Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


3 Comments

Saffron a Little Golden Happiness

I am getting my intermediate ITIL certification (you can read the wiki page if you are having trouble sleeping, works a treat), and boy does that take up time! Like ALL of it @_@ We also had a family crisis, a stroke has hit a very beloved uncle. Thankfully he is onto the recovery phase but it has struck us all with fear and worry, but he is as stubborn as I am so I am sure he will recover as much as possible. ūüôā Sometimes being stubborn is a really good thing!

Thankfully I passed my test, uncle is doing good in physical rehabilitation, so now I just have to face my old nemesis¬†– the weather.¬†Texas is getting lots of rain, because of this stupid polar vortex thing. At least we are, I think, only 30-ish feet below what our lakes need to be at. (I know that sounds bad but trust me it is better than it was!) But rain means migraines and feeling bad, even after my botox since my legs are so grumpy with the weather switch…so why not talk about something that brightens your day, and lifts your spirits? Everyone needs a pick-me-up now and then, especially people with stress and chronic pain, and saffron is a great way to bring that sunshine-y feeling into your day! Just thinking about its golden color and lovely smell is enough to make me break out in a goofy grin!

Saffron, unless you are familiar with more exotic fare than most Americans, is probably an unknown to a lot of you. Some may know of it just from it’s expense, since it takes 50,000-75,000 flowers to produce a pound of dried saffron, and is a spice that is worth more than its weight in gold. Though it is not out of reach to the home cook, and is carried in most good grocery stores with a good spice section.

Saffron is so expensive because (if it is good quality saffron), it must all be harvested by hand, since it is so delicate, though some cheaper saffron is not harvested this way. Then add to that the erratic blooming of the crocus that produces the saffron and you see why it costs anywhere from 500$ (US) to 5.000$ for large amounts. But I may have gotten ahead of myself, what exactly is saffron? Saffron,  is the dried stigma of a specific type of crocus flower, Crocus sativus. Yes, that means it is made of the sexy bits of flowers.

by KENPEI

The lovely lavender flowers of Crocus sativus

But you are, if you are familiar with saffron, more accustomed to seeing it like this:

Saffron threads, as you might pull from your pantry.

The name saffron comes¬†down to us from early history, and has been translated and mistranslated for ages so its etymology has a somewhat murky story. The word we use in English now¬†could be from the Latin¬†safranum¬†or the Old French safran.¬†Which both the Latin and the Old French could be derived from a Persian origin, with it possibly being an Arabicised version of the original Persian word zarparńĀn or even an Akkadian word¬†azupiranu. There is even a theory that the Crocus name itself¬†comes from Aramaic word kurkema, that came from the Arabic kurkum and the Greek in between words of krokos or karkum. It is mentioned in the Song of Solomon as karcom, or not mentioned depending on what version you are reading.¬†But almost all of them seem to derive from words that mean “yellow,” “yellowish,” or “having yellow leaves.” As you can see the origin of the name for saffron is fairly murky, but not nearly as murky as its earliest uses by humanity.

Saffron has a long, very long, and occasionally sordid, past with humans, and a plethora of uses. So I suggest you have a comfy chair and a nice cup of tea ready, and then start reading this, since this post has a lot¬†(seriously a lot!) of history and info. ūüôā

If you don’t care about all that history and stuff, just skip down to the Medicinal or Recipes section!

History of Saffron and its Uses

Saffron is kind of like beer, or the wheel, or writing, since¬†everyone wants¬†to have started using it or discovered first. Just like we are not fully sure on the name origin, we don’t really know when it was first discovered, by whom, or what country first used it. But we do¬†know that there are some great Minoan wall frescoes that show saffron being harvested in fields that date from about the 16th to 17th century BC but could be as old as 3000 BC at the far end of the estimate. Saffron¬†has been used probably since before this time, but these frescoes are one of the earliest known documentations of the saffron harvest and possible offering to the “Mistress of Animals,” a goddess or queen featured here. Young women and monkeys are shown hand harvesting the stamens of crocus plants. Sadly early reconstructions of the frescoes made the monkeys into people, but we now know they are simians more like this.

A girl fro Knossos gathering saffron (not a monkey)

A girl fro Knossos gathering saffron (not a monkey)

Minoans knew well the value of saffron and there is enough evidence to believe that they were using them to treat wounds, and saffron could compete with maybe even beer as one of the oldest medicines. Which we now think is be being shown in the fresco below where a woman is now thought to be treating her foot with saffron. She was first thought to be an initiate or a woman offering saffron to a seated goddess. But it is now speculated, based on the influence that the Egyptian art style had on Minoans (or possibly vice versa), that her hand is on her forehead in a gesture of suffering, while she treats her bleeding foot with saffron.

Woman treating her foot with saffron.

Being in the state it is in, since it is so old and a survivor of the effects of a volcanic eruption, it makes it hard to see what is actually going on in this picture. We are extremely lucky these¬†frescoes survived the volcanic explosion as well as they did since it extinguished the Minoan culture, and we would have lost one of the earliest documented saffron harvests and much more information. (This eruption is a possible source for those pesky Atlantis stories that the History Channel likes to air so frequently). There is a somewhat accurate reconstruction that makes things much more clear –

You can see things better here, though it is not as accurate on the foot she is treating.

There is an interesting theory I have read in my research that since the diets of the Minoans were riboflavin (B2) deficient, and higher status women were healthier due to their consumption of saffron. Not just the Minoans loved saffron, but Greece also loved saffron. Hippocrates knew well of saffron, and he mentions its use in recipes for treating ulcers, along with some other odd ingredients, like natron¬†and ox gall. Of course because of Greek culture, there is a myth about it’s origin, somewhat less sexy than the story of Attis¬†and his pine, but it still has to do with love (well usually). There are a few different stories, and of course variations of each and none of them are exactly alike. It seems the crocus flower held quite a place in Greek culture to have so many renditions of its origins. The first one is the one I know best, and is possibly the best known, is from Ovid.

Crocus (Krokus) was a Greek youth (some say Spartan some Arkadian,¬†but his exact origins are lost in the mists of time), this youth fell in love with a nymph. Nymphs if you aren’t up on your Greek mythology, are not known for being good to the guys that love them and inevitably poor Crocus is snubbed by Smilax. It gets a little fuzzy here since some sources say that the gods (ie – mostly Zeus and his ilk) or Smilax herself, turned Crocus into the little crocus flowers we are now familiar with. The red-orange stigmas were thought to represent the remnants of his unrequited¬†love for the nymph.

“Crocus and Smilax may be turn’d to flow’rs,
And the Curetes spring from bounteous show’rs
I pass a hundred legends stale, as these,
And with sweet novelty your taste to please” – Ovid

Persephone was another that was tied to the crocus, she was gathering flowers (according to Homeric myth, which Homer also referred to dawn as a “crocus veil”) and some of them were crocus flowers. When Hades popped up from the underworld and decided to snatch her away to “have his way with her” as they put it. She then became the part time dweller in the underworld, due to his trickery and creepy kidnap-y ways. But the crocus was not done yet, it bloomed to announce her return to the world, which angered Demeter at first as she had put the kibosh on any plant blooming until Persephone returned. Demeter then put on a mantle of white crocus, and Persephone rejoined the world surrounded by¬†yellow ones. These are probably different species, but still crocus relatives to the one that produce saffron.

But wait!¬†There are other stories for the crocus, because one creepy¬†stalk ‘n’ snatch Greek myth isn’t ever enough! And this one has Zeus, King of the Gods, and King of the Creepy Stalkers. As Danae will tell you¬†from her encounter with Zeus.

"I should be a golden shower, bitches love gold." - Zeus

“I should be a golden shower, bitches love golden showers.” – Zeus

Zeus was definitely not a guy you wanted to meet if you were a young lady. Europa, the mythic namesake of Europe, was supposedly the descendant of Io, another of Zeus’s “conquests,” she was a Phoenician¬†(or¬†at least the myths seem to agree on that one fact), though the lineage is more debated. Despite who her parents were, it seems the unlucky Europa ended up (somehow, no one seems to agree how) on Crete, which has always¬†held the bull extremely sacred. So Zeus, decided why not see if she would be into that? So he of course became a bull, a sexy bull! Bull-Zeus then¬†breathed, either lots of crocus flowers from his mouth or just a single bloom,¬†which maybe standards were different then, but that seemed to be enough to get¬†Europa close enough to be snatched away.

Here is Titian's version of the whole thing. Because Titian.

Here is Titian’s version of the whole thing. Because Titian!

We have another story, this one possibly involving love…possibly not – but definitely a lot less creepy than a Zeus story. Some say that Hermes was enamored with Crocus and took him as a lover. Some say they were just really good friends, either way – they were close as a god and mortal could be. Hermes invited Crocus to come play discus (or Crocus was watching from the sidelines again myths differ, some even say they were playing with¬†quoit, the poor man’s discus), and poor Crocus was hit by the disc and died (all the myths agree that he received a mortal wound from the game). The red stamen is thought to represent the blood of the poor Crocus that was spilled.

I have seen some ideas tossed about that some of the reason that Hermes and Crocus were tied together was due to the saffron crocus’ inability to reproduce without human assistance. Who knows if this is right or wrong but it is an interesting point, since the crocus flower has to have human help for it to reproduce.

The Greeks also used saffron as a perfume and it was noted that the people of Rhodes, also known for their colossal statue, wore pouches of saffron around their necks to cover the scent of the lower classes when attending the theater. It was also associated with the hetaerae, who used it in their perfumes, cosmetics, incense and many other things. But it wasn’t just the Greeks, that knew about saffron early on in history. In the 7th century BC a botanical treatise was compiled in Assyria under the King Ashurbanipal and saffron got its first written mention. In many places in the Persian empire, places like Derbena, Isfahan, Khorasan, there have been found textiles with saffron threads woven into them found dating to the 10th century BC. Saffron was offered to deities in rituals, in perfumes, and were scattered onto beds or used as a tea to chase away melancholy. Saffron has been loved through the ages by what we would now consider Arabic, or Arabian countries, and it is frequently still used in a lot of delicious Arabic dishes. The use of saffron in Arabic culture helped to carry it through the ages and across many countries, and could be how saffron got into Spain. In Morocco, there is an ancient recipe used to relieve toothaches, and teething was eased by saffron and honey placed on a gold ring. It was also frequently used in baths by the Persians, who then taught the practice to Alexander the Great, who used it in his baths but also in rice and to treat wounds. It is thought that he brought the tradition of bathing in saffron from Persia to the Greeks. Saffron can be used as a skin lightener, as a lotion or in a bath, and some say an aphrodisiac. Alexander most likely bathed in it to ease or heal wounds from battle, but another famous person bathed in it to seduce men (and it possibly worked) and that was Cleopatra.

Egypt was a huge power in the ancient world, and was involved in lots of trade and has a history of¬†use of saffron. Cleopatra, who is closer in time to us than the first use of saffron, was rumored to bathe in it pre-encounters with powerful men in the belief that it made *ahem* “sexy time” much more pleasurable for both. Bow chicka wow wow! It is said she used up to a quarter cup of saffron, which if you were paying attention to price, that is a lot of saffron for a bath. But when you are a queen of a mega-power like Egypt, even a waning one, you can afford to dump loads of saffron into your tub. It is unknown if this aided her at all in her endeavors to seduce men of power, but who knows? Saffron is older in Egypt than Cleopatra, and has a mention in the often name dropped Ebers Papyrus – which recommends saffron powder, blended with beer to help women with labor if it becomes difficult. It is also mentioned as a diuretic – though don’t confuse this with Meadow Saffron¬†which is also mentioned but used for treating rheumatism and swelling. It was also used in Egypt to make perfumes, cosmetics, in embalming rituals, and for dying cloth. Dying is a great use for saffron since a few stamens can dye 10 gallons of water.

The Romans knew of saffron as well, and saffron pillows were used to ease the pain of migraines, and Galen notes it is an analgesic. Other ancient Roman doctors mention in their writings that it is good for treating coughs, colds, stomach issues, insomnia, and to prompt a woman’s cycle¬†– and because of this, it was covertly used as an abortifacient. A little known Roman doctor, Celsus, had a remedy for bad coughs that had ingredients like saffron, myrrh, pepper, cinnamon and opium (and other things) all combined and rolled into a pill. They also believed it to be an aphrodisiac, and included it in offerings to gods. They also used it as a deodorizer like the people of Rhodes, as cosmetics, to perfume their homes, and an ingredient to add to wines. Nero, when he entered Rome, had saffron spread along the streets, and other wealthy Romans took saffron baths like Cleopatra, which could have been learned from her.

Saffron was possibly brought to Gaul (modern day France) until the “barbarians” rolled up and rolled hard on Rome, and everything collapsed, and France possibly didn’t see saffron again until the Moors made it deep into France (and then were stopped by¬†Charles Martel) or it could be when the Papacy moved to Avignon, opinions differ on this one. Then in the medieval era in Europe, saffron was used to create illuminated manuscripts¬†since it provided lovely yellows and oranges.

Like in this image of the whacking of Thomas Becket

Saffron probably became more prevalent in Medieval cooking due to the exposure to Arabic cooking, which uses saffron frequently in feast-type dishes, and desserts. Medieval cooks also liked to use saffron to tint dishes the color of gold since consuming gold (and silver) were a common practice for the rich, and gold colored food was just as good as eating gold itself. Saffron was prized for cooking and for medicine it places like Italy, Catalonia and England. Its ability to easily tint a large amount of food using very little of it, made it ideal for brightening up the Medieval diet. Since saffron was so expensive, including large amounts in food for feasts or meals was a visible display of wealth. You could also “gild” food by covering it with a mixture of saffron and egg yolk so that it almost seems like meals were dreamed up by Heston Blumenthal, celebrity chef and wearer of silly glasses. France had a well known syrup¬†passed down that was used to ease painful periods with tea including milk and saffron. There was a belief for a while that like cured like and saffron’s yellow color was thought to be a good way to cure jaundice. In Venice the famous Venetian blond was created by dying hair with saffron and lemon, and then exposing the hair to sun. After the Black Death struck Europe, the demand for saffron went through the roof, since it was thought to help cure people of plague. Because of the increase in demand, and death of many local European cultivators of saffron, cost also increased to the point that some pirates would raid ships for their saffron completely ignoring the gold stores. Sadly as the reformation movement spread across Europe, and the Puritans gained more power, the love of saffron (and many other spices) decreased and became a rarity. Many of the Puritans and sects like them, thought that spices, especially ones said to be aphrodisiacs were going to create lust in individuals and be the ruin of all the world. Which oddly enough in some sects of Lutheran and other types of Puritan sects saffron was integral, we will go over that more further on.

As we move further East, and further back in time, saffron was often used as a dye, instead of using it to create a less purple dye (royal robes are triple dipped in deep purple dyes, and for everyone else one dip and two in saffron) as they did in Sidion and Tyre, it was used to dye cloth outright. The robes of many Buddhist monks are referred to as saffron colored, since this was originally one of the ingredients used to dye them. It is thought that the Persians could have been the first to bring saffron to India and beyond, and brought in the crocus as their empire expanded, or it could have been the Phoenicians in about the 6th century BC that brought it in over their extensive trade routes. It was first mentioned in India in Ayurvedic texts in about 500 BC and became an ingredient in many medicines, used as a dye, and many other things. In Ayurvedic medicine it was frequently used to treat skin issues, coughs, digestion issues, as a diuretic and to calm nerves (as well as many other things). Saffron is also believed to be an aphrodisiac in India, and was provided on wedding nights by the bride to the groom in a cup of milk mixed with saffron, or even as a perfume of saffron mixed with sandalwood oil Рa perfume frequently used by Rajput brides. Like the other ancient cultures we have mentioned saffron was a worthy offering to the gods, and some ceremonies like Mahamastakabhisheka where a large statue is bathed with many things including saffron.

Which looks crazy awesome!

Which looks crazy awesome!

Saffron is also used in Tantric practices to awaken the kundalini¬†and¬†is the color on the Indian national flag and the Sikh flag. In China the first reference of saffron is from a medical text dating to 1600 BC, who’s name translates to the “Great Herbal.” Saffron was used to not only treat depression but was thought to bring cheerfulness and wisdom. To lower blood pressure and even stimulate respiration, as well as easing digestion. It can help with stress by lowering the blood pressure, stimulating respiration and helps to thin the blood. It is also used to flavor wine.

In North America, it was the previously mentioned Protestants that brought saffron with them when they settled in the new colonies. There is documentation that in 1730-1731 a member of the Schwenkfelder Church came to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with the bulbs of the crocus in trunks, and it is thought that the person in that group that previously sold saffron in Europe was responsible for the bringing over of the spice. Sadly the War of 1812 destroyed much of the trade lines, and traders, that carried saffron to Europe, the Caribbean and beyond. The Pennsylvanians were left with a major surplus and their trade never recovered, and the Caribbean markets died with that war as well. The Pennsylvania Dutch growers found ways to put saffron in everything, because what else do you do with it? Reminds me of the saying “when you are holding a hammer all the world looks like a nail.” Saffron cultivation in the US was saved and carried into modern times by the Pennsylvania Dutch, and it is mostly in Lancaster County Pennsylvania that it is grown and harvested.

