Shaun’s reflections on “Food As Medicine” Class

By: Shaun Van Laarhoven

This past winter I had the opportunity to take Jade Alicandro Mace’s, Community Herbalist “Food As Medicine” three-series class held at Blue Dragon Apothecary in Greenfield, MA. In my “chef role” at Round The Bend Farm I try to prepare nutritious meals for folks who live, work and volunteer on the farm. By preparing healthy meals using farm fresh ingredients I am contributing to their overall health and well-being. My intention in taking the class was to learn how to incorporate more health beneficial herbs/ spices into our diets. Some of the methods taught by the instructor were making various teas, bitters, oxymels, herbal vinegars, tonics, and broths. One of the first things we made in class was a bitter that consisted of rum or vodka (can also use apple cider vinegar instead of alcohol), 2 tablespoons of dried burdock, 1 spoon of orange peel and ½ spoon of fennel. It would be ready for use after a month as a digestive aid that one might spray 20-30 in their mouth minutes before a meal or even use it to redirect someone by having them use a couple of sprays.

“Food as Medicine” encouraged participants to intimately get to know various herbs and spices using several of our senses – sight, taste, smell and touch. Fresh herbs such as basil, rosemary, parsley, sage, and thyme were passed around and we formulated our own thoughts about how to describe them and the beneficial effects that they may have on one’s body. Words such as spicy, invigorating, warm, clearing, bitter, sour, cooling, and salivating were used to describe some of the herbs’ qualities. When we tried Shizandra Berries I think our instructor found various our reactions to be pretty priceless as most of us found them to start out somewhat sweet but quickly change to sour and pungent.

Once we spent time with the various herbs/ spices we discussed our findings and what we thought might be their health benefits of them and ways in which we could use them. For example, one might make an oxymel consisting of local honey, apple cider vinegar and chopped fresh rosemary and add it to a salad dressing. Jade shared a recipe of 1 oz. of water, 10 drops of essential oil, mixed with some witch hazel mixed each time and used as a spray as a helpful remedy for migraines and increasing mental focus. We tried several delicious teas one of which was very soothing and considered a heart opening tea. The tea consisted of coriander, tulsi and rose.

Jade shared a number of different recipes that we got to try in class that we found very tasty. The recipes presented were simple and had some flexibility in regards to the exact measurements and even sometimes ingredients used. Jade prepared an herbal spiced ghee made of local honey and powdered turmeric and suggested they be made into small balls which one could just grab one and eat daily. I have made an herbal spiced ghee since I have been back on the farm and adjusted the recipe to not only include local honey and turmeric but also added ginger, cardamom and cinnamon and we have been using it as a spread on bread.

The instructor shared the benefits for our nervous, digestive, cardiovascular, respiratory, reproductive, immune systems. She provided an informative manual for folks as well as several links and hand outs that I plan to use better serving myself and my teammates’ overall well being. I made a list of various fresh items I have access to on the farm and came up with a list of over 36 items that are beneficial to us. I plan to add making tinctures, oxymels, bitters, teas into my repertoire this coming season if not a few more beneficial skills that I can share with folks.

I could continue on writing about all the things learned in class but will end with a few interesting facts: Did you know that anise is 13x’s sweeter than sucrose? Ancient Romans used Cumin as currency; coriander seeds were found as far back as 7000 BC in King Tut’s tomb; that India has some of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s likely due to their use of turmeric; and that dried herbs are more potent than fresh herbs.

Food Is Medicine – “Beet and Carrot Salad” Recipe- Eating Raw

The days are long and everyone seems to be trying to pack as much as they can into each one. Summer is a very busy time of year and taking advantage of all the flourishing fruits and vegetables can sometimes seem overwhelming. Eating raw can be quick and simple! You don’t even need to turn the stove on so the kitchen stays nice and cool on these hot days. A food is considered raw if it is uncooked or “prepared” below 116°F, anything higher in temperature, food begins to lose its essential nutrients and enzymes.

Raw foods are also extremely high in nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, and fiber. When you increase raw foods in your diet you are lowering your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the body, which can help reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure.

One of our favorite raw food recipes is Dr. Rau’s Shredded Beet and Carrot Salad from “The Swiss Secret to Optimal Health”. We discovered this recipe years ago when we began our annual detox and liver cleanse. This recipe focuses on beets and carrots which have natural sugars that tightly bound in their fibers, which get released slowly into your bloodstream. This in turn helps keep your sugar at an even level for hours, giving you extra energy long after a meal! It also staves off hunger pangs with the slow effective release of sugars into your system. So when you are hungry in the late afternoon, instead of going for that cookie or cup of coffee—whip this recipe up and you’ll feel great! Also remember if your poo is a bit pink or reddish from this meal, don’t be frightened – it’s just the beets!

