Pudding Evoked Stream of Consciousness

Today, I taught Trapolin to make a steamed pudding. He was a great help doing the holiday baking, he”s been bugging me to learn and well we could use some comfort food around here, this week.

Puddings in their simplest form were a peasant food. Not everyone could afford an oven, but most people could come up with a fire and a pot. A black pudding was a medieval delicacy enjoyed when an animal had been recently slaughtered. The blood of the animal was mixed with cereal and spices and then stuffed in the intestines and boiled until it thickened, because the poor didn”t waste food. Technically haggis was a pudding, and probably prepared long before it was first published in MacIvers Cookery in 1773.

By the 17th century, these puddings had evolved to include a few more ingredients. Special bags were used for boiling the puddings and they might be main dishes or deserts. Pease porridge was a pudding according to food historian, Alan Davidson which “consisted only of pease, and a little flavouring: sugar and pepper, and sometimes mint, were commonly used.” The mixture was then put in a pudding bag and boiled in some water with the bacon it was to be served with. Eventually, the recipes evolved into the lovely desert I spent my afternoon making but for a good long time they were sustenance food. And here is where I will digress for a moment…

There is a comparison to be made between herbalism and steamed puddings. In its peasant form the practice of using healing herbs was simple self-care. Terribly poor people likely gathered their herbs, while people with a cottage garden might have grown wormwood along side some “caboges.” The cures were employed by people who could neither read nor write and didn’t have enough money to pay the village healer. It was these simple methods passed down through the generations which kept the poorest classes alive, not herbalists. Like pudding recipes, that concept evolved over the years.

The modern practice of herbalism, which finds its roots in the diagnostic methods utilized by Greek medicine, Chinese medicine or Ayurveda, belonged to the upper classes and learned people who could read the ancient texts and write new information down. Even the still-room books and the receipt books of the past were kept by the wealthy families and as such are not representative of the simple cures the peasants likely used, however they do illustrate the fact that every person had some common sense notion of how to deal with injuries and disease. The occasional entry credited as having come from the country folk, give us a bit of insight as to what their cures looked like, but for the most part many of the ingredients used in receipt books were beyond the financial means of the poor.

Today we have an unprecedented situation in which more people have access to the written word than ever before in history, yet we are more wildly dependent on “learned” experts than ever before. Few people have even given a thought to self-care, even though the means to do so in an almost “kingly” manner (by medieval standards) is less financially prohibitive than at any time in history-kind of like the ingredients for my pudding.

As I alluded to the other day, I started to learn herbalism because I have this deeply ingrained independent streak that will never be content to accept the limitations of the situation above. Of course I had to, as is customary for me as well, take it to extremes. It is also why teaching appeals to me, not because I want to be the “learned” expert imparting my wisdom, but because I want to make sure that every person who wants to learn has the chance to do so. If I pursue my masters, it will be with that goal in mind.   And yes, these are the thoughts racing through my head today while I taught Trapolin to make a steamed pudding, so I will now return to that train of thought.

If you’ve never steamed a pudding, take a look a this video. Now you do needa small pan to use as a basin. I found mine at a thrift store likely because someone had no idea what they are. The only ones I could find on amazon were fancy things with lids and were quite expensive, you don”t need one of those. Any small baking pan or ceramic bowl will do. The capacity should be about four and one-half cups. Even a one pound coffee can will work.

Pecan Maple Pudding with Custard Sauce

Pecan Maple Pudding with Custard Sauce

Pecan-Maple Pudding with Custard Sauce

175 grams of softened butter
3 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp ground pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
175 grams golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
150 grams self-rising flour*
25 grams ground pecans
2 tbsp milk
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, mace or allspice whichever you prefer

Grease your mold with some butter. Now whisk together the maple syrup, tbsp of pecans and the vanilla. Pour them in the basin and tilt the pan around until the mixture coats the inside of the bowl.  Mix together the butter and the sugar. Then beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour and pecans. Then beat in the milk. I have heard that this flour is a decent gluten-free self rising flour, or you can make your own. Spoon this batter into the mold and then wrap it up according to the video, I posted above. Put a large soup pot on with water in it and a smaller glass bowl inverted for the mold to sit on. (Alternately if you have a canner and a rack, you can flip the rack upside down in the canner.) Fill the pot until the water is half-way up your mold and turn on the heat. Bring to a bowl and steam for about an hour and a half. Insert a cake tester in the middle and it should come out clean. Invert the pudding on a serving plate, spoon a bit of custard over it and sprinkle it with nuts.

