Thursday, December 23, 2010

CHOCOLATE EXPLOSION!



It's late December, so the time has come to get making Peppermint bark, and this year, Truffles and Peanut Buttercups as well. I'm including my winging-it recipes that are constantly evolving to document general proportions and to give y'all a starting point, for those of you who've asked how I make these. There are a gazillion ways to make nearly anything, so I'm just recording how I made all this, today. Feel free to leave comments about how you make these! Disaster-prevention tips are always welcome! Here are the recipes. I trust that y'all will remember from Home Ec or a grandparent or whoever showed you around a kitchen to read the whole recipe from start to finish before embarking.

Peppermint Bark
Melt chocolate chips or bulk dark chocolate in a double boiler, or a similar rig - a metal bowl resting into a pot of simmering water. Be sure not to let any water splatter into the chocolate or it may seize up. This means instead of a warm pool of pourable liquid chocolate, you'll get a clumpy mess. As the chocolate melts, stir with a metal spoon. Line a glass or ceramic casserole pan with at least 2" sides (5.1 cm) with waxed paper. Once the chocolate is completely melted, pour half of it into the casserole pan. If you have loads of chocolate, use a big pan or many big pans, if you don't have much, use a wee pan. Smooth out your chocolate into an even-ish layer, and then place in the fridge to cool. Meanwhile, in another metal bowl melt white chocolate. You only need half as much white chocolate (or less) as dark chocolate. Also while the first layer of chocolate is cooling you can place your corn-syrup-free organic candy canes (yes, they make them, though they may be hard to find - and they're expensive, but with all that sugar they'll last a few years just fine) into a cloth or plastic bag. Then proceed with hammering the candy canes into bits. Be thoughtful with your surface. If you have some rage to release, you may want to take this part of the process outside and use a really sturdy surface. Some may be lucky enough to have a super-helpfull mother who does this so that you can multi-multi-task and start with the Peanut buttercups. Pause. Pause. So now your chocolate layer is all cooled and solidified and you can pour the next layer, the white chocolate. The heat of the white chocolate will melt the top part of the dark chocolate layer. If you'd like a fairly dramatic contrast between the white and dark chocolates, smooth the white chocolate just enough to spread out the layer, without mixing it too much with the dark chocolate underneath. Again, let the chocolate cool as you multi-task or breathe or whatever. And for your final layer: add the remainder of the dark chocolate that you melted at the beginning. Before it dries, sprinkle the candy-cane bits/powder over the chocolate. A thin layer of the powder will adhere pretty easily. The larger bits may need to be gently pressed into the chocolate so that it dries into the top layer. Let everything harden. Shake off excess candy cane bits and save for later to incorporate into future chocolate adventures. Viola! Peppermint bark. Gently break into pieces and place in glass jars or reuse tins.
Sprinkling and then patting the candy cane bits into the top layer of
dark chocolate, and the layers of the
finished Peppermint Bark.

Note: Please check out the ingredients of all your ingredients. Sadly we live in a time where hydrogenated palm oil is the second ingredient of much chocolate, including Ghirardelli. Not to mention the child slave labor that poisons the chocolate market - including huge multinationals like Hershey’s and Nestle. For more information, please see: "Chocolate’s Bittersweet Economy: Cocoa Industry Accused of Greed, Neglect for Labor Practices in Ivory Coast" Democracy Now! Feb 14, 2008

I've been trying to find a source of bulk fair-trade (certified or not) dark chocolate. The search continues, please let me know if you know of an ethical source for dark chocolate.


Peanut Buttercups
You can make your own Peanut Buttercups, replacing uber-sugared and hydrogenated-oiled peanut butter with real organic ground peanuts (or sunflowers, almonds, etc). I also added some local Honey and Cinnamon powder that helps save Orangutan habitat. Melt dark chocolate/ chocolate chips in a double boiler and stir. Once entirely melted, add the tiniest layer of chocolate to the molds you picked up from a kitchen shop/thrift store or that you saved from last year's Advent calendar or Ginger-bread-house-making-kits, etc. Stir enough honey and cinnamon to sweeten and spicen to your liking. Add a lil dollop of the filling into the molds, and press it down/ spread it around if you wish. Shallow molds harden pretty quickly, well, if you're not in a wicked hot kitchen. I have some larger molds - Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos sugar skull molds by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada who radically transformed my negative perception of skulls into one of beauty and respect. These larger molds take longer to cool (more surface area/thicker layer of chocolate= longer to cool), so I placed it in the fridge. Once cooled, add more chocolate to cover the Peanut Butter-mound and complete the cup. Let it cool again until completely solidified and they come easily out of the molds. Notes: Peanut Buttercups don't require much chocolate and pack a protein punch. I used silicon star-molds once and it the chocolate got all white and splotchy, so now I jut use my plastic molds. Today my mom showed me how using two spoons to scoop the chocolate out of the other makes the process much smoother!




