Category Archives: cayenne

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Fire Cider, and other stories.

The other morning I wandered out onto the stoop and the entire city was enshrouded in a blanket of fog. I ran inside to grab the essentials: slippers, hat, coffee and blanket, and then I sat on the edge of my stoop, on the edge of the world, watching the mysterious shapes appear and re-appear, until the sun had come up a bit more, and the fog had burned off, and everything was returned to normal.

Such mornings remind me of my childhood, in a place that had major seasons. Southern California has seasons too: if you were to take a walk up into the hills, sycamore leaves would be all over the paths, the skeletons of milk thistles and goldenrod would stand out against the brown grass tinged with a slight frost, and the earth is that deep, dark, sodden brown that only happens after a few good rains. There are seasons in the hills. Its just that, being from the UK, I want more. And at this time of year, when friends are sending me pictures of first, second and third snows. When leaves are frosting over and wood fires are being burned, I start to feel a little ungrateful towards the constant sunlight. There are, however, solutions to self-imposed misery over something so silly. Namely, booking a trip north for me and Jam. And while it won’t be to the snow this time, it will at least be to somewhere cold, incredibly beautiful, and very stormy (Big Sur). And I’m excited. I’m also excited about being out in the desert for Christmas. There will be trips up to the snow, and trips to gather some of my favourite plants, and trips to hang out in my favourite canyons, and it will be action-packed and very exciting.

In the mean time, a few things have been happening. The first being that I have been inundated with business for the holiday season (I am slightly overwhelmed with joy and gratefulness about said inundation). The second being that chanterelle season has hit Northern California so my foraging friends and I are getting out into the mountains at every possible moment because its not long before they come up here. A few heavy rains are a good sign, as are dropping temperatures and heavy marine layers. My searches take me further and further afield, setting off into the wilderness at a ninety-degree angle from my usual trails. Herbalist Paul Bergner talked once about how we expand when we leave the trails in our lives, and I can’t help but think of him as I set off, big stick in hand, into the tall grasses and undergrowth. The third is that people are getting sick. This herbal elf has been making house calls, with a basket of elderberry elixir, lung grunge elixir, diaphoretic tea and, my new favourite, Fire Cider. Fire Cider is basically just spicy-stuff-infused apple cider vinegar. But man, let me tell you, if you have a blocked nose, or congested sinuses, of if you feel like you’re starting to come down with something, it’ll clear you up right away, while making you go ‘WOOOOOOOHOOOO!’ after you’ve swallowed.

The recipe is simple, and you can also alter it as you see fit: Juliet Blankespoor of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine makes a roselle-hibiscus one that looks divine. If you hate horseradish leave it out, if you love horseradish, add more. If you want it super spicy, add more habaneros. If you’re a vampire, leave out the garlic. Really, this is a basic structure and you’re welcome to do with it what you will. And as for what to do with it… by the spoonful works well if you’re coming down with something. I leave it on the counter and take a swig when I pass by.

Fire Cider

1 big bottle apple cider vinegar

8 cloves garlic

1 onion

20 sprigs thyme

1/2 cup chopped horseradish root

5 chopped habanero (or jalapeno) peppers

2 tb turmeric (dried works fine)

1/4 cup chopped ginger
1 cup honey (I used echinacea-infused honey, but you can use any type of honey you like)

 

Other things I used which you might or might not have access to:

calamus root (1/4 cup)

white fir needles (1/2 cup) (you can sub pine, spruce or any kind of fir)

yarrow flowers (handful)

 

Using a 1/2 gallon mason jar or something equivalent, chop up and throw in all the ingredients except the honey (using any additions or leave-outs you want), then cover with vinegar. Shake well, then leave somewhere prominent for a month. Prominent so that you notice it, and shake it when you notice it. After a month, strain out all the solids, then taste it. Is it spicy enough? Garlicy enough? Flavourful enough? If so, stir in the honey and bottle it. If not, tinker with it as you see fit, then add the honey when its ready.

 

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Winter warmers

I remember when I was young, a friend asked me if I’d rather live somewhere that was too  hot, or too cold. I thought about it long and hard, and finally decided “Too cold.” “Why,” she asked me (we lived in Scotland– nobody in their right mind would choose cold over hot). “Because you can always add more clothes, but you can’t take off your skin without extreme pain.”

I kinda had a point; I still feel the same way over 20 years later.

I don’t like being cold. My joints stiffen up, my body starts shivering uncontrollably, and I just don’t really want to move very much. I’d give a small toe in exchange for a fireplace in the winter. And I live in Southern California. Luckily, there are things that can help keep the body warm even if you think your bones are going to freeze and shatter.

Ginger: ginger is fantastic. It warms the stomach, calms digestion, and really gets the digestive fire going. It also stimulates circulation, and helps to keep you warm in the winter. Use it in teas, in food, or make a herbal oil with it, and massage it into frozen limbs in front of the fireplace. If you have one. Chop ginger into your bath water, along with a few cloves. Add powdered ginger to your pumpkin spiced chai. There are many things that you can do with this wonderful medicinal herb to benefit from it during the cold months.

Cayenne: circulatory stimulant galore. Put some cayenne in a tub of water and soak your feet. Your feet will absorb the cayenne, and your body will be warm within minutes. It relieves pain, moves energy and stimulates your body to start heating from the inside. Put cayenne in your food, or in your hot drinks. Make your own tincture, or make a herbal oil to rub into your feet. Keep in mind that a little goes a long way! I accidentally put too much cayenne tincture in a friend’s formula, and I think her tongue just about exploded (lucky it was a friend!).

Cardamom: cardamom is such a wonderful tummy warmer and digestive aid. It is also fantastic at removing dampness from the body. Dampness manifests as bogginess– heavy limbs, cloudy thoughts, low energy, feeling kinda blah. Look at your tongue– is it swollen and greasy looking? Is it cold and wet outside? Add cardamom to your morning coffee– the combined effects of the coffee (which drains damp) and cardamom (which drains damp) really help to move that bogginess.

Clove: a wonderful carminative herb that also helps with dampness and digestion. Throw some in your bath, or a pinch of clove in your tea. Have some spiced wine after dinner.

Cinnamon: is it a coincidence that cinnamon is used in so many winter desserts? I think not! Cinnamon is a fantastic nourisher. It warms the digestive centre, nourishes the fluids in the body, and helps to drain dampness.

Garlic: Garlic is considered to be a hot herb. We have it on hand at all times, just because we love the taste of it so much, but during flu season, and during the winter, it’s even more valuable because it is so lovely and hot! When we are starting to come down with something, we often have a dinner of chicken broth with raw garlic on toast. Of course, nobody will come near you for days, but it’s worth it to be cold-free!

Chicken soup: Though not technically a ‘herb’, chicken soup is one of my favourite warming remedies. One of the reasons that it works so well for colds and flus is that it’s diaphoretic– it heats the body from the centre, which causes you to sweat.

Orange peel: Moves stagnant energy, gently heating, drains damp.

Interested in how to incorporate some of these herbs into foods? Butter, at Hunger and Thirst, has written about a delicious warming broth.

This post is shared at Fight back Friday