Shredded Beet and Carrot Salad
4-6 servings

2 small-medium beets

2 large carrots

1 cup of raisins *

1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sunflower (or sesame or olive oil)*

1) Peel the raw beets and carrots. Using large holes of a hand grater or a food processor to shred vegetables.
2) Mix all ingredients together and serve right away or store in refrigerator for up to 4 days.

* these are our additions and not to be substituted if you are doing the liver cleanse or detox in Dr. Rau’s book

** Remember in our opinion it is best to have organic or vegetables grown chemical free, like we do at Round the Bend Farm, to optimize your health.

Food is Medicine – Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles – (Urtica dioca)

One of the greatest revelations I had when I started working at RTB was realizing that stinging nettles weren’t only edible, but were delicious and highly nutritious!  What I once considered a pesky and painful weed is actually a plant that I have come to honor and cultivate in my own home garden.

Herbal medicine often uses the term depurative to describe herbs that improve detoxification, aid elimination and reduce the metabolic wastes that tend to accumulate in our bodies.  Nettles are one of natures best examples of a depurative herb.  For centuries they have been used to purify and cleanse the blood because they are full of iron, which makes them an ideal herb for blood tonics and treating mild anemia.  They are also used extensively for treating allergies (hay fever and hives) and asthma associated with allergies, as they can reduce the amount of histamine produced by the body in response to an allergen.  Nettles are high in vitamins A, B and C and proteins.  This wonder plant provides additional health benefits in the form of critical trace minerals.  As noted by herbalist Susan Weed, nettles contain “anti-cancer selenium, immune-enhancing sulphur, memory-enhancing zinc, diabetes-chasing chromium, and bone-building boron.”

This single-stemmed, perennial plant is one of the first spring greens to sprout up from our frosted fields.  Nettles spread by seeds and creeping roots.  As a member of the Urticaceae family, nettles have the unlovable trait of little hairs on the underside of the leaves and stems that function like a thousand tiny needles that inject a stinging, formic acid and histamine into your skin.  But don’t let that scare you away from this medicinal treasure.  You just have to treat it with respect, wear gloves, and carry a big knife (or scissors) when harvesting them.  As Rosemary Gladstar warns, “Be careful while handling ‘mother nettle,’ who will sting right up to the time she’s cooked.”  We have to admire a plant that has created such a reliable defense mechanism for itself!  Nettles can be cooked by blanching, steaming, sautéing or adding them into soups or stir-fry.  Basically, they can be substituted in any recipe that you would normally use spinach or kale.  At RTB, we love them sautéed with garlic and farm fresh eggs!

Nettles are considered one of the most nutrient dense plants you can eat.  Check this out – “1 cup (89g) of blanched nettles will give you 428mg of calcium, which is just over 40% of the RDI (at 1,000mg/day) for adults. It will also give you 1.46mg of iron, 8% of the RDI for adult women, and 51mg of magnesium, about 16% of the RDI for adult women [1, 2].”  Nettles are an outstanding nourisher for our liver, kidneys and adrenals.  Nettles reduce inflammation and are great for cleansing the skin and body of waste by improving the excretion of urine via the kidneys.  Equally impressive, nettles are high in minerals that assist the adrenals by providing the necessary hormones that support an overworked nervous system.  All too often we are hearing about adrenal fatigue in our society; the unfortunate result of living our lives in a constant state of stress.  Stress causes our adrenals to continually pump-out a variety of hormones to maintain a higher state of awareness as a response to stress and the chronic busyness of our lives.  This is akin to the flight-or-fight response our primitive ancestors experienced when hunting or being hunted.  This important response is meant for short, timely durations not as the norm of daily living.   Adrenal fatigue is often characterized by depression, irritability, anxiety, a weakened immune system, and fatigue.  Incorporating nettle tea or nettle herbal infusions may be an easy, healthy way we can slow down and take care of our bodies.

Remember to only harvest nettles from pesticide-free locations.  Cutting them back throughout the season will encourage new growth.  We encourage you to eat them as much as you can while they are in season and don’t forget to harvest and dry some so you can enjoy nettle tea all winter long!

