Burdock & Rose

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

Tag: recipes

Making Chai Magical with Chaga

Weather’s changing. Glad for a warm hearth, food on my stove and a pantry & apothecary full of ways to keep me & my family healthy this winter. Counting my blessings.

With the cold, damp weather upon us, one of my most favorite warming drinks is Chai. I like my chai so many different ways — with boiled coffee, with Lapsang Seuchong tea for a nice smoky flavor. With good, rich raw organic milk and honey.

My chai is a basic Masala Chai and varies depending on my mood or what I have on hand.  Masala means blend, and that makes me feel good about never really being strict on what goes into the pot. It allows me to tailor it as I wish.

Chai, on the whole, is a wonderful beverage that can help move circulation to the fingers and toes. It is perfect for this time of year once the weather turns colder. If you are headed outside, drink Chai when you come back in to quickly warm up those extremities. As someone who is chronically cold, this is a great way to warm up (that, and making sure I get enough fats in my diet!!).

Funny enough, I never had many warming aromatic spicy drinks in my house growing up as a child. I don’t ever remember having ginger in the house or chilies … and gosh, maybe never even fresh garlic, now that I think of it. Ah, life as a caucasian child in West Michigan in the 80s… These are all herbs I’ve come to appreciate from my own culinary and herbal learnings as an adult. But I digress. That’s all for another post.

It wasn’t until I moved out to the San Francisco Bay Area that really began drinking Chai (REAL chai — not the stuff in the box that became popular in the late 90s). I learned how to first make chai while volunteering at Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley… and somewhere I have that recipe that will serve 30.  I’ve adapted that recipe over the past 12 years (below), and now I can easily make just a pot of chai on the stove for myself while working at home or for visiting friends and clients.  You will find my recipe is written in a way that it can be easily scaled for any size group.

Making Chai Magical with Chaga. One of the most delicious ingredients I’ve been adding to my chai lately (as well to coffee, soups, bone broths, and sauces) is Chaga mushroom. Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a parasitic fungus that grows out of the wounds of birch trees (Betula spp). It grows across the northern hemisphere in forests with the Birch tree, and can be found here in the woods of the Great Lakes where the birch trees are plentiful.

Location & Foraging. I haven’t had much luck finding Chaga in the immediate Grand Rapids area, so I usually head north to forage it, where it grows aplenty. Some local folks have also said that it’s abundant along the lakeshore in West Michigan — though while growing up, I cannot ever remember that being one of the mushrooms we hunted for growing up (that’s not to say it isn’t there — I am sure it is). Bring along a mallet or small hammer to help get the Chaga from the tree. It’s harder than you might think. Be sure to thank the tree when harvesting always…

Because chaga is becoming popular and has been qualified as a locavore superfood, sustainable and careful harvesting of the fungus is important. Practice mindful harvesting techniques and do not remove the entire fruiting body from the tree to ensure that the chaga will continue to grow and mature for future harvests. It can take up to a decade for chaga to regrow to a harvestable size.

Uses. I was first introduced to Chaga as it’s used in herbal medicine by herbalist and friend Jim McDonald, and fell in love with the taste, smell and texture of Chaga when I first experienced herbalist Margi Flint’s skin cream. Because of it’s history of use for cell regeneration and support for the immune system, I learned from Flint that she incorporates the Chaga into foods, teas, beverages, and into that skin cream of her’s. Not only have I fallen in love adding Chaga to all sorts of foods, but I have had fantastic luck with making herbal variations of Margi’s Chaga Cream to support the skin’s ability to regenerate healthy skin cells and ward off melanoma.

Taste. Chaga has this rich flavor profile not all that dissimilar to a dark chocolate. It pairs well adding it to boiled coffee, pasta sauces, chili recipes, mole sauces, peanut butter & chocolate smoothies and ice cream and chai.  Imagine slathering yourself with this wonderful emmolient cream that smells of chocolate and feels so nourishing… Oh, I digress again. That cream recipe is for another post.

Processing. To get the most from this mushroom, it needs to be powdered and ground, and then its medicine is best extracted in a long simmering decoction in water to make a tea.

Processing is super easy if you just go online and order pre-powdered Chaga from a reputable mushroom source. I have had great experience with Mushroom Harvest and highly recommend their products.  Not so easy if you are foraging your own Chaga.

If you forage your own fresh Chaga off the Birch tree, Chaga is nearly impossible to process without the use of heavy stone tools, a hammer, and — I most recently l learned — a wood rasp to grind it down to a beautifully fine powder for infusions.