Molds, Making the Peanut Buttercups, and the Innards.
Truffles

10 ounces Dark chocolate
1 1/4 cup Coconut milk
optional: Cocoa powder, more Dark chocolate, Coconut flakes


Pour the coconut milk into a double boiler and warm on low heat. Meanwhile, chop the chocolate into tiny pieces, if they haven't been so already, and then place into another metal bowl. Once the coconut milk is warm, pour it over the chocolate bits and place the bowl over the warm water. Stir the mixture constantly until the chocolate has melted and mixed completely with the liquid. This is your ganache
. Refrigerate until hard (approx. 3 hours, can put in the freezer if you’re in a rush).




Stirring the Ganache, fresh-pressed Ginger juice, and Dad
lends a hand with his Laser Thermometer (138
°F/58.88°C)




Separate containers holding the various flavors of ganache, Rolling the ganache into balls - the balls got stickier as my hands got stickier, the smoothest ones were created just after rinsing off my hands, Re-hardened ganache, and Finished truffles.

Remove ganache from refrigeration and scoop out by the spoonful, rolling into balls with your hands. Place balls on a wax paper-ed baking sheet and return to refrigeration to harden. Once hardened, remove balls from refrigeration and roll in a shallow bowl of cocoa powder, fair-trade if possible, and/or dried coconut flakes. Or you can melt more dark chocolate in a double boiler and gently roll the cooled balls in the warm chocolate, which when cooled will created a harder outer layer over the softer ganache. If storing for later, place balls in containers, and place waxed paper between layers. Store in the refrigerator and remove 30 minutes before feasting on them.

Flavors: For simple chocolate truffles, this is all you need. However, you can add other simple ingredients to create chocolate flavor explosions! Today I made two batches and separated both in half. Four flavor possibilities. Last time I created Rose (using organic rose powder from Mt. Rose Herbs), Vanilla-Coffee, Ginger, and Orange. I pressed a tiny bit of dried pink rose petal into the outer chocolate layer of each Rose truffle as it dried. I pressed a tiny bit of chopped Ginger chew (you could use crystallized ginger with the sugar rinsed off) to identify the ginger ones. And atop the Orange I added a couple crushed Red pepper seeds. Today I made Ginger, Orange, Coffee, and Vanilla. I made Ginger truffles by grating enough fresh ginger root and pressing it through a fine metal strainer to get 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger juice. Potent! For the Orange, I added 5 drops of *organic* Sweet Orange essential oil to a half batch (please use essential oils with extreme caution: they are highly concentrated. Please don't ingest them without really knowing what you are doing). I added 2 tablespoons of homemade Vanilla extract to the Vanilla truffles. I infused 2 tablespoons freshly-ground fair-trade Coffee beans into the coconut milk for a few minutes, and then strained out the bits before melting in the chocolate. With the exception of the ground Coffee beans, I added the flavor ingredients after I'd removed the ganache from heat and poured it into smaller containers, such as glass measuring cups. I stirred each thoroughly and then placed it in the fridge. (Adding flavor ingredients after removing from heat is especially important when using a few drops of essential oils, as they will quickly evaporate with heat. Likewise, the alcohol in ingredients such as Vanilla extract or say Damiana-infused Brandy, will evaporate if left over heat.) 


Chocolatey Notes: Playing with chocolate gets messy, so get out all your supplies beforehand and have a spatula handy to scrape all the good chocolate from bowls and fingers! Bendy rubber spatulas are the best (but make do with what you've got)!

A note on flavorings: Foods, herbs, and spices should be flavorful enough without involving chem labs. You don't need "flavorings," natural or otherwise, just the actual plant sources. See Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" for a fascination description of the "Flavoring Corridor" off the New Jersey turnpike, born of the perfume industry.
Keep all the chocolatey bits for a finale mystery chocolate blend!! Melt all the dribbles and chunks into Peanut clusters (roast Spanish peanuts and stir them into the chocolate, place dollops of the concoction onto waxed sheets), more Peanut Buttercups, Truffle ganahe, etc. I know you probably don't want to think about any more chocolate ever at this point. But you'll change your mind! Of you'll have friends willing to take it off your hands.


To learn more about chocolate, see the article that my friend Sandra Lory of Mandala Botanicals wrote: "More than a Valentine’s Sweet: Theobroma cacao". Keep an ear out for these workshops: El Cacao, The Plant That Chocolate Comes From with Sandra Lory, Herbal Valentines with me (Feb 2012: at City Market in Burlington and Hunger Mt Coop in Montpelier), and Raw Chocolate with Linda Wooliever.

