Category Archives: Extracts

Instant Gratification: Dried Tea Powders

The title of this article may be misleading, because there is really nothing quick about the procedure I am about to describe. It is however, a valuable way to quickly incorporate more herbs and foods into your diet, once you get through the process,  which I will explain below.

I first came across a recipe for dried tea extracts on Christopher Hobbs website and as I am always looking for  new projects, I decided to give it a whirl.   The first time I did this I did it with nettles looking for a tolerable way to choke them down.  I’ve messed with the recipe a bit after a lot of trial-and-error experimentation and having a chance to pick Thomas Easley’s brain about the process at TWHC.

6 cups of water: 3 cups of chopped fresh herbs


8 cups water: 2 cups ground dried herb

Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer it until the liquid has been reduced by 1/3 . This takes a long time-maybe give yourself a facial or start another project because you are going to need 2-4 hours depending on the day.  Strain the liquid and allow it to cool. Press the marc (I used my tincture press), then weigh it after pressing. Return 1/2 to 1/3 of the solids to the liquid. I blend the mixture with my immersion blender at this point. I  also add 1/4 cup of astragalus powder at this point.

dried tea extractBring this liquid to a boil and simmer some more. When the mixture has reduced by again 1/3 and become sort of a slurry, I dissolve one tablespoon of arrowroot powder in some cold water and blend it in. This step is optional, but helps to keep the slurry from running off the dehydrator’s fruit leather tray or sticking to it.

Dry this at 100ºF to 120ºF until the mixture becomes brittle and then break it in to pieces and grind them into a fine powder.  I used a coffee grinder and then sifted the powder.  If you don’t grind them, you can suck on these like hard candy. I am storing that in the back of my mind for future experimentation.

It is true that a single herb dried extract of nettles might be easier to choke down in this form (yes, I am a bad herbalist who doesn’t like nettle infusions) but why would I do this when I could just make have a nice nettle chai, or maybe a creamy nettle soup that I would actually enjoy? Keep in mind,  I think herbal preparations should actually taste good. Especially if you are trying to get them into children, or people whose taste buds have grown accustomed to the standard American diet.

Next,  I tried a hawthorn chai blend, but I found that the final product didn’t retain enough flavor even though I used a goodly amount of corrigent spices.   I decided that I don’t think I would recommend this method of herbal preparation for  aromatic herbs.  The length of cooking time seems to have evaporated away most volatile constituents.This probably explains why I’ve seen it recommended to add some peppermint extract or some other corrigent, right before putting the mixture on the dehydrator tray.  I think hawthorn is a good candidate though.  Just wait to add the flavor until later.

Raspberry Hibiscus Dried Tea ExtractSo the next time,  I moved away from aromatics and started with with a raspberry leaf/hibiscus blend that I enjoy to see how that handled reducing.  I also used the trick of adding some of my orange flavored honey and some cinnamon extract right before I dumped it on the dehydrator tray. That seemed to work a bit better.   The result is a pleasant little instant tea that I could happily have two cups of a day.   I mix one teaspoon of the powder with a cup of hot water. According to Dr. Hobbs, each teaspoon is the equivalent 6- 8 teaspoons of the herb.

Those who know me know that I am rarely content with following  directions and I started thinking of uses for the powder other than as a dosing strategy.

I started thinking about cooking and suddenly the light came on. I could use these powders to flavor food. I made  powdered kale “tea” to sneak into sauces,  dips, or smoothies and a mixed vegetable powder that I will use to  thicken stews.  Really the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

From a practical homesteading point of view, this makes good sense.  These powders take up less room and may even have a little bit longer shelf life than conventional dehydrated vegetables-lasting up to a year.     So experiment with the method and see what you come up with.  I haven’t even gotten to fruit yet, but a dried apple powder is next on my list.

Bitters: From Medicine Cabinet to Bar Shelf…and back again

Angelica is a popular aromatic bitter with carminative and spasmolytic actions. Candied angelica stems are also a tasty treat.

Angelica is a popular aromatic bitter with carminative and spasmolytic actions. Candied angelica stems are also a tasty treat.

There has been a lot of talk of bitters lately as promoting digestion, but many times people are interested in how exactly that occurs.In a nutshell, when we taste “bitter’ it triggers a physiological process in the body.

Salivary secretion is stimulated as is the production of gastric secretions such as pepsin.  Pepsin is an enzyme responsible for breaking proteins in the stomach down into peptides. The presence of these peptides in turn stimulate the release of gastrin. Gastrin is a hormone which stimulates the release of gastric acids and cholecystokinin.  This hormone, in turn,  stimulates the pancreas and gall bladder to release digestive enzymes and bile.

