Saturday, January 25, 2014

Roasted Chicken and Chicken Broth by an Herbalist

In case you were unaware, I recently decided to give up my vegan kick and start eating meat again. The promise I made to myself was that if I ever craved meat, I would go for it.

Inspired by the cooking habits of old, my new goal has been to master roasting a chicken, and making a mouth-watering broth. In addition to feeling like royalty while I carve into the chicken at the dinner table, I also favor buying and cooking whole chickens for several other reasons. First of all, it's WAY cheaper to get an organic chicken than organic chicken breasts ($3.99 /lb vs. $8.99/lb). Second, you can use the carcass and bones to make a nutritious broth. Third, I feel fully acquainted with the fact that I am holding a dead animal as I hold it by the legs and wash it in the sink. And last but not least, after I did it for the first time, I realized how ridiculous easy it is to roast a chicken.

Herb-Encrusted Roasted Chicken

350°F for 1h30m

1 whole chicken of high quality (A whole chicken is usually about 3-4 pounds)

4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Choose quality meat. Pasture-raised/ free range/ organic are all good choices. Tyson and Foster Farms both use horrendous practices, drugs and processing, and should be avoided like the plague. These companies are a constant feature on the news for food poisoning outbreaks, too.

Defrost the chicken if needed (a frozen chicken will take about 2 days to defrost in the refrigerator).

Turn the oven to 350°F. Wash the chicken in the sink using a big bowl and cold water. Get the water inside the chicken, too. You may need to pull out a small packet that many butchers put the giblets in.

Drip dry the chicken over the sink, holding it by its legs. Put into a large, rectangular pyrex pan, legs pointing upward.

Mix the oil and spices in a small bowl. With a culinary brush (or your fingers), brush the chicken all over with an even coat of the spice and oil mixture. If you wish, potatoes can be roasted in the dish around the chicken. If you put potatoes in, chop them into large pieces, and brush them with herb-oil, too. You may also wish to stuff the inside with half an onion, apple slices or something of your invention.

Put the pan in the 350°F oven for 1 hr 30 mins. Take it out and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting into it. Your oven may vary, so check the temperature at 1h30m the first time you roast in it. It should be at or above 165°F (check temp immediately upon taking chicken out, as temp falls quickly).

After dinner, there will inevitably be more meat on the carcass. Using gloved or cleaned hands, pick the remaining meat from the carcass. Don't be intimidated. Turn on your curiosity. The meat won't separate well from the bone after refrigerated, and it doesn't keep well in the fridge on the carcass, so don't procrastinate on this step. Use the picked carcass for broth directly after you are finished picking it.

SuperHerb's Crock Pot Chicken Broth

Making a broth feels so basic and so ancient. Traditionally, when made in a commoner's house, broth was made to get the most out of limited ingredients, using vegetable scraps and bones. Stocks are a great opportunity to harness valuable minerals from leftover animals parts, which most people would otherwise throw away. I add salt and vinegar in order to encourage the minerals out of the bones, which I don't find compromises the flavor. I also like to crack the bones where possible, as the marrow inside holds lots of good things, too. I also find this is a great place to sneak in herbs (See extensive list below). In line with how I like to take my herbs, I like to make my broth strong and full of herbs. Explore what your preferences are.

Making chicken broth is not an exact science, and mine is slightly different each time, depending on what I have in the kitchen. The chicken, salt and vinegar should stay the same each time, but all other ingredients are flexible.

Basic ingredients:
One picked clean chicken carcass, any loose bones broken in half to reveal marrow to broth
1 tsp sea salt
1-2 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar (Red wine or white wine vinegar also fine here)

leafy celery tops (the part you cut off usually)
1 carrot, roughly chopped with peel on
1 whole onion, washed and chopped with skin on
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary (dry is fine if not available to you)
2 sprigs fresh sage (dry is fine if not available to you)
handful of fresh thyme (dry is fine if not available to you)
handful of fresh parsley or cilantro (I often use the stems that are leftover from the bunch)

Enough COLD water to fill the pot

Other possible ingredients:
a few slices of dried reishi mushrooms (this is a popular immune support agent)
1-2" of sliced fresh ginger root (or galangal)
handful of dried medicinal or culinary mushrooms (porcini, shiitake, maitake etc)
1-2 sticks lemon grass
a few bay leaves
several cloves of garlic, crushed with skin on
1 Tbsp fennel seed
1 tsp black peppercorns (great for cold and flu season, and for those with stiff/ sore joints)
a few washed and dried egg shells (for calcium)
nettle stems (for minerals)
1 cup of sliced fresh burdock root

Put all ingredients in a large crock pot, and fill it to the brim with COLD water. Put on low and let sit overnight (8-12 hours). Strain through a mesh metal strainer in the morning, and store in a large glass jar (or 1/2 gallon carboy) in the fridge. It can be frozen for use later. You can use this broth in soups, and use it to cook grains in. I like to make rice pilaf and Minestrone soup the most. I have also cooked beans in it.