Grades and Adulteration

Make sure you buy the real thing! If you see saffron for a crazy low price, it probably isn’t saffron. Saffron is one of the highest adulterated spices around. It is frequently adulterated with safflower, glycerine, sandalwood dust, and turmeric, on the less bad end of the scale;¬†tartrazine, barium sulfate, and borax on the worst. You can usually detect fraud with your nose, it will smell like bark or chemically even through sealed plastic packaging. Second test is your eyes, it should look like tiny stamens of a plant like my saffron below:

Notice the long deep red "threads" and the yellow parts are a part of the threads. Also notice that one end is triangle shaped and tapers to a point.

Notice the long deep red “threads” and the yellow parts are a part of the threads. Also notice that one end is triangle shaped and tapers to a point.

Not like this bunk saffron I got for 3.00$ US at a Fiesta.

Notice it is short, has yellow a lot, and doesn't really look like flower stamens.

Notice it is short, has yellow a lot, and doesn’t really look like flower stamens. I can tell you it also smells horrible!

You can also tell by the color of the water, when you use saffron you usually place the threads in hot water and allow them to steep and the water will turn this lovely golden yellow almost orange color. It should remind you of Buddhist monk’s robes since they are died with saffron traditionally. If it looks plain yellow or sort of murky yellow, probably not the real deal. Also, avoid pre-ground or bottles of saffron liquids, these are almost always adulterated with artificial dyes, turmeric, and many other things of a questionable nature.

Some countries and companies¬†grade their saffron, and highest grade is something you would want to purchase if it is the star spice in the recipe and won’t get covered or lost in other spices. It is also the best for making saffron teas, and trust me it is worth the extra cost. Low grade is good for background saffron, where it is mostly there for color and not for taste. Lower grades cost less, and can be used as the main spice but higher grade generally tastes better. There are also many locations to get saffron from, it is usually best if your saffron says where it is from on the bag/bottle/box. If it doesn’t it probably isn’t saffron. Persian saffron is the most expensive and highly prized for its slight musky notes that help counter the sweetness of it. Spanish saffron, possibly brought to Spain by the Moors though there are other suspects, is highly controlled and is a good bet if you can’t find Persian and want to make sure you are getting good quality saffron at a reasonable price.

Saffron as Medicine

So now we know what it was used in the past to treat, and you may have noticed a common theme of it being used to treat “melancholy” or depression. The active ingredient in saffron that makes it so awesome is safranal, which is a known anticonvulsant and has shown some real promise in research for being a natural form of an anti-depressant. It binds to GABA receptors, and it is possible that the safranal acts as an uptake inhibitor¬†serotonin, and the crocin takes care of¬†dopamine and norepinephrine. Which means that this is one of the herbal medicines¬†that may have better efficacy when taken in its natural form due to the entourage effect. There have been a lot of animal trials with excellent results, but no human trials yet but the medical research done is extremely promising, and couple that with the history saffron has and that makes it much more than hearsay. Its anticonvulsant properties also make it great for spasms and general relaxation of the body, mind and spirit. There also seems to be some real promise in using saffron as an anti-inflammatory as well which is usually key in reducing pain in general.

Saffron is also high in riboflavin, or B2 as we have said before, and¬†crocetin which are a type of chemical that may provide protection from neurotoxins, and is why saffron has its distinct coloring. Saffron also contains lots of¬†cartenoids – which is like carotene like the all too familiar beta-carotene which saffron has as well as alpha-carotene. Another chemical in saffron is zeaxanthin, which is another chemical that is really good for your eyesight. We also know how important all these vitamins are for helping fight pain, and making sure you are taking them in their natural state means that you aren’t wasting money on supplements you don’t need. There is a lot more chemistry involved with saffron but these are the main properties we are concerned with.

WARNING: Saffron in large amounts is possibly dangerous, and by large more than 20 grams (usual dosages are .01 to .02 per person, but even a gram or 5¬†in a recipe is safe) so it is necessary to be careful how much you ingest in a day. There is a lot of different information on it’s toxicity – some say as little as 5 some say more. Most likely this comes from adulterated saffron, often it is adulterated with or confused with meadow saffron (which IS toxic). Though its expensive nature does help prevent large amounts being consumed, it probably is safe in large amounts but there have not been enough studies to be 100% sure.

Recipes

ProSpiceTip: Ginger, cardamom, and turmeric are all good friends of saffron and they all play very nicely with each other. In some recipes you can replace saffron with turmeric but it doesn’t taste as good in my humble opinion.

Liquid Saffron

Yes! Make it, don’t buy it! This is something you can make and store for a few days in your fridge, and you can use salt or sugar in it to suit whatever dishes you will be making with it.

  • large-ish pinch of saffron, just a gram or so
  • tiny pinch of sugar or salt (whatever suits your recipe)
  • Mortar and Pestle (you can use a coffee grinder, but it is best to have a dedicated one for saffron only if you are going to go that route)
  • Hot water – about a 1/4 of a cup

Grind the saffron into a powder, add in the salt or sugar whichever you are using, and make sure that everything is ground finely. Cover with hot water, you can bring it up to a boil but it isn’t necessary, let stand for 15 minutes but you can leave it for longer. Use in your recipe and you can save any leftovers in a sealed, dark bottle for up to 3 days. Make sure you use a dark bottle as the chemicals in saffron degrade in direct light.

Saffron Tea

  • 3-4 Saffron threads
  • 2-3 tablespoons Hot water
  • Boiling water
  • Honey (to taste)

Put the threads of saffron and hot water in a cup, allow to steep for 10-15 minutes, top off cup with boiling water and add honey to taste (raw honey is best).

This is a great tea for helping chase “the blues” away, whether chronic or from seasonal changes. It is also a good tea to drink to break up the monotony of other anti-inflammatory herbs, like turmeric, so that you have a variety of things to pick from. Since it can be toxic in large doses it is best to alternate days with this if you are planning on taking it for an extended period of time. Always remember you should never take anything for more than 2 weeks straight as the body will become accustomed to it and it will not be as effective.

Kuwaiti Traditional Tea

  • ¬†1 1/2 cups water
  • 2 whole Cardamom pods, broken
  • 1 pinch Saffron powder (10-12 strands)
  • 2 teaspoons Black Tea
  • 1 Raw sugarcube, or honey

Add everything except for the honey in a sauce pan, simmer for a minute or two, maybe even five if you like a strong tea. Strain and serve with honey or a raw sugarcube.

Ginger Saffron Tea – Wellness Tea

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 inches Fresh ginger (thumb sized)
  • 1 True cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 tablespoons Honey
  • 1 pinch Saffron (10-12 strands)

Fist put your kettle on, then peel the ginger, and grate, add it along with the honey and cinnamon stick to a teapot. Add saffron strands to the warm water. When you have the water at a boil add it to the teapot and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Add the saffron with the liquid to the teapot, and allow to steep for another 5. You can also use 2 tablespoons of saffron liquid from the previous recipe, make sure you use sugar in the grinding process.

This is a really great variation on the Ounce of Prevention Tea, and saffron has a lot of vitamins that many are lacking in their daily diets. So if you are getting bored with Prevention Tea, try this.

Saffron Lotion

  • 1/4 cup Whole almonds
  • 1/4 cup Strained Yogurt (or Plain Greek yogurt)
  • 2 teaspoons Lime or Lemon juice
  • pinch of Ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sandalwood
  • pinch of Saffron

First make your strained yogurt, if you don’t know how to do this go here and follow the instructions. Then soak the almonds in a bowl of water overnight, peel the skins off the next morning and grind into a fine paste in a food processor or strong blender. Add in the strained yogurt, lime (or lemon) juice, turmeric, sandalwood, and the saffron threads. Blend again in the food processor or blender until smooth and creamy. This cream can be stored in a clean container in the fridge for about a week, and you should apply it after washing your face at night. Smooth it all over your skin and massage in gently, in the morning wash your face again.

ProLazyLotionTip: You can also make a simpler lotion by using about a teaspoon of milk, or coconut milk (or even coconut oil, olive oil or honey all work for this) and allowing a few strands of saffron to soak in this overnight. Rub into the skin gently, wait a bit (like 10 mins) and then wash off.

These lotions are good for fighting acne, skin rashes, sunburns, helps reduce age spots and brighten dull skin.

Saffron Bath

This is just about the easiest recipe on here.

  • Generous pinch of Saffron
  • Hot bath

Draw a very hot bath, too hot for you since it will cool down, add in saffron threads and let steep for 10 to 20 minutes and then enjoy your soak. This is a good bath to ease aches and pains, inflammation of the skin or otherwise, to heal skin issues (ie sunburns, rashes, open wounds), and brighten skin. It is a bit on the expensive side so unless you have unlimited saffron funds, you may want to save this for every now and then.

Saffron Natural Hair Dye

  • Large pinch of saffron
  • 2 cups Boiling water
  • Large jug or measuring cup (2-4 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon Lemon juice

This is apparently a similar recipe used to the Venetian hair dyes I mentioned previously. Boil 2 cups of distilled water, and add the saffron threads to the jug or measuring cup and then cover with the boiling water. Let soak for 10-15 minutes, the longer the soak the stronger the color, strain out the saffron threads and add in the lemon juice. Pour small amounts of the liquid through your hair, try to do it at least 10-15 times 20 is best if you can manage it. You can catch some of the liquid and reuse it if possible. On the last pass, wring out and leave the excess liquid in the hair for 15 minutes, and then rinse with cool water. You could also sit in the sun and allow the mixture to dry in the hair before rinsing for an even lighter color.

ProLighteningTip: You can also lighten hair with chamomile tea and lemon juice by pouring one or both on the hair and then sitting in the sun, or highlighting it by using a straw hat with holes or even a highlighting cap. Saffron leaves a more golden color and tends to actually tint the hair rather than semi-bleaching it like chamomile or lemon juice does.

Saffron Eggnog (from Grow Your Own Drugs)

  • 500 ml whole milk [about 2 cups]
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 36 threads / 3 pinches saffron
  • 2 strips orange rind
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 200 ml single cream [about 1 cup]
  • 3 eggs
  • 150 ml white rum [about 1/2 cup]
  • Grated fresh nutmeg, to serve

1. Pour the milk, bay leaves, saffron, orange rind, golden syrup and cream into a pan, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Strain through a sieve.

2. Break the eggs into a glass heat-proof bowl, then slowly whisk in the hot milk mixture.

3. Place the bowl above a pan of boiling water and heat gently, stirring, until the mixture thickens to a custardy consistency. Then take it straight off the heat.

4. Whisk in the rum, then pour the mixture into a jug. Cool, then leave to stand in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours before serving.

5. Serve over ice with grated nutmeg.

USE: Drink no more than 1 wineglass a day.

STORAGE: Keep in the refrigerator. Will last for 2 weeks.

This is a great holiday treat to help with holiday anxiety and some of the stress and depression that seems to manifest around that time of year. But who says eggnog is just a Christmas time thing? I say, drink it all year round!

Lussekatter – Swedish Saffron Buns (Recipe from here)

  • 300ml milk
  • 1g saffron
  • 50g baker’s yeast
  • 150g sugar
  • 125g butter or 125 gmargarine
  • 700g all-purpose flour
  • 1egg
  • salt
  • raisins
  1. Melt butter or margarine in a pan and add the milk and the saffron.
  2. Warm the mixture to 37 oC (100 oF).
  3. Use a thermometer; the correct temperature is important!
  4. Pour the mixture over the finely divided yeast; then add the remaining ingredients (except for the egg and the raisins), which should have a temperature of 21-23 oC (72-75 oF).
  5. Mix into a smooth dough.
  6. Cover the dough with a piece of cloth and let it rise for 30 minutes.
  7. Knead the dough, divide it into 25-30 pieces and form each piece into a round bun.
  8. Let the buns rest for a few minutes, covered by a piece of cloth.
  9. Form each bun into a string, 15-20 cm long, then arrange the string in a suitable shape, e.g. an S or double S. Regardless of the shape, the ends of the string should meet.
  10. Press a few raisins into the dough.
  11. Cover the”Lucia cats” with a piece of cloth and let them rise for 40 minutes.
  12. Whip the egg together with a few grains of salt, and paint the”Lucia cats” with the mixture.
  13. Bake them for 5-10 minutes in the oven at 250 oC (475 oF) until golden brownish yellow.

History of the bun – “A Swedish Tradition On 13 December the Swedes celebrate the Italian Saint Lucia with a remarkable enthusiasm, surpassing any Italian festivities devoted to the same lady. One mandatory constituent in the celebrations is a saffron-flavoured bun, in Swedish called a lussekatt, a “Lucia cat”. The shape of this bun might vary somewhat, but is always based on bread designs dating back to earlier Christmas celebrations in Sweden.”

If you are interested in a british version of this bun, check out this recipe for the Revel Bun or Tea Treat Bun.

Saffron Pot de Creme (recipe is from here with some slight alterations)

  • 5 ounces Heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup and 1 teaspoon of raw honey
  • 1/4 cup Whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons Rosewater
  • 1 egg and 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2-1 Vanilla bean (with the delicious insides scraped out)
  • 1 tablespoon Crushed Pistachios or slivered almonds (optional)
  • Generous (about a gram) pinch of saffron

Pre-heat oven to 320¬į, in a medium sauce pan on low heat warm the cream, milk, rosewater, saffron threads and honey. Make sure you keep the heat low and stir often, sugars and milk will curdle on you if you aren’t careful and then you have a weird cheese that usually is useless. Take the vanilla pods and drop them into the pot and take off the heat, and set aside the insides in a mixing bowl (mediumish sized). Add the egg yolks and egg to the vanilla and beat until it thickens and becomes a pale yellow.

Temper the eggs with a small amount of the cream mixture (so they don’t curdle), and then slowly add in the eggs to the cream/milk mixture stirring but not beating so they are fully combined. Set aside for 5 minutes and put a kettle on with water to boil and prepare your ramekins (or shot glasses or small jars) and place then with at least a half inch between them (don’t crowd them!) ¬†in a large baking dish or pan (pyrex or ceramic is best). Strain the mixture into a large measuring cup or something with an easy pour spout and divide the mix between the ramekins/glasses/jars evenly.

Set your rack to the middle of the oven, and place the dish on it (if you can extend your rack out this will make things easier) and pour in the boiling water until it comes up 3/4 of the way up the containers. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until mostly set but still wibbly wobbly.

You can roast pistachios, or even almonds to garnish this. Or even go full cr√®me br√Ľl√©e¬†style and sprinkle some sugar on top and caramelize it under a broiler or with a blowtorch (do not burn your fingers!).

Moroccan Chicken Tagine and Couscous (or better known as “that dish that made the house look like Jonestown”)

So before I start I guess I should explain the title of the recipe. My husband had forgotten he had a football (soccer) game and had to leave immediately that evening. We had friends over and¬†I had made dinner so we promised to keep some warm for him, and the friends and I sat down to dinner. Well we all forgot that if you eat couscous it is very filling, and by the time he got home we were all passed out (one even on the floor) from “the itis” (if you don’t know what that is watch this). So this dish has become legendary, for its tastiness as well as its sleep inducing qualities ūüôā

Also if you have a Tagine, it is the best for cooking this, but if you don’t have one a good cast iron dutch oven will do just fine. Also this is a dish that requires marinating so prep the night before and cook the next day.

Moroccan Chicken Tagine

  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 large Yellow onions (roughly chopped into pieces)
  • 1/2 cup Fresh cilantro (plus a bit extra for garnish)
  • 1/2 cup Fresh Flat leaf parsley (plus a bit extra for garnish)
  • 4 tablespoons Fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground turmeric
  • salt, a generous pinch
  • 2-4 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
  • 1 Whole chicken divided, or 6-8 chicken thighs (thighs work better and I prefer to use just them)
  • 2-3 preserved lemons¬†(homemade is best but you can buy them in most mediterranean markets)
  • 1/2 cup Good quality chicken stock (homemade is best)
  • 1 1/2 cups Good quality green olives (I prefer ones with the pits in)
  • 2 Gallon ziploc bag, or large sealed container

In a small bowl put saffron and warm water together, you can use the liquid saffron from above as well just use 2 tablespoons worth. Let saffron steep for at least 10 minutes but I usually let it steep while I prep everything else so it ends up being a bit longer sometimes.

In a food processor, or powerful blender (seriously love my vitamix for making this!) combine the roughly chopped onions, cilantro, parsley, cumin, ginger, turmeric, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and the 2 tablespoons of saffron liquid, add a pinch or two of salt if you weren’t using saffron liquid. Puree everything until it becomes a nice paste and throw it into your ziploc bag (I prefer a ziploc because I can squish things around to make sure everything gets coated nicely and it is also lots of fun!). Throw in your chicken and make sure each piece has a good coating of the marinade. Press out the air and seal, throw it in your fridge for at least 8 hours but 24 is the best.

Transfer the chicken and the marinade to your tagine or dutch oven add in the pulp of the preserved lemons and a few slivers of the lemon peel, add the olives and you can sort of arrange it to look lovely when you lift the lid. Add the chicken stock, and lemon juice, bring up to a boil then reduce heat and the put lid on. Simmer on low for about 50-60 minutes, or until the chicken is fall off the bone tender.