To get the most out of your nettles, try making a nettle herbal infusion.  Use approximately 1 ounce of dried nettles, pour a quart of boiling water over and mix, cover and steep for a minimum of four hours or overnight.

by Liz Wiley


  1. USDA NATIONAL NUTRIENT DATABASE. (2016). Full report (all nutrients): 35205, Stinging Nettles, blanched (Northern Plains Indians). RETRIEVED FROM HTTP://NDB.NAL.USDA.GOV/NDB/FOODS/SHOW/8432?FGCD=&MAN=&LFACET=&COUNT=&MAX=&SORT=&QLOOKUP=&OFFSET=&FORMAT=FULL&NEW=&MEASUREBY=

Food is Medicine – Bone Broth

Bone-Broth-3-2I know what you are thinking; here it comes again, another blog about bone broth.  Why is this stuff suddenly the rage?  Why is everyone suddenly so enamored with this stuff?  And how is it any different from regular broth or stock?  Well, these are all good questions and hopefully, this Bone Broth blog will demystify these questions and more.

First, Bone Broth might seem trendy and the latest food frenzy, but it is far from new.  Bone broth is considered a traditional food which means is goes way back and has nourished many generations of our families.  They were considered the norm when our ancestors were accustomed to cooking and using the whole animal rather than just the most desired cuts purchased from the supermarket.  Traditional foods, as our ancestor knew them, were unprocessed, unrefined, and all natural.  Unfortunately, with the industrialization of food, traditional foods have nearly disappeared from the American table.  Bone Broth is certainly one worthy of a come-back because it is easy to make, relatively inexpensive, highly nutritious and will make your cooking taste even more delicious.

 The main differences between broth, stock and bone broth are the cooking times and what gets released from the bones over the course of a longer, slower simmering time required for bone broth.  Strictly looking at cooking times, a regular broth is usually somewhere between 45 minutes and 2 hours and stocks tend to be simmered a bit longer; 2-4 hours. Bone Broth simmering time is off the charts; 12-24 hours or more.  The cooking time will vary depending on what type of bones you choose to use.  For instance, poultry will take less time than cattle or bison.  Using bones that have previously been roasted will also enhance the flavor of your stocks or broths.

Whatever your desired result –broth, stock or bone broth, selecting high-quality bones from animals that have been grass-fed and pastured are key to making the most nutritious (and delicious) product.  Standard broths and stock still have many of the health benefits outlined below but tend to be lighter in flavor.  The long simmering times of bone broth are said to release rich amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and valuable trace minerals, as well as glucosamine and chondroitin which may help to alleviate joint pain.  Bone broth is also rich in gelatin.  Gelatin is largely composed of the amino acids, glycine and proline.  Glycine supports the body’s detoxification process and is used in the synthesis of hemoglobin.  Proline is needed for the production of collagen and cartilage.  However, gelatin’s value is not just limited only to cartilage and bones.  It also supports the skin, digestive tract, immune system, heart and muscle.  If you are wondering if your bone broth contains a good amount of gelatin, place it in your refrigerator for a couple of hours.  The consistency should become very gelatinous, like Jell-O.

While its health benefits alone should make you a fan of bone broth, it also adds exceptional depth to the flavor of your food.  It can create the basis of sauces or gravies, be added to soups, or used to sauté/roast vegetables.  So let’s hear it for bone broth!

Bone Broth Recipe:
2 lbs. bones
1-2 organic leeks, chopped
2 organic carrots, chopped
2 organic celery stalks, chopped
Parsley, Rosemary or whatever you have on hand
1 Tbl. Peppercorns
Sea salt to taste, added at the end

Put all the ingredients in a large pot of water and bring to a strong boil.  Then reduce the heat to a simmer and leave it simmering for the remaining time.  You may need to use a large spoon to skim off any foam that accumulates in the initial few hours of the simmering process.  Some folks suggest adding 2 Tbls. of Apple Cider Vinegar to the ingredients, as the acid may help leach out the minerals from the bones.  Feel free to add or omit any of the above veggies or herbs; they just add flavor to the final product and are especially nice if you are planning to drink your bone broth as a daily herbal tonic.  Once your bone broth is completed, strain the bones, vegetables and herbs through a fine steel strainer and cool completely.  Bone broth will keep well up to 5 days in the refrigerator or you can freeze it for later use.  I like to freeze some in ice cube trays that I can easily access for a quick tea when added to a cup of hot water or add a few to a pan of sautéing veggies.


post by Liz Wiley

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