Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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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.

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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


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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)


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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!


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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.


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Vetiver, the Root that is Dug

Looks like I may actually dodge a surgery for Carpel Tunnel!

But may have a surgery different sort, possibly, that could reduce pain and medications needed since pain has really slowed me down lately. But! Good things are coming, good things. Or at least that is my mantra for now ūüôā

Vetiver, also spelled as vettiver or vetivert, is a grass native to India but well known all over Asia. If you are familiar with Ayurveda it is a well known herb in that¬†herbal medicine¬†practice. It goes by many local names like ramacham in Malaysia, ¬†or khus¬†in some local Indian dialects, and has been valued by humanity for ages since it is such a versatile grass. Its name has been translated as “the root that is dug” or “hatcheted up” since it must be dug, and sometimes hacked up as the roots can reach down ¬†3 to 4 meters (9-13 feet).

By aromaticwisdominstitute.com

More root than plant, and it is rather hardy!

It is a relative of Sorghums, so it is related to things you would hopefully be familiar with, you would know them as lemon grass, palmarosa, and citronella. It only grows in tropical climates, but in those areas it is being used to help with soil erosion since the roots go so deep for grasses. Its leaves can be used for weaving and thatch, and animal feed, as a straw replacement. Its roots are even more valuable and were used for making mats or curtains to help keep the room feeling cool and smelling pleasant. They only need an occasional misting with water to keep the room cool and smelling lovely.

*spritz spritz spritz*

It has a long history of use in Ayurveda, but is relatively unknown in the western cultures. All of Asia seems to know and have their own beloved recipes and uses for this plant. It has been a major player in aiding with soil erosion due to its deep reaching roots, it has been an integral part of the perfume industry due to its complex oils. It is even used in evaporation units in air conditioners, since it prevents mosquitoes from breeding as well as makes the house smell lovely. Since vetiver is a bug repellent, and cooling, it can be used for making fans (bug repelling fans! fantastic!), loofa scrub things, blinds, screens, bed matting (sometimes woven with lemon grass as well) sun shades, tassels, woven balls and even handbags. I don’t know why this hasn’t caught on in Texas during summers with all the mosquitoes we have, these would go over great. Literally a plethora of things you can buy made of vetiver root. And if you purchase some and the smell stops being as potent it just requires a soak and a dry in the sun to re-open its pores and the fragrance to return. I have even seen that putting a small muslin bag in an earthen jug (or pitcher) of water keeps it tasting fresh¬†and cool in hot weather, and there is also khus syrup for milkshakes or for a delicious khus lassi.

The smell of the root and the oil it produces, is loved by some, and disliked by others. It was widely used in the perfume industry past and present, Middle Ages perfumers would mix lime and rosewood with vetiver root¬†to make perfume. In perfumes it sometimes is listed as ruh khus, since ruh is the word for essence¬†in Arabic. It is such a complex and sought after oil since the roots take up the characteristics of the soil around it, truly is the smell of the soil,¬†like¬†Krishna said in the Bhagavat Gita “I am the fragrance of the soil.”

This is one of those plants that I can not say enough on all of its properties, it just has so much it can do. Besides its wonderful cooling properties, and coveted oils for perfume, vetiver has many medicinal properties. Benzoic acid is a large component of vetiver, and it is not acid that will hurt you. In fact it is a really helpful acid, it has a long history of usage in everything from antiseptics, analgesics, to decongestants. Benzoic acid is a large component of Friar’s Balsam, which has been used for it’s antiseptic properties to help with healing, as well as it being a great way to treat skin issues like acne. Cadinene,¬†vetiverone, vetiverol, vitivene, and many others (there is actually a full list here on this useful site if you are into perfumery) these all add up to an oil that not only has analgesic qualities but also mild sedation, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodics. Since it is very cooling to put on, it can feel nice on inflammation that does well under coolness, such as right after an injury or on a burn like a sunburn. I am mostly interested in its pain and relaxing qualities, since it is a great oil to treat¬†spasms, migraines, anxiety or stress (pain caused, or otherwise), muscle pain, nerve pain and even lady cramps pain.

Since massage is the best way to deal with a lot of muscle pain, and inflammation lets start there.