Remove the lid and garnish with parsley and cilantro and serve from the pot on bed of couscous below.

Couscous

  • 2 tablespoon Olive oil
  • 1/3 cup Dried apricots, cut into slivers
  • 2 2/3 cups Good chicken stock (again homemade is best)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground turmeric (you could use a pinch saffron instead here if you want)
  • 2/3 cup Slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup Dried currants
  • 1 teaspoon Orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons Fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Fresh mint, sliced into thin strips

In a large bowl, drizzle olive oil over the couscous and toss to coat all the grains with the oil. Add in apricot slivers, and toss again. In a small saucepan bring the stock to a boil over medium heat. Stir in turmeric and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Then pour over couscous and apricots. Cover the bowl tightly with saran wrap, and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove covering and fluff with a fork, stir in the almonds, currants, orange zest, lemon juice and mint. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Saudi Arabic Coffee

It isn’t really Saudi coffee unless it has saffron in it (or so I am told), so you can follow this recipe from my post on cardamom and include just saffron out of the optional ingredients for the real deal at home.

  • 1 cup Light roast coffee beans, lightest you can find
  • 1-2 pods Cardamom
  • a pinch of saffron
  • Coffee grinder
  • French Press (or if you have the traditional Turkish implements to brew it, have at it)

Grind the coffee with the cardamom and saffron, place about four tablespoons in 4 cup french press. Add boiling water, wait 4-8 minutes depending on how strong you like your coffee. Press and serve. Seriously this stuff is fantastic, and very relaxing to drink after a good meal with friends. Or just to relieve stress from a rough day.

Remember all bodies are different and have different chemistry, make sure you do some trial runs to make sure this works for you. Always check for interactions with other drugs you are taking, check sites like WebMD. If you are ever in doubt, ask a professional!

If you are interested in more Medieval recipes with saffron check out this site. If you are interested in some interesting (and delicious) apple pie recipes with saffron in them go here. If you are looking to add saffron to some of your dishes other than the chicken dish I have listed, check out some of the recipes here or here.


Leave a comment

Cardamom, Holiday Love Potion #9

Happy New Year Everyone!!! What a great year 2015 will be! The best yet!

Finally, winter is officially here, and that means – winter colds (bleh!) & holiday stress (double bleh!). Everyone seems to be getting sick, and this is that time of year when I keep ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom close at hand. Then you get weather changes, and that means horrible migraines. So I tend to hole up, and hibernate, in winter. I venture out even less, since my poor immune system can’t take the cold, and the direct assault of microbial evil, plus all the people out for holiday shopping is overwhelming to my senses as well as a moving people shaped mass of infection. Of course¬†prevention tea¬†helps stave off most anything winter can throw at you – colds, flu and virus-y type things. But did you know that if you add cardamom to your food and drink, or if you drink¬†chai tea (or even chai coffee) that there are¬†a lot of elements in it that helps to stave off colds as well as ease pain, lessen stress, and many other things?¬†That is right, that chai latte you are craving could have those calories written off¬†as medicinal!

So, start taking notes because cardamom¬†is a great way to fight holiday stress & anxiety, winter colds, and even migraines from stress (or winter weather if you are like me). You can also seem like an awesome host, since¬†it is¬†another relaxing warm drink to serve, and it¬†is lovely to experience the aroma of the spices¬†as you chat and warm yourself by the fire. It’s sensual smell has led it to be used in many love potions and perfumes to lure the opposite sex. So, since every King of Spices needs it’s Queen, I bring you…Cardamom!

Lean green fighting pod machines.

Lean, green, anxiety fighting pod-machines!

Now if you know more than the average bear about cardamom, you will know there are actually more than one sort. So to keep this post below epic proportions, I will only be covering Green Cardamom or Elettaria cardamomum, and not Black Cardamom, that will be for another time :). The genus name of green cardamom, elettaria is derived from the Tamil words for “cardamom seeds.” Though this word could be much older, and the term cardamom we now use, could be derived from Dravidian, which is basically the grandparent language of Tamil. The Greeks called the pod kardamomon, which is another contender for the likely root word for¬†this sweet little pod, though the exact etymological roots of the English term is not fully known. A lot of Westerners are not familiar with the taste of cardamom, or have even seen it before. I have been quite amused recently serving people cardamom coffee, mostly to see if they notice the difference and if they enjoy the additional flavor. It is sometimes difficult explaining what is in it, since almost none have even heard of cardamom, and then showing them what cardamom looks like. You get some suspicious glances at first, but the lovely smell from the jar, and the taste of the coffee seems to win most people over fairly quickly.

The History and Uses of Cardamom

As you can see it looks a lot like ginger and turmeric, we are just aren't concerned with the roots this time!

As you can see it looks a lot like ginger and turmeric, we are just aren’t concerned with the roots this time!

Thankfully chai tea (or if you want to get really technical masala chai, but I will refer to it as just chai) has made it’s way into popular Western culture, and cardamom should taste familiar now to most palates that have had chai flavored things. Cardamom is the dominant flavor in most traditionally made masala chai, but in the States it may be more cassia you are tasting with little to no cardamom, so you may have missed out on the best sort of chai if you only are purchasing pre-packaged or commercially made preparations. That is why I highly suggest you make your own chai at home, it is fun, super easy and you can put in as many or as varied a mix of spices as you want. Chai is fun to make and there is a great recipe here, and I will add another to the mix further down. Plus chai with cardamom is good for alleviating stress, and easing holiday anxiety – or any anxiety really!

It also has beautiful flowers, that just happen to be edible (you can plant the seeds from your pods and find out how nice they are)

It also has beautiful flowers, that just happen to be edible (you can plant the seeds from your store bought pods. Almost all grow, and it will possibly bloom, I suggest indoor planting or hot house unless you live in a tropical climate)

Cardamom has been known in India¬†since before history, at least 3000 years of human history we know it has been used, and as soon as people were writing medical texts cardamom was mentioned. Since cardamom is native to India it was easy for it to spread to most of Asia, it quickly became well known to most of the cultures it came into contact with. In India a medical text was compiled between 2 BC and 2 AD called the Charaka Samhita, which mentions cardamom as part of some medicinal preparations,¬†also a Sanskrit text from 4 BC discusses using cardamom, “ela” in the language, as part of formal political gifts between two groups. Cardamom was sometimes offered in some Hindu traditions to the recently deceased to appease them, and can be part of some tarpanas. In traditional medicine of India, Ayurveda, an 11th century medical text called the Manasollasa (Book of Splendor) it names cardamom as one of the ingredients in panchasugandha-thambula or “five-fragrance betel chew”. This five-fragrance chew contained cloves, cardamom and other spices wrapped in betel leaves, sometimes with areca nut sometimes called the betel-nut, which was then chewed to aid with digestion and relieve wind. This is still being done today to ease the stomach and promote digestion, if you include the areca nut is included this is a strong stimulant which could explain the tradition of adding cardamom to the mix.

Cardamom spread from India and the East, then to the West. Making it’s way to Egypt, and into some of its famous medical writings. We have gone over the¬†Eber’s Papyrus¬†before, and of course it name drops cardamom as a great fix for “wind” (or “farty pants”, in the parlance of our times) and digestion. It was also used in Egyptian religious ceremonies, cosmetics, and embalming, as well as food and medicine. The Babylonians and Assyrians also knew well and prized highly the health benefits of cardamom, and they were early traders across the land routes and possibly water routes via the Persian Gulf as early as the Bronze Age. A king of Babylon,¬†Marduk-apla-iddina II, was known to have grown it in his royal garden, and many Assyrian doctors wrote about the uses of cardamom. Since it was used in many perfumes by many cultures it eventually grew to have a reputation of being a powerful aphrodisiac, and was frequently used in love potions.

Not that sort… I wish though! Why yes I WILL go to the dance with you Adrian Paul! *swoons*

Greeks¬†also loved cardamom, and it was so highly prized that it was in itself a symbol of luxury, and was used in social rituals and gatherings. Cardamom is mentioned by a lot of names that should now be very familiar to you, Dioscorides and Hippocrates both agreed this is great for the stomach and digestion, and eases cramps. Alexander the Great, sent many plants home to his tutor, Aristotle, while he was out doing his conquering thing and it is likely that is how his successor,¬†and possible father of botany, Theophrastus¬†wrote about this plant that he may have obtained from Aristotle. While it was used medicinally it did not catch on in the same way it did in India, it was more prized for its scent and was often used in incense and perfumes.¬†Its delicate flavor and scent is what led it to it more often being used in perfumes, and could be the reason for it being unofficially dubbed the “Queen of Spices.” The Romans were just as as fond as the Greeks cardamom to make perfume and other cosmetics, but still¬†Galen wrote about it, agreeing with other medicinal writers of the time that it is a great way to treat stomach disorders, cramping and “wind.” In the 2nd¬†century AD it was listed as a taxable luxury good in Alexandria. Sadly with the collapse of the Roman Empire, cardamom trade routes collapsed it seems, and this lovely pod disappears from history for a short while in the West.

Cardamom maintained its favor in the Arab world and further East, it was incorporated in recipes from the court of the Sultan of Mandu, dating from about 1500’s, and has a number¬†of sherbets and rice dishes flavored with cardamom. You still find a lot of foods, not just¬†dessert type foods, in Indian and Arabic cuisine that contain cardamom. If you have never had the joy of eating Indian sweets (or mithai), I don’t think you can say you have truly lived. I am also a huge fan of food from the Middle and Near East, and especially Indian food – who am I kidding I love all foods!¬†Their¬†savory¬†and¬†sweet dishes¬†all will probably have some cardamom in them. Cardamom is, in my opinion, best in desserts, and it is so popular a dessert flavor that there is a popular brand of cardamom syrup, and you frequently find cardamom extract in dessert aisles.

I can't read Arabic but I am sure that it pretty much says "this stuff is delicious"

I can’t read Arabic but I am sure that it pretty much says “this stuff is delicious, shut up and put it in your face hole”

Cardamom makes it’s comeback in the West during the Middle Ages, when trade from the Crusades re-introduced Europeans to civilization (thank goodness for that, especially the part about bathing regularly). Later as trade between lands Holy and further East increased, the spice became more common and more often used in European cooking. In the Scandinavian countries they continue this tradition, and there are lots of types of cardamom breads, Which I will include some recipes for further down. It was mostly Venetian traders that supplied cardamom, since they had access to the spice routes. Or to put it more bluntly, they had all of the trade routes coming via the sea from Africa and the Levant so locked down they had a near monopoly on most items from the East. (It was such a stereotype for Venetians to be rich it even comes up in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice). They controlled and were pretty much the only point of entry for most luxuries that were arriving from anything East of Greece, and everything had to disperse out from there. They had this trade locked down from the 8th to about the 15th century, when the Ottoman Turks rolled up,¬†and pretty much took over.

They also cornered the poofy hat fashion niche.

They also cornered the poofy hat fashion niche.

If you are paying attention to the dates, you can now see why Columbus was sent by Spain to find a different route to the spice laden East, they were trying to skip the middle men of Venice and the Arab traders that controlled the waters of the Gulfs and Indian Ocean. As more Europeans got out on the sea, a few started to dominate. A surprising country that wielded a lot of power despite its size is Portugal. Many Portuguese merchants made it all over the world, one of them, Duarte Barbosa, in his travels during the 16th century wrote about wild cardamom growing along the Malabar coast, but it was already cultivated when another Portuguese explorer came by a mere 40 years later Рtestament to is value and value as a trade commodity. But despite its availability, then and today, Cardamom is sadly way under used in US and a lot of Europe. But oddly enough, it is a part of traditional Christmas cookies made this time of year in the Netherlands and Sweden, so again, what better time to talk about this great spice? 

Aaaaaaaaand maybe suggest bringing back Krampus, or at least totally metal cards with him on them. That guy is Ozzy Osborne (pre-“The Osbornes”) metal.

Cardamom in the¬†Levant and Middle East was heartily embraced and took on a whole new set of uses and a new parts in rituals. In most countries that have had an influence from Arab culture, or Islam, it is traditional to add cardamom to coffee, in fact, it really isn’t Turkish¬†coffee without the addition of cardamom, it also could be¬†known as Arabic, or Saudi coffee, or a plethora of other terms. So lets just agree that Turkish¬†coffee¬†will refer to¬†coffee with cardamom and possibly other spices prepared by boiling. I will use Turkish¬†coffee to refer to this to avoid being overly confusing, since there are loads of regional variations (and different names in each region) that makes this really, really complicated to discuss). In some areas it is traditional to pile on the cardamom to show the level of generosity of the host, and respect for their guest, since it is such an expensive spice. It can be so heavily added¬†in some styles of coffee that even the powerful taste of coffee itself plays second fiddle to the flavor¬†of cardamom.

There are literally 100’s of regional variations of making coffee in every single part of the world,¬†couple¬†that¬†with an¬†almost insane¬†level of variation on terms in each region for their own spices, roasts and levels of sweetness, and this post could take years. But since this is all about cardamom, and not coffee (another post in the future!), I am only going to cover just Turkish¬†coffee, since most versions of this contain¬†cardamom in traditional preparations. Coffee in many of these regions also tends to be so strong it is drunk in small amounts, from beautiful coffee pots, and there are all sorts of gestures (as with some tea drinking) that go along with the coffee ceremony.

I hate to admit that until recently I had no idea that the pairing of cardamom and coffee was why I loved Turkish coffee sooooooo much, but what is even more awesome is I found that cardamom, and this was known to those Turkish coffee drinkers, tones down the effects of the caffeine (that means you can have 6 cups of good, strong coffee and not fear that your body may vibrate itself to its atomic parts, I tried it in the name of science and I only felt a little more “amped” like I had only had a cup or two) making the coffee you drink a lot more healthy and beneficial for you. If you take your coffee with milk, it can also reduce the extra mucus that dairy products tend to cause as well, so you can have a splash to give you another way to get Vitamin D. Since it reduces stress as well, it may be a good idea to throw cardamom in the¬†coffee you take on your morning drive to help combat the stress of commuting, and combat the dreaded¬†Monday yawns.

This could be the answer for a happy morning commute!

Now knowing that it can over power coffee you would hardly¬†be surprised at how much¬†in flavor is packed in this little pod. It also easy to keep when stored in unbroken pod form, it can last for ages since the seeds (unbroken) inside the pods are what hold all the precious oils and flavors. I actually keep and re-use a lot of glass jars, my favorite are amber yeast jars for storing spices like this since they are usually airtight, and help prevent damage from sunlight (that is why good beer comes in amber bottles, yeast hates direct sunlight). Cardamom¬†can last even longer if¬†sealed, then¬†put in the freezer. So stock up if its on sale! Because cardamom pods keep extremely well once dried, and retain almost all of their flavor and oils until crushed it made it a very easily stored, and therefore traded, spice. It was so hardy it became quickly a far traveling spice, it was strong enough to make it all the way to Scandinavian countries and still carry its sweet flavor to their palates. Its easy storage is also why it is one of the oldest traded spices (excluding resins),¬†but because it has to be hand harvested like tea –¬†ranks as one of the top 3 most expensive spices, only beaten by saffron and vanilla (more¬†spices we will discuss later). While it is an expensive spice it is not out of reach, and you can buy bags of whole pods at most markets for reasonable prices (much less cost, and easier to find than good quality saffron). You can even find some in a few of the larger chain stores, but I would much rather give my cash to Mom & Pop stores, and local places. Shop local y’all! Like saffron the expense is countered¬†by you not having to use much to get a lot of flavor, 1-3 pods is a lot of flavor for a dish. Heed this warning though, the pre-ground powder loses its potency and flavor faster than most spices. I strongly advise against buying pre-ground cardamom unless you are using it all that day, or you have no other available options. Though if you have pre-ground cardamom it is easy to throw it into coffee beans that are ground, or you are grinding!

Cardamom is also available as essential oil, remember to buy a good quality one if you are going to ingest it, and I advise caution and not to ingest more than 2 maybe 3 drops (that is for adults only) since over use can quickly lead to overdose and that has symptoms opposite to calming the stomach (and definitely some time in the bathroom), but as far as testing has shown this is “mostly harmless” and shouldn’t have overly adverse effects (nothing is ever 100% safe to consume vast quantities of so remember common sense and moderation). Also if you have, or are prone to gall stones, avoid cardamom in excessive amounts it can irritate them.

What is in Cardamom that Works?

Well one of the main components is 1.8cineole which is also known as eucalyptol, which may sound familiar as it is in eucalyptus, lavender and camphor (another future post). Which is something we know to be an anti-inflammatory and there are scientific studies that are showing this is a promising chemical for medicinal use. Also the second highest component in cardamom is a-terpinyl acetate, which has a lot of studies that show it to be an effective antimicrobial, and is the reason that cardamom is such a good addition to any cold, or illness fighting food or drink. Another one that should hopefully be familiar by now is linalool, which has shown a lot of promise in lab research as a stress reliever, and mild sedative. Hence it being such a great addition to drinks to relieve stress, mild anxiety, and can help ease the pain of tension headaches, and all of these mean it is great for migraines.

