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 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 the 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 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 home-made 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.
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 to explore 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 taking 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 a 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 upon the herbs I have, the flavors I’d like to play with, and what I’m hankering for.
Here it is:
Herbal Pesto Recipe
- 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. Add salt.
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!
This month in the newsletter I wrote about putting summer’s bounty by for colder months, and I also wrote a brief piece on how to use herbal preparations safely. Herbs, herbal tinctures, flower essences and other botanicals can be wonderful allies for healing, but like any medicinal substance, different preparations are of varying quality and composition and can cause unexpected side effects. Here are a few thoughts, and suggestions for staying safe as you explore.
The Wise Herbalist: please be safe
After last month’s newsletter on making flower essences, I had a thoughtful exchange with a reader concerned about the toxicity of buttercup. Flower essences don’t contain any of the plant matter (they operate like homeopathy), so not to worry. But, since I have been writing more about the use of herbs and interest is certainly growing, I thought I’d give you a little overview of herbal preparations and how they operate so as to keep you nice & safe as you venture into this newly revived mode of healing.
You can think of herbal healing as ranging from gross physical (food, pharmaceuticals and infusions like teas operate on this level) to more subtle mind-body like tinctures, where plant matter is placed in alcohol for a number of weeks, and plant oils, where plant matter is placed into an oil for a number of weeks and the oil then carries some plant matter. Then there are those that operate on the subtle energetic level (homeopathic preparations and flower essences, for example).
For preparations that work on the physical level, it’s important that you stick with things that are edible and medicinal. So, in the case of buttercup, you don’t want to make an infusion tea with it nor eat it, because it is not edible – it contains compounds that can be toxic. Same with tinctures – stick with medicinal and culinary herbs for these. Flower essences don’t contain actual plant matter – they are energetic preparations – you can make an essence out of any plant and you won’t have a toxicity reaction to it unless you have a reaction to the carrier (often brandy, but you can also use vinegar).
Now, let’s talk about essential oils. These are wonderful but very condensed and strong extractions of the oils of plants. I have an essential oil diffuser in my office with a stress ease mixture and it works like a charm. Essential oils can damage your skin if you apply them directly and many people are sensitive. They can also react with your skin when exposed to the sun – I’ve had an instance of this and it wasn’t pretty!
I’ve been giving herb walks at Kripalu and interest in wild edibles and herbs is really growing. If you have an interest in wild edibles, take your time and stick to things like dandelion, plantain and garlic mustard that are common and safe, then slowly and safely expand your knowledge from there. Like anything, there are things to be aware of, but if you approach nature with respect and curiosity (and a few of the many good references), it will be a wonderful exploration.
Enjoy the season in fun and deliciousness,
Annie B. Kay MS, RDN, E-RYT500