Learning about Herbs

The past few months have been a crash course in learning some really neat herbal tools. Nutrition and nutritional products have always been my primary focus but the past few weeks have involved learning some basic herbal tools. I’m in the midst of an herbal training course and that has been helpful. Mostly though I’m just in awe of how user friendly, tasty and effective their addition to our lives has been.

www.beeyoutiful.com has been sharing a series of recipes that are pretty awesome. A few of them are mine and some of them are the creations of fellow Beeyoutiful Employees.

Below is a personal favorite. Adults and children benefit from it equally. We use it when there is a cold on the loose and have found it particularly beneficial with coughs or body aches and pains that are based in any sort of inflammation.

Liquid Gold Coconut Milk

Liquid Gold Coconut Milk

Liquid Gold Coconut Milk

  • 1 can of Coconut Milk
  • 1 and 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. raw honey or maple syrup
  • Tiny piece of fresh peeled ginger root (or 1/4 tsp. dried ginger powder)
  • Tiniest pinch of cayenne (generally omitted for children)

Add all ingredients into a small sauce pan. Use an immersion blender to thoroughly mix all ingredients together while it gently warms on medium heat (Or blend at high speed in a regular blender before heating in a pan). Serve and drink immediately.

A new term I’ve learned is fomentation. According to dictionary.com a fomentation is  and means:


encouragement of discord, rebellion, etc.; instigation.

the application of warm liquid, ointments, etc., to the surface of thebody.

the liquid, ointments, etc., so applied.
In the herbal world it refers to the application of warm liquid, usually a strong herbal tea like infusion that is held against the area that needs attention.
We’ve just started to use fomentations for sore throats and on lungs with severe congestion.
Lung & Throat Fomentation
1/4 cup dried Lobelia
1/4 cup dried Mullein
1/4 dried Plantain
Steep herbs in 10 oz of boiling water for 10 to 20 minutes. Strain through a piece of cheesecloth or coffee filter. Discard herbs and save tea. Soak a piece of plain flannel or cotton cloth in herbal tea infusion and wrap around throat or lungs. Leave for 10 minutes and replace with another piece of soaked cloth. Can be applied and used as often as needed.
What is your favorite way to use herbs?
Steeping pitcher

Steeping pitcher

Rosemary Lemonade: Simple and Delicious

Rosemary Lemonade

Rosemary Lemonade

A favorite beverage in our house is fresh lemonade. The tart sour of fresh lemon juice mixes beautifully with the sharp sweetness of Beeyoutiful’s debittered liquid Stevia. A really nice treat graduates to something bordering on the divine when a sprig of fresh Rosemary is added. Allowing the lemonade to steep with the rosemary for 30 min or more gives it such a unique and delicious flavor! The longer the Rosemary is left in the Lemonade the richer the flavor becomes. Not only does the Rosemary add an amazing flavor you get all of the health benefits that Rosemary brings to the table as an herb as well. 

Want to take it to the next level? Mix 50/50 Black Mango tea with this Rosemary Lemonade and serve over ice. You are officially ready for front porch sitting on a warm spring or summer day. Enjoy!


How to Properly Prepare Southern Sweet Tea

As I’ve said before somewhere on this blog, I am from the south. GA to be precise. Anywhere you go in GA and ask for Tea the  default tea you will be served is sweet. Often times sickly, syrupy, thick kind of sweet. This is what I grew up with and considered normal. Imagine my shock and dismay to discover upon moving to NM that they don’t know what Sweet Tea is. Tea is Tea is Tea is Tea with nothing in it and that is the way they serve it. Upon my hopeful inquiries about “Sweet tea?” they helpfully deliver packets of sugar that they then expect me to pour over the top of my iced tea and consider it sweet. Since when does Sugar dissolve in ice liquid???  It doesn’t. You can stir and stir and stir and yet there will still be that little stubborn pile of sugar piled in the bottom of the glass. Even if you manage by some small miracle and a half an hour of vigorous stirring to dissolve a goodly portion of it into the tea the flavor just won’t be the same as properly prepared Sweet Southern Tea.

