When talking about herbs, where does food end and medicine begin? It is a fine line and one that can be difficult to explain. I want to highlight some of my favorite herbal medicines that are gentle and tasty enough to use regularly yet have tonic effects and can be crafted for different medicinal purposes.
All the tastes have their place, though most often bitter is culturally considered a “medicinal” taste. One of the reasons for this is that pharmaceuticals are often made with plant alkaloids, which tend to be bitter (and sometimes even poisonous). However, the much older traditions of Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda and Western Herbalism recognize that different tastes and energetics of herbs are appropriate for different conditions.
I find sweet medicine delightful for both the nervous system and the heart. These medicines offer support when caring and nurturing is needed, and for nourishing frayed nerves and in times of healing and convalescence. Similarly for the heart, sweet medicines may help a person feel supported and loved when emotions like fear, sadness, or a state of depression hover.
So, let me introduce some of my favorite recipes that I’ve started using again with the season change.
Cocoa Spice Tonic Mix
I first tried this recipe as a suggestion from herbalist Ola Obasi of Nourishing Botanicals in Pittsburgh, PA. It is a dynamic blend of nervines, both uplifting and sedating. It also adds in the digestive support of turmeric, tying in and grounding the energy of the blend.
2 parts – Ashwagandha
1 part – Cardamom
1 part – Turmeric
1 part – Cinnamon
1 part – Kava kava
1 part – Cocoa
1 inch – Vanilla bean – chopped
Powder all herbs except the vanilla bean. Simply mix the herbal powders together and then add the chopped vanilla bean. To use, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of herb per cup, pour just-boiled water over the herbs, and leave a bit of room for milk and honey.
This is more reminiscent of hot cocoa when the cocoa is increased. I find it to be a very soothing mood brightener. It is mellow enough that I enjoy it in the evening, yet I drink it during the day for an extra boost. I also find that it helps with focusing on the positive while adapting to the changing seasons.
I originally learned this method of using herbs from Rosemary Gladstar, and I have taken the idea of herbal candies and run with it! You can make these creamy or crunchy – they have no sugar and can even be made with no sweetener at all. These are very healthy, and full of vitamins, fiber, protein and herbs. Herbal candies are great as a snack and of course they are medicinal too. Children tend to really like them so it’s a great way to administer herbal goodness.
For a while, I stuck with making creamy candies, mostly because they are very simple to prepare. The crunchy candies are really tasty and have an interesting texture so I have been making them lately with good results.
You can use almost any herbal powder to make these as long as you are content with the taste of the final product. Though the other ingredients mask the herbal taste somewhat, the flavours of the herbs still come through.
Marshmallow root is required because its mucilaginous texture helps to bind the other ingredients together. For children’s blends, I like to use a combination of marshmallow, fennel seed, and either rose, a bit of orange peel, or passionflower. For adults, I like to make them a bit more stimulating with maca root, ashwagandha, cocoa, cardamom, and marshmallow root. Pure organic peanut butter is most economical and any other nut or seed butter works too! Many recipes call for tahini, which works, but I find the final taste to be less “candy-like”.
Smooth Creamy Candies- Basic recipe
1 cup – Nut butters
1/2 to 1 cup – Maple syrup or honey
6 Tbsp – Herbal powders
Enough Carob powder to coat
This is the simplest recipe. Just mix the nut or seed butter with syrup and add in powders. As the mixture becomes dough-like, the consistency should be pliable – not sticky or not too dry or crumbly. If you want to make square candies, you have to press the mixture quite firmly into the pan or it tends to fall apart.
To make the candies, press the mixture onto a baking sheet and cut to form squares. Alternatively, roll the mix into balls – the size is up to you. Top or roll the candies in carob powder, refrigerate, and then place in a container when hardened. Store these in the refrigerator where they keep for at least a month. I’ve been tempted to go without the coating of carob, but it really makes the candies tastier and easier to handle.
Creative Crunchy Candies
Making herbal candy is very open-ended and can be flavoured “to taste”. The amounts are for reference only, and I usually find myself working without the measuring cups as I go. For the nuts and seeds, I have used peanuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, and more. If I am using whole nuts, then I combine them with some nut butter to give the mixture enough “stick”. Dried fruits that work well are raisins, apricots, figs and dates.
3/4 cup – Dried fruits
1/2 cup – Nuts and seeds
1/4 cup – Nut butter
1/4 to 1/2 cup – Maple syrup or honey
5 to 6 Tbsp – Herb powders (follow the suggestions above)
1/4 cup – Coconut flakes
1/8 cup – Raw cocoa nibs
Enough Carob powder to coat
Cut the fruits into small pieces. Crush the nuts. Add the other dry ingredients and mix together. Then add the sweetener and nut butter, enough to make the recipe stick together and be dough-like but not sticky. You may have to play with the recipe a bit to get the right texture – measuring out whole nuts and fruits can be subjective. Roll into balls or press out and cut for bars. Coat the candies in carob powder.
Homemade Chai Tea
Chai recipes abound and for a good reason: they are deliciously healthful, warming, soothing, and energizing. I’ve experimented quite a bit with recipes for Chai and have settled on this one… for a while at least. I like to add the eleuthero for an extra slow and mellow kick.
1-2 tsp Black tea per cup
4 parts – Cinnamon sticks
3 parts – Cardamom pods
2 parts – Ginger root (dried)
2 parts – Cloves
3 parts – Eleuthero root
1 part -Vanilla beans
Keep the black tea separate. Use a mortar and pestle to break the herbs up (this is lots of fun and gives you an arm workout, too). Admittedly, I put off using a mortar and pestle until recently. I have a 2 year old son and it is a great way to get him involved in tea making! He did a thorough job of breaking the dried barks and pods down into bits. Using the mortar and pestle was also satisfying for me and something I will use more often. After the herbs are broken up, combine them all together while still keeping the black tea separate.
To make the chai, decoct the spice blend and use a tea ball or bag for the black tea. Keeping them separate prevents the tea leaves from being decocted and becoming bitter, allows you to make it tea-free if desired (when drinking in the evening for instance), and assures that the medicinal components of the barks, roots and seeds are extracted through decoction (infusion won’t do that!). Strain the decoction, add the hot liquid to the cup or tea pot containing the black tea, and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Remove the tea, and then add milk and honey to taste.
While I enjoy making herbal candy all year round, I find these two drinks to be good friends in the cold months. Making herbal candy is also a great kid’s activity and particularly fitting for the Halloween season. These blends can also be helpful in supporting the nervous system during the dark time of the year; to keep the light within shining. This is the time of the year to turn inward and what better to do so than by replacing anxiety and jangled nerves with a relaxed mind and spirit!
Michelle Czolba dedicates her life to connecting with the Earth, spiritual growth, and creativity. She creates natural skin care products with the wild flair and passion of the green Earth and shares her knowledge on her website and blog Wildly Natural Skin Care