For more chocolate-y recipes, see the Valentine's Aphrodisiac Recipes post.

Fair trade Chocolate-based remedies available on Dandelioness Herbals' online etsy shop (with descriptions): 

*Chocolate Spice Elixir: a Warming Aphrodisiac with Damiana, Ginger, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cayenne, Vanilla, and Fair trade Chocolate Syrup
*Volcán de la Pasión: Cinnamon Rose Chocolate Honey Aphrodisiac Elixir


Today's Sources of Culinary Inspiration: Julia Child, Grammy and Pop-pop's sweets, the films Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat, and Tortilla Soup, PBS's The Meaning of Food, and the books Botanica Erotica by Dina Falconi and Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses by Isabel Allende. And I just found out that Maya Angelou recently wrote a book entitled Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

DEC 1st IS WORLD AIDS DAY




Dec 1st is World AIDS Day and is the perfect opportunity for getting tested, talking with your partner(s)/kids/parents/friends about safer sex, harm reduction and supporting those in our communities that are HIV positive and living with AIDS. For general info about HIV/AIDS please visit The Body.

Roy Belcher from VT Cares (Committee for AIDS Resource, Education, and Services) has created the film "Breaking Barriers: Fighting Stigma," sharing personal stories of people in Vermont who are living with HIV/AIDS. I was able to attend a viewing at the local
public library (where it is available for loan) earlier this week and was moved by the stories shared.

AIDS didn't really impact my life until the summer after graduating from high school when I worked at a Unitarian Universalist conference center that hosted a gathering of Gay and Bisexual men
. I loved serving in the dining hall that week, being surrounded by an enormously inclusive and colorful atmosphere that seemed to both embrace and challenge masculinity - and dining attire ranging from bearded men wearing dresses to others wearing only leather thongs. The presence of such a vibrant community of men coming together to relax, dance, learn, share support, feast, etc. was healing for me just to witness, but it was definitely bittersweet. It was heartbreaking to see the quilt that they bring out every year and have to add the names of members of their community who they've lost to AIDS. I don't mean to perpetuate the myth that AIDS only affects gay men, or that it is a "gay disease," but my experience of coming from a small and very hetero-dominant town where HIV/AIDS was rarely discussed and then suddenly being temporarily and peripherally in a community where so many have lost lovers and friends really had an impact on me. I felt like I was seeing a world that I was not supposed to see.

Anyone with a heart would empathize with the pain of loss, but I was outraged at the silence. The experiences common to one particular and targeted community (i.e. police brutality in communities of color) is not supposed to be of concern to the majority, to those in the dominant group. For some reason, though I was raised in a heterosexist* and sometimes violently homophobic culture, something just didn't stick with me. The belief that a family is a man with "male" anatomy married to a woman with "female" anatomy, and their children. The idea that heterosexual lifestyles are somehow normal. ?! That sex is defined solely as a man penetrating a woman, which excludes a lot of people and practices. I could go on and on... Because the fact is that whether we've thought about it or not, whether we've explored what we were taught about sexuality and gender, whether we identify sexually as lesbian, gay, queer, questioning, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, straight, somewhere else on the sexuality spectrum, or as something else entirely and whether we identify gender-wise as female, male, trans(gender), cisgender (non-transgender), genderqueer, or something else entirely, we are all harmed by homophobia.

Obviously if I am a female-identified person who was deemed female at birth and raised as a girl and I'm walking down the street hand-in-hand with my male-identified, male-born, male-raised sweetie it's pretty safe to assume that we are not going to be targeted, attacked, or even killed, at least in terms of our gender and sexual identities. Especially as someone with privilege in the realm of how people perceive my gender and sexual identity, I don't mean to minimize the very real discrimination and violence that queer and transgender people face
when I say that we're all harmed by homophobia and transphobia. I don't mean to paint some naive picture that sexuality doesn't matter or to imply that the solution is to simply just love who we want to love and be who we want to be. What I do mean is that we all have both a sexual and gender identity, even if how we perceive ourselves or how others perceive us is reflected and encouraged in our culture and communities. And for this reason, we all have a stake in getting to the roots of homophobia and transphobia and working towards justice. The existence of homophobia and transphobia, even if we don't notice it in our day to day lives, keeps all of us from thriving. Expose yourself to nearly any kind of media and you will find some (possibly closeted) violent homophobe ranting about gay marriage attacking all that "we" hold dear, another city/county/nation outlawing homosexuality - keeping archaic anti-sodomy laws on the books - raping and/or killing gay people, or hopefully you'll see some brilliant, supportive, inclusive, open-minded messages of not just tolerance (putting up with "those people"), acceptance (Ok, you're kinda like me), but straight-up, we're-all-in-this-together-and-all-have-the-absolute-and-unquestionable-right-to-be-and-love-and-get-it-on-with-who-we-want solidarity! (See the 'Supporting Queer and Questioning Youth' links to the right if you need a bit of that!)