Vetiver Massage Oil

  • 15-20 drops Vetiver essential oil
  • 1 ounce Carrier oil

Mix well, store in dark container. Massage into painful areas to help alleviate pain, or sore muscles after a work out. If you have lady cramps, massage into the abdomen. This is also great for migraines massaged into the shoulders, neck and temples, especially so if it is a migraine brought on by stress.

Now, I do like to be a wild child and sometimes just do a drop or maybe 2 directly onto the skin. Remember though, essential oils are a concentrate, and powerful stuff so do a patch test to make sure this isn’t too strong for your skin, you should always do this with anything you apply to your skin. Massaging a drop into the temples on a hot day with a bad headache is relaxing and so refreshing.

Pro-Tip: You can mix in any migraine oils, or pain oils to help add additional benefits to the massage oil. Just make sure to reduce the drops of Vetiver to 10 and add 10 of any other oils you would like. Lavender and woody scents go well with this, as well as some earthier scents like you get from oil from tree sap or resins. Play around with smells and properties and find what works best for you.

You can also make a great salve out of this oil, it is really best for on the go wound applications but could also be a great way to treat migraines you might have on the go.

Vetiver Salve

  • 20-30 drops Vetiver¬†essential oil
  • 1/2 ounce Bees wax, granulated or grated
  • 1/2 ounce of Oil (any vegetable oil)

Heat oil in double boiler, and slowly add in bees wax until it is melted and combined, remove from heat and hand stir in essential oils, pour into containers and allow to cool. Again this is a good antiseptic for wound treatment, like if you go camping, but is also great to keep in gym bags for pain from workouts. It is fantastic for sunburns, especially if you add in some lavender to it. Really any painful swollen area will feel much happier when rubbed with this, and just like the massage oil it can be mixed and matched with other oils. Just reduce the vetiver to 10-15 drops, and add the same amount of any other oils you like.

Oh stress, stress, stress. You are always lurking, and it is really hard to combat the daily stress of just navigating life when you are already stressed due to the amount of pain you have. This root is a great way to reduce stress, relax, make sleep easier and even loosen muscle spasms. You can have it one of two ways, as a cool summer drink, or a hot cup of tea.

Vetiver Infused Water

  • 4 cups Cold water
  • 1 handful Vetiver roots, washed thoroughly and roughly chopped
  • Optional: Lemon slices, ginger slices, whatever you like to add really

Throw it all in a pitcher, let the vetiver steep for at least 2-4 hours in the fridge before drinking. This is a great addition to summer lemonades or any cooling summer drink. You can also freeze this water as ice cubes and add to drinks to slowly release the vetiver as you enjoy your drink. It also helps the mind to relax and “unwind” after a stressful day or week, and is the perfect evening drink to help sleep come faster.

I like to during the summer throw enough ice to fill a glass container with a spout, fill with water and herbs, vegetables, or fruits. It is great for outdoor entertaining, or just as a way to jazz up water to make sure you are getting enough water. It is also a nice addition to gin or vodka for a cooling summer cocktail.

Vetiver Tea

  • 4 cups Boiling water
  • 1 handful Vetiver roots, washed and chopped
  • Optional: same here, lemon, ginger, pretty much sky’s the limit do what you like.

Add the roots to water in a saucepan and bring it to a boil on the stove, when the water has reduced by half remove from heat, strain and serve. Sweeten as you like, and enjoy its relaxing benefits on a winters day or any day you feel a bit stressed. It is a good herb to have before bed, known in oil form sometimes as the “oil of tranquility” for the peaceful feeling it brings. There are some herbs that are good to add for even more stress reduction (and would some would go well in infused water) are: tulsi, lavender, lemon balm, chamomile. Really you could add anything like with the infused water, as long as it is safe and you do research, feel free to get really creative here.

Sharbat (the origin of the word sherbert) is a type of drink made with a syrup in some places, khus syrup is often used to make these drinks. The syrup is long storing and easy to use, you mix it with a bit of water (sort of like a cordial) to make a drink. But it is also good on ice creams, in milkshakes, cocktails or used in cold drinks in place of whole vetiver. It is really great mixed with some fresh lime juice and some soda water for lime vetiver soda, or one part of the syrup to two parts of water or milk for a lovely cool drink.¬†I have been giving recipes for whole vetiver which looks like this when you purchase it whole –

Vetiver roots ready for sale

Vetiver roots ready for sale, make sure you wash them!