Idea: You could make an asian style broth by adding onions, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and black pepper. I did this once and made it as a base for a simple Pho.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bitters, Plants and the Liver

We are now in the midst of a bitters revolution. If you haven't heard the word bitters in the last month, you're behind the times (or you don't live in the heart of Portland). Bitters are possibly the best thing that's happened to the gourmet cocktail movement, as they happen to be good for you.

The tradition of bitters originated in Europe as an herbal tonic to aid digestion. Bitters, as the name suggests, is a mix of bitter herbs steeped in alcohol. Herbs like dandelion, gentian, oregon grape, artichoke, rhubarb, milk thistle, cardamom, meyer lemon and orange peel are common ingredients. The bitter flavor, when tasted, increases the secretions of bile and other digestive juices from the liver and gall bladder. Basically, it increases the nutrient absorption and facilitates a cleaner passage of food through the intestines.

Whether commercially available bitters actually help your digestion is a matter of the ingredients and how it is processed. However, if it tastes bitter, it's probably doing something. Many people believe that the bitter flavor is an essential element in a healthy diet. I happen to agree with this view. The article that really won me over is Jim McDonald's article called Blessed Bitters, which will make you want to eat dandelion and arugula every day. Most people that aren't herbalists are totally weak when it comes to bitter flavors. As it turns out, bitterness is an acquired taste that takes time to develop appreciation for.  So, if you think you hate bitter flavors, you're actually just being a baby about it. Think about how many bitter wild plants early humans ate every day. Do you think they would have frowned at brussels sprouts? I think not.

The reason for this demonization of the bitter flavor lies in the fact that humans have the largest amount of bitter taste bud receptors, making it the most sensitive taste. Therefore, bitter tastes are the most intense for us, which is why kids hate broccoli so much! We developed this amazing number of bitter receptor sites in order to discern poisonous plants from food and medicine plants. Other animals use this same tasting ability every day for their survival, as they don't have pharmaceuticals or a supermarket.

Bitter foods to include in your diet:

Dandelion greens
Mustard greens
Collard greens
Lemons and Limes

Bitter herbs to help digestion:

Artichoke leaf
Dandelion leaf and root
Oregon grape root
Orange peel, grapefruit peel, lemon peel
Burdock root and seed
Milk thistle seed (It is best to consume the ground whole seed, rather than an extract. Refrigerate whole seeds and freshly ground seeds to prevent spoiling. Capsules can be made with freshly ground powder).
Gentian root and flowering tops
Angelica root
Horehound leaf
Wormwood leaf/ flowering tops
Coriander seed

Bitter Herb Tinctures

A tincture is an alcoholic extract of an herb. They are made be soaking the herb in 25% alcohol to 95% alcohol, depending on the herb. The alcohol will extract the soluble chemicals from the herb, making them more available to your digestive tract. Most herbalists tincture their herbs at 40%-50%, with the exception of such herbs as cottonwood buds, rosemary, thyme, usnea lichen and myrhh resin. These herbs require a higher proof because of the high resin content, with is NOT soluble in water. Much more potent tinctures will be made with 95% alcohol. Most people let their tinctures sit and extract for 6-8 weeks.

A tincture is the best form of medicine for the liver because alcohol goes straight to your liver to be processed. This means that your herbs will go right where they are needed. Teas can be effective, but I prefer tinctures for this specific thing.

Basic Bitters formula: (Recipe from our friends at Mountain Rose Herbs)

2 parts dandelion root
1 part fennel seed
1/2 part organic dried ginger root (dried is preferred here, as it's properties are different from the fresh)
1/2 part organic orange peel

Mix your herbs together and fill a glass jar only 1/3 full with the blend. pour 100 proof vodka over the herb and fill to the very top of the jar. Be sure your herb mixture is completely covered. Label your jar with the name of the herbs, date, alcohol strength, and parts used. Allow to extract for 6 to 8 weeks. shaking the jar often. Strain the herb with cheesecloth, and squeeze any remaining liquid in the herb back into the extract. Bottle the liquid in amber dropper bottles and label.

My Liver Cleansing Tincture Formula

1.5 parts dried burdock root
1 part ground milk thistle seed
1 part burdock seed (substitute with more milk thistle if you can't easily find this)
2 parts Oregon grape root
1 part licorice root

This recipe can be made with a blend of pre-made tinctures, or by using this mix of herbs to make a tincture (use). To make with dried herbs, follow the instructions for making a tincture above.

Burdock seed is not necessary, but I really like it for its added effects on the kidneys.

