The Teacup Chronicles

Category: elder flower

Preparing for spring allergies

Spring is just round the bend, or at least we must hope. Soon the landscape will be etched in palest green and the air will be heavy with the scent of flowers and the songs of happy birds. And all through the air, like a great heap of glittering confetti thrown up in a display of spring merriment, will float millions of tiny specks of pollen, that bittersweet object that so taints the enjoyment of spring’s splendors with the curse of itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing.

There is good news though. There is time yet to prepare your body for this yearly assault! For indeed the fault lies not with the pollen – but with the body’s being in a state of over-reactivity. Pollen is in fact a completely benign substance, offering no insult or injury to our bodies. But to the imbalanced immune system – it is labeled as an intruder of the worst kind, triggering all manner of defense mechanisms (sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes) designed to rid the body of it. As the pollen is harmless to us, however, all this effort and great strain on our sanity and nerves – is for naught.

So what to do? While you cannot change the pollen, you can change your body. There are several strategies that can be taken in order to balance the immune system and render it less over-reactive. Here are some suggestions:

Soothe your gut:

Those who study plants from a purely chemical prospective have often been baffled as to how plants whose constituents could not possibly reach the lungs are able to exert a therapeutic effect there.   But herbalists have long viewed the body as a holistic entity, and understand that the state of one area of the body is deeply connected to – and thus profoundly effects – the state of all the others. Thus, a plant that soothes the gut may soothe the urinary tract, the lungs or even the skin. Now, a branch known as neurogastroenterology has begun to uncover this very connection, asserting  that all of our mucous membranes (the mucous secreting linings throughout our body) are interconnected via the nervous system – and that the state of one is indeed heavily impacted by the state of another through neural connections. Thus, a plant who offers a soothing impact on the digestive tract might soothe membranes in another area of the body even though it’s constituents never actually contact that tissue directly.

In terms of allergies, this means that the gut must not be forgotten when considering the root of an inflamed, over-reactive respiratory tract. IE, if the lining of your gut is chronically irritated, it is more than likely your respiratory tract will follow suit and become highly reactive as well.  To soothe and tonify your gut, try:

  • Removing common dietary irritants such as dairy products, wheat and refined carbohydrates several weeks before allergy season begins to reduce the reactivity of mucous membranes throughout the body.
  • Taking a bitter herb such as dandelion or gentian root before meals to enhance digestive function, ensure optimal breakdown and assimilation of food, and tonify and heal the cells lining the digestive tract.
  • A multi-strain probiotic (optimally containing at least 10 strains of Bifido and Lactobaccili bacterium in a time released form) can also help to strengthen the membranes of the digestive tract and may play a role in balancing immune function. Look for one that supplies at least 3 billion micro-organisms.

Balance your immune system:

Allergies are the result of an over-active immune system. Certain types of cells become overly active, while those that usually counter-balance allergic activity become deficient. There are, however, many herbs that help to remedy this balance – reducing hypersensitivity and promoting a balanced, healthy immune system. Reishi mushroom, licorice root and echinacea root are all quite helpful for these effects.

  • Reishi is good for those with a hot, irritable constitution with some degree of dampness or stagnation. In this constitution, allergies tend to be boggy (ie lots of congestion) and highly inflammatory – with redness, itching and irritability.  Try taking up to 1000 mg of freeze dried reishi per day, add 1-3 teaspoons powdered reishi to food or take 1 teaspoon tincture twice daily. As reishi is quite drying, it needs to be balanced with something moist like marshmallow or licorice root when used for those of a dryer constitution, where dry inflamed membranes with scanty, thin mucous and discharge are predominant.
  • Licorice is an immune modulator, adrenal tonic and demulcent (or moistening herb), which I find useful for those who have a dry, depleted constitution where inflammation arises from faulty adrenal function and dryness. If you tend towards itchy, dry eyes and frequent sneezing with irritation of the nose and throat, but little or thin discharge, licorice is quite nice – especially if your symptoms worsen with stress. Try taking 1/4 teaspoon of solid extract 2-3 times per day (if you have high blood pressure, be sure to purchase DGL licorice or consult your herbalist).
  • Echinacea is wonderful as an immune balancer and lymphatic. I tend to gravitate towards this herb when lymph nodes become tender and enlarged during allergy season, and the person becomes more susceptible to infection. Try taking 1-2 ml of tincture three times daily.