But if you want to go the easy route, you can purchase all sorts of ready made syrups at most Asian markets. Follow this guide for purchasing.

Vetiver Syrup (Khus Syrup)

  • 50-70 grams of Vetiver roots
  • 5 cups Water
  • 4 cups Raw sugar
  • 1 lime
  • Optional: a few drops natural green food coloring (the color is traditional)

Wash roots well, make sure there is no dirt or grit left on them, and roughly chop. Add to water bring up to a boil and remove from heat, let steep overnight. Then strain, squeezing all moisture from the roots, and return to heat stirring in sugar and juice of one lime. Be sure to stir this all the time since sugar burns in the blink of an eye. You want to reduce the liquid until it starts to go to a syrup. To test to make sure you have it at the right consistency put a slightly cooled drop on your finger and press your thumb against it if there is a string when you pull your fingers apart, its ready. Store in a clean jar or bottle, and refrigerate.

ProTip: To make this you have to use sugar, the less processed the better though, but you need sugars properties here to make this correctly.

There are literally tons of things you can do with this stuff, here are a few extra drink recipes here.

Finally, you can’t mention lassis and not give a lassi recipe, cause they are amazing! You could go super traditional and use your own hung curd (wikihow to make hung curd here) or you can use drained yogurt (how to here), or you can just use Greek yogurt pre-made all of the amounts would be the same.

Vetiver Lassi (Khus Lassi)

  • 17.5 ounces (500¬†grams) Hung curd (or above mentioned substitutes)
  • 14-16 ounces (about 2 cups) chilled Milk
  • ¬Ĺ cup Vetiver (Khus) Syrup
  • Optional: green food coloring, additional sugar, honey or other sweetener

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and make sure to blend everything completely you want a totally blended mixture. Put in glasses and chill for 30 minutes to 2 hours before serving. You can garnish with additional syrup, candied nuts or fruits, or regular nuts and dried fruits. Fantastic for a hot summers day or night.

Remember, always do your research and make sure this is the right thing for you to be using. Everyone’s body is different and somethings work better for some that don’t for others. Experiment see what does and go with that, always check for interactions with other things on places like WebMD. As always, if you are in doubt even in the slightest, ask a professional!

 


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Juniper, Not Just for Making Gin

We took a small vacation, it was nice to get away, and just have some fun. Fun was much needed since I have been going through a lot of tests again, and it was nice to be away from all the poking and prodding. Even if it has slowed down my posting rate, it was worth it! We saw Santa Fe, it was beautiful and such a friendly town with a lot of Native American, Spanish and Mexican history, as well as US history. People usually think the East coast of the US will have the oldest structures, but the Southwest is the place to go for old. Especially if you like Native American history, which I do!

And I apologize it took so long to get this out. So since it has been a while, make sure you have some tea and a comfy chair, because this is not gonna be a short read…

Cherry tree with rosaries, Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe

Cherry tree with rosaries, Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe

Ram Petroglyph from Three Rivers National Park

Ram with arrows Petroglyph, Three Rivers National Park

Something I kept noticing, while scrambling around the¬†park looking for the 20,000 petroglyphs they have, and in the little towns that dotted the vast landscape, was juniper. It was everywhere, and they are all over here in Texas too. I have always liked juniper, I love looking at the blue-grey berries (I know, I know, technically they’re cones. But I don’t know anyone that calls them anything but¬†berries. Deal with it.), and they are a fantastic addition to meatloaf (or any meat dish, especially game meat). Seriously, throw some in (3-5), its great. They also smell so good and in Texas, where not many things are green all year round, they are a welcome bit of green life in the gold-brown summers and gold-brown winters.

Juniper “berries” of the Juniperus communis, one of the most common edible species. Notice the deep shade of the berries and the spiked shape of the leaves.

Juniperus ashei in Texas, often confused or called colloquially cedar, notice the difference in the shape of the leaves.

Juniperus ashei in Texas, often confused or called colloquially cedar, notice the difference in the shape of the leaves.