So what I do mean by "no matter who we are we are all harmed by homophobia" is that when we're not free to be our full, radiant selves, when we walk into a doctor's office and a gazillion assumptions are made about our gender identity and our sex life, when the mainstream translates queer to mean perverse and straight to mean normal, when our cousin-sweetheart-mom-son, etc. is not safe to walk down the street as their full glorious self and maybe with their full glorious partner, when images of glowing white hetero families are crammed down our throat at every commercial break and in every magazine spread, we all suffer. We don't get the access to the health care we need, we don't get accurate information about risk and prevention and the sexual practices we prefer, we live in silence and shame about our bodies and our completely natural attractions and feelings, we're brainwashed into thinking that our dreams of having an equal, spirit-growing partnership and family is not possible, we proceed in our life doing what we believe is expected of us and what we think other people do instead of truly following our path and exploring fully.

All of us. All of us. If these statements don't relate, I feel pretty confident if you and I are able to talk for a few minutes we could find ways that at least most of them actually really do relate to your life. In a big way. Email me.

So the gathering of gay men had their
32 anniversary this year. And in a few days I will turn 32 myself. My birthday wish: a love celebration! With lots of dancing. Not just one night. Not just this month. Forever and ever. And what's that look like? I don't even know. But I do know that it involves some serious self-love, some serious unconditional love in our circles of family and friends, the safe space to be honest, real, & open, being fully present in our bodies, knowing our boundaries and our needs and voicing them, listening, knowing our status in terms of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections and discussing this openly with our partner(s), kids, friends, etc. and valuing & respecting ourselves and each other to practice safer sex and making sure that the people in our lives have access to the info and support they need. All of us.

*Heterosexism is a system of attitudes, biases, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that everyone is heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and therefore superior... heterosexism as discrimination ranks gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexual people as second-class citizens with regard to various legal and civil rights, economic opportunities, and social equality in the majority of the world's jurisdiction and societies. (taken from Wikipedia, with the parts I didn't agree with removed. If anyone else has a better definition, please post it!)

I can't leave on that note. So, action! Check out what kind of anonymous, free HIV testing is happening in your neck of the woods. Get tested. Support these projects by giving some time or money. Let others know about it. Wear a red ribbon. If you feel comfortable, tell others about your experience getting tested to help de-stigmatize STI's, open up conversations, and create a culture of awareness. When someone makes some ignorant comment about AIDS, school them. (We gotta be the good sex educators most of us unfortunately didn't have!) Educate yourself. Attend presentations, films, and drag balls that support organizations that support HIV/AIDS support, testing, prevention, and education. Dispel misconceptions like "Oh, it's okay that we didn't use a condom cuz s/he looks clean." Question gender. Challenge homophobia, trans(gender)phobia, and rigid ideas of gender at the dinner table, in the work place, in the classroom, at the ballot box, in the bedroom, etc. Address people with the name and pronoun that they prefer you to use when speaking to them (even if you knew them in the past with a different name/gender). Have you any more ideas? Please post them or send them to me. Yeah!

Please see earlier blog post:  In Praise of Pink (Toenails), Masculinity, and Transgender Propaganda. 



Friday, November 12, 2010

IDEAS AND REMEDIES FOR WHEN YOU'RE HOME SICK...



State of Vermont postage stamp, Elderflowers forming, Yarrow pollination, Lavender and Chamomile harvest, Echinacea blossom. All taken in and near my garden, except for the stamp photo.

This blog was born because I am not so good as staying home and doing nothing. I love to be home, and staying home sick makes me just want to cook, clear my space, get crafty, make fun packages to send to people, catch up on work, etc. So this time, in my attempts to sit still, I've created a blog, watched 1/2 a movie, and read up on Lions (and other wild cats - just fascinating! More on this in the future...) I get a bit whiny when I'm feeling under the weather and I often forget even the most simplest remedies. I called my dear friend and she recommended the same herb that my housemate (who's also under the weather) takes. Red Clover. The state flower of Vermont, the sweet edible flower, the blossom that bees love and that grows abundantly in fields in these parts. It helps dry up mucus and promotes movement in the lymph system.