őĎ and¬†ő≤-pinene are also present in cardamom, and őĪ¬†as having anti-inflammatory properties, as well as having an almost antibiotic effect, which makes it great for fighting pain and illness. őí-pinene more aromatic,¬†and should be familiar since they are both prevalent in pine. Now this is probably the most important chemical in cardamom for the sufferers of pain – myrcene. This little chemical is a well known pain reliever, and is why hops are effective pain relievers and¬†the not so legal in Texas, but very legal elsewhere, cannabis. Cardamom contains a lot of this chemical and it is fairly safe to ingest in sensible daily amounts with no adverse side effects. Another, hopefully familiar one is limonene, which is why cardamom is so great for settling the stomach, and may actually help people with IBS or acid reflux – if you have these look into it, it may be your answer. It is also a sedative and helps to reduce stress since it helps to stimulate¬†adenosine receptors and the production of adenosine – which is a key chemical in the body goign to sleep as well as an anti-inflammatory. Terpinolene which helps preserve foods, and other things, since it is an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. And many others we have discussed before like (but not limited to) – citronellol, nerol, and geraniol. So as you can see, it was no exaggeration saying that cardamom was a heavy hitter packed into a tiny pod.

Cardamom Recipes

Right, so, since its the holidays fudge is everywhere, or at least it is here. And while most of us know only the chocolate kind, carrot fudge is a World War II treat that was able to be easily made with rations, and has a long history in India as Gajar Halwa. Which as one of my friends (who is Indian) said Gajar Halwa is a great way to take something healthy and turn it into something that is the complete opposite of what it started out as.

Carrot Fudge (Gajar Halwa) (adapted from myheartbeets)

  • 2¬Ĺ cups Carrots,¬†grated
  • 1 can Coconut Cream (or full fat coconut milk or even condensed milk)
  • 2 tablespoons Coconut oil (butter or ghee could be substituted)
  • 2 tablespoons Honey
  • 1 teaspoon¬†of ground Cardamom seeds
  • Optional: chopped dates, golden raisins, chopped prunes, and optional garnish of crushed pistachios or toasted almond slivers

Melt coconut oil in a saucepan, add grated carrots and cook until softening (about 10 minutes) add coconut cream and simmer on low heat stirring to keep it from burning. After about 20 minutes add the cardamom, mix thoroughly, and then add in honey (leave out if you used condensed milk), mixing well until all liquids evaporate and mixture thickens. Serve in bowls with optional garnishes, or throw in dried fruits for some extra depth, but best is to spread it thickly in a greased or wax paper lined pan. You can press a whole nut or formations of dried fruit into regular intervals while the mix is still hot, and then slice into squares for gifting. Because this has cardamom in it, it is also good to serve after a large holiday meal (especially one where people are sure to overindulge). It is also good for the host(ess), since it helps reduce stress and can help take some of the edge of the exhausting nature of this season.

Vetebröd (Swedish Sweet Yeast Bread slightly altered from here)

  • 2 1/2 cups Milk
  • 1 1/2 cups Butter, melted
  • 1 cup Sugar (or honey)
  • 1 teaspoon¬†Salt
  • 2 teaspoons Cardamom seeds, ground
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 9 cups Flour
  • 7-9 tablespoons Gluten
  • 1 egg and 2 tablespoons water for egg wash
  • Cardamom sugar (see below) or slivered toasted almonds for topping

Prepare your Basic Cardamom Bread Dough using the first 7 ingredients listed above (this takes about 1 1/2 hours).

After punching down dough following its first rise, remove from bowl and knead lightly on floured counter until smooth and shiny. Divide dough into two halves.

Divide each half of the dough into three equal portions. Roll each portion into a long, thin ‚Äúsnake‚ÄĚ (about 18 inches long). Braid three of the ‚Äúsnakes‚ÄĚ together, folding and pinching outer edges under to form a loaf shape. Repeat for second set of three dough ‚Äúsnakes.‚ÄĚ (Alternative: Do not divide dough into 2 halves, but separate entire mass into three equal portions. Roll the three portions into ‚Äúsnakes,‚ÄĚ braid together, then join and pinch ends together to form a single braided bread wreath).

Place the two braided loaves (or the single braided wreath) on a greased baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375¬ļ.

When loaves (or wreath) have doubled, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with [cardamom or orange sugar] or almonds. Place in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until done.

Yield: 2 braided loaves or 1 braided wreath, about 20 servings.

To make cardamom sugar, take 1-2 pods cardamom and in food processor grind well with sugar and use to sprinkle over bread, or toast almond slivers in the oven to top. To make an orange sugar take a tablespoon of orange zest and quickly grind a few times in food processor and use to sprinkle over bread.

Speculaas or Dutch Windmill Cookies (slightly altered from here)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick or 113 g) cold unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (75 g) white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (165 g) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 3/4 cup (235 g) all purpose flour

Prep a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet. Then:

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes. Place in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the sugars, baking soda, salt, and spices. Cream butter and dry ingredients together on medium speed for 30 seconds or until the batter is uniform in color. Scrape down the sides with a large spatula and add the vanilla extract and egg and beat on medium speed until incorporated (about 30 more seconds). Scrape down the sides again and add the flour. Beat on medium speed until incorporated (about 30 more seconds)

If you are lucky enough to have all the traditional implements follow the quoted text if not skip down past that.

Split the cookie dough in half. If you using the springerle rolling pin, roll the dough out until 1/2 inch thick with a plain rolling pin. Liberally dust the springerle pin with flour then roll over the dough, pressing firmly to make a 1/4 inch thick cookie dough, with imprint. Cut the dough along the springerle grid lines with a sharp knife or pizza cutter and place on the baking sheet. If using a traditional speculaas cookie mold, roll the dough until 1/2 thick with a plain rolling pin. Lightly spray the mold with cooking oil, then liberally dust with all purpose flour (knocking out any loose flour once you’ve dusted it). Press the dough into the mold, remove excess dough of the back of the mold and then carefully unmold it onto the baking sheet.

If you don’t have all that fancy stuff, or some awesome family heirloom shortbread mold, use a cookie cutter and you can cut them into any shape you want. You can also roll it into a log and cut it into evenly spaced discs, roll each into a ball and press with the bottom of a glass if you have one with a nice design, or the old standby used for peanut butter cookies of pressing a fork into an X shape works as well. If you have one a cookie “gun” or a cookie stamp would work a treat to make these (I recently acquired a cookie stamp and am making these cookies again just to try it out). You want to roll things fairly thick so the unbaked cookies are at least 1/4 of an inch thick.

Chill for about an hour, but for at least 30 minutes. Then heat your oven to 375¬įF and bake for 9 to 11 minutes, you want to remove them when they just start to brown at the edges, do not let them brown all the way. Cookies as a rule should err on the side of underdone, instead of overdone. You can always bake them a tad longer, you can’t un-bake them. Also you should always allow them to cool in or on whatever they baked in for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. These cookies are no different, but taste oh so delicious.

It isn’t Christmas really without these next cookies, and they are a Southern favorite. Sadly less and less people are familiar with them, but these are one of my favorite cookies to whip up as gifts during the holidays and this has a cardamom addition for some exotic flare.

Cardamom Molasses Cookies

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil (seriously just trust me use this and nothing else, you could use shortening or butter but it doesn’t come out the same)
  • 1/4 cup molasses (find the darkest least processed you can find, you want as much dark rich flavor as possible)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • optional: 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • garnish: 1-2 tablespoons sugar

Cream coconut oil, brown sugar, egg, and molasses in a stand mixer or in a bowl with an electric beater. Stir in spices, then add in flour in batches, salt and baking soda. Mix well until fully combined, dough should be slightly dry, but forms easily into balls like peanut butter cookie dough. It is easiest to use a 1-2 ounce ice cream scoop to portion out the dough but you want to have about a tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Roll each by hand into a ball then dip top half in sugar. Place sugar side up on baking tray with parchment paper, with 2 inches at least between each ball. Bake for 12-15 minutes, let cool for 10 and then move to cooling rack. These are a delicious and aromatic cookie, that will become your favorite once you make it.

Cardamom Coffee

  • 1 cup Coffee beans, whole (pre-ground if you have no other option)
  • 1-2 Cardamom pods
  • Optional – cinnamon sticks, orange peel, carob nibs, cloves, saffron, and caraway seeds, fresh vanilla
  • Coffee Grinder
  • French Press (preferred but not required)

It is technically more “traditional” to use a lighter roast, or roast your own beans. Even I don’t have time for all that jazz. So find a roast level you like, and use that. Most grinders hold about a cup of coffee beans, add in your cardamom pods, and grind you don’t want a fine grind but fairly chunky. Follow your normal routine for brewing coffee in a french press, if you never have check out this guide. You can add in other things to your grind like the optional spices, or you can just do plain cardamom and coffee. All of them taste amazing. Guests will be wowed that you blended your own special grind and you will forever be known as the hostess with the most-est.

Some cardamom, cinnamon and orange peel spiced coffee, in my beautiful Christmas present from my fantastic MIL <3 I couldn't help but brag a wee bit!

Some cardamom, cinnamon and orange peel spiced coffee, in my beautiful Christmas present from my fantastic MIL ‚̧ I couldn’t help but brag a wee bit!

Warning: I have put 3 cardamom pods in about half a cup of coffee and ground it, and it is some pretty strong knockout juice. So please do not drink loads of cardamom and drive!

Cardamom Tea

  • 2-3 pods, slightly crushed
  • 8 ounces of Hot water (not boiling)

Steep for 10-15 minutes, and drink. You may need some honey to help this out since it can be quite strong tasting. This is good for pain, or extremely stressful days. If you are having stomach issues, increase to about a teaspoon of crushed seeds and steep for the same amount of time. This should help with cramping and abdominal pain that comes with medications, IBS, lactose in tolerance and so on.

ProCompressTip: You can steep for 20 minutes, and then soak a towel in this and apply directly to the forehead, or head where migraine hurts most. Or even to cramped muscles to help ease spasms and pain.

 Cardamom Tincture

  • 1 part Cardamom seeds,¬†slightly crushed
  • 2 parts Vodka (or other clear alcohol)
  • Mason jar or airtight jar

Put crushed seeds in a jar, cover with alcohol. Allow to sit, giving a shake once a day or so for about 4-6 weeks. Strain and bottle and store out of sunlight. This is a great cure for stomach cramping, and intestinal distress. It is also good to take after a heavy meal to prevent those issues in advance. A few 1-10 ml (10-60 drops) in honey or in a tea, or under the tongue. This can also be a good way to help yourself sleep on a restless night, or when a migraine or pain is keeping you awake.

It is great paired with Tulsi and lavender in a tea too!

Mike Tyson Level Knock Out Tea

  • 1-2 pods of Cardamom, with seeds removed (more if you like the taste adjust to your liking)
  • 1 tablespoon of Tulsi
  • 1 teaspoon dried Lavender flowers
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon of dried Chamomile flowers

You could reduce the Tulsi to a teaspoon but, I say go big or go home. Plus this tea pretty much ensures that within a half hour you will be counting sheep in dreamland. Steep in water for about 10-15 minutes, add honey if you need some sweet, strain and drink! This is a great tea also if you are up stressing about something, since it will put your mind at ease and bring healthy restful sleep. Seriously you have no other options but to sleep when cardamom is in the mix.

Cardamom Massage Oil

  • 30 drops Cardamom essential oil
  • 1 ounce good oil (jojoba, almond, olive, etc)

Mix well and store in and store in a dark bottle, massage into spasms, or temples, neck and shoulders for migraines. This is also good for a generally allover body massage to alleviate stress and anxiety. Give it a go, you will love the smell and the relaxation.

Cardamom Epsom Salt Bath

  • 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
  • 5-20 drops Cardamom¬†essential oils
  • Optional: any other oils you would like to add, just remember to reduce your cardamom oil by the number of drops of your other oils.

Mix well, and store in an airtight container, add a cup to a hot bath and soak for 20-30 minutes. You can always use the cardamom tea, and throw in some epsom salts too if you are unable to get your hands on the oil.

Ok, now I have to get out my soapbox.

*gets on soapbox*

Before I get into this second chai recipe, because who can have too many chai recipes? I want to explain something that seems to have as much fear and superstition surrounding its use and adoption, as the gas stove did when it was first introduced (for more on the gas stove see the footnotes). So I would like to clear up some things about Microwaves from things I have heard.

  • Microwaves “change” the molecular structure of water. Wrong. If it did –¬†it wouldn’t be water, secondly this has been pretty solidly debunked by pretty much everyone out there, and their doge, not the least including Snopes. The day some 9 yr old’s science project overturns major accepted views in physics and chemistry, you aren’t going to read about it in some email forward from one of your crazier relatives. Critical thinking people, lets use some.
  • Microwaves give you “radiation and therefore cancer.” Wrong. Microwaves are not going to give you radiation poisoning like if you walked into a nuclear reactor in full meltdown. You are getting more¬†radiation flying in an airplane, or eating a banana – than you do¬†using a microwave. Think about that. Please stop spreading this rumor it is old and tired, and that horse died at least 50 years ago. Stop. Beating it. Microwaves use electromagnetic waves to excite the food’s water molecules, cooking it from the inside basically by steam. That is why it doesn’t brown, or do well with breads like an electric or gas oven that uses heat conduction and convection to cook food. A microwave is not¬†radiating food, or giving anything radiation that will¬†kill you to stand in front of one (except if you are heating a hotpocket, then yes, it may actually be part of killing you, but 90% of that was the hotpocket). Electromagnetic waves also power your computer/car speakers, and many other things, so unless you also shun speakers and pretty much every other electronic device, your argument about microwaves being some “radiation cancer machine,” sounds really rather silly. But if you don’t believe me, here is the¬†FDA on microwaves¬†explaining why they are¬†safe, and¬†American Cancer Society on why microwaves won’t give you cancer, or the bad sort of radiation.

I get that not everyone aced chemistry and physics, but pretty much all the myths and fear surrounding the microwave are just another sad case of history repeating itself. We fear what we do not fully understand, and invisible waves that heats things up does seem pretty magical. So in the hopes that people will better understand, please read this explanation on how microwaves work. Or if you need a more quick and friendly explanation check out this video from the Smithsonian, they are people who know stuff.

*gets off soapbox*

Failure (and Idiot) Proof Chai Tea

  • ¬Ļ/3 cup of water
  • 2/3 cup of Milk
  • 1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon Black Tea
  • 1-3 Star Anise pods, whole
  • 2-4 Green Cardamom pods, crushed
  • 2-5 Peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 stick True Cinnamon, whole
  • 3-6 Cloves, crushed
  • 1 inch (thumb sized) piece of Fresh Ginger, crushed, or a heaping teaspoon of candied
  • Optional: teaspoon of Turmeric paste or powder, or fresh vanilla include seeds and pod itself.

Crush the spices except for the star anise and cinnamon you add those whole, and the ginger if you are using fresh. You don’t want to grind this to a powder just make sure things are slightly broken and the ginger is flat-ish, you want it broken up but not completely ground to a paste – though you can grind it to a paste if you really, really want to. I didn’t have fresh ginger this time since I just made ginger ale the day before, so I am using some candied ginger I got as a gift, which I love the jar it came in and will be storing my home-made candied ginger in it once I am done! Since I actually remembered for once to take pictures as I am making it, there are now pictures to follow along ūüôā¬†and I am going to try to be really good this year about taking more pictures of things so hopefully I remember to!

Spices in my cute little molina

Spices in my cute little molina

Throw everything except the milk into a pot, exclude the candied ginger if you are using it, I find that using a spoon to scrape out the spices the easiest way since lifting my stone mortar is difficult with my strength issues. Bring the water tea and spice mix up to a simmer and allow it to go for 3-4 minutes, or until it becomes fragrant with smell of the tea and the spices.

Candied ginger and my plain black tea (I am out of fresh since I just made ginger ale)

My candied ginger that was a gift! It is my trusty backup, and my plain black tea, you can use Earl Grey, or lipton (ugh!) if you have to, if you can’t find plain black tea.

Turn off heat and leave the pot on the burner to get that last bit of heat out while you heat your milk.

My little pot full of tea and spices!

That’s right let that stuff sit and marinate.

Milk, besides sugar, is one of the most evil things to cook with. I say evil because they will turn on you faster than an evil step-sister in a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale. If you look away for a second, or have to tend to some urgent situation, while making chai with milk on the stove, you could end up with some really horrible chai curds and whey. Not pleasant, or drinkable.

So the best way around this is to heat the water with the tea and spices on the stove, and then heat your milk (30 seconds to a minute) in the microwave. Microwaves since they excite water molecules only, will heat the milk (or other liquids) without bringing it to a visible boil (another reason it has such mistrust, how can it make something boiling hot without it looking like its boiling?! And scalding is, I believe, the number one way most people hurt themselves with microwaves). So it is extremely difficult to destroy, or curdle, your milk with this method, and it is heated to a precisely so that the chai is drinkable sooner rather than later.

Strained and ready to go!

Strained and ready to go! Yum!

You can even heat the milk right in the mug you are using, then strain the tea mixture into the heated milk, stir to fully combine and add the candied ginger if you are using it. I also find that I overall get a better colored chai, and if I want to try to squeeze a second brewing out of my tea and spices it isn’t all gross with milk.¬†Waste not, want not. Right?