This is a tree that is so ubiquitous¬†they worm their way into almost every culture, but like the thing hidden in plain sight, so much so you may not have noticed or thought about them much. Juniper¬†is a conifer that has different species almost on every continent, it is widely used in medicine, myth, and cooking. The Greeks, first documented it as medicinal, and only later did it come to become a culinary spice. Eaten by early Olympic competitors, they were thought to improve stamina which some are high in sugar and it may have been an early form of use of a sugar rush¬†for quick energy. Dioscorides¬†wrote, that rubbing the crushed berries on genitals¬†before intercourse would prevent conception, it doesn’t but I sure bet it made things smell nicer. Romans used it as a cheaper alternative to pepper or long pepper, since these were imported and therefore far more expensive. Probably why it was also used to adulterate pepper sold in Rome since they are quite a powerful flavor, ranging from sweet to surprisingly bitter. Pliny the Elder even mentions that

“juniper berries, which have the property, to a marvelous degree, of assuming the pungency of pepper.”

He also wrongly asserted that pepper and juniper were pretty similar trees, which if you know your spices pepper grows on vines. But considering he did get it correct that it grew on a plant, he is doing a little better on accuracy than Herodotus with cinnamon.

Cinnamon birds you say? Sounds legit.

Egyptians used juniper as well, possibly imported from Greece, was found in the tomb of the most famous Egyptian king, Tutankhamen. It is mentioned in medical papyri that juniper was good for chest complaints, tapeworms, and as a digestive aid. There are other recipes mentioned in the Egyptian medical writings, there were interesting recipes like juniper mixed with honey and beer as a laxative. Or for a headache combine juniper with frankincense, cumin, and goose fat, boil well, and rub on the head. Whether or not these worked is not mentioned, but there is a strong recommendation to collect the fee prior to providing the cure.

Those from the Scandinavian areas tended to use the wood and the berries for food and medicine, as well as fermented drinks, which we will go over in detail. In Europe it was yet another remedy believed to help with the Black Death, it was used whole or burned (for its purifying smoke) and was yet another herb placed in the bird like plague doctor masks to help ward off the illness. There are also creepy fairy tales about juniper as well as the belief that the hamadryad, Frau Wachholder, that inhabits juniper would assist you with recovering stolen property. This is also another plant that was to have sheltered the holy family in their flight to Egypt, and was used in some areas as Christmas greenery for this reason.

Over in the Americas, Native Americans in many areas had loads of uses for the many types of juniper (and cedar) that grow there. Its inner bark was used as a sweetener, and the berries of different varieties were used to treat everything from the normal sprains, wounds, arthritis, digestive issues and ulcers, to treating the more extreme tuberculosis. They are a great antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, which is why it is so great for chest colds and kidney issues, it also had diuretic properties. Some tribes in South America used the pulverized berries to ward off a parasitic catfish (yes THAT catfish). Back in the north, some tribes used a specific species berries as a starvation food, and some even used certain species barks that they ground into powdery flour and used as starvation food as well. The wood, like in most of the rest of the world, was burned for the smoke to purify, protect humans and animals from disease, and ward off evil spirits. It was also well known as a muscle relaxer and used to not only treat spasms but also ease childbirth since it helps muscles relax and would ensure a safer delivery. Some tribes associate the juniper with youthfulness or immortality since it always seems to remain green, even in the worse droughts.

“Charles Sitting Man, a Cheyenne, said that the Great Spirit has much respect for juniper because it seems to never grow old and remains green the year round. It therefore represented youthfulness, and they accordeingly placed it centrally in many of their holy rites and purification ceremonies. Indians also admired it for the durability of its wood, which they found desirable for lance shafts, bows, and other items, and for the dark red, seemingly dyed-in-blood color of its wood.” – S. Buhner, Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers

Early US pharmacology included juniper berries in its pharmacological listings, and there is an old American usage of using it to “force out measles.” This may have actually been a good application of juniper since the berries of some species contain deoxypodohyllotoxin¬†which is an anti-inflammatory, and possibly (not enough studies to say 100% yet) an anti-viral. Sadly though like many other natural remedies it has fallen out of favor as a treatment option in the US, but that does not mean its value as medicine has diminished in any way.