Reduce inflammatory/allergic response:

Allergies are characterized by red, itchy, weepy membranes throughout the respiratory tract. These changes are brought about biochemical changes that cause tiny blood vessels to swell and leak fluid. Fortunately for us, a class of plant compounds called flavanoids, found in many foods and medicinal herbs, help to reverse and even prevent these changes by tonifying our blood vessels and reducing their leakiness as well as decreasing the chemical signals (aka histamine) that cause these inflammatory changes.

  • Ensure you get a good serving of flavanoids each day by eating 1/2 – 1 cup of blueberries, eating 1-2 cups of dark leafy greens2-4 oz dark chocolate and/or drinking 1-3 cups of green tea.
  • A freeze dried nettle extract may also be helpful (take up to 1500 mg daily in divided doses) by supplying a pletheroa of anti-histmanic flavanoids.
  • The herbs eyebright, elderflower and  goldenrod are also great plant cocktails of flavanoids that soothe the respiratory tract and reduce allergic response. Goldenrod and elderflower both make a nice tea to sip throughout the day, and eyebright can be taken in tincture form.
  • Some also find relief from taking a concentrated quercetin extract (a flavanoid with strong anti-histamine activity) in combination with other bioflavanoids, vitamin C, and herbal extracts.
  • Creating a more anti-inflammatory fatty acid balance in the body is also quite helpful to reducing over-all reactivity. Add in anti-inflammatory and omega-3 rich foods such as fresh ground flax, walnuts, and cold water fish such as salmon and pasture raised meats and eggs, while reducing pro-inflammatory foods high in arachidnoic acid such as refined flours, vegetable oils, conventional meats, and dairy.

Eat local honey:

By presenting a very small amount of the pollens found in your local ecosystem, the theory is that honey de-sensitizes your body to these pollens so that it no longer reacts to them as “foreign” or “intruders.” While there are no clinical studies to support this, one study did find that pollen collected by bees reduced allergic response by inhibiting IgE mediated mast cell degranulation. If nothing else, this age old remedy certainly won’t hurt (indeed what could be more pleasant!).

Now, if this all sounds like an overwhelming lot of things to do, let me make it easier for you. You can incorporate all of these strategies into your day in just one delicious smoothie. Just throw it all in a blender, whiz for a minute, and drink!

Blues and Greens Smoothie

Serves 2

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2-3 leaves of kale or collard greens, chopped roughly
  • 2 kiwis or 1 large apple, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 2 tablespoons powdered nettles, or 1/2 cup fresh nettle tops
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, grated
  • 1 tablespoon reishi powder
  • 1 tablespoon raw, local honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon licorice root powder

Blend everything until smooth, pour into glasses and drink! In one dose, you get flavanoid rich anti-inflammatory blueberries, dark leafy greens, kiwis and nettles; immune balancing reishi and licorice; omega 3 rich flax;  digestive stimulating and soothing ginger and a nice homeopathic dose of local pollen through delicious raw local honey. Try to drink one serving each day 1 month prior to, and throughout allergy season.

Here’s to a happy, blissful spring spent strolling through that fresh pollen filled air with nary a sniffle or sneeze to distract you!

Inspiration short #10: Herbal Baths

I just love drinking tea, but if I could have my way, I’d rather sit in it. Immersing myself in a steaming hot tub full of fragrant, petal flecked water is just about as close to heaven as it comes. And such baths aren’t purely for relaxation either: the skin, being the largest organ of the body and having enormous absorptive surface area, makes the bath a handy way to deliver the medicinal effects of herbs.

While you could take a pill to get your dose of herbs, a bath offers a far more enticing and luxurious way to do so.  Just imagine yourself easing into the warmth of the water, the heady, floral scent of the herbs mingling with the steam as it rises up around you. You submerge yourself, let the water completely envelop you in its silky embrace, and lay your head back. Eyes closed, your cares float away as the herbs and the warmth of the bath work their magic spell upon you. Now how could you improve on that!

For obvious reasons, baths make great delivery vehicles for herbs geared towards quieting the nervous system and soothing the skin. But they can also be used for a myriad of other purposes: to relieve sore and achy muscles; for easing the symptoms of a cold or flu; to reduce edema and support circulation. And baths don’t have to be calming, they can be enlivening too! (Just try the good morning sunshine bath below and you’ll see what I mean…)

Here are a few herbal bath ideas to get you started. Sometimes I like to let the herbs float free in the water for aesthetic impact, but most of the time I prefer to place them in a muslin bag and infuse them into the water like that (it’s far less messy and you won’t end up with bits of herb stuck to your skin when you get out). If you don’t have a bath tub, you can either a) start being very friendly to someone who does, b) try the herbs in a foot bath, or c) use the bath bag as a washcloth, which is very lovely too.

