As the temperatures begin to fluctuate and the North Bay begins to move into cold and flu season, local herbalists are opening their apothecary jars and sharing knowledge about some healthy, medicinal foods that can help support the immune system.
Last month, Meredith Brown, a nutritional therapy practitioner in Petaluma, led a group of 10 women through a Home Remedies class at Wind & Rye, demonstrating how to DIY everything from Fire Cider and Elderberry Syrup to Healthy Lung Tea Infusion and Healthy Lung Tea Tincture, both potentially helpful for the flu season and in the wake of October’s wildfires.
In recent years, ancient remedies such as Elderberry Syrup have enjoyed a renaissance along with the culinary tonic known as “Fire Cider,” first introduced by renowned herbalist Rosemary Gladstar in the 1970s, when she also founded the California School of Herbal Studies in Forestville and co-founded Traditional Medicinals tea in Sebastopol.
“Even Martha Stewart (magazine) has a recipe for Fire Cider now,” said Laci Sandoval, a pastry chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, who launched her new cooking school, Wind & Rye Kitchen in Penngrove, last month with the Home Remedies class. “Elderberry has become trendy in the last few years. You see the syrup at Whole Foods and Oliver’s now.”
While studies have been done on the healing properties of elderberry — described by Hippocrates as his “medicine chest” — many medicinal herbs and plants are powerful and need to be taken carefully and judiciously, particularly for pregnant or nursing women. In addition, people should confirm any curative claims with their physician
However, it is well known that Native Americans and other cultures all over the world have turned to herbs and plants for centuries for their antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties.
“You can use the (healthy lung) infusion and tincture for any immunity issue,” Brown said. “The lungs are the first line of defense in your immune system.”
The tea, infusions and tinctures are all made from a blend of high-quality herbs sourced from Rosemary’s Garden in Sebastopol or online from Mountain Rose Herbs based in Eugene, Oregon. The herbs ranged from well-known plants such as lavender, peppermint and chamomile to the more exotic mullein and marshmallow root.
Although the tea, infusion and tinctures are made with similar herbs, each one is prepared a little differently.
“They all have the exact same properties,” Sandoval said. “But the potency is different.”
A simple cup of herbal tea needs to steep for just a few minutes in hot water. An infusion, by contrast, is steeped overnight in water in order to extract more vitamins, minerals and other healing nutrients from the herbs.
“For the infusion, you use one cup of herbs to a quart of water,” Brown said. “You can set it up at night, let it sit, and drink it throughout the next day.”
For the tincture, the herbs are steeped in an alcohol such as vodka (for adults) or glycerin or apple cider vinegar (for kids) and left for 8 to 30 days, The jars require a shake or two every day, then need to be strained and poured in tincture bottles with a glass dropper.
If that’s a bit confusing, Sandoval suggested thinking of herbal tea as an “iced Americano coffee” and the herbal infusion as a “cold brew coffee.”
“With the Americano, you make an espresso shot and pour it over ice. That’s the same as a cup of tea,” she said. “With cold brew, you put the beans in the water and let it sit overnight, and it’s more potent — that’s like a tea infusion.”
The tincture sits a lot longer, for up to a month, which makes it more potent. The dosage for adults is just a 3 to 5 milligrams. Brown said.
Fire Cider — a spicy, immunity-boosting blend of ginger and horseradish, onion and garlic, jalapeño and lemon zest, rosemary and turmeric, all macerated for a month in apple cider vinegar and honey — develops a hot, sour, pungent and sweet taste that lends itself to all kinds of cooking.
Gladstar, who came up with the recipe and catchy name back in the ‘70s, used vinegar to aid digestion, horseradish to clear the sinuses and headaches, ginger to help circulation and digestion, chiles to help circulation, garlic and onions to fight infection and honey and turmeric to soothe inflammation.
“Fire Cider was among those early ‘crossover’ recipes — part medicine, part food — that was made and shared freely,” Gladstar wrote on the website, freefirecider.com. “I taught hundreds of people how to make it at the California School of Herbal Studies, which I directed and taught at from 1978 through 1987.”
Both Brown and Sandoval said they use Fire Cider primarily in the kitchen, just as they would use any vinegar.
“I love to use it in mustard vinaigrettes instead of red wine vinegar,” Sandoval said. “It’s also really nice mixed with a little sour cream and fresh herbs as a garnish to beans or rice ... anything that lends itself to soy sauce would work with Fire Cider.”
Brown said she splashes it on vegetables, beans or lentils, to heighten the flavors, and over pot roast, to cut the fat.
“If we’re eating something and we want to brighten the flavor, I will put it in at the end,” she said. “It’s delicious,”
Stacey Earl of Petaluma, a student in the Home Remedies class, said she started drinking Fire Cider after she became ill last year.
“I do Fire Cider all the time, and I haven’t been sick since,” she said. “I just add two tablespoons to warm water every morning.”
To make the Elderberry Syrup, Brown suggests sourcing dried elderberries from Rosemary’s Garden of Sebastopol, which was started by Gladstar in the early 70s but was sold to Lena Moffat, a native of Sweden.
Although Elderberry trees grow all over Europe and the U.S., the berries take a long time to remove the stems because the stems are toxic. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, both the raw berries and flowers also contain small amounts of a poisonous alkaloid that i destroyed through the cooking process.