Most people know of juniper through gin, one of my favorite adult beverages, especially a cold gin and tonic with lime on a hot summers day. Gin has a long history, and like other healing “waters” and herbal aperitifs has been around as a drink as well as a medicine for ages. Gin was probably not the first alcoholic beverage made with juniper though, since brewing came long before distillation. Juniper was used in brewing by many Scandinavian peoples, either directly added to the beer as a bittering agent, or the branches used for straining the beer. Juniper is used in sahti, which is a very old type of Finnish ale (though it may go under different names depending on where it is made), is a simple ale to make, and used to be quite common, branches of juniper were used for bitters since hops were not commonly used in brewing¬†then.

After distillation was discovered, gin was able to be produced. Well a version of it, gin started most likely as jenever, which may have started as a digestive or maybe just because people like the taste. Sadly those answers are lost to time, the name eventually gets corrupted into many different forms (or may come from other origins) but we have finally ended up with modern gin. Which requires juniper to be considered gin, and there is distinctions between how it is added, either post distillation, or in a second distillation process. Either way gin is delicious, and has a lovely juniper taste. In the 17th century, a Dutch physician Franciscus Sylvius, claimed that he is the father of gin. Even though there are much earlier documentations (back to the 13th century) showing that gin, and jenever, have much older histories than Franciscus claims. A more contemporary reference to Franciscus is a play that would have been performed when he was about 9 years of age, unlikely he was inventing alcoholic beverages at that age. Seeing as how this bogus claim led to a persistence to name him as the Father of Gin incorrectly (for real, it causes some seriously international butthurt), he probably should have stayed with his job of poking around inside people, instead of claiming to invent things like gin, and probably the question mark. Due to gin being inexpensive, and a way to drown ones sorrows in later years gin gained a bad reputation and fell out of popularity for a while, mostly due to Gin Palaces, and its association with the poor and the seedier parts of society. In the time since, it has waxed and waned, as alcohol trends do, and has recently gained a resurgence in popularity.

Now, you can’t go outside and find a juniper tree/bush and just start eating berries, there are about 40-60 species of juniper (depending on who you ask) and there are only certain ones that¬†are safe to consume, which I will list with some of their traditional uses. If you are going to be collecting wild juniper, make sure you are absolutely sure that you know what species you are dealing with. If you are wrong it could end up with some extremely bad consequences ranging from some very uncomfortable bathroom time, to a very painful death. So be smart people, use that (un)common sense!

  • Juniperus communis(aka Common Juniper; includes sub species Juniperus communis montana) Berries are bitter to consume raw and are usually dried first, great for meat, sauce and as a stuffing. Traditionally used to season game due to its strong taste. In traditional medicine¬†they are antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and a diuretic, and was used to treat diabetes traditionally, this berry is high in dextrose (d-glucose) and treats low blood sugar quite well, also why it was a famine or starvation food.
  • Juniperus drupacea –¬†(aka Syrian Juniper) While considered edible, I have never had it, this is a threatened species in some areas and thrives in others, and its growth is restricted to the Mediterranean area. It¬†is mostly used now for wood thought it’s berries are still highly prized in the East.
  • Juniperus horizontalis –¬†(aka Creeping Juniper, Creeping Cedar) Berries are roasted, and can be used to make something like coffee, which also could be used to treat kidney issues. The berries like other species are good for stuffing, like in Turkey, and were used like beads when dried. You can also make a tea from the young tips, it was traditionally used for coughs, chest issues and fevers. These could also be used as a steam treatment for the same, or you can use the branches in clothes storage to keep bugs out.
  • Juniperus monosperma (aka One-seed Juniper)¬†Berries were¬†traditionally added to chopped meat, usually game, and then put in a clean deer stomach and roasted (think deer-juniper haggis sort of thing). The berries on their own are fairly bitter and not very tasty to eat. Its roots and leaves were used for their medicinal properties, good for muscle relaxation and reducing inflammation.
  • Juniperus occidentalis¬†– (aka Western Juniper, Sierra Juniper) The berries can be eaten raw or cooked and is rather sweet, it is very nutritious even when dried. It can be ground, mixed with other flours, and made into a type of bread. The tips, or leaves are used to make the tea that contains the muscle relaxant that pregnant women used prior to birthing. This is a most versatile plant (and used almost as much as the J. communis species) since it is an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and used in many traditional medicine preparations.
  • Juniperus phoenicea¬†(aka Phoenicean Juniper, Ar√Ęr) This is high in the sesquiterpene thujopsene which is possibly the source of its anti-inflammatory powers. This is most likely the species used by Romans to adulterate black pepper, so it follows the berries are a bit spicier. Best to use this topically if you are able to harvest the berries, or if you purchase an essential oil of it since not enough research has been done on its internal effects and this can become quickly poisonous if ingested in large amounts.
  • Juniperus deppeana(aka Alligator Juniper, Checkerbark Juniper; includes subspecies/varieties¬†J. pachyphlaea, J. patoniana,¬†J. robusta, J. sperryl, J. zacatecensis) No real known medicinal uses but the berries are sweet, and don’t taste too bad they can be dried and ground and added to cakes or made into them or a porridge like substance.
  • Juniperus californica – (aka¬†California Juniper, Desert White Cedar) Berries can be eaten raw or cooked, they have a sweet and dry, and can be pounded and added as a pulp to stuffing or as stuffing on its own in game dishes. The leaves have analgesic properties, as well as muscle relaxing and was used as like other species prior to childbirth to help with delivery. They are also good for hypertension and is a diaphoretic – which causes sweating and means it helps with fevers.
  • Juniperus virginiana – (aka Eastern Red Cedar, Red Cedar, Eastern Juniper, Red Juniper, Pencil Cedar, Aromatic Cedar, Chansha; includes subspecies J. silicicola) Berries are edible raw or cooked, and can be added crushed as a spice to soups and stews, they are rather bitter though and should be used sparingly. There are teas that have been made of the branches, but this species and the subspecies you should avoid doing so unless extremely experienced or directed by a professional herbalist, they can quickly turn toxic.