Herbalist's Orange Bitters

1 part orange peel
1 part red root
1 part oregon grape
1 part licorice root

Make this formula as dry herbs, weighed in parts and tinctured, or mix already existing tinctures together. This mix I found incredibly delicious, and effective. Michael Moore, and Howie Brounstein after him, praise red root for it's ability to lighten a rich meal in the blood. This formula is best for heavy meals where you might overeat on fatty foods.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

January: Time for Poplar Buds

On these chilly weekends in January is the time to harvest the sweet smelling, resinous cottonwood buds. You may also know them as poplar buds. There are many different varieties of this awesome tree. In my area, it is the black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), which is a super-tall, wet-soil-loving tree that causes lots of seasonal allergies with its cottony seed buds that come down like snow in the spring. You've probably smelled the tree on a walk in the park at some point. I also saw poplars in Montana, though they had yellow buds and whiter bark. The buds were just as potent, however.

Identification and harvest (Populus trichocarpa):

Black cottonwoods LOVE wetlands, rives, lakes, streams, and generally boggy areas. Think mosquitos, grasses, blackberries and smelly mud. You can find it in many parks, which is where I usually harvest. This year, I went to the Sandy River Delta, which is 30 minutes outside of Portland, Oregon. Last year, I harvested from Marymoor Park in Redmond, Washington.

Scan the skyline and look for incredibly tall, naked, white barked trees. The bark will have black scars on it. Also, inspect the ground to see if there are large, waxy heart shaped leaves. Finally, the branches should have fat buds. The buds should smell very aromatic. If you pull a bud from the tip of a branch, there should be orange resin inside (note that not ALL buds contain resin, only the leaf buds do).

The best way to harvest the buds is to find a downed branch or whole tree (if you're really lucky). Sometimes you can find branches low enough to harvest from, but the buds higher up on the tree are fatter.

Be aware that only half the buds contain the resin that  you want, and those ones are leaf buds. The other half are flower buds, which are quite dry inside. The one on the very tip is always a leaf bud. Another way to ensure the viability of the buds is to give them a squeeze. If it's squidgy and sticky- it's good. If it's dry and crinkly, then it's a flower bud.

Harvest as many as you can manage using a jar or plastic bag. Be ready to have fingers covered in sticky resin.

Medicinal Uses and Preparation

Poplar tree buds of many species have been used by most cultures who had them. Nicholas Culpeper mentions uses of bark, leaves, seeds, catkins and buds of both Black and White Poplar in his Complete Herbal. Native Americans all around America also used poplar bark, buds and leaves for various medical complaints. Nowadays, only the buds are popular to use. They contain salicylic acid, which is the active component in Aspirin, making them effective for reducing inflammation and relieving the related pain. They also have antimicrobial properties, making them useful for preventing infection in cuts and other external prone areas.

The buds are best prepared as an infused oil, and used externally on sore joints, as well as cuts and abrasions. The infused oil can be made into a salve. The best results for arthritis will be seen if the salve is used consistently over time.

A tincture can be made in 95% alcohol, and cough drops and syrup are also made from the buds. The buds are used internally for certain types of coughs. I'm not including a recipe for these things in here, but feel free to do your own research.

Cottonwood bud infused oil:

enough coconut oil or olive oil to cover the buds
fresh poplar buds

Put the buds into a sturdy glass jar that you don't intend to use ever again. pour the oil over the top until the buds are covered. Fill your crock pot up with water and put the jar inside. If possible, the water level should equal the level of oil in the jar. Put cheesecloth or fabric on the top of the jar with a rubber band. This will catch condensation, but prevent things from getting inside. It's important to make sure that water can escape from your oil, because it will cause it to mold later. Turn it on low and let sit for about 12-16 hours.

When finished, strain the buds from the oil using two layers of cheesecloth. Throw away the cheesecloth, and the spend buds when you're finished. Keep the oil in a sealed glass jar (amber is ideal).

Store the oil in the refrigerator, or in a cool, dark place.

WARNING: The resin of the buds, as I'm sure you've already discovered from your harvest, is incredibly sticky, and only adheres more intensely when you put water on it. The best way to remove the resin is with rubbing alcohol or oil on a cotton swab. Avoid water altogether. Be sure to use cookware that you don't care about at all.

Cottonwood Bud Salve

200 ml coconut oil
30 g beeswax
small metal or glass containers

Melt the oil and beeswax together in a metal or glass bowl over a pot of almost boiling water (a double boiler). Again, be sure to use a bowl that you don't mind ruining. When the wax is completely melted, pour the salve into small containers, using a funnel if needed. Leave the jars open and undisturbed until they harden. When dry, put the lids on. Keep extra jars in the fridge until you're ready to start using them.

To clean up, first wipe the excess salve off with a dry paper towel. If there are orange splotches, use alcohol on a swab to remove it. Then, wash in hot water and soap.