Don’t put whole Chaga pieces in your blender or spice grinder as it most likely will burn out your motor and screw up your blade (trust me on this one). If you are smashing it up, take care to use a sizable, durable mortar and pestle (once broken down into larger chunks).  Some say to remove the blackened exterior shell of the mushroom, but I just use the whole thing. You might want to wear protective eye-wear, too, lest you want chunks of flying Chaga in your eyeball (Safety first, right?).

Preparation. To make a Chaga infusion, add 1 part ground/powdered mushroom to 10 parts boiling water and then simmer for 20 minutes for a long extraction. Strain and consume. Make stovetop boiled coffee with it (yum). The infusion can be frozen for future use to cook foods like pastas, grains, nourishing infusions and bone broths. It can also be used as the waters in a cream recipe if you make your own skin cream.

The ground/powdered mushroom ~can~ also be added directly to a sauce or soup or smoothie (take care, though there are no large bits, lest you want to break a tooth by surprise). Some suggest a double extraction if you wish to make a tincture from a tea, but I haven’t used it this way and am not sure of the ratios. For my Chai, I add the ground mushroom to the final simmer of the herbs in the water. Or an infusion can be used to simmer the aromatics.

Lisa’s Masala Chai:

Masala Aromatics (for 2 quarts of Chai):

1 TBSP cinnamon

1 TBSP coriander

1 TBSP cloves

1/2 TBSP cumin

1/4 TBSP cardamon

1/4TBSP black pepper

1/4 TBSP dry ginger

I toss all these ingredients into an iron skillet and slightly toast them on the stove. I let the blend cool and add a dash of nutmeg, then grind when ready to make Chai. Because I make large batches of roasted Masala blend, I store it in a glass jar and then use about 5 tablespoons of herbs to grind and then make into Chai.   Pro-tip: This is the same blend you can use to make a Masala vegetable dishes. So it’s good to have a large batch on hand for more than just chai.. 😉

Simmering the Chai:

Add the Masala Blend, 2 TBSP of ground Chaga to a pot and cover with 2 quarts boiling water, simmer for 20 minutes. For a bit more local flavor, add in a few tablespoons of local SpiceBush Berries if you have some.

Remove from heat and add black tea (I like Lapsang Seuchong) if you wish. If your tea is added as loose leaf, I suggest that you strain the Chai into a thermos or teapot after about 2 minutes (the tea can turn your Chai very tannic if left to steep too long). If using a tea ball, just remove the tea after a few minutes.

Sweeten the entire pot or by the glass with real maple syrup or honey. Yum. Add milk, too, if you like. Sip. Enjoy.

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Resources:

Processing Chaga video: I came across this interesting YouTube Video and thought I’d share. It demonstrates the use of a rasp.

More on Chaga from another Michigan WildCrafter

Kiva’s Chai Musings

Double extraction process for making a tincture with Chaga

For other Chai recipe ideas: FoodIly

To order bulk organic herbs, I frequently recommend Mountain Rose Herbs

Wild Summer Refreshments: Sumac “Lemonade”

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In the middle of a hot and steamy July, there’s nothing like a tall glass of refreshing lemonade. But here in the Midwest, lemons aren’t local… but guess what? You can make that pitcher of lemonade – or a copycat “lemonade” without the lemons while using the staghorn sumac berries instead!

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Staghorn sumac, Rhus typhina

“What,” you say? Lemonade without lemons??? Well, ok, so sumac “lemonade” would more appropriately be called a tea. But that’s besides the point… Infused in cold water overnight, the sumac berries of Rhus glabra and Rhus typhina make a great-tasting, refreshing sour and citrus-like beverage that is delicious on its own or simply sweetened with honey and garnished with lavender for an extra herbal flavor.

Common in hedgerows and at the edges of the field are the staghorn and smooth sumac (Rhus typhina and Rhus glabra respectively). Both sumacs are common native shrubs whose flower clusters ripen into deep red fruit clusters toward the end of July and into early September. For more tips on identifying sumac, get a copy of my book, Midwest Foraging to take with you into the fields! 

The berries – or drupes in botanical language – taste sour like lemonade. Use hand pruners to gather the drupes into a bucket, choosing the clusters that are most bright in color and most uniformly red. In the kitchen, separate the red and sour drupes from the stems – be warned there may be a scattering of small bugs as you sort the plants.

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To prepare: Pack the drupes into a jar and cover them with cold water. Let them soak for a day or so in the fridge. Strain the liquid into a serving pitcher and voila – a delicious pink lemonade! Serve cold over ice and garnish with sprigs of lavender.

To see my TV segment on Staghorn Sumac Lemonade and easy tips for foraging with kids, visit WZZM13 Online: Staghorn Sumac.

Simply Sassy: A Mitten Gal’s Sassafras Rootbeer 

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The dunes of my childhood where sassafras grows in abundance.

