10 Ways to Get More From Your Herbs

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Have you ever wanted to incorporate herbs into your daily life, but just don’t know how?  Or maybe you use them regularly, but are looking for different ways to use them?  Either way, this post should help spark your creativity when it comes to using herbs…you don’t always have to brew tea!

Infusions - Okay, so this seems like tea…but its not!  Infusions are much more potent than teas.  They fill the role of a multi-vitamin, providing huge amounts of necessary vitamins and minerals.  Nettles, Red Clover Blossoms and Oatstraw are the main ones that I drink.  You can read more about them here.  To make an infusion, first put a handful of dried herbal material into a quart sized mason jar.  Pour boiling water all the way to the top, cover and let steep at least 4 hours, but overnight is best.

Broth Ramp up the nutritional value of your soups by first brewing up some herbal vegetable broth!  Start saving ends of vegetables (mushroom stems, potato ends, onion ends, etc) and keep them in a freezer bag in the freezer.  Once the bag is full, empty the veggies into a large stock pot and cover with water.  Add in herbs such as: astragalus root, reishi mushroom, black peppercorns, cloves, star anise, dandelion root, burdock root, hawthorn berries….the possibilities are endless!

Add to Grains/Beans when cooking – Whenever I cook beans or grains, I throw in several slices of either Reishi mushroom or Astragalus (remove before serving).  Astragalus and Reishi are both very powerful immune system builders, and Astragalus is an adaptogen, which means it helps the strengthen the body’s resistance to stressors of all kinds.  Another great thing that I do from time to time, is cook Red Clover blossoms in with my rice (don’t remove, eat them!).  For this, just add a handful to the pot and stir in with the rice, then cook as normal.  Red clover is super nutritious, anti-cancer and a great fertility promoter!

Smoothies Powdered herbs make an excellent addition to smoothies and shakes!  Some of my favorites to add in are Astragalus powder, Maca powder, Eleuthero powder, Nettle leaf powder, Slippery Elm powder, Vitex berry powder, Elderberry powder and Hawthorn berry powder.  Check out my favorite smoothie powder recipe!  In that recipe, I use spirulina (blue-green algae) and while I love spirulina, it can be crazy expensive!  I recently have been experimenting with using nettle powder in place of spirulina, and find that it is an excellent substitution!  Nettles are the seaweed of the land anyhow :-)

Add to Spreads, Dips, Sauces…- After reading the first four ways, Astragalus and Eleuthero probably seem like old news.  They are truly wonderful for you, but their effects depend upon consistent use!  So, naturally, I add them to everything :-) Add powders to: hummus, pasta sauce, vegan mayo, vegan “cheese” sauces, guacamole, refried beans, barbecue sauce, chocolate sauce etc.  Essentially if I would put spices in it, I will put one or both of these powders in here.  They do not add a detectable flavor to any of the foods mentioned.  Maca is one that I love to use in desserts, particularly because it imparts a “malt” like flavor to things…yum!

Add to Baked Goods I bet you can guess what herbal powders I’m going to suggest you add to your baked goods.  If you guessed Astragalus and Eleuthero, you would be correct!  When I am adding these powders, I again use them just as I would spices.  There is another wonderful herbal powder for baking, and that would be Slippery Elm bark powder.  When I use this herbal powder, I actually reduce the amount of flour by say, 1/4 cup and use slippery elm powder in place of that flour.  Slippery Elm is very mucilaginous and that in nature makes it a very great aid for keeping treats moist and bound.  It actually used to be one of the main flours used in Europe, back in ancient times! 

Wild Foods Yes, foods that are wild, foods that were not cultivated by man.  In my opinion these foods are crucial for our health, and while we would have been consuming practically nothing but wild foods until the boom of agricultural industry several hundred years ago, we now rarely if ever consume these foods.  As long as you know exactly what you are harvesting is edible (the help of a quality field guide is a must) there is nothing to be afraid of.  The easiest way to eat wild foods is to forage your own backyard (only if you do not spray chemicals!).  Most (unsprayed) yards will have a host of edible plants growing which may include: dandelions, burdock, nettles, red clover, plantain, chickweed, purslane, garlic mustard, cleavers, and so many more.  Pick up a wild foods cookbook, or look up some recipes online.  Make Dandelion fritters  or a yummy salad made with only wild greens! Roasted burdock root, nettle spanakopita, garlic mustard pesto….so many yummy delicious new foods await! 

Flowers – This one goes hand in hand with the wild foods one.  People used to eat flowers (think rose petal jelly, candied violets…) but I rarely come across flowers in food these days.  Based on the doctrine of signatures, one would assume flowers are healing to the reproductive system (as the flower is the reproductive organ of the plant).  Its a far out theory, but perhaps one of the reasons we see such high levels of reproductive issues is the fact that we no longer eat flowers? Maybe not, but either way flowers are a delicious and nutritious food to be eaten!  The easiest way is to throw petals into salads.  Nasturtiums are especially yummy in salads, and you can throw the whole flower in there.  Look up old fashioned flower recipes, or try these yummy sounding squash blossom recipes here and here.