Cardamom is also a mild laxative, and as we have discussed previously everybody poops, but sometimes we have difficulty pooping. Cardamom is a good addition to a senna or other herbal laxative recipe, as well as fennel, since both will help ease the cramping that can come with taking over the counter laxatives or herbal ones.

Cardamom & Senna Tea To Make You Go

  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of senna pods (half as much if you use leaves)
  • 16 ounces Boiling water
  • 5-6¬†Cardamom pods, crushed
  • Optional: Honey, fennel, or ginger can be added to help things along.

Steep for 3-5 minutes in a covered tea pot, and drink about 8 ounces, if you need a stronger tea let steep for longer. But the longer you steep it the stronger this will be when it comes to cramping, and while the cardamom does help it will not eliminate the cramping entirely. This will also make you sleepy, and senna works best overnight, so drink this before bed.

Remember, everyone is different and every body’s chemistry is different so do your own tests, see what your body works best with. Do the smart thing and check for interactions with other things you are taking on places like WebMD. And as always if you are in doubt in the slightest, ask a professional!

ProCardamomConversionTip:¬†12 seeds = 1 pod; 10 pods = 1¬†¬Ĺ teaspoons of Cardamom powder

For more information on the fear of adoption of gas stoves, as well as the history of cooking implements and eating as well check out Consider the Fork.

If you are interested in a quick history of Venice, and some of their food go here.

If you are a coffee addict¬†aficionado, like me, you should check out all of these variations¬†by making them at home since they are fun to make, can be made with inexpensive means and little addition to your kitchen unless you want to, and more fun to drink especially if you follow the tradition of using it to socialize with friends and family. We all need more socializing with good people, it lifts the spirits and it is something we have lost in our rush-about modern culture. Also, the habit of hospitality (at least in the US) has been lost, and we should definitely bring that back! If you are afraid to try grinding or roasting it on your own, seek out a local Arabic market, and ask people in the store and the owners what they do, what they use and what they like. I find that when I do this I get fantastic advice, recipes, sometimes a delicious sample with them, and often a new friend.¬†I have yet to meet a person that does not appreciate someone trying to learn about, understand and enjoy something of their culture’s traditions.

There were so many recipes I wanted to include but just ran out of steam and space. So here is a little link storm of things if you are looking to have some more cardamom in your diet. These may sound out of your comfort zone at first but trust me, good things are in your future if you make one of these.

Cardamom Link Storm


Leave a comment

Handy Dandy Dandelions!

It feels like it has been a year since I have been able mentally and physically to sit down and write. Migraines have been a real problem this year, as well as edema which is really cutting into my life since you have to elevate your feet. The right side has also been breeched, but the battle continues but the CRPS is slowly progressing into the arm and leg. But! Despite all that, I am starting to finally feel like I am on an upswing. That inspired me to talk about something that no matter how hated they are by others, I have always loved and felt like it was a bit of sunshine that always managed to grow in the harshest of places.

The humble, the tenacious dandelion.

Yes this humble little plant may have saved many lives!

The Rodney Dangerfield of the plant world

 

I even remember the first time I found out they were edible, watching a Pippi Longstocking movie (man I love those movies!) and I saw her eat one and immediately had to ask Mom about it (since there was no wikipedia then, Mom was my food information guru) and she told¬†me that you can eat dandelions, but that she didn’t much care for them since they were bitter. Her mother used to make the¬†greens¬†when she was younger, and would tell her about how she used to eat them as a kid during the Great Depression.

I know the first thing you are thinking, they’re just weeds aren’t they? Why would you want to eat weeds?! This is not the Great Depression! But they are so much more than weeds! They are a wonderful plant that got a bad wrap. You should respect the dandelion, no matter how much man tries to keep it down, it bounces back. We have thrown everything at it, and we still can’t eradicate it! I can only hope to be as strong as this humble sunny flower.

Thankfully for all of us it¬†has survived and grows everywhere, which means its FREE! The best price! You can also eat the entire plant, and it is ridiculously good for you. More¬†reasons why you should love this much slandered¬†plant! It¬†got many people, my grandparents and my husband’s too I am sure (possibly even your own) through really rough times, especially ones when food was scarce.¬†They are so plentiful and cheap that one famous millionaire cheapskate, and vegetarian, Henry Ford, was known to pick greens from the side of the road, including dandelions. While his ideas about nutrition were probably not the most sound, he did have one thing right. There was all this free food just sitting around, why go to the grocery store? Ford was so well known for eating “road greens” he¬†was even featured in a cracked article for it.

If its good enough for Ford, it is good enough for you!

When you realize that dandelions are high in a ton of vitamins (A, C, B2, and K, as well as potassium, and manganese, and more calcium and iron than spinach) eating “road greens” sounds a lot less silly. All of these vitamins and minerals are not only essential for normal body function they are a large chunk that you need to consume for nerve health as well as help assist in fighting or preventing pain. Dandelions were a great source of vitamin C which helped keep people from succumbing to scurvy, and the preserved versions helped keep people going through harsh winters and other hard times. Dandelions also produce a natural lecithin, which you may (or may not) remember from the Kava post. Dandelions are so good for you they are even mentioned in Greek mythology. According to some versions of the Minotaur of Crete stories – Hecate feeds dandelions to Theseus for thirty days, to make him strong enough to kill the Minotaur of the labyrinth. Since it rivals spinach in its iron and calcium content, Hecate is basically giving him the ancient Greek version of Popeye’s spinach!

He is probably singing “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am”

They also contain inulin, taraxacin (the bitter flavor and a possible diuretic) and levulin (basically a type of starch). Dandelions¬†even contains small amounts of¬†vegetable proteins, and fats, as well as fiber and other starches in the roots. It also produces a milky latex like substance, that is being used in the production of natural rubber. This dandelion milk has been a folk remedy for wart removal for a long time, and I have found some blog posts with people praising its efficacy, but there are no scientific studies to back this up. Sadly I don’t have any warts to test this on but I would love to know from someone directly if it works… so if you try it, let me know!

Dandelions have made their way across cultures, time and continents. The Romans knew well of its properties and was included in medical writings as well as gardens. The Romans helped to spread the dandelion to the Celts and Gauls, and they were immediately integrated into the food and medicine of the area. The earliest medicinal reference to dandelions comes from Arabic physicians from the 10th and 11th centuries. It is possible they gave the dandelion its Latin name as it is named¬†Taraxacon in Arabic, but it could also derive from Greek. Taraxos in Greek means “abnormal health condition” and akos means “remedy,” or even taraxo “I have caused” and achos “pain” could be the name origin. As we move West, there are¬†mentions of dandelions in some Welsh 13th century medical writings, and the usual litany of properties are listed. The name we English speakers currently use, dandelion, possibly comes from an Anglo-Saxon, corruption of the Norman French name Dent de Leon or “teeth of the lion,” for its serrated leaves. Though there are the writings of a surgeon from the 1400’s that says it is as powerful as the tooth of a lion for fighting illnesses.

There are many many different kinds of dandelions, and some false dandelions, so make sure you always know what you are harvesting if you are picking them wild.

As you can see there are a lot of imitators, but you want nothing but the real thing….baby.

 

Seriously be careful there are a lot of plants that are trying to be a dandelion, that are not good to consume. So be very, very careful and preferably have a professional help the first time you go foraging.

The specific species¬†that we want to focus on, since it is edible and medicinal, is the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)¬†possibly originated in Europe (or Eurasia) and then spread to the west and east from there – east as far as India and west to the Americas. It was well known for it’s diuretic properties which led to some unusual common names like pissabed in English and pissenlit in French. In China¬†it was known as “earth nail” for its long tap root, which is why it is so irksome to gardeners. As the Europeans came over to the Americas, they brought the precious dandelion seeds with them, and seeds were brought west with Pioneers as they expanded.¬†It is sad a plant that was so highly regarded fell so far from grace.

While its diuretic properties are not 100% proven in lab studies, the ones that have been performed do show signs of promise and there is a strong tradition in fold medicine for this which usually indicates there may be some validity in this property. The diuretic properties of dandelions can help with edema, whether its the usual bloating that comes with PMS or edema from pain conditions or CRPS. Another property that is even better to help CRPS, is the anti-inflammatory properties that dandelions have, while they are not 100% proven in human studies, animal studies are promising. Even if it doesn’t have anti-inflammatory properties, the level of vitamins and minerals it has can help to alleviate pains that could come from malnutrition, and it can be taken with other laxative herbs to help replace potassium that most of these tend to make you lose.

Dandelions¬†are also traditionally used for spring tonics, made as syrups, salads and beverages. Possibly due to its diuretic properties, and there is a lot of folk knowledge that says this is also good for the liver. There has been a lot of folk and oral information for this but not enough lab studies to be sure that it can help the liver, and by help that means by stimulating it to produce bile. Which, in my humble opinion, since they are such a great food – again all of it is edible – and so high in vitamins and minerals we all need if they do or do not also stimulate the liver really doesn’t remove from the overall awesomeness that is the dandelion. There is really no downside to eating them, and if it does help your liver it is only another tick in the plus column. Sadly though at this point in time, it is unknown for sure if the dandelion should get credit for this property. There is also a belief that the¬†taraxacin, which is what gives it the bitter taste, helps to stimulate the stomach since “bitters” are usually used as a digestive, though now they are more often to add another dimension to a meal or drink. It could also help with the gall bladder, again by stimulating it, and dandelions are something to add to the list of things that help you go when you can’t go.

There are also studies looking into the possibility that consuming dandelions can help to regulate blood sugar. So if that is interesting to you, you may want to go look into that further. Dandelions are also excellent for the skin, and can help with psoriasis, eczema and acne. or just help keep it looking lovely.

How to Get Them

Dandelions grow everywhere, and as long as they haven’t been treated with pesticides or other chemicals they are great to wild gather. But since they are basically the equivalent of filters for soil, it is best to avoid those found in people’s lawns since they might have been treated with chemicals you wouldn’t want to ingest. But these are one of those things you can wild gather if you are low on cash for food, for medicine, or if the zombie apocalypse has struck and you need both! The two¬†things that are¬†generally stressed if you are going to gather the roots is to dig them in wet weather, since they come out easier (but you can harvest them pretty much any time you see them growing), and to avoid any places that could have pesticide sprayed. Avoid roadsides, people’s lawns (always ask if you are going to dig up plants from your neighbor’s yard), rail road tracks, pretty much anywhere humans go a lot or where they would frown on this flower showing its sunny face. Larger leaves do better if you are cooking them, smaller do great on sandwiches and in salads. All you really need is a good knife, but a tool with tines will work as well. Make sure you rinse the leaves 3 times at least and let them soak for about an hour in clean water. The roots it is traditional to put them in a stream to clean them, but you can scrub them well with a potato or nail brush and then leave them under some running water for a bit to get the dirt out.

If you would like some more detailed instructions here is some info from a guy that is a well known urban forager.

Clara is one of my food heroes, she does recipes from her past and does a quick dandelion salad while showing you how she harvests and cleans them.

If you are collecting and not using the roots immediately you can always cut them into uniform (as possible) 3-6 inch pieces, and dry them in a low oven, commercial dehydrator or the sunshine. They should be brittle enough to snap but still white inside. You can dry the leaves too but I think they are better fresh for cooking, but best dried if you are making teas. If you need help with drying here is a good quick instructional on drying all parts of plants.

How to Use Them

You can really just steam or lightly boil or fry the greens with olive oil or lemon, or as a plain salad with the same. This is the most traditional way of eating the greens. But here are some great recipes for food, and medicinal recipes. Most¬†are both, as Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”

ProPetalTip: When you are removing petals from the flowers make sure you wear latex gloves, or use scissors to trim the petals from the top of the flower. It may not cause a rash but it can stain. It is also a good idea to wear gloves when foraging for the flowers to protect from the sap.

Dandelion Cold Salad

  • Dandelion leaves (collect enough dandelions to fill all the bowls of people that will be eating)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Onions, tomatoes, feta cheese – one, two or all of these can be diced and included
  • Olive oil, to drizzle over
  • Lemon juice, to drizzle over
  • Optional – crushed garlic

Wash and tear the dandelion leaves until they are bite sized, toss with other ingredients and drizzle with oil and lemon juice. These are a great side to most summer barbecue dishes, or picnics, or just whenever! Remember dandelions are seriously good for you, so this salad it is OK¬†to have seconds and thirds of. You can always make Clara’s cold salad recipe as well.

Hot Dandelion Salad

  • 3 pounds of Dandelion greens, well cleaned
  • ¬Ĺ cup Olive oil
  • 5 large cloves of Garlic
  • ¬Ĺ-1 teaspoon Sea Salt
  • A generous squeeze of lemon juice
  • optional: a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, or basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add greens. Cook until the stems are tender, usually 10 minutes, then drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. Press the leaves after to get rid of any excess water. Heat the olive oil, gently it burns easily, add garlic and pepper flakes if you want them, cook until golden. Add the greens and increase heat to medium and add the sea salt. Toss the greens so that oil coats the leaves evenly and everything is heated through – about 4 minutes. Squeeze lemons over and serve hot.

Pennsylvania Dutch Dandelion Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing (found here and slightly adapted)

  • 4-6 bowls of Dandelion leaves
  • 5-6 rashers of Bacon
  • 1¬Ĺ cups Water
  • 2 tablespoons Flour (cornstarch or arrowroot for gluten free)
  • 3 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons¬†Honey (sugar, or even molasses will do)
  • 1 tablespoon good Mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste (my mom always added some sugar)
  • hard boiled egg or eggs if you like them (I don’t so I leave this out)

Wash the dandelion leaves really well (wash them like Clara does) they need a wash and a soak for at least an hour, and a few more washings. Fry the bacon and remove it from the pan and chop it into pieces. Pour out half the fat, and save the rest bacon grease is really useful. Mix everything else except the egg and dandelions together well and add to the hot bacon grease. Stir and cook until thick, if it is too salty add a pinch or two of sugar. Pour hot dressing over cleaned dandelion greens and garnish with chopped bacon and diced egg.

Dandelion Syrup

  • 1¬†¬Ĺ cups Dandelion flowers (or petals), or about 100 flowers
  • 1 cup Honey (liquid glucose, or agave nectar could work here too)
  • 3 cups filtered Water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or a teaspoon citric acid)

If you haven’t already, remove the petals from the green¬†part of the flower, the sepal. You want just the petals, none of the green bits should get in or it will taste horrible. Throw all the petals in a pot and cover with the water. Bring up to a light simmer, and let it go for about 10-15 minutes you don’t want a rolling boil so keep it low. Remove from heat, and cover and let the water and petals sit over night. Pour through a cheesecloth, and twist and press it¬†to squeeze all the moisture from the petals. Return the petal water to the pot and add honey and lemon, and simmer on low heat until thickened. Store in a clean bottle. You can use sugar but I find honey is a better flavor. You can use this syrup on pretty much anything – pancakes, french toast, ice cream, or even with a little gin and tonic for a sunny cocktail for a summer evening. It is packed with all sorts of good things for you and it tastes good! There is all sorts of recipes for dandelion syrup, so just try the one that seems best to you if you don’t care for this one. I even found¬†a traditional Scandinavian syrup recipe you can try here (it has apples and looks like it would taste delicious!).

Dandelion Jelly

  • 8-10 cups of Dandelion petals
  • 5¬†cups of water
  • 6 cups Sugar (you could use honey but I find sugar works better for jams and jellies)
  • 1 packet of powdered Pectin (2 if you use liquid)
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Jars and canning supplies, make sure they are sterile ahead of time (if you have never canned before read this)
  • optional: food coloring – green and yellow seem to be the preferred colors

Add your petals to a large pot and cover with water, bring water up to a boil and once it hits a rolling boil turn the heat down to medium and let it simmer for about 5-10 minutes. The water will look a bit brown gold, it is ready to be strained. Take 3 cups of the dandelion “tea” and 6 cups of sugar, mix well and add in the lemon juice. You can add yellow food coloring to brighten things up if it doesn’t look as golden as you would like. Some people prefer green, whatever catches your fancy. Put mixture on the heat and bring to a boil an stir quickly, since sugar will turn on you like a Kardashian you are married to. And that is just as fast as you would imagine it to be. So stir a lot. When the mixture boils and stays the same height where you stir it, add the pectin. Boil hard for a minute, then pour into sterile jars leaving a¬†¬ľ inch of space from the top. Scoop off any foam that forms and lid. Process in a 10 minute bath for 8 oz jars (15 if you are in the mountains). Jelly goes great on toast, waffles, pancakes, anything really like syrup!

Also if you don’t make your own bread, you need to change that TODAY. I have used a lot of recipes, I love this one a lot but the hubs didn’t care for it much (he is picky about things). This is the one that he loves most, I have to admit I really enjoy as well. It has a crispy crust and a lovely crumb. And it takes like 10 minutes of actual work, so don’t say “oh I don’t have time” because everyone can make time for 10 minutes. Right so bread.