SPECIES YOU SHOULD ABSOLUTELY AVOID: Juniperus sabina, Juniperus oxycedrus, and most other species, or any unknown species.

So now you are in the know about some juniper species, and to be sure you know the species if you are planting or planning to harvest your own juniper. You can also buy pre-dried juniper and as long as they are sold as edible they should be fine to use in cooking. If you are going to purchase them for medicinal use, make sure you get clarification on exactly which species you are buying to make sure you will get the right properties, as they do vary species to species.

Again, if you are collecting any plant in the wild, be absolutely sure that you know what you are collecting and/or consuming. I haven’t personally done it yet, but I hear dying has a rather¬†hard effect on life, so don’t hasten that transition by not being smart about what you eat. Ok?

/soap box

Now we can get down to how to use juniper, I mentioned earlier that it is great in meatloaves, throw a few (3-5) slightly crushed berries into the next meatloaf you make, you will love it. You will always want to buy or dry your berries whole to preserve their oils and only crush right before using, so all the below recipes you will want to crush the berries right before using them.

As always a tea is a great way to use a plant’s parts as a medicine, and these can be used internally as a beverage, or steam treatment, or externally in compresses. Naturally you would want to opt for the sweeter berries to make teas with, and avoid the more bitter ones (unless you are into that sort of thing¬†¬¨_¬¨ ). You want to again crush these slightly before using, and since berries take longer to steep this will be a slightly more involved process.

Juniper Berry Tea

  • 1-2 teaspoons Juniper berries
  • 4 cups Water, it is important to be cold or room temperature
  • Tea pot
  • Strainer
  • Saucepan

Crush the berries slightly and add to the saucepan covering with the cool water, bring gently to a simmer over low heat and allow to cook like this for about 10-15 minutes, then strain into a teapot and enjoy. Depending on the species you choose this would be a great way to treat inflammation (from colds or otherwise), treat painful spasms, and if you are having digestive or kidney issues. It is also great as a digestive to ease painful gas or cramping. Some of the sweeter berries are just nice to have as tea just because, if this is a more bitter berry you are going with for the medicinal value, try adding honey or some other sweetener to this (a teaspoon at first and then add more as you need) to make the medicine more palatable.

ProTip: If you are using this as a compress, you can reduce the water by half and just soak a cloth or towel in the liquid and apply when warm, but not hot, to the painful or swollen area.

Juniper plays well with others and is an easy addition to make an existing tea more exciting. Green tea goes well, but black can work here too. White is too delicate, in my opinion.