With an emphasis on properly prepared here I would like to defend Sweet Tea. Good Southern Sweet tea isn’t too sweet. It should not remind you of drinking syrup. It should be just sweet enough to have fully enhanced the entire flavor of the tea itself which puts the process of making it more into the realms of an art form than a science. It should also be a bit strong and concentrated since it is designed to be served over ice. The ice of course has a diluting effect and if one isn’t careful can throw off an otherwise perfectly made batch of Sweet Tea.

Let’s start at the very beginning…The only good place to start! (Sung in my best Julie Andrews Imitation Voice)

Water. You want this filtered or distilled. Tea seems particularly vulnerable to the usually subtle flavor differences of tap water versus purified water. Go with the pure. You want the tea to be all that the tea can be unimpeded by chemical flavors and impurities. If we wanted a hint of chlorine we’d add a drop or two to our finished product. The second thing with water is to make sure it is hot enough. You want this boiling. Not simmering. Not letting loose the occasional random bubble from the bottom of the pot. No, it needs to have just barely hit a rolling boil and then snatch if off the stove. I can’t tell you why but this makes a difference. Water over-boiled tastes flat, water not hot enough won’t bring out a full enough flavor from the tea so it needs to be “just right” for optimal results. And yes, this does result in a good Sweet Tea Craftsman hovering over a the pot of water so they can be there when the rolling boil is achieved.

The other crucial starting point is the tea itself. What kind of tea is used. My personal favorite brand is Lipton. Lipton tea may not be certified organic but is grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals. They now offer a “line” of Organic Tea that was the same exact cost as their normal tea in the last place I saw it. That is because it’s all grown on the same tea plantations that have never used chemicals. I try to avoid the “Fast Brew” or “De-Caf” or any other variations that are now available these days. The flavor is not quite right every time so I gave up on those and just stick to the straight up, plain, original Lipton Black Tea. For a Gallon of tea I use 5 to 6 Teabags. These should be shed from their paper packages, tear the paper tags off and their strings tied together into a bundle. This helps later when trying to fish them out.

I prefer Steeping in a Glass or Ceramic container of some sort. Steeping in plastic unleashes a host of chemicals from the plastic into your tea and the health nut in me tries to avoid that whenever possible. As you dump the boiling water on top of the tea bags do not direct the stream straight on top of the bags. Bags will break open and spill their contents everywhere. Ideally you would pour the water in, or boil the water in an open pot to start out with and set the tea bags gently on the top of the water. The hot water quickly sucks them in and the rich caramel color begins to seep into the water. Steep time is vital. Too much and it’s bitter. Not long enough and it’s weak and flavorless. Anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes is perfection in my experience. 3 Minutes results in no bitterness at all, The beginnings of bold flavor developing but nothing too strong. The full 5 Minute Steep should result in a bold flavor but not be long enough for things to get bitter. With experience under your belt you may be able to eventually smell if the tea is starting to get bitter or not. I can now take a quick whiff and know when its right on the edge of bitterness so I push the limits a little bit these days in order to get the boldest flavor possible.

When you pull the bags out, presuming it has not steeped long enough to be bitter, squeeze the tea bags out with a wooden spoon pressed against a small plate or bowl. Or against the sides of the container you steeped in. The best flavor is held right around the ground up bits of tea leaves so this adds an important extra boost to the finished product.

