Spicy shots! I love ’em.
A couple years ago Free Fire Cider, based on a folk recipe, popularized by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, and trademarked, with great controversy in the herbal world, but a group in WMA, had it’s moment in the sun. Here’s my fire cider recipe.
Since then, I’ve been enamored with making spicy shots – delicious concoctions designed to warm and give a nutritional zing-ha to your morning. It’s a practice I especially get into in these (still!) cooler months.
Here’s one I whipped up this weekend, with tart cherry juice and apple cider vinegar. Cherry, ginger and turmeric are all anti-inflammatories and packed with antioxidants. Apple cider vinegar is a natural probiotic. If you, like me are in the second half of life, this drink is vata-pacifying – grounding and warming.
Quick, easy, and makes you say “haaaaaa”. I aimed for warmth rather than heat in the spice. Raw garlic makes me burp, though my husband is focused on eating more, so I suggest he use this to wash down a nice raw clove for himself. Pow.
1/2 cup unsweetened cherry juice
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, sliced
3 Tsp turmeric, dried spice
1/2 tsp cayenne, or to taste
Place everything in a blender and blend away. Pour into a small mason jar with a lid. The ginger and spice tend to separate, so give it shake before your morning shot. I take about an ounce after my morning coffee and morning practices, a few minutes before breakfast.
I have a spicy-shot-for-every-season vision!
Have a favorite spicy shot you make?
My boon of elderberry enabled me to, in addition to making tons of elderberry syrup, make elderberry ginger cider – a variation on fire cider. For this one, I rely on ginger and honey as a base and kept it simple yet strong. It’s delicious and I’ll use it the way you would fire cider – take a shot during cold and flu season to warm up and keep the creeping crud away.
Elderberry Ginger Cider Recipe
- 4 cups fresh elderberries, clean and free of stems
- 2 slivers of fresh peeled ginger, about 1 Tsp
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp local honey
Warm elderberries in a medium saucepan for 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat. Let cool. Place ingredients in a clean bottle. Place top on the bottle, and mix by inverting the bottle several times. Make sure the liquid covers the berries. Leave in a cool dry place for six weeks, inverting the bottle to mix every 3 or 4 days. Remove elderberries from the cider. The cider is the elixir, but you might use the elderberries in a pickle also. Enjoy!
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.
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.
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
Rituals add meaning to life. Over the past several years I have been participating in plant initiation rituals. They connect me more deeply and more coherently with nature than I have ever been.
As I write this, the wheel of the year approaches the summer solstice. This day is truly filled with light. I am preparing for a shamanic plant initiation that will unfold next weekend, a gathering of plant people led by my teacher and St. John’s Wort.
Plant spirit healing is a shamanic plant medicine practice that works energetically with and through plants for health and healing. In that tradition, a plant initiation is a coming together in a ritual to honor, connect deeply with, hear and receive the healing gift of a plant. It tends to involve experiencing the plant in a variety of ways; through breath, dieting (ingesting) wonderful things prepared by the facilitator. It is done in a ceremony; with singing, fires, shamanic guided imagery journeys and the like.
I have undergone several plant initiations so far and treasure this ritual experience in my life. Perhaps it’s my Catholic upbringing, filled with ritual. I was initiated by Tulsi (the green goddess!) and left with a spirit soul sister, someone to go mystery-shopping with in the cosmos. From Tulsi I learned ageless beauty and that all of the Shakti goddesses are within me – I can learn to draw upon them when needed. I was initiated by Dandelion (the indestructible grandfather guide!) at Damanhur, the eco-spirit community in Italy, and learned steadfast resiliency and impenetrability of spirit. Now it is St. John’s, and I already have a close relationship with the bestower-of-light. I hope to burn off a bit of dross and am open to an enlightening experience!
Bless you and may you have your own nature encounter today. Tell us about it!