The Husband’s Favorite Loaf

  • 16 ounces¬†flour (regluar NOT bread flour. trust me.)
  • 1 ounce¬†Raw honey
  • ¬Ĺ-1 ounce¬†yeast (go for the full 1 oz if you want a super tall loaf)
  • 1 ounce melted butter (or oil, butter is better)
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounce milk

Put milk in a stand mixer with a hook attachment, add yeast, add honey. An easy tip so you dont kill your yeast with heat (yeast likes about 75¬į-86¬įF, higher will kill it) pour butter in cold milk and stir it around and pour in the bowl, making sure to get any butter bits that try to stay behind. Add flour on top, and then the salt. Mix, immediately no waiting this is why its so easy, until the bowl is clean, all the dough should be in the center and it should make what seems to be a very wet sticky dough. Let rest 5 minutes. Turn out on to well floured surface, seriously needs a good coating this is sticky. Kneed a bit until it stops sticking to you and form into a loose long roll trying to make the top as even as possible. Place into well greased or parchment paper lined bread pan and let rise until it is about an inch below the height you need. Cut a slit long the center of the loaf (this helps it expand and gives it that store bought look). Bake at 410¬įF for 10 minutes, then drop the oven to 350¬įF and go another 40. It should sound hollow when tapped.

You could add a tablespoon or two of gluten for a crispier crust but I find it works the best as it is. Also if you aren’t cooking bread by weight you need to try it, it comes out better since cups are unreliable when it comes to giving you precisely the same amount each time.

Dandelion Leaf Tea

  • 1-2 teaspoons of Dried Dandelion Leaf (1-3 tablespoons washed, chopped fresh)
  • 8 ounces of Boiling water

Steep for 10-15 if you are using fresh, 5-10 dried. Drink when cool enough to, this can be bitter so you can add honey or other sweetener to taste.

Dandelion Root Tea (Dandelion Coffee)

  • 1-3 teaspoons of Dandelion Roots in pieces
  • 8 ounces of water

Put roots and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 10-20 minutes, add any sweetener you like and enjoy. You can make this more coffee like if you grind the dried roots into a fine powder, a tablespoon in a cup with hot water added will make a more coffee like drink. Some people like to even add cream.

Both of these are great for inflammation but also have all the dietary pro’s that we went over earlier.

ProErsatzCoffeeTip: Ersatz means replacement foods, and this was often a replacement for coffee when coffee supplies were short. You can add chicory, cinnamon, vanilla, all sorts of things to your “coffee.” If you add the chicory add it in an equal ratio to the dandelion root, and everything else is to taste. If you’re attempting to quit the coffee habit this is a fantastic and nutritious replacement.

Dandelion Massage Oil

  • Fill a mason jar with fresh dandelion flowers
  • Enough oil to cover

Place with lid tightly on on a sunny windowsill and wait 2-3 weeks, or until the flowers turn brown. Massage into skin, and joints to help with inflammation of those areas or to ease skin ailments like psoriasis and eczema.

There is a traditional soup made in France from dandelions called creme de pissenlit, which I guess would translate as cream of pissabed…it is supposed to be good I haven’t tried making this yet so if you do let me know what you think.

Cream of Dandelion Soup (Creme de Pissenlit from Care2)

  • 2 pounds (about 6 cups) dandelion greens, trimmed and washed
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • ¬†4 cups vegetable stock
  • ¬†2 large leeks, white and light parts only, cleaned and sliced
  • ¬†1 carrot, cleaned and diced
  • ¬†1/2 cups milk
  • ¬†1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dandelion buds and/or flower petals for garnish
  1. If using more mature or very bitter tasting greens, blanch them in a pot of boiling salted water, then drain and squeeze out the excess water, chop and set aside.
  2. Heat butter or oil in a large pot over medium high heat, add greens, carrot and leeks and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.
  3. Add stock and simmer for about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in milk, cook stirring frequently, until slightly thickened.
  4. Puree mix in a tightly-covered blender until smooth, taking care with the hot liquid. Season with salt and pepper, and add Dijon if you like.
  5. Serve in bowls and garnish with flowers or buds.

Root Beer (with all the roots! Adapted from NourishedKitchen)

  • ¬ľ cup sassafras root bark
  • ¬ľ cup winter green leaf
  • 2 tablespoons sarsaparilla root
  • 1 tablespoon licorice root
  • 1 tablespoon ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon dandelion root
  • 1 tablespoon hops flowers
  • 1 tablespoon birch bark
  • 1 tablespoon wild cherry tree bark
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup unrefined cane sugar
  • 2 packets of Red Star Champagne Yeast
  1. Bring two and one-half quarts filtered water to a boil and stir in sassafras, sarsaparilla, wintergreen, licorice, ginger, hops, juniper, birch and wild cherry bark. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and simmer the roots, berries, barks, leaves and flowers for twenty minutes.
  2. After twenty minutes, turn off the heat and strain the infusion through a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth into a pitcher. Stir unrefined cane sugar into the hot infusion until it dissolves and allow it to cool until it reaches blood temperature. Once the sweetened infusion has cooled to blood temperature, stir in the ginger bug or fresh whey and pour into individual bottles (preferably flip-top bottles which are easy enough to find online, leaving at least one inch head space in each bottle.
  3. Allow the root beer to ferment for three to four days at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator for an additional two days to age. When you√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘre ready to serve the root beer, be careful as it, like any other fermented beverage, is under pressure due to the accumulation of carbon-dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation. Open it over a sink and note that homemade sodas, like this one, have been known to explode under pressure. Serve over ice.

I found a really yummy looking Dandelion and Lime ice tea that I am dying to try. This is also a good leaf to mix with watercress, and goes well in sandwiches and salads with cress. This goes well on burgers, in wraps, in salads, in anything that greens go good in, and they are the ultimate soul food.

There are as always pre-made preparations you can buy online in pill, tea, and liquid forms. Make sure you read the bottles and follow the directions, also make sure you know what species of dandelion they are using. You will also notice I don’t list or suggest tinctures, and the reason is that the stuff in the dandelion that is useful is not an oil, therefore not a fat, and not hydrophobic. So tincture of dandelion is less effective and probably not very useful. I don’t recommend them.

Everyone is different so do your own experiments see how well dandelions work for you, and even if they aren’t alleviating pain they are good for you! So really there is no reason (besides allergies) to not add these to your diet. Remember play it safe, if you have doubts, ask a professional!

Allergy Warning: If you are allergic to Daisies, Ragweeds, or Chicory, do NOT use dandelions.


Leave a comment

Licorice, Love it or Hate it, it is Still Amazing!

Well loads of stuff is happening, mostly migraines and holiday stuff, but mostly migraines. I was referred to a new Neurologist in Houston and I met him and really liked him. He gave me a lot of information, and explained to me why I should give taking a few medications a go, to see if they worked. I am not too happy that I am taking more medications, but this hopefully isn’t a “forever” thing. He also explained to me why I would not be a good candidate for a Spinal Stims, and that makes 3 docs that said it was a bad idea. So it just re-confirms my¬†decision to not get any installed¬†(other people may be, and I will go over Spinal Stims in another post in the future). So I am feeling pretty OK on this new medications, and I guess that makes visiting Houston worth it. Houston is a city you either love¬†or¬†hate, and if you hate it, you leave as soon as possible (like I did) to get away from it. So this inspired me to write about something that I personally love, but also has no grey areas when it comes to fans – Licorice.

The wonderful and under appreciated licorice root!

The wonderful and under appreciated licorice root!

Oh delicious licorice! I remember my sisters sorting through their jelly beans anytime we got some to pick out the “icky” black ones to give to me, which I hoarded and consumed with great relish. Licorice, is soooooooooooo good, I have always loved strong flavors, and this one always packs a punch.

I could dive into this and eat my way out!

Sadly, a lot of candies these days are made with anise oil, and licorice is only a background flavor. But you can find older candies made in the traditional ways that will have actual licorice in them.

A History of Licorice

Licorice has been used by humanity for longer than even I knew! I knew that licorice was a frequent offering at the end of Medieval era dinners to help aid in digestion, maybe even help with the meat laden diet since licorice has a mild laxative effect. It is far older though, the Scythians¬†introduced it to¬†the Greeks- Theophrastus, who lived around the time of Aristotle, refers to it as “Scythian root.” It was apparently used by the Scythians, in combination with Mare’s milk cheese, to stave off hunger and thirst during long treks, at least 12 days without water. Later Alexander the Great used it with his troops, telling them to chew licorice root to ease thirst. Even Brahma the Hindu God used it to slake his thirst, and it was well known in ancient India. We know this because of Dioscorides, wrote about it and he¬†also gave the root it’s botanical name glycyrrhiza – from the Greek glykyrrhiza¬†which means “sweet (glykys) root (rhiza).” Dioscorides mentioned that it was good for throat and stomach trouble, and the Greeks often used it in cold remedy preparations.¬†The current name comes from an Anglo-French (basically the dialect of the Normans that invaded England) corruption of the later dialects of Latin liquiritia, which is derived from glychyrrhiza¬†a latinization of the original Greek word. The Latin influence added the “lic,” or “liq” depending on where you live, portion of the word since liquere¬†in Latin means “to become fluid.” Which liquid extraction was a common process for users of this root for many preparations, in fact licorice extract was well known in history, even in the time of Dioscorides. Pliny the Elder also mentions licorice, in a lozenge form (it’s most popular form for medicine) as being good for the throat and to aid with thirst, and aid in healing and reducing inflammation he wrote

“[The] powder of it is often sprinkled on ulcerous sores of the mouth and films on the eyes; it heals, too, excrescences of the bladder pains in the kidneys, condylomata, and ulcerous sores of the genitals”

Galen mentions it as an ingredient in a medicinal wine in which licorice and¬†protropos wine¬†were listed ingredients. Not only is it used to make medicinal wine, but it was also used to doctor “young” wine to make it taste more aged.

Licorice made its way to India, where it was known in Sanskrit as yasthimadhu (translates to sweet stalk), and was a big part of the Ayurvedic pharmacy. In Buddhist ceremonies, an infusion of licorice is used to give the statue of the Buddha a ritual bath on his birthday. In even further east¬†countries licorice was widely used, though it may have been the species Glycyrrhiza uralensis,¬†it is one of the most popular ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine and has been recorded in use since the Han dynasty. From China licorice made it to Japan and the oldest specimen of licorice was found in the Imperial storehouse of Shosoin in Nara, it dated to the 8th century AD. Licorice in Chinese medicine is a “guide herb” which means it enhances the effects of other herbs, as well as prolonging life and helping healing. There is a great legend that goes with licorice and how it came to be used in Chinese medicine. From wikipedia:

“A long time ago, there was an old doctor with excellent medicine skills. He opened his medical office in his home with a few students as assistants. One time, he had to leave home for a couple of days, and before the old doctor left, he gave his students several drug packages in order for them to help out with the home patients. The old doctor did not return home on time, and the medicine he left for his students were running out, and there were still many patients to cure. In the backyard, however, there were some chopped and dried grasses used for boiling the water left, so the students administered them to the patients and told them that it was their teacher‚Äôs medicine. Magically, the patients who were suffering from spleen and stomach problems, coughing phlegm, or with sore throats and ulcers were cured from this medicine. These dried grasses were liquorice roots. Since then, liquorice roots have been widely used in Chinese medicine and healing.”

The Egyptians were also huge fans of licorice, making a drink called mai sus, now called ir sus in modern Egypt, which we know about since it was important enough to be written about. As well as King Tut’s tomb was found to have a large supply of licorice in it, so he could have it available to him in the afterlife. Licorice is very naturally sweet, and it comes from a different chemical than sugar called glychrrhizin, which has lead to it being used in many confections, as a refreshing sweet drink, or to sweeten bitter medicine. Since sugar was not widely known in the world until it spread outwards from India, it was often used in small amounts usually as medicine. It was the Arabs with their perfection of sugar refining, and the vast amount of medical knowledge they had who first made a lozenge for medicinal use that could be considered close to what we recognize today as a licorice candy. The history of this was they originally used honey, and then when sugar was available the conversion to what we would consider candies was made. In the Middle East, they too knew of its medicinal properties and used it ¬†for colds, coughs, congestion and inflammation, and it was from here that licorice, and licorice lozenges or pastilles, made it to Europe (due to the Crusades as usual).

Pastilles were the more common format in the Middle Ages, and they were generally stamped or cast in molds. Though it was used in the brewing of dark beers, and even was used in ginger breads in its powdered form. Licorice was found in the Wardrobe Accounts of Henry IV, and it was documented that it was kept by apothecaries of Italy, and Frankfurt. Queen Elizabeth I planted it in her gardens, and a tax was placed on licorice imports to help repair the London Bridge during the reign of  Edward I. Licorice was as expensive as the grains of paradise, a spice from Africa resembling, and often used in replacement of, Black Pepper.

A famous version of licorice candy that is still around today is the Pontefract licorice, which according to the history on it’s home page has been produced in that area since the Cluniac (or Benedictines from Spain) monks brought the plant to the area around 1550, when a new monastery was built there. It was generally used as medicine but gained popularity overtime, and eventually the post-feast treat came about (that I mentioned earlier) to help ease noble tummies. Then in the 1700’s a chemist, George Dunhill, mixed a special recipe according to a “very ancient formula” and the Pontefract licorice cake was born! Though they were stopped in the 60’s they have been recently reborn through Haribo.

Pontefract Cakes, with the stamped logo same as was used hundreds of years ago.

Pontefract Cakes, with the stamped logo same as was used hundreds of years ago.

This licorice is so old and so famous, that it was the type of licorice used in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker to make the fake cable car cable that Jaws had to bite through. The extruded candies, it is believed, first came from Holland in about the 17th century. which then became the standard for most licorice candies. As licorice moved down the history line, Napoleon Bonaparte encountered and became a fan of licorice, He supposedly chewed so much of the root (due to stomach issues, maybe from all the arsenic he ate) that his teeth turned black. From the Old World licorice made it to the New World, and introduced licorice to the Native Americans (which is weird, since it is usually the other way round). During the early colonial years, a colonist brewed a beer with licorice, among other things, for Indians when they had bad colds. It is now added to a variety of products from teas, to cold remedies, to alcohol, to even tobacco.

So licorice has a long and varied history, but it never seems to lose its ties to its medicinal roots, pun intended! If you like licorice, this is one thing that will be fun to eat as well as being good for you.

So what exactly is licorice and what does it do?

Though it tastes a lot like anise, or fennel, licorice is funnily enough a member of the pea family, and has about 18 recognized specie variations. Most of them have the chemicals that are required for it to be medicinal so if you are purchasing licorice roots make sure you know which species it comes from, or they may not be as effective. The most commonly used, and oldest is Glycyrrhiza glabra.

The mug shot – Glycyrrhiza glabra aka Licorice

The chemical that makes licorice so sweet, glycyrrhizin, is also what makes this a great medicinal plant. This chemical tastes 50 times sweeter than sugar, and is actually a glycoside. It can also make you retain salt (hence the issue with high blood pressure from over consumption), but it can also behave like a corticosteroid¬†– specifically mineralocoticoids. You should remember that corticosteroids are those stress chemicals your adrenal glands put out, and are also the basis for cortisone injections. So there are a few studies, not enough yet¬†to claim that it works or doesn’t, that consumption of licorice post cortisone¬†shots, could actually increase their efficacy. The reason being is that it could¬†prolong the action of any injected cortisol because¬†it allows it to stay in the bloodstream for longer. Or that even just the consumption of the tea can help with people suffering from Adrenal fatigue, or over stress/exhaustion in general. With it being the holidays, this is a prime time for stress, and exhaustion, so this is definitely something to have on hand if it starts to seem like the holiday season is just getting to be a little too much. This also means that it acts as an anti-inflammatory as well since cortisol helps reduce inflammation. It is also being looked into for treating variations of Hepatitis as well as treating auto-immune diseases. Another chemical that is important is enoxolone,¬†it also acts like cortisone in the system lending a hand with the anti-inflammatory. That’s right folks. Licorice is a corticosteroid 1-2 punch!

Take that inflammation! I float like a butterfly and sting like a licorice whip. Yes, yes I know, but I can’t help myself.

Both of these, glycyrrhizin and enoxolone, do have a warning that come with them, so I am going to emphasize this as much as possible.

***Over consumption of glycyrrhizin or enoxolone can cause high blood pressure, water retention, or low potassium levels. Licorice should not be consumed regularly without the consultation of a physician.***

Now with that said, if you are feeling exhausted even though you have slept or are particularly inflamed that day, a cup of licorice tea or a bit of licorice in any other way can be a great way to pick you up. It is also great for colds, sore throats, and¬†it also can help add sweetness and strong flavor to other preparations to help cover the taste of other medicines that don’t taste as awesome as licorice does. Even aspirin’s blow on the stomach, which is notoriously hard, is softened considerably when coated in licorice.

Licorice is also fantastic for an upset stomach, and has a long history of being used to treat, and soothe, stomach ulcers. There has been some resaerch into this and it is very promising. Licorice could help reduce the size and number of ulcers, and may help with cell life and/or regeneration. For chronic pain sufferers, this means that it can help out with the constipation that strikes all who are forced to take opiates, soothe upset stomachs from other medications, and even help protect the stomach from damage from the harsh things we are forced to ingest. It could even help people with acid reflux, or other upper GI problems. Heartburn after all the rich food of the holidays is a common issue, as well as constipation, so again licorice is perfect for this time of year!