Custard Sauce

2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks

Heat the milk in the saucepan until it steams and mix 1/2 cup into your egg yolks. Stir this mixture back into the saucepan and stir briskly until the mixture thickens slightly. Remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla. If clumps form, don’t worry on it just strain the sauce through a fine sieve. Eventually you will get the hang of it.

*Self-Rising Flour
2 cups flour
3 tsp teaspoons baking powder
teaspoon salt


Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999

‘What butter or whiskey does not cure cannot be cured.’

During my studies this semester one of my goals was to research some traditional methods preparation and perhaps compare and contrast them to my more modern preparations. To be honest, I haven’t found that things are all that entirely different. We still make infusions, we still use poultices and ointments and have strange bottles of unidentifiable potions lying about.  (My advisor found this comment concerning.)  Some of us are still drying herbs on the rafter in our attic.

It seems the folk methods of herbal preparation have been passed down the ages fairly accurately. Even the use of the Penicillium fungi is not an entirely new concept. Scottish healers would allow mold to grow on the surface of milk to be used as poultices on ulcerations.  Some ingredients have gone out of fashion. I’ve yet to meet a modern-day herbalist who is using earth from a mole hill to cure rheumatism, but I am sure I might come across something similar, someday.

I did come across was this old Gaelic proverb: “An rud nach leigheasann im ná uisce beatha níl aon leigheas air.” which translates to “What butter or whiskey does not cure cannot be cured.” This simple proverb may well sum up Gaelic healing philosophy however it is likely that butter is referred to due to its frequent use in medicinal ointments. In fact, the statement still holds true today. Irish American immigrants brought with them the folk medicine practices of “drinking hot whiskey with cloves and honey for coughs or colds and rubbing Vicks on the chest.” I decided to spend some time investigating the history of that proverb.

Source: British Museum of Medieval Medicine

Source: British Museum of Medieval Medicine

Legend has it that traveling Irish monks learned of distillation in the East and brought it back to Ireland as early as 1000 CE which is a plausible time frame. It was used exclusively by monastery apothecaries for medicinal purpose well into the Middle Ages and probably a product of the distillation of barley beer. There are no Gaelic documents referring to early methods of distillation. The first written documentation was written in the 12th century by an Anglo Saxon visitor upon his return home. 1512, German Hieronymus Brunschwig’s Liber de arte distillandi also mentions these monks briefly when detailing distillation methods and the medicinal uses of alcohol. Uisce Beatha meaning “water of life” was the Irish Gaelic translation the aforementioned monks assigned to the Latin aqua vitae. (American Heritage Dictionary, n.d.) It is pronounced roughly “ish-ke-ba”ha” The Scottish Gaelic is uisge beatha. It was reported to be “considered to be almost a panacea, given for a variety of ailments but believed to be specific for smallpox.”
There has been some argument amongst historians if the peasantry would have had access to distillation equipment. I believe the answer to this lie in the long history of Irish hospitals established to care for the poor.
According to the mythological cycles, “Queen Macha Mong Ruadh (who died 377 BC) established the first hospital in Ireland called Broin Bherg (the House of Sorrow) at Emain Macha” (Wilkinson, 2008) Subsequently Brehon law codes, such as the Senchus Mór, governed these forus tuaithe (territorial house) which were to provide to all classes “sick maintenance, including curative treatment, attendance allowance, and nourishing food.” By the Middle Ages, many of these hospitals were associated with monasteries.. The fact that these establishments existed leads me to believe that the peasantry would have had access to uisce beatha as a medicinal preparation.

