Remembering Our Local Kitchen Medicine

This was an article we wrote for Natural Awakenings Magazine in the Spring:

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There is so much change, color, flavor and medicine growing this time of year. From our local wild foods to the farms and gardens, we are rich in delicious medicine! We have gone from the time of scarcity, where our gardens and surrounding lands were just waking up from the winter, with the first dandelions and stinging nettle, to this time of abundance.

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The salad greens, sautéing greens, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, wood sorrel, sheep sorrel, purselane, wild spinach, walking onions, parsley, cilantro, dill, mint, thyme, oregano, tarragon, savory, sage and of course the beloved garlic scapes, are all in full swing. By the time this publication is out there will be another entire list of summer foods available.

When we look at the vitamins, minerals and higher order compounds in our local food we realize it truly is our best medicine. Seasonal eating means eating what is available in our surrounding communities in order to take advantage of the plant medicine at it’s peak.

Summer is the time of building our health and energy back up to it’s full potential in order to work and play hard. The fall is the time to harvest and eat warm root vegetables and herbs that tend to strengthen the digestive and respiratory systems just in time to help prepare us for the winter’s onset of colds and flu. Winter comes and we crave heavier, fattier foods to get us through the winter’s cold and darkness. Then Spring, with those first bitter greens helping to stimulate the liver and digestion, in order to ease us back into the warm abundance of summer…A beautiful and well-orchestrated seasonal dance if we are paying attention.

Traditional cultures that rely on plant medicine as their primary source of healing understand this connection and use local food and herbs to make teas, tonics, brews, syrups and delicious remedies. These are wonderful and powerful recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation to keep communities alive and healthy. These time-tested formulas that come to this country with first generation immigrants are frequently forgotten by the time the second generation has melted into our western society.

There is however a resurgence in the U.S. to remember these old ways and to put a fresh spin on it. People are learning what we like to call “Kitchen Medicine,” the use of food and herbs to prevent or lessen what ails you. Some of the things we like to create/recreate for great tasting kitchen medicine are, herb infused honeys, teas made from culinary/medicinal and wild herbs, broths loaded with herbs/mushrooms/vegetables, elderberry elixir, herbal extractions,  fire cider, herbal vinegars, tonics, brews and more.

One of the remedies we have fallen in love with this year is the switchel. A switchel is a drink that is both tart and sweet. These drinks were given to those who needed more than water to stay hydrated and continue a day of hard physical work. Here is a recipe for a single serving of a hibiscus switchel that we developed at TIOSN:

Hibiscus Mint Switchel:

We like to make a quart of the hibiscus, mint tea at a time.

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– Hibiscus is a beautiful flower that makes a deliciously refreshing ruby red tea. It is a cooling plant that is high in vitamin C, minerals and antioxidants. The flower is quite astringent and helps to tighten mucus membranes. In 2008 the American Heart Association published a report documenting that hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure in pre and mildly hypertensive adults.

-Mint adds delicious flavor, minerals and antioxidants to the tea. It is known to help relieve cramping in the digestive system and to help with alertness.

-Apple cider vinegar adds electrolytes, great for those who have been sweating due to work or play. It also helps to stimulate gastric juices, aiding in digestion.

-Honey is antimicrobial and mineral rich. Local honey has the added benefit of being made from local plants helping folks cope with seasonal allergies.

1 heaping Tablespoon dried hibiscus flowers

3 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

1 quart water

Bring water to a boil. Pour the hot water over the hibiscus and mint leaves, cover and steep for 1/2 hour.

Pour 1 cup of tea through a strainer into a glass and add,

1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon honey

1-teaspoon lime juice

Stir to dissolve honey.

Refrigerate for several hours, serve cold.

Making food and herbs our medicine is one of the most powerful things we can do for our health care. Finding local sources for your food or learning to grow some of your own, better assures peak flavor and nutritional/medicinal potency.

Ask your elders if they remember any of these old remedies and write them down. These are fascinating and valuable pieces of our health history. The time has come to learn these remedies again to insure that they are not lost to us and future generations.

For information on how you can learn about more kitchen medicine, foraging, culinary skills, sustainable gardening and seasonal nutrition contact The Institute Of Sustainable Nutrition at 860-764-9070 www.tiosn.com

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