I grew up making Sweet Tea with white sugar. Back then it was White Sugar, Brown Sugar or Powdered Sugar. It was a lot harder to get your hands on the other sugar options we have today. These days I use Rapadura or other forms of low heat dried cane syrup. Un-refined. To me personally this adds a whole new dimension of flavor to the Sweet Tea Drinking Experience. Purists however may still prefer the cleaner, less complex flavor of white sugar. Some will tell you to put 1 Cup of Sugar per Gallon of tea. Other’s will tell you to put 2 full cups. If you prefer things to be sweeter you can certainly go with the full cup. I tend to get away with a bit less and now go for 3/4 or 2/3 cup of sugar. One way I’m able to cut back on the sugar without compromising taste is to add a pinch of Sea Salt and a pinch of Baking Soda. Yes, you read that correctly. Baking Soda does…something. I can’t even describe what. But it helps to make Sweet Tea Magic. I don’t know if this is a known rule taught in Cooking School’s or anything like that but I have learned it over the years. In the presence of salt sweet things taste sweeter. You can get away with less sugar if a pinch of salt is added. The pinch of salt is so very little no one can detect the salt presence but it manages to make the sweet taste of the tea even more sweet nevertheless.

Vigorously stir the sugar, sea salt and baking soda together in the still-hot tea concentrate. Add ice until the Gallon Container is full (something that won’t crack with rapid temp changes!) Give it one final quick stir and pour into a tall glass. ENJOY! A sprig of mint can be added along with a few crushed mint leaves at the bottom of the glass if so desired.

Despite how complicated I made it sound Sweet Tea is one of the easiest things to make in a kitchen. =D My Dad taught me how to make it when I was quite young. I’ve modified how I do it since then but the underlying principles are the same. That is a man that truly enjoys properly made Sweet Tea. I’ll have to let him try my modified version one of these days and see what he thinks.

Enjoy that tall cold glass of tea as Summer comes to a close!

TeaTrap AKA Teavana

I love tea. And Coffee. But mostly tea. It’s so difficult to make a perfect cup of smooth, low acid, not bitter coffee that glides down without having to be doused in flavorings, syrups, cream etc. to be delicious. Although the hobby of pursuing coffee perfection is still alive and well in my life; tea is my constant, dependable, comfortable companion.  A dear friend first introduced me to the tradition, art, and enjoyment of a fine cup of tea years ago while I was still in my teens. Her legacy of tea enjoyment has lived on in my life and is now something I enjoy on an almost-daily-basis with both TheMan and Doodles.

Tea pardons a multitude of brewing sins. Tea comes in such a vast array of flavors, packages, mixes, blends, there is truly something for everyone. I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for the poor souls who’s only experience with tea is limited to Lipton and perhaps the chance encounter once upon a time with their Great Aunt’s favorite Earl Gray.

Personally I love the adventure of flavors that comes with tea tasting/testing. Experimenting with loose vs. bagged. Pre-mixes vs. making my own. Pretty much the whole she-bang. I’ve bought teas by the lb. from such wonderful on-line businesses as http://www.morethanalive.com. I’ve tried every tea blend Traditional Medicinals makes, picked my favorites and keep them stocked in my cabinet. I am three brands away from having tried every single brand of pre-mixed Chai I’ve ever seen (barring the ones that say “artificial flavorings” cuz that just doesn’t count as real tea in my book).

With my ever increasing tea experience it was time for an excursion into the holy-land of Tea. That place you smell before you see. The one that gives out free samples of it’s wares right outside it’s door because nothing sells truly good tea better than the tea itself. What is this place you might ask? This place of wonderous free-samples-of-tea? The sign says Teavana. Set back at the very end of the store, past stone age relic-esque cast iron tea pots, and the more modern looking tea pots (all with price tags large enough to make your wallet shudder) is The Wall. The Wall is literally floor to ceiling shelves supporting large containers of…Yup, You guessed it. Tea. But not just any tea. Only the finest (so says the brochure). Supposedly composed of only the top 10% of teas from around the world those boxes house an olfactory journey that will take you into indescribable realms. High on the scent of vanilla with warm undertones of caramel, carried along on a happy day dream punctuated with peach, apricot and ginger the cleverly trained spell casters, er, store staff coax their unsuspecting victims, that is to say, customers into a dreamy haze in which the question of whether or not to purchase vanishes in light of the more pressing and urgent decisions of black vs. white, Oolong vs. Green, or Mate, Herbal or Roobois for the base of the heavenly blends they’ll create just for you. Right before your very eyes. Or, more importantly, noses. In this state, and in light of the (out-of-this-real world of inflation that we live in) marvelous prices I had more recently been paying for tea at the a fore mentioned website of http://www.morethanalive.com it is little wonder that my brain made the very reasonable assumption that the prices posted clear as day below the boxes were based upon pounds. Even at the assumed base of price per pound my frugal side winced a bit at some, cringed at others, shrugged and made peace on a handful of others before deciding upon which tea(s) to take home.