Source:  British Museum of Medieval Medicine

Source: British Museum of Medieval Medicine

Now I shall turn my attention to the second panacea mentioned, butter. The Celtic obsession with dairy products would make me laugh, if it didn’t rule my life. In fact, dairy products have been such a ubiquitous part of the Celtic diet that it may have influenced our genetics. A recent geographical study published in the journal Nature, illustrated the British Isles as one of the few places in the worlds where over 90% of the adult population exhibit lactase persistence. That is their bodies produce the enzyme necessary to digest lactose.  It makes sense then that many sources on traditional Celtic herbalism document the use of butter in making ointments. Beith mentions many such preparations including two ointment the first ” St. John’s wort, germander speedwell and golden rod cut small and mixed in butter and grease”  and the second in which “golden rod was mixed with all-heal and fresh butter” both of which were used to mend broken bones. Folklore is full of reference to the use of ointments by healers.  References can be found in the earliest myths. In the Tain bo Cuailgne a group of liaigh were said to accompany each army, each wearing a bag known as lés which carried the ointments that they would apply to injured soldiers at the end of the battle.  An old folk remedy for the plague involves invoking a charm three times and then “take butter, breathe on it quite close, and give to chafe himself therewith.”

One of my favorite things about studying historical healing is that I am usually able to take a widely used practice and find some science to validate it. After all even leeches have their place. In this case it is the fact that lipids enhance transdermal absorption of medicinal herbs.
The outer layer of the skin called the stratum corneum is comprised of “15 -20 rows of flat, partially desiccated, dead, keratinized epidermal cells. (See picture to the left) It is composed of about 40% lipids making it quite difficult for lipophilic healing agents to be delivered percutaneously. Modern pharmaceutical research has found that “transport of lipophilic drug molecules is facilitated by their dissolution into intercellular lipids around the cells of the stratum corneum” and concluded that lipid preparations achieved deeper delivery of medicinal constituent as evidenced by the fact that “oleaginous bases [ointments, butter] have proven superior to creams and water-soluble bases.” Now granted today”s science has found chemical agents which work better than oils but they are generally petroleum products which I prefer not to use.

One can’t help but wonder what sort of trial-and-error process led the ancient folk healers to begin making their preparations with oils? Questions like these will likely never have an answer come to light, but I have a better understanding of why the original proverb became popular.

Beith, M. (2004). Healing Threads: Traditional Healing of the Highlands and the Islands. Edinburgh: Berlinn Limited.
Brunschwig, H. (1512). Liber de Arte Didstallandi. Retrieved from Turning the Pages Online: National Library of Medicine: http://archive.nlm.nih.gov/proj/ttp/flash/brunschwig/brunschwig.html
Curry, A. (2013). The Milk Generation. Nature, 20-22.
Ellis, P. B. (1995). The Druids. Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
McKeown, M. (2012, May 25). History of Irish Whiskey. Retrieved from History of Ireland: http://hubpages.com/hub/History-Irish-Whiskey
Mitchell, R. (n.d.). Celtic Medicine in Scotland. Retrieved from Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh: http://www.rcpe.ac.uk/library-archives/celtic-medicine-scotland
Rapple, B. (2009, December). Irish americans. Retrieved from Countries and their Cultures: http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Ha-La/Irish-Americans.html
Ratna Mehta, P. (2004, September). Topical and Transdermal Drug Delivery: What a Pharmacist Needs to Know. Retrieved from Archived Articles of INET Continuing Education: http://www.inetce.com/articles/pdf/221-146-04-054-H01.pdf
whiskey. (n.d.) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. (2003). Retrieved November 24 2013 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/whiskey
Wilde, L. F. (1887). Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland Volume II. Boston: Tinker and Co. Retrieved from Sacred Texts: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/ali/ali152.htm
Wilkinson, S. (2008, November). Early Medical Education in Ireland. Retrieved from Irish Migration Studies in Latin America: http://www.irlandeses.org/0811wilkinson2.htmof prep

What to do with all that Sage?

Sage Harvest

Sage Harvesting

Sage is one of my favorite herbs. Perhaps that is because we both have Jupiter as our ruling planet. Whatever the reason, we have a great relationship. The best time for harvesting sage really is in the spring just before the flowers blossom and I make my tincture then, but the fall cuttings are certainly still potent.

Sage has been used as a medicinal herb since the beginning of recorded history. Salvia means health. One of the earliest written Celtic references to its use can be found in a manuscript circa 72o A.C.E cataloging the healing herb gardens tended by Columbán monks.