This net result of all this biochemistry is improved digestion and relief of indigestion.  Some herbs have additional actions such as being spasmolytic which means  they relieve spasms in smooth muscle or carminative which means they help to dispel gas.

The earliest documented medicinal use of bitter herbs was in Ancient Egypt where archeologists have been able to determine that herbs and tree resins were steeped in grape wine. All of the major botanical medicine traditions: Greek, Chinese and Āyurveda incorporated the use of bitter herbs.

In Italy, particularly, the preparations evolved from being medicinal preparations to being routinely served with meals. Amaro  literally means ‘bitter’.  The Italian apéritif Nocino was a medicinal bitter preparation which found its way to Italian monasteries via wandering Celts.  Historians maintain that bitter herbs brewed into malt liquors were used to “diminish the noxious effects of such potations.”

Apéritifs were  served  before meals to stimulate the appetite while digestifs were served afterward to aid digestion.  Digestifs tend to be more sweet and heavy than apéritifs, which are light and dry.

In Britain, bitter preparations began to appear that were made by steeping herbs in alcohol which extracts and concentrates their flavorful constituents. Lash’s Bitters Company began marketing these medicinal preparations in the mid-19th century but after the company moved to San Francisco they found a market for their bitters as a bar room staple in the form and other companies followed suit. Many remember the familiar bottle of Angostura bitters in the liquor closet.

So how does one use bitters “medicinally”?  Traditionally the bitters blends would have been added to soda water. Tonic water is technically a bitters preparation being made with cinchona bark.  However I don’t tend to view them as medicine,  I see them as just another component of a health promoting diet.

Make Your Own Bitters

Bitters by Stephany Hoffelt Iowa City Herbalist

Don’t overlooks the usefulness of these bitter preparations during meal preparation.  A few dashes can add amazing   depth of flavor to your favorite recipe.

Making  homemade bitters can be quite simple and while there are more complex methods of making bitters, the following simple recipes will produce good results.

Traditional Bitters
2 tbsp. dried orange peel
Zest of one orange
¼ sour dried cherries
6 cardamom pods
1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon chips
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 vanilla bean
¼ tsp. whole cloves
¼ tsp. quassia chips (I substitute dried angelica root.)
¼ tsp. gentian root
¼ tsp. powdered black walnut leaf
2 ½ cups rye whiskey (honestly I use Irish whiskey, but rye comes closer to Angostura)

Put your ingredients in  jar and pour the alcohol over them until it reaches the top. Put the lid on tightly and let this steep for  at least three weeks.

Strain the liquid into a clean jar and set aside.

Now pour just enough filtered water over the ingredients in the jar to cover them. Add 1 tablespoon of cherry syrup or honey. Let this steep for three days, strain and add to the alcohol mixture you set aside.

Cranberry Orange Bitters
Zest of one orange
¼ cup dried orange peel
¼ cup fresh cranberries – crushed
½ teaspoon coriander seed
½ tsp. whole allspice
½ teaspoon gentian powder
1 slice of  fresh ginger root
2 ¼ cup 100 proof vodka

Use same process as above.

Angelica Bitters
3 oz. fresh angelica root
1 cups fresh basil leaves (common garden variety)
1 cups fresh rosemary
2 tbsp. dried orange peel  and zest from one orange
2 tbsp. fenugreek seed

Place the herbs in a blender and pour enough 100 proof vodka over the herbs to cover them. Blend the ingredients well. Pour them in a mason jar, cover tightly and let this mixture steep for 3 weeks.  Skip the secondary step from the directions above because alcohol will pull a lot of water from the fresh ingredients in this blend.  You don’t want to dilute it too much.

How to Use Your Bitters

There are an overwhelming number of articles flavoring cocktails with bitters, which neglects many other alternatives.  To begin with think of ways you can cook with your bitters concoctions.  Experiment with adding a few dashes  to salad dressings, relishes, marinades or soups.  Here are a few recipes to get you started.

Braised Greens
1 pound chopped greens of your choice
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 small diced onion
1 tsp. real salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. bitters blend

Heat the oil in a large fry pan which has a lid and sauté the garlic and onions until tender. Add the greens and stir them around over the heat for a moment. Turn down the heat and cover the pan. Allow the greens to cook down, stirring occasionally. When they are tender sprinkle with the salt, pepper and bitters. Stir well and serve.