Having already decided to treat ourselves to some “Special tea” after entering the tea lair my friend and I put our not-so-clear by this point heads together and made our selections. Promising ourselves that we would just get a small bag of each to sample before coming back to get some in greater quantities. Positively giddy in anticipation we watched as they carefully measured out, weighed and mixed each of our custom tea’s. Clutching our little bags we waited in line to check out discussing which tea we would try first upon our arrival home. I don’t remember which one of us exactly first registered the total on the cash register. But I do clearly recall the mutual alarm in the looks we flashed each other. Our price assumptions were horribly, terribly wrong. Those were not price per POUNDS it was Prices per OUNCE. Oh yes, for certain types of the top ten percent of all tea in the world it is sold by the ounce for outrageous sums of money. Thankfully we had been trying to be semi frugal, even when assuming it was price per pound so the damage was not nearly as bad as it could have been. But still. For a few, very few ounces of tea the total loomed before us. It was fifty something-ish dollars before taxes. Horror dawned on us as we realized that this was not an item one could simply back out of purchasing at the last minute. A minor inconvenience for some staff person to re-stock. Oh no, nobody could re-stock these. These were our custom blends. That they had mixed for us only minutes before. Potential embarrassment and shame looming we forked over our money and walked out in stunned silence.

Back in the relative safety of the main walk-way of the mall with it’s varied vendors hawking hand creams from Israel and foreign language study programs my friend finally found her voice. “We tell no one. No one is ever to know what we just spent on TEA.” I swallowed hard and tried to mentally calculate how many months of skipping out on the occasional coffee treat I would have to go through in order to make up the blow to my budget that the mockingly light bags of tea had dealt. Numbly nodding I agreed to her command. Yes, it was best that we simply keep to ourselves the fact that we failed to notice the apparently also as obvious as the nose on your face “oz” markings and had been, in effect, conned into buying a three tiny bags of tea for a not so tiny bit of cash.

As time has passed however, and I stopped blushing every time I saw the little bags of tea hovering together like orphans in my freezer I decided it was time to pass along our story to others. There might be some other poor soul making her pilgrimage to that place. Lest she get swept away on the aromas they so carefully fan in your face as we did, it is only right that I throw myself under the bus of public humiliation and share our story. Technically since I didn’t give the exact total and my friend is still completely anonymous I haven’t breached her forcefully issued edict. I’m pretty sure she’ll still be fairly flustered and maybe even a little indignant when she reads this though.

In honor of finally making this story public I made a pot of the Peach, Apricot and Ginger black tea we bought. As the smell as rich as the flavor of the tea itself washed over me I felt all residual self inflicted recrimination melt away and the internal monologue began.

Hot Cup of Tea

Hot Cup of Tea

“Little wonder really… (inhale)…Maybe it was even worth it…(tiny sip)…(inhale)…It did only take me six months to repair the damage to my grocery budget…(inhale…happy sigh)…I bet even TheFriendWhoShallNotBeNamed might think it’s worth it now. It did result in a great story. An experience really. We can tell our Grandchildren we bought __ ounces of tea for $5____ Of course by then $5____ will be worth about fifty something pennies if inflation keeps up….I’ll just fix her a pot of this and serve it before I show her the blog post…(Sip sip)…Nobody can get too mad while inhaling this…and actually drinking it! Oh! the flavor…Yes, it was an experience alright, one of those experiences and memories that money just can’t buy…”

Even though my personal experience with Teavana left my wallet wondering what hit it I still highly recommend it for anbyody that does truly love tea. Save your pennies, or dollars even, go in knowing the difference between pounds and ounces and enjoy the experience. Their well trained staff can literally invent you a tea if you just describe to them what you love. It’s an indulgence every tea lover should experience at least once in their lives.