Salve Ratios:
100 mL coconut oil:15 g beeswax
100mL olive oil: 17 g beeswax

All About Hawthorne: with Hawthorne Berry Chutney recipe

Properties of hawthorne

Hawthorne berries are gentle enough to be considered food, but they are also a very wonderful herbal medicine. Hawthorne is most famous for its toning properties on the heart. It contains large amounts of flavonoids (anti-oxidants), which are really great for anyone. The magazine I have open in my lap right now (Mother Earth News' "Guide to Healing Herbs") cites a study from the University of Chicago that says Hawthorne "significantly reduces blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels." It has performed well in many medical trials, which gives some people peace of mind.

Hawthorn leaf, flowers and berries are commonly prescribed for a variety of heart complaints. There's all sorts of ways to take it, including extracts if you prefer that sort of thing. If you suffer from a serious heart condition, or are taking heart medications, make sure to research and ask your doctor before you get on the hawthorn bandwagon.

As with most plants, the different parts of the hawthorn tree have different actions and different strengths. A more powerful medicine is made from the flowers and emerging spring leaves, which is great for people with actual heart conditions, or who are at serious risk. However, the berries are for everyone anytime, and can act as a wonderful preventative for heart disease, and allergies. Some different ways I prepare hawthorn berries are: as a fruit leather, in a cordial (a sweet alcoholic apertif), as a jam or chutney, and as a syrup.

Finding and harvesting hawthorne berries:

For some who have never harvested plants from the wild, finding and harvesting hawthorn berries may sound totally daunting and ridiculous. However, they are ubiquitous in temperate regions all over the world, and pretty darn easy to identify.

The fall berries are red, and the tree is thorny. The flowers have 5 white to pink petals. The berries have an indent on the bottom surrounded by a five pointed star, which are remnants of the flower. One final identifying characterisitc of the common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), is that each berry will have just one seed. The common hawthorn is the one usually found growing in fields, parks or hedgerows. The picture below is common hawthorn, which is sadly considered "invasive".

The ideal time to harvest the berries is from October to mid-December. Berries should be dark red and juicy. When harvested later in the winter, the berries can develop a black film on the outside. This does not mean they are inedible, only that they need to be washed and scrubbed thoroughly. Always check the inside of the berries for bugs and rot by pulling a few apart with your fingers before harvesting. The flesh should ideally be white-orangish, and soft. This usually occurs when the weather turns cold, or after the first frost. I often harvest from local parks, such as Magnuson Park in Seattle, which is absolutely teeming with hawthorn berries in October and November. I usually harvest as many berries as I can stand to, and freeze what I don't use.

If you're someone who'd rather just buy the darn thing than try to find it out in the wild--you're in luck. You can order them from a lot of places. Mountain Rose Herbs and Pacific Botanicals are my two favorite sources. The berries will be dried, and require a little further processing to make jams and fruit leather.

Hawthorn berry chutney:

A chutney is like a jam, but made with vinegar instead of water. You can add salt as well. Chutneys are usually made with fruits, such as mango, cranberry, apple, apricot, or plum. My favorite chutney right now is this hawthorne berry chutney. I have made this recipe twice now, and it's quite foolproof. I eat it on sandwiches to give it a wonderfully flavorful flair, and with roasted chicken. We had some with our turkey on thanksgiving, too. The awesome thing about chutney in general is that it's easy to make, and it lasts in the fridge for a long time. Some people even recommend aging it for a month in the fridge before eating it to improve the flavor.

4 cups fresh hawthorn berries
1 C apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar (though I haven't tried it yet, I'm sure honey would work just fine)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground coriander

Wash the hawthorne berries, and remove large stems. Some stems are fine, because you will later strain the mixture.

In a saucepan, add the berries, the vinegar and the salt. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Let it simmer for one hour, covered. Stir it a few times to avoid burning on the bottom (though I've forgotten it for an hour and never had this happen.) Allow it to cool enough so it doesn't burn you.

Now, you must remove the seeds. This can be difficult depending on what equipment you have.

Option one: With a food mill. In parts, strain the mixture through a food mill. Use either the finest or second finest holes.

Option two: with a blender and a sieve. In two parts, blend the mixture in a blender. If using a vitamix, blend it only a little on low power. You don't want to blend the seeds, as that's what you're trying to remove. In a few batches, put the mixture in a sieve with a bowl beneath. Use the bottom of a sturdy glass to press the mixture through the sieve. This might be an arduous process. Seeds will remain in the sieve- discard these.

Finally, put the seedless mixture back in the pot (I usually give it a quick rinse with hot water). Add all the remaining ingredients, stir, and simmer for a few minutes. Put it in a jar and store in the refrigerator. The recipe should make 2-3 cups.