, boneset, or chamomile. These are wonderful as hot teas (the hot water is a therapy in and of itself). These will help the body produce an effective fever and also be relaxant to the body (good for the aches and pains). As for those sniffles? Work with the body’s attempts at trying to loosen and move the phlegm and mucous so that healthy tone can be restored to the respiratory tissues. Using an OTC mucous eliminator is counter intuitive to maintaining healthy tissues — mucous is good!

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Aromatic garden herbs (fresh or dry) can be used as an herbal inhalation steam to clear clogged and congested sinuses.

Soothe the congestion. Try an aromatic herbal steam inhalation with peppermint essential or eucalyptus oil to open the sinuses. Or brew a pot of aromatic garden herbs like thyme, sage, or lavender to open the sinuses. Don’t forget to eat onion and garlic in copious amounts for its aromatic and antimicrobial benefits. Raw honey is also helpful too, especially in soothing a dry cough. A relaxant lung herb like mullein or cherry bark can help relax and open the lungs, while elecampane can work well on damp, wet coughs (great in bacterial infections also).

Chicken soup (or in my house -Jewish penicillin). Ok, it doesn’t have to be chicken. But any hot soups — nourishing clear broths full with onions, garlic, cayenne will help warm the body and the aromatic kitchen herbs can help clear clogged sinuses and offer additional anti-microbial benefits. I make broths well in advance of getting sick and store the quarts in the freezer so they are at the ready when my family gets sick. Click HERE for my recipes.

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Consider making chicken or beef broth by the stock-pot full and then freezing it to have on hand all winter long.

Clean out the gunk. Rest. Repeat. As the body starts to feel better, your lymphatic system will be working to clean up the debris left over from your immune system’s battle. Support this lymphatic work with continued liquids and broths, and herbs (teas or tinctures) that include red root, mullein, or very simply lemon in your water. This will help move the gunk from your body as it returns to normal. Also don’t jump back into the grind the first moment you feel better. Continue to take it easy for 10 days or so after a serious illness.mSlowly re-introduce work, stress and strenuous physical activity over time. This will all help to prevent a secondary bacterial infection that can easily settle in if your defenses are down and you carelessly jump back into the fray.

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When you start to feel better, continue to support your body by drinking lots of clear fluids – simple lemon water can help your lymphatic system “clean up” after illness.

Once you are better, keep feeding your body good foods, get enough sleep and exercise — that is foundational for winter wellness. For a bit more on my cold and flu theories read more HERE. And remember, at any given time you feel your illness is beyond your control and you find yourself turning to Facebook for answers — see a doctor.

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