The rest of the time the frugality and quality of http://www.morethanalive.com’s teas are more than tea-bliss enough for me. My budget is a lot happier too.

Doodles enjoying herbal tea and a Cookie/scone

Doodles enjoying herbal tea and a Cookie/scone

Spicy Chai: The Antidote for Cold Days

A while ago my Sister in Law and I were trying to figure out some yummy, healthy winter drinks.  We both love Chai but were loath to use the pre-mixes.  She provided a really fantastic from scratch recipe and we ended up making some modifications to it and printing it in one of our catalogs. Since then I’ve tweaked it even more and it’s now a much spicier version than what it was before.  It is hands down the most flavorful, warm, spicy-warm-you to your toes drink I’ve ever had.

Spicy Chai Tea

– 4 to 6 Cups Filtered Water
– 4 Tablespoons loose leaf black tea (the stronger the better!) Can also use regular Lipton tea bags, I get the best results if I use 6.
– 3-4 Tablespoons Evaporated Cane Juice or Rapadura. One can cheat and use white sugar. I have also used a combination liquid, debittered Stevia, honey and Sorgum with some success. They add their own slants of flavor though so make sure you like the sweetener before you use it.
– 1 large Toe Fresh Ginger peeled then grated or chopped (grated is stronger/spicier, chopped is slightly milder)
– 4 cinnamon sticks (I frequently add more)
– 4 cloves
– 10 Whole Allspice (Can be cracked with a mortar and pestle to release more flavor)
– 1 tsp. Cardamom (lightly crushed with a mortar and pestle to release the flavor)
– 1 tsp. ground Nutmeg
– Pinch Tumeric (not too much of this, can throw the whole balance flavor off for the entire drink)

– Pinch of black pepper

– Small (very small) dash of Cayenne. Can be left out or replaced with a tiny bit of mild red chile pepper for that hint of warm-roasted spice flavor.

– 2 tsp. Vanilla
– Cream or Milk to taste. Can also use Coconut Milk for a delicious tropical variation!

Add water, Rapadura or other sweetener and spices to a 2 to 3 quart pan and bring to a slow boil. After about 45 minutes (the longer, the stronger the spice taste) minutes, add loose tea or bags and continue to simmer as long as appropriate, 5 minutes or more.

Remove from heat and strain through a tight mesh strainer into a 4 cup measuring cup. Stir in vanilla. Some of the liquid may have boiled away. Add back enough hot water to make 4 cups of tea. Serve with 1/4 cup warm cream or milk in each cup.

Trouble Shooting Tips: If it tastes “watery” consider adding a bit of extra powdered cinnamon and ginger. Taste after each addition. If all the flavors don’t seem to be blending very well consider adding extra sweetener. Sweetness is what binds the whole thing together, without enough of that you end up with a bunch of solo flavors competing with each other and tasting more than a bit out of tune. If there is no tea flavor whatsoever consider a strong tea or steeping longer. The bolder the tea flavor the more ideal it is for this recipe.  If the overall thing is just too “bold” with the spice flavors after adding extra sweetener and adding cream consider adding another splash of Vanilla. It can be that calm, soothing note that can make the whole thing become a beautiful medley on the tongue. Keep in mind that because you are using whole herbs and fresh ingredients flavor variations from one batch to another will happen. Don’t be afraid to tweak it around from one batch to another to get it just the way you like it.

Extra can be made up in it’s “concentrated” version and stored in the fridge to be re-heated and served later. This makes a nice and convenient treat to make ahead of time. I also consider this to be an immune boosting beverage if the sugar free versions of it are made because most of the spices used are incredibly beneficial to the body in fighting colds, flu and other winter ailments.

Let me know what you think if you make it!