Juniper Berry Tea Blend

  • 1 tablespoon¬†Green Tea (same if you choose black)
  • 2 teaspoons Juniper berries
  • 4 cups Water
  • Honey or other sweetener as desired

This is made almost exactly the same as the above tea, the only change is to add the tea leaves to the teapot prior to straining the berry mixture into it and let it steep for an additional 4-10 minutes. This tea has all beverage uses of above tea as well, but is not recommended for external use. This can be a good way to take juniper if you find you don’t care for the taste of it on it’s own.

ProBranchTip: If you want to try a species that has beneficial components in it’s branches use just the very young tips of the branches the greenest, newest parts of the plant. About a tablespoon to small handful added to a teapot and steeped from 5-10 minutes will make a sufficient tea, and compress liquid. As always, make sure you know the species the rate of toxicity in the branches is much higher than the berries, and their¬†use requires much more caution. This was used to treat asthma in the past (specific to species) and they generally have anti-inflammatory properties good for coughs and chest colds. You can include the tips in with the berries during the slow simmer to make the tea as well.

Something you will see a lot of online is sites touting the benefits of eating gin soaked raisins. Now, I for one am not so sure of this “cure” but I have seen it a lot on forums and on sites dedicated to treating chronic pain. I am fairly sure this is a combination of alcohol (which does have the ability to numb pain, if you have ever seen some drunks fight or fall you will know how powerful it gets the more you take) and possibly the placebo effect. There is depending on the brand you select juniper essential oils in the alcohol, and oils are alcohol soluble so logically this would be the best way to impregnate any dehydrated fruit with a seemingly beneficial substance. Most modern gins don’t contain enough juniper to be considered, in my non medical opinion, efficiently medicinal. If you were to up the oil content, by say adding your own berries to the gin this might be a better route than an off the shelf type. Again I have not tried this yet so I am not sure, and if this has been working for you, great! Keep using it until it doesn’t, just remember this is alcohol – so no pain medications, and be smart about it.

If¬†I was going to attempt this for a basic recipe for¬†a more “berried” gin add berries to gin and allow it to infuse for a few weeks. A ratio of about 1 part slightly crushed berries to 2 parts gin should do it, and let steep for a few weeks, 4-6 would be ideal.

Gin Soaked Fruits

  • 1 cup Dried fruit (raisins, dried apricots, prunes, whatever you prefer)
  • 1-2 cups Juniper Berry Gin (the one listed above, and you want enough to cover the fruit and a bit more, you may need to top up if they fruit absorbs too much)
  • Large mason jar
  • Optional: more juniper berries (slightly crushed)

Add fruit and gin to jar and close tightly, give a shake and then set in an undisturbed dark place. Let sit for at least a week,¬†and you will need to let them soak longer the larger the fruit you use. Remember to eat less if you are using larger fruit, since you will be getting more gin per piece of fruit. After they are good and infused with gin, they can be eaten. The recommended dose seems to be about 8-10 raisins per day, for pain, and there is mention that it takes a while for it to work. If you are using this or try it out let me know, I am planning to try it sometime in the near future when I am not so dependent¬†on medications that don’t mix well with alcohol.

You can also use juniper berries in the previously discussed Four Thieves Vinegar just add about a handful (2-4 tablespoons) of the slightly crushed berries to the mix.

Since we are talking about more adult themed beverages, we will go back to sahti. Brewing a homemade sahti is not only delicious but satisfying, like all home brewing. This is a recipe for Finnish sahti from the Scared and Herbal Healing Beers book (if you don’t own a copy I highly recommend buying it). This is a version from that book that was adapted from a 1901 recipe book, also note this is a full grain version, and is a pretty involved recipe.

Finnish Sahti from Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers

  • 11 pounds Malted barley
  • 1 pound Malted rye
  • 8 gallons water
  • a “fist full” of hops (about 2-4 oz)
  • juniper branches (amnt originally undefined, but depending on species about the same amount as the hops. you can also line your “strainer”¬†with them)
  • yeast

“Moisten malts with cold water, mix, cover and let sit overnight. In the morning add two scoops of hot water to the malt. Boil the remainder of the water and add a scoopful at a time to the malt, mixing well until the mash has the consistency of porridge. Add the remainder of the water and allow the mash to stand for one hour.

Bring the clear portion of the mash to a boil four to six times by alternating between two kettles and adding the porridge at the conclusion of each boil. Mix, allow the grains to settle, and pour off the clear wort and reboil.