Infuse Beverages – It can be fun to infuse other kinds of beverages with herbs…try adding some to kombucha or wine, removing after a couple of days.  Lavender, hibiscus, sweet woodruff, and ginger are yummy additions.  Also try adding herbs to lemonade, sangria, juices, and sparkling water.  Some of my favorite combinations are lavender lemonade, strawberry mint sparkling water, cinnamon and clove mulled cider, and sage cranberry juice.  Be creative, the possibilities are endless! 

Just straight up eat themThat’s right, just eat them!  You are more than likely already using common cooking herbs on a regular basis, now just try to do it with more intention.  Instead of throwing in whatever spices a recipe calls for, try to figure out why each spice is used.  For instance, the reason why cumin and coriander are often present in bean dishes (think mexican food) is because they are carminative, meaning they help expel gas and are tonic to the digestive system.  Another common flavoring herb is thyme, which is antiseptic and antibacterial.  People would have used these herbs originally to help preserve the food longer!  Every spice has a reason, and it can be very fascinating to get lost in the history.  I highly encourage you to learn about your most used cooking herbs! 

 

So there you have it.  My 10 top ways that I get more from my herbs.  I hope this helps inspire others to start using herbs in their daily lives more, and also to spark some new creative ways to incorporate them!  If you have other ways you like to use herbs, I’d love to hear!  Tell me below in the comments :-)

 

 

Moroccan Mint Tea

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I am from a little town right outside of Portland,OR.  My husband and I had a year or so stint of living there right before we headed east to Iowa.  During that year I worked at a local, organic vegetarian Moroccan restaurant.  Coincidentally the name of the restaurant was Mint Tea.  Needless to say it was their specialty and I learned to make it the traditional way.  I’ve never been to Morocco, but from what I was told this is one of the most commonly imbibed in beverages.  Try it and you will find out why!

Moroccan Mint Tea

1tsp. Gunpowder green tea (optional if you’d like a caffeine free version)
1 handful fresh mint leaves (dried is okay….fresh is far superior!)
1 heaping tsp. sugar (I used agave instead )

Put the sugar/sweetener in the bottom of the teapot.  Add in tea and mint leaves.  Allow tea to steep about 3 minutes.  Remove the tea, leaving the mint leaves to further infuse.

It is traditional to add a splash of Rosewater or Orange Blossom water to the tea.  You can find these things at most grocery stores, ethnic food stores and health food stores.  If you don’t have any, add in some dried/fresh rose petals or drink as is!

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I love drinking this tea on a hot afternoon, while maybe reading a good book….preferably one that takes place near Morocco, so that I can further immerse myself in the spicy and bustling Marrakesh of my imagination :-)

Salad Niçoise

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The summers in Iowa are humid, hot, unpredictable…and did I say humid?  Yesterday I believe the heat index was at 105 degrees.  This means that even though it was “only” 93 degrees, the humidity made it feel 12 degrees hotter.  Yikes!

So what is a hungry Midwesterner to do about dinner?  Salad Niçoise.  BINGO.

It is super filling and full of nourishment, yet still light in the body.  Steamed potatoes and green beans sit next to cucumbers, olives and cherry tomatoes (I didn’t have any, but you should put some on yours!).  The whole salad is topped with a delicious, tangy, Dijon vinaigrette…the true French dressing.

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On to the recipe.

Salad Niçoise 

1 head lettuce, red or green
1 bunch spinach
about 4 small potatoes, cut into quarters and steamed
handful of green beans, steamed (canned will work fine, too)
1/2 cup niçoise olives (or just use black like I did!)
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes (again, I didn’t have any :-( So that is why they are not pictured above)
1 medium cucumber, sliced

2 tsp. French Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. dried thyme
4 tbsp. vinegar (both apple cider and white wine vinegars are excellent here)
6 tbsp. Olive oil

Fill a large salad bowl with lettuce and spinach.  Top with veggies…it doesn’t have to be in separate sections like I did, just throw ‘em on willy nilly if you fancy.  Now to make the dressing.  Whisk together the mustard, garlic, spices and vinegar until well combined.  Slowly drizzle in the oil while stirring.  It will take about a minute of stirring for it to emulsify.  Allow to sit about 10 minutes before tossing on salad.  This allows the flavors to fully release.  Once done, just pour on top of salad and toss.  Munch. Enjoy. Slop up leftover dressing with some yummy, crusty bread.

P.S. This salad makes a wonderful picnic sandwich!  Just scoop out a little of the inside from a loaf of french bread, and stuff the salad into the hole.

:-)

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Classic Fruit Pizza

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Does this dish scream summer potluck to anyone else?  I love it, not only because I am a chocolate chip cookie fiend, but also because it brings me straight back to being a kid…Running through sprinklers, twirling sparklers through the air, and chowing on fruit pizza.

Also, a side note, shouldn’t this dish more honestly be called cookie pizza? I’ve always found the more healthful title a bit misleading… ;-)

Fruit “Cookie” Pizza

1 batch already made chocolate chip cookie dough (while baking, place individual cookie circles extremely close together and pat down to flatten.  You do not have to do it on a circular pan, your pizza will just be square!)
1 8oz. tub vegan cream cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Fruit of your choice (I love bananas, berries, and kiwi!)

Combine the cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar with a fork until fluffy.  Top the chilled cookie dough with the cream cheese mixture, and place fruit on top.  It looks pretty to try and make some sort of pattern, but it really doesn’t make a whole lot of difference in the end!

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