Between 1151 and 1158 CE, Hildegard Von Bingen wrote “Sage is warm and dry of nature… If a person abounds in an overabundance of phlegm or has a stinking breath, let them cook sage in wine, strain it through a piece of cloth and then drink it often.” Any nurse, or mom, out there who knows what I mean by “strep breath” might join me in wondering if that later symptom isn”t our blessed green lady”s reference to sage”s usefulness as a preparation for sore throats

John Hill was convinced that growing the herb led to long life saying “Sage properly prepared, will preserve the faculties and memory” and “will long prevent the hands from trembling and the eyes from dimness.”Culpeper goes on at length about garden sage mentioning that it helps with “all pains of the joints” and “diseases of the chest.”

Now maybe you see why given its long history of use, I sometimes feel sorry for sage as it has fallen to being known as that “herb you put in the stuffing at Thanksgiving.”

What to do with fresh sage?

As I mentioned, I make a fresh sage tincture and I infuse fresh sage in honey. I don’t even know why I make the honey, anymore. I never end up using it until I mix it into an elixir. I suppose it adds depth to your elixirs, for those who care about those things.

Infuse some sage in a pint of vinegar. It makes a great base vinegar for salad dressings. I like to put it in with the burdock root.

Make a fresh infusion. Fresh sage infusion is amazing. Throw a sprig of leaves in a covered pot with a slice of lemon and pour boiling water over it. Just a note though, when making infusions with fresh herbs, don”t expect the color change that you see from dried plant material. I once had a client tell me that their tea “didn”t take”.

Mix freshly chopped sage into butter and use it for flavoring vegetables.

Make an infused oil with sage. I actually mix sage and goldenrod which I use for aches and pains. I like to use fresh-wilted ingredients for that, but you can use dry in a pinch. Fry few handfuls in butter until they are just crisp and snack on them. If you have any left you can go on to drying them.

How I Dry Sage

Pick the sage on a dry, breezy day. Sage is one of those plants that can be cut back quite vigorously and still thrives the following year, so don”t be afraid of cutting back too much. Shake the sage clean and pick out all leaves that have blemishes. Bundle the stems together and fasten them to a dowel. I use rubber bands for this. Twine works, too.

Drying Sage

Drying Sage

This is when my OCD kicks in, otherwise known as my attempt at establishing my own good manufacturing practices. I know that you have all seen the lovely pictures of bunches of herbs hanging about to dry. I am certainly guilty of posting those, myself. I let the strewing herbs dry in the open air all that time, because they are so pretty and I always have my bunches of protective herbs hanging on the hearth.

However, if there is even a chance that what I am drying is going to go into a product for consumption, I put the bunches of herbs inside a brown paper bag to dry, as pictured above. This keeps the drying herbs from accumulating dust and from being exposed to light. They should never actually touch the wall, either, as that allows spiders, and other bugs, easier access.

I also have a dehydrator that I use depending on how aromatic the plant is. I don’t like to lose essential oils to the heat, I generally use the dehydrator for roots, barks and berries. When the leaves have dried sufficiently that one can be crushed in my hand, I transfer them to clean glass jars to live in the dark of my herb closet.  You can also tie it up in little bundles to make smudge sticks, but I will cover that in another post.

What to do with dry sage?

Cook with it. It is great in stuffing but you can cook it in with the rice, too. You can add it to broths. You can also crumble up a bit to add to savory scones, or corn bread.

Make sage infusion with lemon and a dash of honey. There is an interesting variation of this recipe, in my family, which involves putting dried sage, a lemon and a glass of white wine in a pot and pouring a couple of quarts of boiling water over the ingredients. I believe the recipe calls for a bit of sugar or honey as well. I’ve never actually seen the recipe, it is part of the family’s oral narrative.

Gargle it. When I want to use the sage infusion as a gargle, I make it much stronger and sometimes I add a bit of thyme to that, as well.

So there you have enough different ways to use sage that you might even run out. Have fun experimenting.

“Natural Immunizations”

So I would like to put this out there publicly to answer a question I”ve been receiving, a lot l lately. I guess the questions started rolling in because a local chiropractor recommends homeopathic nosodes as “natural immunizations”.   I’ve heard that he is referring people to a homeopath in a town some hours away, who is charging people $100 for the nosodes and signing off on immunization cards, saying that clients have been immunized.

