Tis the season to begin to think about making my fall batch of Ashwagnada sesame oil to warm our way through the fall.
Bows to my colleagues in the Kripalu School of Ayurveda (KSA). Several years ago I got to sit in on part of their training for Ayurveda Health Counselors and got a lovely intro to the Ayurveda way of herbs from Rosie Mann and the KSA faculty.
My husband and I both love this oil, and he has noticed how it is soothing and quiets his mind like it did mine the first time I practiced abhyanga (Ayurvedic oil self-massage) with it during my training. It does have a musky manly scent in sesame oil. We rub it on our feet at bedtime, and more widely when our minds get chattering too incessantly and we have time to relax (it can be a sedative, so I haven’t tried it on a workday yet).
Ashwagandha is a root used in a number of Ayurvedic preparations. It’s a little famous for its aphrodisiac properties, but it is also calming and strengthening (ashwagandha means horse-smell in Sanskrit, after the musky scent of the root itself). Vata-pacifying, it is great for both my husband and I as we enter our hopefully wise Vata years of life.
Ashwagandha Sesame Oil Recipe
- 1/2 cup dried ashwagandha root
- 8 cups filtered water
- 2 cups organic sesame oil
You will need a strainer and cheesecloth, as well as a medium-large saucepan and a container for the oil.
1. Gather all ingredients and bless them. I say a little prayer over them like the one my teacher Pam taught me, then ask the root to bless us with its healing gifts.
2. Pour water into the saucepan, and add ashwagandha root. Gently stir clockwise (only clockwise) with a wooden spoon or whisk.
3. Heat medium-low until reduced to 2 cups. This takes 2-3 hours. There is a point where the ashwagandha will thicken into the fluid – the texture will shift.
I like to let my botanical concoctions spend some time on the alter. Prayers, alters, it is all about infusing what I am making with love and intentions.
4. Rinse saucepan. Strain the fluid through a sieve, then strain several additional times through a cheesecloth until you have a thick fluid.
5. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan, and add sesame oil. Heat at low-medium, occasionally gently stirring clockwise. Again, you will see the oil change as it absorbs the ashwagandha root. I found it became richer and a smidgen cloudy (but, if I had strained more thoroughly it may be more rich yet clear)…the batch I have from the experts is more clear.
6. Once you see the oil change (this took about an hour), let it cool, then strain the oil off of the remaining root-water, into a clean glass jar.
7. Enjoy as a daily oil massage (I would do a test on the weekend!), or rub on your feet and/or top of your head before bed.
My garden right now is filled with the sweet green goddess known as tulsi.
Tulsi is a type of basil that originated in India. There are several types, like sisters in a family. If you ‘do yoga’, love botanicals, AND you haven’t met tulsi yet, I’m happy for you. Your future includes meeting one of the most sweetly powerful and healing herbs in the canon. I have great sisterhood with this plant and feel that I am introducing you to one of my coolest and best friends. When I refer to her, I am referring to the big T – the green goddess herself – tulsi.
A distinguishing feature of tulsi is its fragrance – it’s rich, buttery and flowery with an undertone of funk. Tulsi (which translates as “incomparable one” in Sanskrit) occupies an auspicious place in yogic/Ayurvedic tradition. It is thought to be an embodiment of the goddess Lakshmi, she of abundant good fortune, of being held in esteem in a community, and of generosity. In India, many homes have a tulsi plant at their doorstep, and women (and I’m sure men) have a tulsi plant near their bed so that the gentle breeze carries the scent of tulsi to them as they sleep, bestowing them with ageless beauty.
In the Garden
Much like the goddess, my tulsi seems to have a mind of her own. She goes where she wants, comes up really late (late June this year – thank goodness I held her space!). I have not been successful at growing her from seed so that I can get a jump on the season – nope, not how she’d prefer to roll. Yet, tulsi comes rolling back, year after year in her own preferred manner my garden. I often smell tulsi and then oh, there’s a plant popping up amongst the roses or corn.
I never needed tulsi seeds, though I’ve purchased many packets. My original tulsi plant came to me auspiciously – from Sweetwater Sanctuary in VT. Pam Montgomery gave me and my fellow apprentices plants (in 2013), and mine has happily multiplied into tulsiville.
Culinary & Preserving
I’ve tried for years to make a good oil infusion of tulsi but have been only modestly successful at capturing that unique fragrance in oil. Drying, I find, works best for me. I’ll then drink it as tea through the cooler months. If I have a gathering of gal herbalists I may attempt herbalist Brittany Wood Nickerson’s yellow cake which she served once incorporating dried tulsi….magnificent. She’s just come out with a cookbook filled with scrumptious herbal fare, but the way, which I strongly recommend.