While on a trail run through the dunes of Hoffmaster State Park this summer I realized that there is no other smell reminiscent of my West Michigan lakeshore upbringing than sassafras. That aromatic, spicy rootbeer fragrance of the sassafras floats on the breeze in the dew of the morning or after a wet, damp rain. It is one of those smells that truly defines my life.

You can imagine my delight when forager friend Sam Thayer recommended me to host a Minneapolis-based film crew to learn all about sassafras for their “How To Make Everything: Rootbeer” segment! I enjoyed taking the crew through the dunes woods of my childhood stomping grounds to gather the sassafras roots for their project. Check out our final segment on sassafras HERE.

Though it is fall and the leaves are rapidly falling from the trees, it isn’t to late to gather a few saplings to make a late fall batch of rootbeer! Want to make your own local rootbeer? Read more…

A Mitten Gal’s Sassafras Rootbeer 

Sassafras albidumSassafras is common along trails and beach areas and makes a delightful tea and culinary spice. Sassafras is a small deciduous tree that grows to heights of up to 60 feet or more in optimum conditions. It commonly has mitten-shaped, three-lobed and un-lobed leaves. Its bark is a rough and reddish brown, the aromatic roots range in color from white to reddish brown. The roots of a small sapling can be gathered in the spring or fall. Wash, chop, and completely dry them.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a simple syrup with sassafras and other woodland herbs for a refreshing batch of rootbeer soda pop.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup chopped roots of sassafras**
  • 1/4 cup burdock root*
  • 1/4 cup sarsaparilla*
  • 1 tbsp dry hops*
  • 1tsp juniper berries*
  • 10 wintergreen leaves*
  • 1 tsp dry ginger root*
  • 1 tsp spicebush berries (optional)*
  • 4 cups water
  • 4 cups MICHIGAN maple syrup

Directions:

  • Simmer herbs in a pot with 4 cups boiling water for 5 minutes, covered to retain volatile oils.
  • Strain
  • Stir in maple syrup, let cool
  • Add 1 part sassafras simple syrup mixture to 2 parts club soda and serve over ice or with vanilla ice cream
  • Sassafras simple syrup can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 weeks

*Some herbs can be gathered by hand from the wild, procured from your local health food store or ordered online. I like Mountain Rose Herbs as an online supplier for organic herbs. To learn more about sassafras or other herbs mentioned in this recipe? Check out my book, “Midwest Foraging.”

Go Nuts with Walnuts: Italian Walnut Liqueur

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Cocktails flavored with different plants and herbals are now all the rage among foodies and at popular restaurants. Beyond the garden, foraged, wild flavors can be gathered from the woods and fields to be blended into infused liqueurs, simple syrups and handmade bitters for the cocktail cart.

The windfall of falling walnuts becomes noticeable in mid-summer as the green fruits of the black walnut begin to drop. Your main competition for this fruit will be the local wildlife, particularly the ever-aggressive squirrel.

The wild walnut of the Juglans nigra (black walnut) is a forager’s delight – not only does it offer delicious nutmeats for cooking and baked goods, but the green hull has a fragrant, citrus-like aroma that infused in liquor makes a delicious aperatif.

Traditionally, nocino is made from the English walnut, but here in the Midwest, black walnut may be used. In some literature, there has been question whether or not the juglone content of the roots in the black walnut render the nut inedible (as it is a gardener’s nightmare for plants intolerant of the juglone), but there is enough traditional and contemporary use of the black walnut to negate this potential concern. The only issue that the black walnut may cause is in companion planting in the garden! 

For more tips on identifying the black walnut, get a copy of my book, Midwest Foraging to take with you into the fields! 

In “Midwest Foraging,” I describe that  the green hulled walnut can be transformed into a traditional Italian digestif known as nocino, an aromatic spicy liqueur that contains clove, orange peel, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Try making a nocino with the herbs of the spicebush, tulip poplar, and wild ginger.”

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To make your own nocino, gather 4 quarts of green walnut hulls. In the kitchen, stuff large ball jars to the brim with the nuts, including a tablespoon each of clove, juniper berries, orange peel, cardamon, ginger, and 2 cinnamon sticks. Cover completely with vodka (or white wine), and let macerate for 8 weeks. Strain and preserve in a glass bottle to let age.

Enjoy as a sipping liqueur or in a dessert course with fragrant cheese and dark chocolates.

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?

Wild Apples, Forgotten Harvests & ReWilded Pies

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A recent walk around my favorite farmer’s market led me to discover an abundance of wild and feral apples. I am one that is know to snack off trees and pluck greens from the ground as I go about my day, so stopping down to taste one of the abandoned beauties didn’t surprise my companion, who I also offered a taste of the wild, crisp deliciousness. “Why, it tastes just like a real apple!!” my friend exclaimed.