Quite a few people have contacted me and asked me if I could do the same thing. I am not a homeopath. I do not use homeopathic nosodes and I certainly would never dream of signing an immunization card, or a medical exemption form. I am not even sure that ethically I would be comfortable doing so, given my concern that research on the subject has shown that the nosodes do not result in production of specific antibodies.

Putting the question of efficacy aside, these nosodes do not meet immunization requirements. I contacted the school district to confirm this. They told me that not only do these “natural immunizations” not meet state requirements, but that unless a practitioner signing off on the immunization card is a licensed medical practitioner in the state of Iowa, signing the medical exemption form, or an immunization card, can be considered fraud. Herbalists and homeopaths, no matter how many letters we have behind our names are not licensed medical practitioners. Chiropractors are also not able to sign off on the forms.

When the boys were little a local chiropractor filled out medical exemption forms for them. It was a bit of a mess for me to extract myself from when I found out he wasn”t legally able to do this. In that case, I think that it was simply his belief that no one ever looks at the cards, once they are turned in.

For those who don”t think that the district actually looks at those forms, let me assure you that our local district does. When I turned in the aforementioned medical exemption card, I was very quickly contacted by the district letting me know that legally a chiropractor cannot sign off on immunizations. Years later I was contacted because the date that the notary wrote on a form didn”t match the date that was written on the form. So just from my own experience, I know that the school does a thorough audit of their health forms.

In the end, how you choose choose to handle the situation is your decision. I am not going to weigh in on either side of the debate. There is a religious exemption available to parents in Iowa and it is against your first constitutional rights for a school to demand that you tell them what religion you are.  just wanted to put this out here, to explain the legalities of the situation, because I think as holistic healthcare practitioner, being aware of these legalities is part of our responsibility to our clients. I would hate to ever put a client in an uncomfortable situation due to my own ignorance.

Immune Support Truffles

Immune Support TrufflesSaturday we had a great herbal study group on support for colds and flu. I posted a picture on Facebook which showed the snack I brought to share as part of my discussion on supporting the immune system. This is also one of the recipes I taught at the Herbal Resurgence Gathering. I’ve had a few requests for the recipe from people who didn’t attend the class so I thought I should share it. The best part about this recipe is that it can be sweetened entirely with the fruit puree but has enough natural sugars that it is still mildly sweet. For those who have a sweeter tooth than myself, you can add honey. Wolf says that they are entirely sweet enough on their own, and I agree.

Dry Ingredients

1/4 cup astragalus powder
1/4 cup milk thistle seeds -finely ground and sifted
1 T. raw cocoa powder
½ cup ground seeds- I like pumpkin, but you can use sunflower or flax, also.
½ cup ground almonds or other nut. You can also use ground oats here.

Nut butter or tahini
Fruit Puree* or Honey
Mix dry ingredients first and add ½ cup of nut butter, or tahini to the mix. Now mix in your fruit puree, honey or a combination of both until it forms a dough you can work with.

Roll this mixture in balls and roll in a coating of your choice. You could use any of the following:
Raw Cacao powder, ground unsweetened coconut mixed with ground cinnamon or nutmeg, finely ground nuts or seeds- sesame seeds are good here.

You could also dip them in dark chocolate. After reading Guido’s book I am an even larger proponent of dark chocolate as a tonic herb, even though it is not my favorite thing.

Just make it something that tastes good. I see these with slippery elm and licorice on the outside, and roll my eyes. Very few people find those things tasty. Now some toasted coconut with nutmeg on the other hand… Also if you are going to dust them with cacao powder think ahead and make the dough a little sweeter.

Dried Fruit Puree
I’ve seen this done using dates as dried fruit, but I really prefer cherries. It is important to save the liquid you’ve used to rehydrate the fruits because a lot of your nutrients leech out during the re-hydration process. Soak 1 cup dried fruit in 2 cups of warm water overnight. Strain-reserving the liquid. Place re hydrated fruit in food processor or blender.
Whip adding reserved liquid until a creamy paste like consistency is formed.

While they might resemble Rosemary’s zoom balls, these are for everyday consumption and contain gentle, tonic herbs and nutritive ingredients.