You can also make a pesto with tulsi.
To dry tulsi or any herb (I have mugwort, cilantro, lemon balm and mint drying now), gather a bunch of it, tie it into a bundle at the stem, and hang in a place that will be warm and dry. Attics are great if they are reasonably well ventilated, and you can find a place to hang your crop. After a couple dry weeks (challenging this year), cut the bundle down. For plants that I intend to use as a tea of spices, I pull the dry leaves off the stem and place them in glass jars. Between Mason and jelly jars, you have a jar for any quantity of herb.
Medicinal & Energetic
From a Western medical perspective, tulsi is an adaptogen and has been studied for a variety of uses. Adaptogenic activity means that, like ginseng, it contains a complex array of phytonutrients that act in different ways but tend to overall support homeostasis – or healthful balance. So, tulsi tea is a terrific drink through the fall when back-to-whatever stress and cool winds conspire to give us colds and other crud.
Energetically, I’ve done a number of shamanic journeys with tulsi and here’s what I learned. Tulsi embodies all the goddesses of tantra – she’s Lakshmi, Deva, and yes Kali and all the rest – all rolled into one. She just might be the MahaDevi – the mother goddess. This is my own perspective colored, no doubt by my study of the goddesses of tantra. I know and love them, and draw on them often. In my study, these goddesses represent parts of ourselves (even if you are a man – we each contain both divine masculine and feminine within us). So, interestingly, I’ve found tulsi is energetically adaptogenic as well. From my discussions with other herbalists in my tradition who work energetically with plants, my view is not unique.
You can increasingly find tulsi plants and seed at your local garden shop. If not, try Mountain Rose Herbal or Horizon Herbs.
Have a beautiful day.
Deep purple elder-beauty
I’ve been a smidgen obsessed with elderberry this year and it has heard my prayer. Not only did my husband gift me a beautiful elderberry bush for our yard, but a neighbor with a gorgeous mature bush gave us the green light to enjoy some of his bounty. So, I’ve been up to my elbows in elderberry.
Give yourself time to rinse & remove stems
Elderberry is a folk medicine immune supporter, and even today you can find it in commercial cough syrup and lozenges. Clinical trials suggest that it reduces the duration of the flu, and it may have antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. From a plant-spirit energetic perspective, elder aids with journey work (such as shamanic visioning) and is, simply, an elder filled with primordial wisdom.
Most elderberry syrup recipes call for about 2/3 cup of berries for a season’s supply of syrup. Well, because I had a bucketful, mine is a little stronger! It’s delicious and rich. In the literature there are warnings about elderberry irritating the gut if taken raw and/or in excess, so you can overdo it! I intend to take 1 tsp daily for 3-5 days at the first sign of cold or flu.
Give yourself a couple of hours to make this start to finish. This recipe made about 6 cups of syrup.
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
In addition to a large pot for cooking and processing, you will need a strainer or jelly bag, and containers for your syrup – I used jelly jars and processed them as if I were making jelly to give nicely sealed jars for gifts, and also kept a batch in a larger unsealed jar in the fridge to be used over the next 3 months by my family and me.
Jelly jars come with glass jars, a flat sealing lid, and a ring that twists over the sealing lid to keep it on the jar.
- 8 cups elderberry, washed and stems removed
- 4 cups water
- 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 5 whole cloves
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
- 1 cup honey
- 1-2 tsp pectin
Full bedlam-making elderberry syrup
- Place berries, spices, ginger and honey in a large pot and bring to a rolling boil.
- Stirring, add pectin and boil for another minute.
- Lower heat to medium and simmer for 15-17 minutes.
- Strain through jelly bag, and place into jars.
As I mentioned I used jelly jars and processed them like jelly, which entails boiling the jars (pouring hot liquid into a cold jar can make it crack) and sealing the lids. After filling the jars with syrup and topping with sealing lids, I tightened the lid rings and placed the jars upside down for about 5 minutes. This helped them seal. Once that’s done, I check to see if the jar sealed by pressing the center of the lid. If I can push the lid down and it pops up, no seal. If the lid is concave and pressing it doesn’t move it, it’s sealed. Often, lids will seal throughout the day – I can hear “pop” from the next room when a lid seals. Jars that don’t seal need to be refrigerated, and the syrup used within 3 months. I keep those that seal all season.