“After you simmer the elderberry mixture for 45 minutes, you strain it and add honey, which sweetens it and helps preserve it,” Brown said. “Some people reduce it until it’s very syrupy and coats a spoon.”
Brown also adds a little brandy or bourbon to her Elderberry Syrup, to help preserve it as well. The syrup is stored in the fridge, where it will last for about six months.
Because the honey rounds out the flavor of the tannic elderberries, the syrup can be used on top of ice cream or fresh fruit, pancakes or vanilla panna cotta.
Its immunity-boosting powers, combined with its sweetness, make it popular with parents who want to help children through cold and flu season.
“When my son goes back to school, I always make sure he has a spoonful every day to give him a little extra help in fighting all the germs they face,” Sandoval said. “Once we are sick, it helps us get through the illness faster and alleviates the symptoms.”
The following recipes are from Meredith Brown of Sage and Salt Nutrition and Laci Sandoval of Wind & Rye. The recipe for Fire Cider was adapted from Rosemary Gladstar. Other optional ingredients for Fire Cider include cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns and oranges.
Makes 1 quart
1/2 cup fresh ginger, grated
1/2 cup fresh horseradish, grated
1 onion, chopped
10 cloves garlic, crushed
2 jalapeños, chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
3-4 sprigs rosemary (fresh or dried)
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 cups (or more) apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup honey (optionals)
Place ginger, horseradish, onion, garlic, peppers, lemon zest, lemon juice, rosemary and turmeric into a quart canning jar.
Cover items with apple cider vinegar by about 2 inches.
Use a piece of natural parchment paper under the lid to prevent vinegar from touching any metal.
Shake well, store in a dark, cool place for about one month, shaking daily. After one month, strain out pulp and pour vinegar into a clean, glass jar.
Add 1/4 cup honey and stir until dissolved. Add more to taste if necessary.
This recipe was adapted from wellnessmama.com. Rosemary’s Garden in Sebastopol carries dried elderberries.
Makes 1 quart
2/3 cup dried elderberries
31/2 cups filtered water
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or 1 stick)
2 tablespoons ginger (1 1/2-inch chunk, peeled)
1/2 teaspoon clove (1-2 whole cloves)
1 cup raw honey
Combine water, elderberries, ginger, cinnamon and cloves into a medium sauce pan (do not add honey yet.)
Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for about 45 minutes until reduced by about half. Remove from heat and let cool.
Msh berries if necessary. Strain through fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Discard strained matter. Add honey and stir well. Bottle and store in the refrigerator for up to six months.
For this recipe, use a quality alcohol such as vodka, brandy, rum or whisky. Must be at least 80 proof to prevent mildewing of the plant material. Use a glass or ceramic container. Kept in a dark place, should last 2 to 5 years.
Healthy Lung Tincture for Adults
1 part marshmallow
1 part mullein
1/2 part chamomile
1/2 part echinacea
1/4 part astragalus
1/4 part ashwaganda
— Vodka, to cover
For fresh herbs: Add enough material to fill container
For powdered herbs: Use 4 ounces of material to 1 pint alcohol.
For dried herbs: Use 7 ounces of material to 1 liter alcohol.
After adding alcohol to the herbs, stir, making sure all herbs are covered in liquid.
Let soak for 8 to 30 days. Shake once or twice a day.
To strain: place a coffee filter across sieve, strain liquid into a clean bowl and press herb material with a wooden spoon. Wring out filter to extract remaining liquid.
To bottle: Decant into tincture bottles (small, dark colored glass with tight fitting lid.) Seal with wax for long-term storage.
For this tincture, use a food-grade, organic, vegetable glycerine. If using fresh herbs, use 25 percent water and 75 percent glycerine. Raw apple cider can also be used instead of glycerine. Use a glass or ceramic container. Kept in a cool, dark place, the tincture should last for 18 to 24 months.
Healthy Lung Tincture for Children
1 part chamomile
1 part marshmellow
1/2 part mullein
1/2 part oat straw
1/2 part lemon blam
1/4 part echinacea
1/4 part astragalus
— Glycerine, to cover
Place herbs in the container and fill remainder of the container with carrier liquid. For fresh herbs: add enough material to fill container. Powdered herbs: 4 ounces of material to 1 pint alcohol. Dried herbs: 7 ounces of material to 2 pints alcohol.
Stir, making sure all herbs are covered in liquid.
Soak for 8 to 30 days. Shake once or twice a day.
Strain: Place coffee filter across sieve. strain liquid into clean bowl and press herb material with a wooden spoon. Wring out filter to extract remaining liquid.
Bottle: Decant into tincture bottles (small, dark-colored glass with tight- fitting lid.) Seal with wax for long-term storage.
Healthy Lung Tea Infusion
1/2 part peppermint
1 part chamomile
1/4 part lavender
2 parts marshmellow
2 parts mullein
1/2 part lemon balm
1/4 part rose hips
1/4 part orange peel
Put 1 cup of dried herbal blend in a quart jar and fill with water. Allow to steep for 4 to 10 hours.
Strain and drink 1 to 4 cups a day. Keep refrigerated and discard any unused infusion after 36 hours.
Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @dianepete56.