WHEN I START COMING DOWN WITH SOMETHING I:
*Take Echinacea and/or Spilanthes tinctures - about 3-5 dropperfulls whenever I think of it, maybe every couple of hours.
*Cancel plans so that I can rest.
*Take a hot bath with a few drops Lavender essential oil and/or sea salt.
*Make chicken soup and add lots of spices.
*Make loads of tea with fresh Ginger root and a pinch of Cayenne (both are warming and stimulate the immune system), local honey (soothes a sore throat), and fresh squeezed Lemon or Lime juice (vit C). If I need to be out and about for awhile and won't be able to make my own tea (because I live in an uncivilized country where there aren't hot pots and tea kettles everywhere!) I grate fresh Ginger into local honey and carry it with me to swig like a syrup or add to water. This time I added Lime juice as well.

WHEN IT'S OFFICIAL THAT I'M SICK - WHICH USUALLY MANIFESTS AS GETTING MUCUSY, LOW-ENERGY, AND A BIT ACHY, TO REST AND DECONGEST I:

*Massage a decongestant salve on my chest, being sure to gently rub below my clavicles to stimulate the lymph system. This time I'm using: White Pine Salve made with the sap, needles, and bark infused in olive oil and thickened with beeswax that my friend made, as well as Bud Salve that I made with Balm of Gilead (Balsam Poplar) and St. Johnswort buds infused in sunflower and sesame oils, fair-trade shea butter from Burkina Faso, West Africa, and local beeswax. If I can lay down, I like to place a hot water bottle (or glass Mason jar filled with hot water) on my chest.

*I also rub in a soothing salve or oil around and inside my nostrils and on my lips to prevent them from drying out, especially when I'm blowing my nose a lot. This time: Calendula salve with Lavender essential oil. (I wouldn't use a muscle rub/decongestant salve on my sensitive mucus membranes, as the herbs and essential oils may be irritating)  You can keep it simple and use olive or sesame oil.  Or you can use herb-infused oils or salves. For salve-making instructions, see my (Im)migrantion and Lip Balms for Social Justice?! post.

*Make a big fat pot of turkey vegetable soup. I warmed olive oil, added 2-3 chopped onions, 1 head of homegrown garlic crushed and added whole, browned 2 turkey legs on the bone, and then added 2 chopped carrots, 2 sweet potatoes, and enough water to cover. I add more garlic at the end, so that I'm receiving the benefits of nearly-raw garlic, and I add other herbs and spices both at the beginning and end of cooking as well. This time I added Marjoram and Lavender Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) I dried from my garden. Other times I add Thyme, Cinnamon, Basil, and/or Coriander (if using whole seeds I add at them at the beginning so that they can warm in the oil like my friends from Southern India showed me). These culinary herbs have been used for generations all over the world because the volatile oils that give them their incredible taste and aroma are also medicinal. They help to relax the digestive track for better digestion and absorption, and also boost the immune system. I let this soup simmer at least an hour, and then remove the meat from the bone. I saved my garlic skins and simmered them with the bones to make another broth. If you're making soup or bone broth, it's really quite nice to freeze some so that if you or a friend/family member gets sick it's already made. Sometimes I eat the soup as is, sometimes I add a spoonful of miso to my bowl (but not to the big pot or the heat will kill all that good beneficial bacteria that nourishes our system), or some rice or rice noodles.  If the thought of cooking all this makes you want to cry (you're vegetarian/vegan, you're exhausted, you don't cook much, etc.) fear not! You can just stir miso into warm water and call it good. If you have energy for it, you could crush and then chop Garlic, grate Ginger root, and take a pinch of Cayenne and add all this to your miso paste. This keeps in the fridge for a long while and you can add tahini (with or without local honey) to it to make a spread or sauce. Something else you can make to have on hand are herbal ice cubes. The next time you get a bunch of cilantro, parsley, dill, basil, etc from your garden, farmer's market, or shop, chop it finely, pack it into ice cube trays, and cover with water. Freezing captures the green vitality of the plant and you can store the cubes in freezer bags to later add to soups, stir fries, and any other recipe that calls for a bit of fresh herbs. Be sure not to eat refined sugars now! They paralyze your immune cells, leaving you defense-less. If you're craving sweets, you can add honey to your tea or eat straight by the spoonfull. You can roast sweet potato fries, winter squash, beets, carrots. These autumn roots and squashes contain a lot of natural sweetness, and I always crave these foods this time of year and when I'm sick. Also, avoid dairy products as they contribute to gack-yness - as it creates more mucus/phlegm that you have to deal with.

