Sunday, August 31, 2014

Mucilaginous Herbs: The Internal Band-aid

In a world where we eat garbage and stress out, our digestive tracts need extra nurturing in order to survive. Mucilage is just the ticket. By mucilage, I mean that clear, thick, sticky, gooey stuff. If you've ever put flax seeds in water... that's the stuff. Just like a foot massage and a cup of camomile tea at the end of a hard day, mucilage allows the lining of your gut to relax for a moment and heal. One blogger likened it to an internal band-aid, that actually adheres to your mucous membranes and prevents nerve irritation. For this reason, frequent doses over a period of a few days are required to provide adequate rest for the tissue.

Physically, mucilage is made of long chain molecules that entrap water in a matrix. Mucilage is made by many plants to store water or trap insects. Humans have used mucilage for its demulcent (soothing) properties, but also for things like glue. Some examples of mucilagionous foods and herbs are; natto (fermented Japanese soybeans), chia, flax, okra, lotus root, agar agar, psyllium, fenugreek seed, aloe vera, and tapioca.

The two main mucilaginous herbs discussed hereafter are marshmallow root and slippery elm bark. These two herbs have a long and important history in many different cultures. They are used in any situation of internal irritated tissue, which is ever more common in our modern world. They can be taken in many ways, but the gruel detailed below I have found to be the most efficient at delivering medicine and nutrients.

Typically, the gruel is made with powdered slippery elm inner bark, which has similar medicinal properties. Due to over-harvesting, slippery elm has become somewhat threatened, so I use marshmallow root instead. As an added bonus, marshmallow root has a special affinity to the kidneys and urinary system.

Marshmallow root gruel has three main functions: soothing an inflamed digestive tract (ulcers, IBS, leaky gut), soothing dry coughs, and soothing the kidneys and urinary tract. It has also historically been used as a food for convalescents and a first food for babies.



Spiced Marshmallow Root Gruel
1-2 servings, 10 minutes

2 heaping tbsp marshmallow root powder (or slippery elm powder if you prefer)
1/8 tsp cinnamon powder
1/8 tsp ginger powder
1/8 tsp cardamom powder
pinch of nutmeg powder
pinch of clove powder

1.5 cups water
1/2 cup nut milk (coconut, almond, hazelnut)

1 tsbp raw honey

1. Combine the powders together and pout into a small, dry saucepan.
2. In order to avoid chunks of powder in the final product, pour a small amount of water in first and stir. Add more water to make a fine paste, crushing any chunks that remain. Once it is smooth, add more water and stir. Finally, add all the water and milk.
3. Turn on the heat to medium. Stirring, slowly bring it to a boil. Once it starts to bubble, simmer it for 2-3 minutes while stirring. Add the honey and stir in.
4. Pour it into a mug and wait to cool before drinking. Drink this in the morning or evening.

In acute cases (dry cough or digestive weakness), drink 2-3 cups of this every day for 3-4 days. It may be the most effective to take in 1/4 cup doses every hour. If you are using it as a preventative tonic, you may drink a a cup every day for a week.

There are many variations you could try on this recipe. Instead of water and milk, try pear or apple juice. You can even add apple sauce, or add marshmallow powser to oat or rice porridge. You could also use licorice root powder in your gruel for its added GI healing powers.

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