Making your own jelly and syrup can be a sticky mess, but I am always amazed by the wonderful smell, color, and flavor of homemade preserves. It’s a fun thing to do with family or friends who are into it. Little jars of your handcrafted goods make terrific gifts. Make sure not to give away unsealed items or you may be gifting a nice jar of something not-so-healing.
I’ve worked at Kripalu (the largest yoga center in the country) for seven years, so I have enjoyed my share of Indian food. I love the flavors of India – spicy curries, sweet-piquant chutneys, yogurt and lots of creative plant-based proteins. Indian cuisine in its original form is naturally healthful – filled with plants (often vegetarian) and aromatic spices.
I also love the work of the American Diabetes Association (bias alert – they published Yoga & Diabetes, which I co-authored). They have put together a collection of beautiful cookbooks that reflect a fresh range of ways of cooking and eating for health. If you have not yet looked at their growing collection – check them out! You don’t have to have a diabetes diagnosis to enjoy them – they are simply accessible healthful fare for everyone.
May Abraham Fridel’s Indian Cuisine Diabetes Cookbook has an authenticity and accessibility that are the hallmarks of a great cookbook. It practically smells like cumin – must be the beautiful red-brown of the two-color interior and beautiful four-color photos of select dishes. If you love the smells and tastes of India food and want to bring a bit of that into your own kitchen, this is a book for you.
The book begins with an overview of the philosophy behind India cooking, including the ancient nature-based wisdom of Ayurveda, a sister science of yoga.
There is a Spice Guide, a Pantry List, and some How-To Recipes to introduce you to the staples of healthful Indian Cuisine.
This is the book I will consult the next time I make Dal (spiced lentils). There are three easy tasty recipes and tons of advice to guide me. There’s a healthy version of my favorite Indian dish, Palak Paneer (cheese in spinach sauce) – this one uses tofu instead of cheese and skips the heavy cream that often turns that healthy sounding dish into something that while filled with nutrients is also calorie-dense. There is a chapter on street food and one on elegant dishes, a chapter on curries, a chapter on grilling, a chapter on Indian flatbreads, one pot meals, sides including slaws and salads, and drinks (I love me some lassi – India’s yogurt smoothie).
Ms. Friedel is a food literacy advocate, philanthropist and the founder and CEO of an organic spice company (www.passionforspices.com). She clearly knows of what she speaks when it comes to the flavors and spices of India.
I’m grateful for her offering, happy to add it to my cookbook shelf and look forward to continuing to sample and to learn about Indian cuisine.
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Pesto is a base recipe for food as medicine. The herbs you use for pesto are concentrated sources of health-enhancing nutrients. Through the seasons, you can make several batches for use on cooked vegetables, grains, really anything and everything.
Pesto is also a great recipe to begin exploring a little wild plant medicine.
When I speak of wild plants, I’m talking about plants you collect from your (unsprayed with chemicals!) lawn or the edge of a forest. I’m talking about dandelion greens, garlic mustard, mugwort and the like. Many of these wild plants are strongly flavored – I think of them as the wild game of the plant world – and just a little wild food does a human good. So, in pesto, I will mix familiar herbs like basil with a bit of the stronger wild stuff like dandelion or garlic mustard, depending upon what’s tender and not overwhelming (dandelions, for example, get more and more bitter as the season progresses).
Here is a base recipe for pesto I use and modify based on what’s available. Sometimes I use cheese, often not (I love to eat a lot of it, and cheese is not the most health-enhancing food for me, so I use just a smidgen). I can use creamy pine nuts, toasted walnuts, or sweet almonds depending on the herbs I have, the flavors I’d like to play with, and what I’m hankering for.
Here it is:
Herbal Pesto Recipe
Pesto is a base recipe for food as medicine. The herbs you use for pesto are concentrated sources of health-enhancing nutrients.
- 1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 1/2 cups fresh leafy green herbs basil, cilantro, thyme, parsley or your favorite
- 1/2 cup wild savory herbs garlic basil, dandelion
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and center woody section removed
- 1/2 cup nuts or seeds pepitas, walnuts, almonds
- 1/2 tsp salt
Pour oil into a blender, add garlic, nuts, and herbs in thirds and blend to that lovely pesto loose paste-like consistency.
Classic pesto contains basil and pine nuts and a half-cup of Parmesan in the above recipe. Use your imagination and what you have on hand. Variations are endless!
Remember, when it comes to wild food and botanical medicines – safety first!