*Do a respiratory steam by pouring steaming hot water into a metal, glass, or ceramic bowl, adding herbs, and leaning over the bowl with a towel draped over your head. Breathe in the steam, which carries the plants' volatile oils, for 10 minutes or so.  The herbal steam helps to break up mucus and moisten dry airways.  This should feel good.  If the steam is too hot and/or herbs too intense, come out from under the towel and wait til the water cools down a bit or some of the oils steam off. You can add aromatic culinary herbs such as Thyme, Oregano, Lavender, Herbs de Provence blend, etc, a couple Peppermint tea bags, or a drop or two of essential oils of these plants. (Remember that essential oils are highly concentrated and may irritate skin and the respiratory tract if you use too much!) Voila, a respiratory steam and facial steam all in one!

*Use a Neti Pot to thin mucus and clear the nasal passages, especially if you're prone to sinus infections.  Hooray for nasal irrigation!


*Tea! By the pot or quart! Yesterday I made tea with Anise Hyssop and Lemon Balm from my garden and Licorice root. Today I made a pot of Tulsi (Holy or Sacred Basil) and a blend of Mint family plants (Peppermint, Anise Hyssop, Catnip, Damiana, etc.) Getting plenty of fluids helps to stay hydrated and helps flush the cooties out.

*Take tinctures specific to your constitutions and symptoms to support your immune response. Elecampane, Elderberry, Usnea, Boneset, Yarrow, Elderflower, etc. Calendula, Red Clover, Echinacea, Spilanthes, and other lymphatics are support good movement in the lymph system, especially when you're clearing an infection and probably not moving/ exercising so much. If you're not so keen on the taste of tinctures, you can add them to your warm tea or mix them into honey.

*Take syrups! I made "All Power To The People! Eldercampane Syrup" on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, as I listened to interviews with former members of the Black Panther Party and reflected on the connections between our immune systems and community self-defense.  I made this syrup in honor of all those who’ve organized for community health.  It contains Elecampane root from my family's farm, fresh Elderberries I harvest by hand, local Ginger root, Cinnamon, local Honey, Lime juice, local Apple cider vinegar, and tinctures of Elecampane, Thyme, and Monarda (Lavender Bee Balm). I haven't made a batch yet this season, however I have made Licorice root and Coltsfoot leaf syrup to soothe friends' persistent cough. Licorice is also calming and anti-viral, so even though I don't have a hacking cough, I'm taking this remedy to support my respiratory system. (There are many ways to make syrups. You can simply simmer a handful each of the herbs in a medium pot of water until the liquid is reduced to half, and then stir in 1/2 of the amount of remaining liquid's worth of local honey. Adding a nip of brandy or tincture to this will help prolong it's life. Store in the fridge.) Syrups can be added to warm water for an instant tea. For syrup recipes, see my Elderberry (and other) Syrup Recipe(s) post

*A note on cough suppression: it isn't good. Coughing is a natural process to get gunk out of our lungs. However, if coughing is keeping you from sleeping and getting much-needed rest, you may choose to temporarily suppress your cough when you want to sleep. When a non-productive cough was keeping me up all hours I tried soothing, mucilaginous herbs such as Coltsfoot, Plantain, Wild Lettuce, Chamomile, Wild Cherry bark. The sleepless-nights situation was starting to get desperate and I was ready to go to the pharmacy for some very non-herbal cough-suppressing concoctions when my friend from Ireland suggested Carrageen, aka Irish Moss - a seaweed. I soaked a small handful of Carrageen (pronounced care-ah-GHEEn) in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes, simmered it for 20, and then added the juice of half a Lime, a spoonful of my friends' local Honey, and a nip of Whiskey (not necessary, but I added it for extra respiratory relaxation). Finally, a full nights sleep. Hooray for slimy seaweed! After the first night of full sleep I continued taking this bedtime tea, adding a few drops of Lobelia infata tincture as well.

*REST: Watch movies, read, draw, nap, etc. Note to self (and maybe you, too) : Staying home and doing tons of work doesn't count as resting!

*Keep warm! In various traditions it's really important to keep yourself - especially your core - warm and protect your body from sources of cold - be it drinking cold drinks, going barefoot, being outside without a scarf, etc. The nape of the neck and kidney areas are especially susceptible to "pernicious winds", a concept in Traditional Chinese Medicine where external wind can enter the body and cause dis-ease.

*Let your friends know! Many of them will be happy to come by and drop off some food, herbs, etc, or just to call and check in on you!

*Remember that, like a new moon, month, year, etc, getting sick can be a fabulous opportunity to re-set and integrate some changes you've been wanting in your life. Is there something that's been sapping your energy? Conversations that need to be had? Something important to you that you're not tending to? Self-care practices that you're needing to make some time for? Use this change-in-routine opportunity to make good things happen!