[If you want to be extra authentic set up a large cooler with spout, or if you have a barrel with a hole and plug at the bottom, with rye straw that has been rinsed in hot water and juniper branches alternating layers until it is half full] During the final boil prepare [your] container…dump porridge on the straw [and juniper filter] and pour liquid from the final boil on top of it. Let the wort flow through the tap into the fermenting vessel. Pour clean juniper water, made by boiling juniper branches and berries in water, over the porridge, and through the tap. Boil the liquid with hops. When cool add yeast and ferment. [For at least 2 weeks, month is better]

To make juniper berry Sahti, take one-half gallon (2 liters) of cleaned juniper berries per quarter gallon (liter) of liquid, macerate in cold water for 10 hours and use this liquid to moisten the malt. Follow the remainder of the procedures above.”

Juniper essential oil is sold on many sites, and many species are available, I suggest very strongly only using the oils externally unless otherwise directed by a medical professional. You also need to make sure you know what species the oil is made from, this can be a lot easier than harvesting your own berries sometimes and it is a lot easier to carry around for on the go applications. This essential oil is great for treating skin conditions, as well as topical pain relief for swollen muscles, swollen joints, and spasms.

Juniper Massage Oil

  • ¬†1 ounce Carrier oil
  • 10-20 drops Juniper Essential Oil

Mix well and store in a dark bottle, apply directly to painful areas and massage in. You can as always use this as a plain oil or mix with other essential oils (reduce juniper amount to no more than 10, and limit other oils to 10 drops or less) rosemary, clary sage and other oils go well with juniper.

Also you can follow the instructions in the copaiba post for making a salve for this which works great for applying to hands and joints to ease the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis or other swelling or pain issues.

Finally you can’t really talk about juniper berries and not mention its most famously associated recipe. Sauerkraut is actually a great way to get vitamins and minerals that you cant get in other foods. I found this recipe on Real Fermenting¬†and it seems to be the closest to traditional Bavarian sauerkraut I can find. If you know another, please feel free to share in the comments!

Juniper and Caraway Sauerkraut by Real Fermenting

  • 1 Green Cabbage, about 2 lbs
  • 6 Juniper berries
  • 1 teaspoon Caraway seeds
  • 1 tablespoon Salt (Pacific sea salt is listed originally but any salt will do here)

This is a very similar process to the¬†Basic Sauerkraut. I used a slightly smaller cabbage than before. It was a nice looking one, heavy for its volume (juicy), plus I have a little sauerkraut collection going in my fridge so I don’t need too much. Hoping to be able to give some away this weekend.

Grate the cabbage in a food processor and knead it in a wide bowl with the salt. You should knead away until your hands cramp up, and then take a break. Knead some more. You need a good amount of cabbage juice (water from the broken down cabbage cells) in the bottom of the bowl. Once the cabbage is starting to get soft and really giving up the juice, you can pour the whole lot into a wide mouth jar or crock. You just need something with enough room for the sauerkraut plus whatever you are going to use to hold the cabbage under the brine

Stir the the juniper berries and caraway seeds and push down the sauerkraut until the brine comes over all the cabbage. You may need to return to the sauerkraut in a couple of hours to push it down again. Once the sauerkraut is submerged, cover the container with a breathable piece of material and set it somewhere out of the way.

Check on the sauerkraut in about a week and every few days after that. It has only been taking a week or so recently for me, but it has been really hot. Whenever it reaches a sourness that is to your liking, go ahead and put it in the fridge. It’ll keep for months at those cool temperatures.

So as you can see juniper is a really versatile plant, and has loads more uses than I list here. Do your own research and educate yourself on juniper to see how it can improve your life. I can not repeat enough, always be careful and know which species you are using, no one likes to end up dead. Check for interactions on sites like WebMD, and make sure that if you have any doubts, even in the slightest, that you ask a professional!

If you would like to learn more about Native American’s use of Juniper go here.

If you ever want to learn about the Nordic brewing, or ANY brewing really, no one is better than Michael Jackson (not the one you immediately think of, this guy) he is pretty much the Franz Boas of Brewing (and if you get that reference without googling it, you get a cookie! If you didn’t check him out ūüôā ).¬†For an easier, more modern,¬†all grain Sahti go here, for a super packed with information, and pictures, traditional version go here.