Unrelated to pain, and side effects, winter colds are common, which licorice is great to help fight. It is a great expectorant, and helps soothe and calm the symptoms of a cold.

If you ever wondered what people used before toothbrushes and toothpaste to clean their teeth, you may be surprised to know that twigs and roots were used and one of them was of course licorice! Combined with oil pulling, chewing licorice has been found to be beneficial, and with dry mouth being an issue using this a great alternative to a toothbrush. Chewing the licorice root can also stimulate saliva which is another way to combat dry mouth. For a how to on licorice root tooth brushing check out this site, I plan to try this in the future but haven’t made the jump to throwing out my toothbrush just yet.

How do you use licorice?

Well the easiest way is to just chew the root! Chewing it helps to clean the teeth as we said, and it releases the oils and all that great stuff that helps your body right into the mucous membranes of the mouth so it is put into the blood stream quickly. Just make sure the root is clean, and if you find it a bit too hard you can soak the root in warm water to soften it a little.

Licorice Tea

  • 2¬†teaspoon of licorice root, roughly chopped
  • 8 ounces boiling water

Boil the water, and when at a rolling boil, add the licorice and remove from heat. Steep for 5 minutes, you can go longer but more than 10 minutes is not advised. Strain, and drink. If you really love licorice you can go up to a tablespoon per 8 ounces of water, a general rule is 1 tsp per 4 ounces water but you can increase more if you are a fan like I am.

This tea is good for stomach upset, or you can add licorice to other laxatives, or you can take it with a stool softener. You can drink it if you have a cold, or sores in your mouth, or if you have any of the previously discussed ailments. This is also a good tea to drink 1-2 times a day for 3 days after cortisone injections to help with the effects of the cortisone in the body.

Licorice Compress

  • 1 tablespoon of Licorice root
  • 8 ounces Boiling water
  • bowl and cloth/towl

Boil water, add licorice and let steep until cool enough to dip your cloth or towel in it and not scald yourself. Wring out cloth until damp and place on affected area. Since it is great and reducing inflammation as well as fighting infection, with the bonus of soothing heat, this is great for wounds, sprains, swollen limbs (which you get a lot with CRPS), and, surprisingly, skin disorders. Stubborn patches of psoriasis can be combated with this method, or you can even put the roots (shredded roots work best) in the cloth and steep it like a giant tea bag, then place on the skin.

Ir’ sus (or Mai sus, or Egyptian Licorice Juice)

  • 3 tablespoons licorice root, powdered
  • 1 gallon Water
  • Large bowl

Place licorice powder in deep bowl and cover with cold water. With a spoon, rub licorice in the water until it forms a thick paste. Allow to rest for about 20 minutes. Place in cheesecloth bag and hang in jug filled with water (12 glasses). Leave in refrigerator until needed. Pull out bag, squeeze gently in jug, then discard bag.  The serve, raise jug about six inches over the glass and pour the juice. This allows plenty of bubbles to form on top Рa very important feature in licorice juice. If you like it sweet, suspend the cheesecloth bag in sweetened water. (recipe slightly modified from Egypt Daily News)

Of course there are plenty of pre-made preparations in tea form, or in pill form. You can make your own licorice powder pills, there is a how to in my turmeric post. If you choose the store bought option, make sure you read the label. Know what species, if its a concentrate/extract of licorice, or if it has had the glycyrrhiain removed known as deglycyrrhizinated or DGL. These have had everything useful removed from it, which means there are no side effects, but it also means there are no effects since the active chemicals are removed. If you are purchasing DGL licorice it should be used to make candy or items where you are using licorice just for flavoring, and nothing else!

Licorice Tincture

  • ¬†Mason Jar (enough to hold all parts)
  • 1 part Licorice root,¬†roughly chopped
  • 2 parts Vodka (or other grain alcohol)

Throw the licorice root in the jar and cover with the alcohol, close the lid tightly. Set in a dark place for 4-6 weeks giving it a shake now and then. Strain, bottle and label. 2-5 ml should be taking a day, and not exceeded, nor should you take this for more than 3 weeks. Again this is good for inflammation, colds, constipation, and fatigue.

Also all of these recipes are good for fatigue and general holiday stresses, well stress in general. Licorice goes well with another stress fighter lemon balm, so if you find the taste too potent for you try adding some lemon balm to soften the blow to your palate.

Licorice may seem safe since it is used in candies, but remember even too much sugar is deadly and the same with licorice. Moderation in all things! Experiment with licorice, see what doses and forms work for you, everyone is different with different body chemistry you need to find your ¬†“sweet spot.” Also since this can have adverse effects if you have high blood pressure or other issues so make sure you check WebMD before you start taking it, and of course if you are in doubt, even in the slightest! Ask a professional!

For coughs and colds Рthere are a log of recipes out there for syrups, you can check out a few cough remedies here, here, here, and here. If you would like to read a little more about Pontefract Licorice history check out this site. If you want to read a really in depth article on licorice go here, and for recipes other than medicinal go here and for interesting Chinese recipes here. For a shop with the most variety of licorice I have seen, go here. (Seriously, its glorious)


8 Comments

Devil’s Claw

Lots of things happening, and I have had a severe downturn with spasms in my face making things very difficult when it comes to eating and, well, functioning overall since it feels like my head is trapped in this perpetual vice. But I am still getting around and cramming as much life into my better than bad days as I can!

Nobody.

You are right Sweet Brown, nobody.

Like Fishfuddle, this has a scary sounding name, but unlike it Devil’s Claw is much less hazardous while just as helpful. Devil’s Claw, or for you people that like Latin names,¬†Harpagophytum procumbens,¬†which¬†is found through much of¬†Africa and¬†has been known there for ages and used to treat a wide range of illnesses, fever, malaria, stomach issues, constipation, but mostly used to treat various inflammatory pain issues. It was well known for treating diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, and it is its anti-inflammatory abilities that make this a great herb to use to treat a lot of pain issues.

Devil's claw, it would almost look harmless if you didn't know those light parts will dry hard and spiky.

Devil’s claw, it would almost look harmless if you didn’t know those light parts will dry hard and spiky.

The parts of the plants used are the large roots, but this herb gets its name from it’s seed case.¬†Which looks like a wicked painful thing to step on.

Dem spikes.

It is also known by other names like grapple plant and wood spider. Which I think accurately describe this vicious looking spiked pod. It is a craftily designed shape though, which David Attenborough explains in his informative dulcet tones.

Africa was lucky enough to have this plant readily¬†available and it was used in Africa for centuries. Then, later on in history, there was an uprising against the German colonialism and it is a pretty horrible story to read, but it allowed the interaction (according to myth) between a local healer and a soldier/farmer,¬†a guy named G. H. Mehnert. It seems that this is a constructed legend that has possibly been debunked.¬†What we do know for sure is that it did make its way to Germany, and then had a boom in interest during the 1970’s in Europe. It was quickly noted that it treated inflammatory diseases, and it grew in popularity, sometimes to where demand could not be met with supply in some areas.

It has started to gain more interest as it is studied more, and has had promising results in treating back pain as well as rheumatoid arthritis and other arthritis like disorders. Of course there isn’t enough evidence to say 100% this is the best thing to do but it looks like this could be a new promising direction for new anti-inflammatories and treatment for back pain and even possibly migraines. The active chemicals that seems to be the source of the plants ability are¬†harpagoside (an iridoid glycoside – which chemicals common in medicinal plants), procumbide¬†(also iridoid glycoside) and plant sterols (which are basically plant steroids – think similar to cortisone). These have all been studied and results are, again not 100%, but looks good. The current theories are that like some NSAIDS the chemicals in Devil’s claw¬†block the uptake of the chemicals the body releases to start inflammation, so that means it would behave similar to a COX-2 inhibitor. There is a caution though that comes with this, it has been found in some people to aggravate stomachs, and could cause irritation with ulcers. Also it can thin blood so if you are on blood thinners, or are doing anything were blood thinning could be dangerous, make sure you consult or notify your doctors, which ever applies best.

As I said earlier it is the tubers produced by this plant that has the medicinal properties, and you can actually find quite a few pre-made preparations in teas, pills, extracts and other forms. If you go this route, make sure you are following the directions on the box, or if you are taking extracts no more than 500 mgs of a 5% extract 3 times a day.

If you have the raw herb it is best to use this as a tea,which is a great way to deal with pain and inflammation that is chronic, you can drink this once a day and it is a fairly powerful anti-inflammatory, and mild pain reliever.

Devil’s Claw Tea for Pain & Inflammation

  • 2 – 9 grams of Dried roots, chopped roughly
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Steep for at least 8 minutes, maybe 10, and drink once a day. If you are using a pre-made tea, please always follow the directions on the packet.

Tea for Stomach Issues

  • 1 teaspoon of Dried roots, chopped
  • 16 oz Boiling water

Steep for 20 minutes and drink, can be used to alleviate constipation but does also calm stomachs if you have never had, or currently have an ulcer avoid this, or at least consult your doctor first.

Devil’s Claw Tincture

  • Mason jar
  • Devil’s claw root, chopped, enough to fill 3/4 of the jar
  • Grain alcohol, enough to fill the rest of the jar

Cover the dried root with the alcohol, allow to sit in dark undisturbed place for 4-6 weeks. Shaking every day (or when you remember). Strain and bottle in dark bottles, dose is 15-20 drops in water, spoonful of honey, or tea.

If you purchase an extract or a powder, remember to check the percentage of harpagosides, and know the amounts you are taking. If you need an example on how to make your own capsules there is a tutorial at the end of this post about turmeric, another great anti-inflammatory.

There is also an indication that Devil’s claw can help with atherosclerosis, which is something that can happen if you have had a lot of cortisone. So this may be something good to start looking into if you relieve a lot of cortisone injections to help manage your pain.

Remember though everyone’s body is different, do your own research and experiments. Educate yourself no one will do it for you. Check for interactions with medications on places like WebMD, and always remember if you are ever in doubt about anything at all, ask a professional!


Leave a comment

Fishfuddle Befuddles Pain

Oh life, you always throw a spanner into the best laid plans. Between migraines coming back (getting topped up again with botox soon so they will be hopefully be gone for a month or two again) and cramming as much life into the days I don’t hurt, due to birthday’s and other social events, I just have not found the time to sit and write as much as I want to. But you must always make time for the things you love ūüôā and I love writing!

Piscidia piscipula, or sometimes known as fishfuddle, or the Florida fishpoison tree, is a tree that is native to Florida, Texas, Caribbean, Central and South America. This is as you can tell from the name, not a remedy to be trifled with, and I am strongly recommending you talk to your doctor(s) before embarking on using this remedy. I actually had some internal turmoil over whether or not I should write about this since it is very much use at your own risk sort of thing, and you should be very careful with this remedy. It is not something you shouldn’t just start up willy-nilly, even though it is a great medication, in small amounts, for pain especially nerve pains. But like I always say, you should always respect all things you put in your body, herbal medicine, or otherwise. Remember that if it is strong enough to good, then it can be¬†strong enough to do bad. Always be mindful in all things you ingest, over the counter pills, essential oils, anything in the wrong amounts or used improperly can be dangerous, and¬†even water can poison you.

Jamaican Dogwood in all of its glory!

Jamaican dogwood in all of its glory!

Now that I have gotten the stern warnings out of the way, this is a powerful analgesic and sedative, and as a bonus has anti-inflammatory properties as well. Its Latin name roughly translates to “little fish killer,” usually in places it grows the indigenous people use the shrub¬†to create a strong fish sedative and poison which can be added to small ponds or swamps. Thus allowing easy collecting of fish for small family groups. Its poison isn’t long lasting and therefore not detrimental to the environment since it breaks down if exposed to sunlight for more than 6 days. It has been successfully used in some cases to remove invasive species from lakes, and may be a way to prevent destructive species invasion of aquatic environments. It is also a powerful insecticide, which if you are fighting the ravages of caterpillars. Which I don’t mind a few having a snack, always plant some extra for nature, but decimation is an act of war! And a solution containing a bit of Jamaican dogwood tincture¬†is a very effective way to prevent them from eating all your plants. Other than obliterating your garden with fire.

Take that you greedy caterpillars!

While it can be detrimental to the finned water friends, since it affects their gills, it can be a powerful pain reliever, especially in the case of¬†nerve pain, as well as sedative for humans. It is really not well studied since it fell out of fashion¬†after¬†the 1800’s, mostly due to the dominance of opiates and then mass produced pain medications. Also there was some bad PR it got due to the claims of possible carcinogenic chemicals (but not enough studies to back it up, just like the same bad PR safrole), and it makes this remedy¬†is a bit more difficult to write about. There have been studies in the early days of Western medicine that do confirm its ability to alleviate pain and ease tense muscles, but not years of studies that would give definitive and detailed information and results. The chemical interactions that lead it to being good for treating human pain, as well as being a sedative, anti-spasmodic, and anti-inflammatory,¬†are unstudied by modern science to a degree that we could¬†not truly pinpoint what chemical is¬†is causing what. One of the known chemicals in Jamaican dogwood is rotenone, which is deadly to fish since it affects their gills, but is not as poisonous to warmblooded animals, though in large amounts Jamaican dogwood can still be toxic to humans. Traditional uses that went beyond fish hunting were generally for the sedation and pain relieving side of the plant. Though later alternative medicinal practices used this plant to treat migraines,¬†and other painful conditions, with patients that could not tolerate opium, or opiates. It has also been used by many cultures to treat moon time issues, and ease painful cramps since it relaxes muscles as well as easing pain.

Generally the bark of the roots is what is used and you can buy this online, try to buy locally if at all possible from a reputable dealer that harvests in a sustainable manner. If you live in one of the areas that Jamaican dogwood grows naturally in, you should have a go at harvesting it yourself. There is a really good article to use here, she goes into identification and how to harvest as well as drying and her own recipe for a tincture. There is also a lot of commercial preparations, such as extracts that can be used as well. If you opt to go the extracts route make sure you know the strength of the extract you are purchasing and it is always best to start with the smallest amount and work up taking tiny steps. Some people experience an adverse reaction to this remedy and it is best to make sure your stomach is not upset by it before you take larger amounts. Another option is to use the bark of the root to make a tea.

Jamaican Dogwood Tea

  • ¬ľ-¬Ĺ¬†teaspoon Dried Jamaican dogwood root bark
  • 8 oz of water

Add the root bark to the water, and boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Start small here and you can eventually increase to 1 teaspoon all the way up to¬†2, though this should be done with caution and only after stepping up a 1/4 teaspoon at a time. This is great for all sorts of pain – nerve, joint, lady type, migraines, etc. It also is a pretty strong sedative, even more so than valerian, and is a great way to make sure you get your z’s. It also helps to ease painful cramping and spasms. It also helps to relieve anxiety and stress in the smaller doses and if you are quite anxious this may be a good way to deal with some of the worse days.

Jamaican Dogwood Tincture

  • 1 part Dried Jamaican dogwood root bark
  • 5 parts Grain alcohol
  • Mason jar or other seal-able glass jar

Make sure you have enough room at the top of the jar when you put all the root bark and grain alcohol into your jar. Make sure the root bark is covered and seal. Make sure you shake it every so often, and leave it to sit for 4-6 weeks. On the site I linked previously she suggests blending the bark, which if you don’t have something as powerful as a Vitamix you can use pruning sheers or other strong cutting implements to chop it into little pieces to increase surface area. 5 drops in honey, tea or directly under the tongue, and increase as needed. No more than 30 drops, in my opinion, some sites though recommend 2 droppers,¬†which is about 2.5 ml, and equates to about the same amount. Again, this is good for migraines, spasms, sleeping issues, all that good stuff.

 Jamaican Dogwood Bug Spray

  • 5-10 drops Jamaican dogwood tincture
  • Spray bottle
  • Enough water to fill the spray bottle

Add everything to the spray bottle, and shake well before use. Spray on plants, and make sure you rinse anything you eat from them very well before consuming them. This really should only be used in extreme circumstances of bug, or caterpillar invasion, you should always plant extra for the animals.

If you purchase a powdered version or if you are using extract you can always make these into a pill form and if you need instruction on how to do so there is a good one at the end of this post on turmeric, which just so happens to work really well as a companion to dogwood in a pain pill preparation. Hops and valerian are also good companions for Jamaican dogwood. Depending on the percentage of concentration of the extract you may need to use less, but the dose for powdered Jamaican dogwood is about 1-5 grains (65 mg – 324 mg), I would definitely not suggest using more than that.

Remember educate yourself before taking this drug, and do not start a treatment without consulting a physician. Always check places like WebMD to make sure it won’t interact with your medications or any conditions. In this case, even if you don’t have any doubts about this remedy you need to ask a professional before starting it.


4 Comments

Beer is Good for You, Huzzah!

Have you been watching the World Cup? I definitely backed the wrong team this year, (maybe next time Spain!) and, surprisingly, the US has not done too badly, until they did…sigh.