*When you start feeling well, keep on with the remedies! After being sick, it's easy to launch back into life full-speed once we get our energy back. This could be bad news if we stop supporting our immune system while it's still recovering. Keep making teas, avoiding sugar, taking time to rest, etc. so that your recovery can be complete.


Many of the remedies listed above are available on my DandelionessHerbals Etsy Shop and I would be happy to send along a particular remedy or put together a Staying Home Sick kit for you. For my more detailed instructions on making your own teas, infused oils, salves (chest rubs), and tinctures, click on the Numen Medicine-Making Resource Guide link to the right or see: 

*Elderberry (and other) Syrup Recipe(s)
*(Im)migrantion and Lip Balms for Social Justice?
*Winter Immune Health: Tonic Not Toxic
*Ginger Lovers Unite!: Medicinal and Culinary Uses of Ginger

(Blog post updated on 2/16)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

HEART ELIXIR
















An old botanical illustration of Hawthorn, Rosa Rugosa blossoms in Maine, Hawthorn in bloom Co. Clare, Ireland, and pouring Heart Elixir.

I love making, sharing, and taking Heart Elixir. I love that both Rose and Hawthorn have an affinity with the heart, soft & delicate five petaled flowers, nourishing red berries, and thorns for fierce protection. Sometimes our hearts need support so that it can open, sometimes it needs some protection so that we can heal.  Sometimes we need both.  I pass Heart Elixir around the circle when I teach menstrual and sexual health workshops *to bring sweetness to the circle,* when exploring potentially difficult/triggering/painful/ transformative topics and emotions, as I was taught by a fellow health justice community organizer.

Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." Our heart holds so many emotions - the fluttering of new love, the comfort of connection, the heartbreak of the ending of a relationship, the deep grief of losing a loved one, the shock and trauma of violation and war. Though it's simple enough to understand how someone can respond to pain by closing our heart off to feeling any emotion at all, doing so negatively impacts us physically, emotionally, spiritually. I like to think of my heart, now that it's know the pain of losing ones I had held dear, as a bit battered and scarred. I find tremendous beauty in this, a heart that seeks to remain open while fully knowing the loss that opening again could bring.

I have much gratitude for those in my life that intimately know grief and its many expressions, who are present and allow space for tears, laughter, numbness, anger, and escape. Unfortunately, much of the rich traditions of remembrance and honoring our ancestors have been lost in order to assimilate into being "white" and/or "(U.S.) American." Even still, in times of death, people go to the kitchen to create comfort food for those left behind, send sympathy cards, call, and visit. And as an herbalist, I'm particularly blessed with a circle of friends who gather with candles, photographs of ancestors, offerings of food, and bundles of herbs to celebrate and observe. For those who understand that death is necessary for life, and that it still really sucks, and who can sit with the range of emotions this all brings, I say *thank you.*

This year, in addition to honoring Grammy and Pop-pop and the rest of my ancestors, I grieve the loss of Miss Beatrice Waight (traditional Mayan healer from Belize, teacher, and friend), Marilyn Jean Buck (U.S. Political Prisoner, poet, and white anti-racist activist), the many people who died in the earthquake in Haiti, and queer youth who have taken their own lives.

Let us return to the Heart Elixir, with instructions in case you'd like to make some yourself. In the summer, I visit our family farm and gather petals from the Rosa Rugosa rose bushes there. You can harvest the petals and still leave what will grow into the rosehip, for another harvest come autumn. You can find Rosa Rugosas growing wild, in gardens, and by the sea. Just be sure that you're not harvesting from a place that has a lot of cars driving by (exhaust, salt, etc.), big power lines overhead, etc. Once I gather the most vital petals into a basket, and stopping when the plant says "okay, that's enough," I thank the plant and place the petals into a clean glass Mason jar and pour in brandy. I use Christian Brothers Brandy, aka Pagan Sisters, though one day I'd love there to be an abundant and affordable local brandy that I could use. I'm more of a pinches and handfulls cook/herbalist, rather than measuring everything to the T, but in general I suppose I fill the jar around 3/4 full and then pour the Brandy almost to the top of the jar. I usually place the jar in the sunshine for the first day, and then put it in a spot where it is both protected from direct sunlight and accessible enough so that I remember to shake it every now and then. I let this tincture macerate (infuse) for at least a month. Truly, the petals are so gorgeous, even after the first day or so when the color drains out into the brandy, I often leave them in much longer than a month. Whenever you are ready, you can strain out the petals with a metal strainer or cloth (loose muslin or cheesecloth), composting - or nibbling - the petals and re-bottling the Rose-infused brandy. Be sure to label your creation with the ingredients, date, place you harvested it from, moon phase, whatever you'd like to include.