This is a nice way to make a quick fruit salad.

Fruit Salad Dressing

1/3 cup water
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup packed mint leaves
Zest of one citrus fruit
1 tsp. bitters preparation
Put all of the ingredients except the bitters in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow this to steep overnight. Then strain. Toss with 9 cups of cubed fruit.

There are also ways to turn your  bitters preparations into  tasty beverages with negligible alcohol content.  You could add a half-teaspoon to a smoothie.  Or try the following recipes.

Lassi Digestif
1 1/4 cup frozen fruit
1 cup yogurt
2 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon bitters blend

Mix these ingredients in a blender and enjoy in place of a dessert.

My take on the traditional bitters and soda water :

Bitters and Soda Water
½ tsp homemade bitters
8 ounce glass of sparkling water
1 tsp raw local honey or a few drops of stevia extract
Slice of orange

Add the bitters and orange slice to the sparkling water and stir.

This amount of bitters adds no more alcohol content than an equal amount of vanilla extract would add, so it is safe for children. An adult may adjust the dose to a teaspoon in the case of indigestion. You can also add a few drops to a cup of chamomile tea which has been used traditionally to enhance digestion.

My own personal favorite, which avoids alcohol entirely, is to make a seasoning mixture by grinding dry versions of  bitter herbs and sprinkling this blend on my food in place of salt and pepper.

*Note: make sure the Sumac you use has red berries. Poison Sumac has white berries and should not be touched, harvested or eaten since it is very toxic.

Homemade Liqueurs

IMG_0211So I promised another quickie gift idea and this one builds on the recipe I shared yesterday.

The first one involves making a simple syrup with cacao nibs.  For the second you need a simple syrup made with very strong coffee. 

Crème de Cacao
Mix  2 cups of a simple syrup made with cacao nibs (strained) and 2 cups of vodka.  Add a tablespoon of a nice vanilla extract.    Bottle this and give as gifts.    Alternatively if you do this ahead of time  you can infuse 1 cup of cacao nibs in the vodka and just add vanilla simple syrup.   I prefer the second method because the aromatic bitters come out in the flavor. 

Coffee Liqueur
Make a simple syrup with strong coffee.   For every 2 cups of simple syrup add a cup of vodka (100 proof) or light rum.   Add a couple tablespoons of your creme de cacao and stir it up well. If you omit the vanilla beans in the making the simple syrup, you will want to add a tablespoon of vanilla extract.

Cranberry Liqueur
If you have any cranberries, you can make up a homemade cranberry sauce.   In this recipe you mix things up a little by making a syrup with 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water and the zest of one orange and 3 cloves.    Then add this syrup to your cranberry sauce along with 3 cups of vodka.  Let this sit for a couple of days and then strain and bottle it. 

You can make a variety of cocktails with these liqueurs. Because I am not a sweets person, I usually mix them with sparkling water or cream to cut back on the sweetness.

Simple Syrups


My syrup is a very dark color because I used a blend of sucanat and organic cane sugar.

For those who don’t do gifts until next week, it is not too late to put a homemade gift under the tree.

Simple syrups for flavoring coffee or pouring over ice cream are so very quick and simple to make, especially if you make smaller batches.

For those of you out there who  have herbs on hand,  you can start by making an infusion and use that in place of the water in the recipe below.

There is  is really no limit to what you can do.   Rose-vanilla syrup is lovely to have on hand.   Chocolate-mint is also popular.   Calendula-orange is  popular around here to put in tea.  Lime zest and mint

To make a  vanilla simple syrup:

Mix a 2 cups of filtered water with  2 cups  of organic sugar (or honey),  one eighth of a teaspoon of sea salt and a seeded vanilla bean.   Bring it to a boil and allow it to boil for seven to ten  minutes.  You can also add additional flavor by adding 2 tablespoons of some sort of extract, after it has boiled.

If you want to experiment with other flavors, without using the extracts, you can start with some very strongly brewed coffee in place of the water.   Or you can add 1/4 cup coarsely ground cacao nibs to the water and then strain the syrup before you bottle it.IMG_0217

In the space of a half an hour you can make up a few varieties, bottle them up and give out sampler packs to your friends and family.

You can also use these syrups in place of corn syrup in your family holiday recipes.   Coffee caramels, anyone? Tomorrow, I will share a couple of homemade liqueur recipes that can be made quite quickly by starting with a simple syrup base.

Here is  free apothecary label download that you can use to make gift tags and bottle labels.