Around the world people will be watching matches, and inevitability, drinking a pint. Beer, it is s much more than just some beverage. Just something to drink at a barbecue, or after long day, that a pint you have while you commiserate with friends. Beer is complex, alive, and¬†very interesting. You should appreciate a well made beer, as well as make own.¬†I am a home-brewer (as I have mentioned) and beer is a such wonderful, and fascinating creature, you really must experience making one for yourself. Having a little beer baby in your closet, checking on it, and then enjoying it – there is nothing quite like it. Beer, is possibly the key to good health (in moderation of course) and is not “fattening” despite this new trend for lite beers. So¬†time to learn about some of the benefits of our fabulous friend beer.

Kitchen-101-Beer-PNG

Everything you ever need to know about beers! (also a great site and should buy the print)

Beer, one of the oldest foods, and possibly the reason that humans settled down and started things like agriculture and cities. Beer is a very old medicine, Egyptians were known to use it as a “primitive” antibiotic, and it is so ancient that even Hammurabi wrote laws about it in his infamous code. Beer really can be medicine, and one now and then with the right ingredients can actually do a lot of good.¬†Now that doesn’t mean you should go slam a 6-pack, but beer does have its benefits medicinally if consumed in moderation. Over consumption of beer negates any beneficial aspects of it so I can not stress moderation enough, but a beer now and then can be beneficial, even more so with the right ingredients.

Beer as I said gets mentioned in Hammurabi’s code but it is so important that it has been written in many more languages and hundreds of thousands of recipes existed around the world, and has a long and varied history. The oldest evidence of beer (Iran) and a mead/wine hybrid (China) from studying pottery found in tombs and archaeological excavations that date to 9,000-7,000 years ago. Humans have been brewing for almost as long as we have record for, and possibly started long before we lost our hunting and gathering ways. ¬†The Sumarians had a goddess called Ninkasi, her name translates loosely to “the Lady who fills the mouth” and she was the Goddess of beer, basically. Yeast and fermentation were not understood so the whole fermentation process was very “magical.” Ninkasi it was said she was borne on sparkling fresh water, and the hymn to Ninkasi is basically a recipe for brewing beer in poetic form, and the Goddess comes and makes the magic happen.

Ninkasi, like a lot of other deities of alcoholic beverages, is a sort of embodiment of that magic of fermentation. There are a lot of cultures that have legends or magic around fermenting. Some cultures used a magical brewing stick that they thought magically caused beer to ferment, yeast transferred from the crevices in the stick would inoculate beers as it was stirred. Other cultures believed fermentation could only happen in a quiet place, and there were stories that if the beer was startled by loud noises it wouldn’t ferment. In most early cultures, beer was made with bread, since the yeast was wild yeast that was caught by the dough and fermented the dough through the yeast living in the air. The bread was then used to brew the beer, some used the dough¬†raw, half baked, or twice baked in the case of the Sumarians, or at least as far as we can tell. The bread was added to the wort (or was sometimes part of the ingredients for the wort) for brewing and fermentation occurred. Some of it also could have been based on luck, and wild yeast settling in fermentation vessels and inoculating as well, but this bread method seems to be the most common and is even carried over today with some recipes having yeast spread on bread and floated on the wort to start the fermentation. Yeast doing its work still seems magical today when I make beer, or even my home-made sodas (though I tend to use specialized champagne yeast for those). Something so small having such a big effect, you must admit it is pretty fantastic.

The beer brewed from this method in Sumer, was very thick almost like a porridge. It had to be sipped with straws to filter it. The straws are a bit like traditional yerba mate straws, they filter out the solids (they used these in Egypt and with other early beers from many other cultures too. Everyone from gods and goddesses, to kings to commoners were shown sipping beers through these straws.

from nicolepeyrafitte.com

Sippin’ on bread ‘n’ juice… laid back. With my mind on Ninkasi, and Ninkasi on my mind.

There are craft brews now being produced under her name, it seems the old ways have become new ways and the circle of history continues.

Beer was part of life and worship through the ages as humanity progressed from the times of the Sumerians, and was a major part of many religious rights (and if they didn’t use beer a mead or wine substance was often used), like the libations of beer poured on a warden tree that we just discussed in the history of birch. In Egypt Bes was a God that was known to love drinking beer, and was frequently depicted as drinking beer (also through straws since it was more like Sumerian beer). Bes is probably, that is probably not definitely, the “pagan” origin of St Bessus, since some of the symbolism and protection areas (fertility, war, etc) were brought over as Bes was very popular with ladies, dancers and soldiers. Bes was second to Hathor for beer and brewing, and like in Hinduism Gods and Goddesses come in many forms and can take other forms. Hathor could manifest as¬†many things, in her lady form she has cow ears, in her cow form, she is the divine white cow, always marked¬†by it’s special necklace.

Like a cow with bling would go unnoticed¬†in the tall papyrus… cause that’s normal.

But Hathor had another side, her pissed-off lady side. Sekhmet is Hathor’s not so nice side, and she is the goddess of war and¬†is on the list of people not to be trifled with,¬†like the Dread Pirate Roberts, or a Middle-American soccer mom fighting for the last Tickle-Me Elmo on Black Friday. Yet, Ra, decides to piss her off by telling her that some of the people of the Black Land, were planning to kill him. Not something you tell to Hathor considering one of her other forms was Ra’s wifey. She becomes so mad about the possible death of Ra, that she becomes Sekhmet, and begins to slaughter all humans faster than the robot overlords of Skynet could. Ra, realizing that flipping his wife’s bitch switch could result in complete genocide, and a real reduction in his worshipers population levels, decides the best thing to do is stop her. How do you stop a blood thirsty goddess on the warpath? With blood colored beer of course! Ra pours the beer on the ground and she drinks so much (remember – blood thirsty) that she becomes drunk, due to her drunken state she is sedated and thankfully returned to her more calm, cow-eared self.

“What did you say, Ra? You are going to what instead of the dishes?”

Beer¬†was such a strongly held tradition, that as the new religion of Christianity was spread, many “pagan” (meaning- not of the 3 “book” religions) rituals and deities were absorbed into the rituals and traditions of the incoming traditions. This is why you have Saints like Brigid, she was not always a saint but was a pagan Goddess. Brigid was the daughter of Dagda, and was one of those amalgam Goddesses that comes about from many years of cultures growing and mingling until she becomes a triad goddess (Mother, Maiden, Crone type) as well as covering blacksmiths, poetry and many other things. Brigid once adopted by the incoming new¬†religion, soon became combined and tied (like many other pre-Christian deities) to an existing saint, St Brigid of Kildare. There is a tradition that carried over from her earlier worship, and a group of nuns tended a flame which was a symbol of the earlier origins of the Saint.¬†Saints typically do saintly things, and a main one was she tended to lepers in a¬†leper colony. Tragically she found one day that the lepers ¬†had run out of beer. She kindly saved them from this horrible plight by changing their bathwater (in some legends her own bathwater) into beer and saved the thirsty lepers.

“For when the lepers she nursed implored her for beer, and there was none to be had, she changed their bathwater into an excellent beer, by the sheer strength of her blessing and faith in God and dealt it out to the thirsty plenty.”

And again her place in history is secure, since there are craft beers being produced today that are named Brigid in honor of this saint, even one I quite like a lot. St Arnulf¬†of Metz (sometimes written as Arnold) was another patron saint of brewers, and is now the patron saint of a brewery in Houston. Appropriately so, since Arnulf brewed himself, and often preached that –

“from man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.”

He also preached to the people to drink beer over water, which is a safety issue as I will cover with another Arnold later. After his death, the people of Metz sent people to collect their hometown saint’s body since he was buried near the monastery he retired to. On their way home, lugging their saintly cargo, stopped to have a pint at a tavern, but they were informed that there was only one mug of beer remaining. So one of them prays to Arnulf of Metz and assured his fellow travelers that by his prayer to Arnulf they will –

“by his powerful intercession the Blessed Arnold will bring us what we lack.‚ÄĚ

And the single mug of beer never ran dry, providing enough beer to slake the thirst of all the travelers and some of the receiving crowd upon his return to Metz. The story of the Miracle of the Mug became one of the major reasons that Arnulf became Saint Arnulf, logically of course. Because if anyone¬†had a never-ending mug of beer, they would definitely¬†petition that the gifter of said mug, should be immortalized, or held in reverence as a saint. Personally, I would say sainthood in all religions,¬†well…at least¬†the ones that drink.

Beer was so important to most cultures as water was sometimes an unreliable resource for drinking (this was before germ theory and all that jazz). The best option for drinking was water that was boiled (which makes it safe) and then given the extra benefit of alcohol (to keep out other nasty things) was the obviously¬†much safer option. Seriously, water was so bad that the patron saint of hop pickers, St Arnulf of Soissons (also written as Arnold, and different from the previous St Arnold), was so pro-beer drinking that he actively encouraged the peasants in the area to drink it instead of water. Due to beer’s “gift of health,” there is even legend he ended a plague by putting a crucifix in his brew pot, and all who drank of it were cured of the plague. Which beer could possibly have saved them, even without the crucifix addition, since there has been evidence that tetracycline, a well known antibiotic now, was found in mummies and ancient beers. They may not have known why it helped and made them feel better but they knew it did, this¬†could be the reason that beer had such a strong history of restorative powers.

Beer was drunk by everyone, young and old, rich and pour. Though not all beers were created equal, there are highly alcoholic versions, and some with much less which are more like the previous ancient beers we were discussing. There was small, or children’s beer in some areas, which is generally 3% alcohol or less. This was drunk for breakfast or throughout the day, in fact most workers drank about 10 Imperial pints (568¬†ml) a day. Which if this was of what we now consider “regular” beer (about 6% ABV in most areas is “normal”), not much would get done, but it sure would be fun! The dangers of drinking water meant that this was the much safer alternative to water, and was provided to everyone including children and pregnant or nursing women. This sounds bad but it was generally watered down, so it would generally be¬†enough alcohol to kill bacteria, but not¬†enough to where it would do much¬†harm, they weren’t doing keg-stands or anything.

There are traditional and regional variations, one we discussed with juniper, and they all have their own uses, recipes, meanings, and ingredients. There are things like¬†chicha,¬†kvass, svagdricka, podpiwek, and malzbier (malt beer) all of these¬†fall in to this small beer group. Small beer is the drink of the masses, what was given to the servants when the European Lord threw a party, it was what the Egyptians workers received as part of their pay, and in Tudor times pints were allocated to ladies in waiting. No one was really getting hammered all day like some gridiron loving, forehead can crushing, frat boy, but if they had enough they might get a little “buzz” if you had a lot. It seems like drinking beer all day would lead to crazy behavior, but small beer was just enough alcohol to be safe but not wasted, since there were¬†stronger ales if you wanted to drink your face off. This is a good thing to remember when you are traveling, beer is generally a safer bet than tap water. Also, if you are in a situation where drinking water is not so great, opt for the beer, even in survival. You can boil most any water and turn it into a somewhat decent beer, even duck pond water as was found in a documentary¬†of how beer saved the world (if you have netflix).

These small or¬†unfiltered beers add another level to most of the cultures that consumed them¬†as a good source of nutrition. Beer in it’s¬†varied forms were a large part of daily nutrition for¬†almost all¬†historical cultures. Since it is a fermented beverage is very high in B vitamins, and it isn’t just one beer has, it is all of the spectrum. Even more so in a lot of bottled home-brews, since a lot of them are conditioned in the bottle to carbonate them, and yeast isn’t filtered out. B vitamins are part of those vitamins that are so important for making sure everything works right, and helps keep nerves and pretty much everything else healthy. Beer was nutrition for monks in the Middle Ages, since fasting was a large part of their religious calendar, and beer was all the vitamins and nutrients monk’s needed. And this is why generally monastery, or more specifically¬†Trappist,¬†ales and¬†beers are still some of the best around, I am sure all of you who good love beer you have heard of Chimay if you are a beer drinker. Trappist beers come from Trappist monasteries which means that they are brewed by monks of a branch of the Cistercians, but one that follows a more “strict” observance of the orders rules. Everything that is good for yeast, is good for people, and it is a great way (in moderation) to get a lot of vitamins you need in a natural way, which are generally easier to digest and absorb than in pill form. Beer has a lot of nutritional value, and while it does have calories mainly from carbohydrates and other sugars. It is mostly the fattening foods consumed with beers, as well as over consumption that leads to the inevitable beer belly.

Why do we care about small beer other than its nutritional value? Well, alcohol is a great way to dissolve fats and therefore oils (which are fats). So, what does that mean? That means that oils that can give beer flavor can also give beer additional medicinal value. Just like hops add a sedative quality to beer with their hop pollen and oils, you can add other plants to increase medicinal qualities. Rosemary, peppercorns, and juniper (as I mentioned) are all normal beer ingredients, but these ingredients bring not just flavors to beers but all of the properties of their oils as well. That means if you add say a¬†quarter of an¬†ounce of lavender¬†flowers to a beer in the last 5 minutes of a boil, or even leave a muslin bag in the fermenter you will have a beer that with the hops will be quite sedating and good for relieving stress (goes well in Saison recipes). Lavender is quite bitter though so small amounts go a long way, and I have found that unless you let this sit for a month drinking it tastes like a punch in the face from Grandma’s closet. All herbs added must have their potency considered, so for example you probably wouldn’t want to add a pound of lavender, it would be way too bitter. You may need to counter with additional sweet like honey, which is a great addition to beers or brew it as a honey wine with lavender.¬†Or get crazy and try including other herbs, be careful with bitter ones like hops and lavender…unless you like things bitter then it is a great addition. So you can be creative here, lemon balm in an IPA or a¬†Hefeweizen, or maybe green peppercorns and rosemary in a Saison, or even chili peppers to a lager. Adding essential oils works too if you dont have herbs handy, add a few drops to the wort about one drop per 8th of an ounce of herbs called for in a recipe (for very intense flavors 1 drop for a quarter ounce of herbs). Whatever the addition you can get valuable vitamins, and a healthy dose of herbal benefits just by having a beer.

Another aspect of beer is one you can’t really get around, the alcohol content. Alcohol, from the Arabic language we borrow the word, and it was they who discovered distillation. But beer does not require distillation, so be glad for that since stills are first of all highly explosive, and second are generally frowned upon for legal reasons. Alcohol does have negative effects on the body when consumed too frequently or too much in a sitting (binge drinking is worse than steady alcoholism so don’t think that is better). The Mayo Clinic gives good information on what is a moderate versus an immoderate amount, here are their guidelines –

For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

Examples of one drink include:

  • Beer:¬†12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters)
  • Wine:¬†5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters)
  • Distilled spirits (80 proof):¬†1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters)

So having one now and then can do some¬†good for the body, and I can’t stress enough moderation. Alcohol is a depressant, something that does “deaden” the system, which is why it is so dangerous to ever drink and drive. It slows reaction time, it also relaxes muscles and slows things down. Which can help if you are in pain a bit, it can help a lot with the right sort of herbs in it. Drinking too much will affect sleeping and other things so it is really important to not go overboard, and it can actually cause a B deficiency if consumed in excess. So keep it moderate (you may get tired of me saying that), and that beer can do a lot to relax the body, which can relax the mind. Especially when you enjoy it over a good meal, with good friends and family, nothing is better for the spirit than that.

“But beer sounds way too complicated to make,” I am hearing some of you think, “what is all this boil and fermenter stuff?” If you are the type that likes to read everything you can get your hands on about something before starting it Michael Jackson is a good place to start, I have brought him up before, and he is the unofficial guru on all things beer related, and some other distilling and fermenting type things. He writes some fantastic stuff about beers, and covers all sorts of ground on the old and new ways. If you want one book that explains it all in one book, and is “just the facts, ma’am” this is a site and writer you should check out. He was actually my first brewing book I bought, and while it is stuffed with information it is a good single source, read it twice if it feels overwhelming the first time. Another great book for not only recipes but history and great herbal information check out this book.

If you have a small amount of space and are looking for a small investment to start brewing, you should look into doing half grain, and half extract (sometimes called a mini-mash). It requires less set up, and by that I mean equipment, and you get a better product than if you do all extract. If you have the space and time, though even brewing with half extract takes a half day basically. But it is all worth the time and effort, especially when you crack open that bottle or tap that keg of a beer you brewed. If you are looking for recipes there are a lot of sites (like this, this, this, this, and this) that give recipes and notes from other home brewers. Since I am from the Austin area, I can not help but put in a plug for the local brewing supply store here that does ship nationally, and has kits, recipes, blogs, faqs and just about anything and everything you need for beer (even hops rhizomes to grow your own!).

Seriously, nothing tastes better than beer you made yourself, and because beer is endlessly customize-able to taste and seasons you can make beers that change with what is available in your garden or whatever suits your fancy. Making things add a real sense of satisfaction, and since it is a DIY thing that requires more patience than effort it is a great thing for someone with limited mobility (as long as you invite a friend who can lift heavy things). If you don’t you may want to invest in some hand pumps to transfer liquids in place.

If you are interested in reading the Hymn of Ninkasi, other than the site linked in the photo, and/or more information on her and beer culture in Sumer, check out this site or this site. 

If you are interested in beer deities in general go here and here.  

If you are interested in the Saints of Brewing, hops, and other Beer related things, go here or here.