Later in the growing season the Hawthorn berries will be ripe enough to harvest. I remember first meeting Hawthorn when I was living at the Victory Gardens Project - a group based on the Black Panther Party's Community Programs and co-founded by U.S. Political Prisoners and Maine activists to grow food with donated land, seed, and labor, and distribute it for free in the rural Maine community where it was based and in urban areas through community organizations that had traveled to Maine to participate with the planting and/or harvesting. The Hawthorn berries were much appreciated by the little critters that ate them where I'd placed them to dry. Hawthorns are very sacred trees in Ireland. You don't cut them down - which is why a major roadway on the west side of the island goes far out of its course, because the road crew knew enough not to touch the Hawthorn tree that lay in its path! In May the hedgerows there are aglow with the vibrant white Hawthorn trees in bloom. In northern New England (United States), I've harvested Hawthorn berries mostly in September and early October. I find the berries that have a good red color and harvest gently, avoiding the large thorns. As with the Rose petals, I place the Hawthorn berries in a clean glass Mason jar, cover them with brandy, and let them infuse for at least a month. In general you don't want to harvest herbs in the rain, especially if you're drying them!, as their volatile oils that you're usually wanting to capture can be washed away. But with berries (and the roots of other plants), you can give them a rinse if they need it.


When I'm ready to create a small batch of Heart Elixir, I pour into 1 or 2 oz glass amber tincture bottles equal parts of: the Rose petal-infused brandy, Hawthorn berry-infused brandy, and delicious Maple syrup that my friends make from trees they tap on their land. Then I add flower essences that I've made.

Flower essences are different from tinctures, they capture the essence, the lesson of the plant. The effects can be subtle, and also quite transformative. Each flower essence has a story - about the particular plant, the day it was make, etc. - but let me share just a bit about each. The Heartsease pansy (aka Johnny-jump-up) is the five petaled edible flower cousin of Violets that grow in moist woods and yards. During an herbal class that involved a plant spirit activity (deep listening to the plants, listening with your heart instead of your brain) I was told really simply, and matter-of-factly that violets make your heart green. This message was in sync with my above vision of a battered, scarred up, healed/healing heart.

As a very emotional and sensitive person from small, I feel a strong affinity with Yarrow. This plant was the first to teach me that herbs don't necessarily need to be ingested in order to be a remedy. I carry this plant in my first aid kit (chew up the dried flowers and leaves and apply to a cut, even a deep one, to stop the bleeding and disinfect the wound), rub Yarrow-infused sesame oil onto my abdomen to relieve menstrual cramps, and when I'm driving I visualize a shield of Yarrow around my car to protect me and others, including critters crossing the road. Yarrow flower essence helps those of us that are really sensitive to our environments and the emotions of others to learn healthy boundaries. While empathy and sensitivity is a blessing, it can also be draining for those who tend to "sponge" up the stress around us, and Yarrow teaches us to maintain ourselves.

I made a Hawthorn flower essence from the luminous tree at the bottom of my friend's garden in Ireland. I love the nourishing, heart tonic-ness of the Hawthorn berries and was happy to also add the flower's medicine to the elixir.

This year I've added Magenta Lotus to the Heart Elixir. This flower essence was made in Sandra Lory's Local Healers class on a magical day at the Garden of Seven Gables. There are quotations about the lotus growing up out of the muck, but I also think of the lotus' stem as a cord, connecting the blossom to its source. I find this concept of transformation really liberating, that through past experiences that may feel heavy and murky, we can still grow, thrive, and radiate, without losing that connection to where we come from.

I take Heart Elixir 1-3 drops as needed, or 1 dropperfull 3 times a day.  If you have questions about making your own heart remedy, let me know.  If you'd like to purchase Heart Elixir, you can do so here on my DandelionessHerbals online etsy shop

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Update 12/14:  I've reformulated Heart Elixir, replacing Hawthorn berries with Tulsi leaf and flower.  Tulsi, aka Holy Basil, is an amazing medicinal plant that not only has an affinity with the heart, but is also an adaptogenic herb, helping our bodies adapt to change and stress.  It has a multitude of other healing properties and I highly recommend folks getting to know this plant by growing it, drinking Tulsi tea, taking Tulsi Elixir, researching the plant, etc. Hawthorn is still contained in the Heart Elixir, in the form of hand-made flower essence.

Also, Heart Elixir is part of Dandelioness Herbals' Self Care Kit: For Emotional First Aid, which won 1st place in the "Purely Medicinal ~ Tinctures & Extracts" category! *and* Grand Prize in the 2013 International Herb Symposium Herbal Products Contest.