I had to laugh. Without blowing my friend’s cover, I’ll disclose that she is an apple person and her family owns an orchard in Upstate New York. “Well, yes,” I chuckled. “They are in fact real apples. Crabapples, maybe, and wild in flavor, crispness and sweetness, but apples just the same.”  I proceeded to fill her purse with the beauties, because I couldn’t stand to walk away from such an abundant harvest.*

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This year was another bumper crop for apples – both cultivated in the orchards and the feral ones in the field. This is good for foragers this year, as wild apples and crabapples are one of the easiest edible trees to find in parks, landscaping, edges of forests and along trails. Just keep an eye peeled and a harvest bag on hand to collect your windfall. There will be wild apples to gather well into November, both on the trees and on the ground. Just look for firm, healthy looking fruit and taste them along the way to select those with the flavors you prefer best.

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Your wild apple harvests can be stored in a cool, dark place and used into the first part of the winter. Of course, they can be prepared into apple sauces, fruit leathers, dehydrated apple snacks, and pies. The smaller, more tart crabapples are delicious made into a spicy chutney or even pickled. Both can be mashed and made into cider (fermented for hard cider) or made into a delicious apple cider vinegar.

This harvest was made into delicious french dessert called a tarte tatin. A tarte tatin, despite the fancy name, is really an upside-down apple pie. The tarte tatin is probably one of my most favorite french desserts (tied with a clafoutis). I learned how to make it while I was studying in France in college and love the tarte tatin for its rustic simplicity. Perfect for my little foraged apples. Click HERE for a recent recipe featured on Food52.

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It had been AGES since I had made, enjoyed and savored a tarte tatin … and sooo delicious it was.  I scooped spoonfuls of plain yoghurt on top and ate nearly the entire tarte tatin myself. Total perfection in both the feral harvest and rewilded French dessert. C’etait manifique.

A note on urban foraging: I foraging in and about Grand Rapids and am very mindful of the plants I gather, where I gather and when I gather. I feel it’s a forager’s responsibility to own the risks associated with foraging from areas that might be subject to soil and air contaminants and how the plant you are gathering could be affected by such contaminants. That said, I frequently muse to myself that these are plants — specifically like this apple tree — that live alongside me in the city, subject to the same pollutants and noise of the city. To that end, and knowing that there would be little issue of spray, brake dust, or heavy metal contaminants in the apples I was gathering (AND that the harvest was for my own personal consumption), I didn’t feel too concerned gathering these fallen fruits from the ground. 

Wolf Moon’s Winter Woodland Plant Medicines

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The light of the shining January Wolf Moon falls onto the crisp, glimmering snow crystals of the Michigan Winter Woods.  Winter is at its peak — the smell of cold, crisp, harsh air reminds us of the scarcity of the dark months.

But even in the depths of winter’s darkness, nature offers us healing winter remedies for the season’s ailments. Up above in the canopy of the woods, the boughs of White Pine sends songs of its healing for the respiratory system into the breeze through the trees. Down below on the forest floor, the garlicky wild chives poke through even the most frozen ground, cold but still carrying that flavorful aromatic of onion.

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With the drying, resinous aromatic of the pine and the stimulating flavors of the wild chives, together both can be brewed as teas to help dispel the damp and stagnant lung mucous of winter’s respiratory distresses. It can also help release stuck mucous in the sinus cavities. And the Pine adds in a bit of Vitamin C for an extra boost of this needed winter vitamin. Because of this tea’s drying nature, juice of lemon and the addition of honey are nice to add a soothing, coating element to the tea. Also from the woods, wild cherry bark (Prunus, sp) can be added to help quell an  unproductive spasmodic cough and support it to be more productive in eliminating congestion.

For sustainable gathering, collect fallen boughs and branches of White Pine after strong winds have passed through the woods and clip the tops of the chives as they are perennial (at least here in the Great Lakes) and will regrow as the sunlight returns to the forest.  Brew handfuls of both pine needles & tips along with handfuls of chives in equal parts hot water for 10 minutes. Sip hot.

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For steam inhalations, put a few handfuls of the plants into a steaming pot. Remove from the stove and cover your head with a towel to help open the most stuck of sinuses. This trick below — particularly the use of the child’s towel – was handed down to me from teacher and friend herbalist Jim McDonald (photo credit: T. Beel, 2013).

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The aroma of the simmering pine also helps clear the air of stagnant winter ick that can collect inside the home. Simmer pine tips and needles on the stove, releasing the aromatic oils into the air.

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