Calming Flowers Bath: A relaxing and tension relieving bath perfect for bedtime. Mix together 1/4 cup each of rose petal, lavender flower, chamomile flower and linden flower with 2 tbl of hops. Place in a muslin bag or 9 by 9 inch square of cheesecloth tied with twine. Attach the bag to the faucet and let the hot water run through it. Once the bath is drawn, untie it from the faucet, and let it float in the water, squeezing it occasionally to release its delicious mix of aromas.

Skin Soother Bath: A great bath for any sort of skin inflammation, from rashes and bug bites to sunburns. Mix 1/2 cup oatmeal with 1/4 cup elderflower, lavender, chamomile and calendula and 2 tbl comfrey leaf.  Draw your bath, following the procedure described for the previous bath. This mix can be used as a washcloth, squeezing the soothing milky water over the skin.

Sore Muscle and Achy Joint Soak: This bath can help to relax sore, tense muscles, ease arthritic pain and is also great for relieving the chills, aches and pains of a cold or flu. In a large pan, bring 1 gallon of water to boil and add 2 cups fresh chopped ginger, then simmer, covered,  for 15 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and add 1/2 cup arnica flowers, 1/4 cup each of meadowsweet, juniper berry and rosemary, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Replace the cap and let sit for a further 20 minutes. Strain out the herbs, and add to the bath along with 1 cup of epsom salts or celtic sea salt.

Good Morning Sunshine Bath: An enlivening, stimulating bath to get you moving in the morning (and a new creative way to get your daily cuppa). Mix 1/4 cup each peppermint, rosemary, and ground coffee with 2 tbl each of cardamom, juniper and orange peel. Follow the instructions listed  for the calming flowers bath.

Now, go and draw yourself a bath!

P.S. Celia Linnemann over at Dandelion Revolution has some great posts on baths too, including this one on a lovely Juniper berry bath, and this one on foot baths for all you bathtub lacking folk.

And be sure to check out Lucinda’s great post on the merits of the oat bath here

A Delicious Dinner for a Summer Evening


Lemon verbena tea with tonic water and elder cordial ice

Beet and Carrot Trimmings Salad

Tart with beet greens, tomato, spring onions and thyme

Summer berries and cream with maple syrup

It seems like the best dinners seem to come together on a whim. I try to plan ahead, search through cookbooks and scrupulously design menu ideas – but those preplanned concoctions never seem to be as exciting as those nights where the things I find hiding in the fridge or ripening in the garden just seem to whisper to me what they want done with them. Call it a creative burst inspired by beautiful ingredients, or the amazing power of last minute pressure on the indecisive / perfectionist mind – but whatever it is, the muse of gastronomic pleasure has found me tonight.

An unplanned meal always begins with me rummaging through the fridge, taking a mental inventory of things that spark the flame of inspiration, and things that just need to be used and soon. Tonight, my inventory of potential dinner ingredients includes:

  • blueberries I picked yesterday
  • a bunch of cilantro
  • a carton of eggs from the little honesty box down the road (a charming little painted box where  you slip in a few dollar bills into a rusty tin can in exchange for beautiful fresh eggs – quintessentially Vermont)
  • a very ripe tomato
  • some baby onions
  • a bunch of baby beets with their greens still attached from the Kingsbury Farm Market.

Next, I head up the garden and see what sort of treasures are to be found. The thunderstorms of yesterday have given way to a beautiful breezy evening, bathing the world in a lovely golden light that makes the garden look almost surreal – almost as though I have entered into some other enchanted world full of magic and unknown splendor. After a few minutes of rummaging around, prodding this plant and digging around that one, I end up heading back towards the house with a fistful of carrot thinnings and a handful of flowering thyme – gray clouds whizzing by over head.

Back at the kitchen table, I plop myself down and thumb through two of my most recent additions to the old cookbook collection: Tender by Nigel Slater – an amazing tome picked up on our trip in England;  and Breakfast, Lunch, and Tea, the cookbook of The Rose Bakery in Paris, a much treasured gift that has quickly become a new favorite.

Beet and Carrot Trimmings Salad

Tender is a cookbook devoted to the author’s vegetable patch – each section extolling the culinary and gardening wonders of his most treasured vegetables. His recipes are straightforward and simple, relying mostly on the amazing flavor that comes from freshly harvested, lovingly tended produce. In the carrot chapter, I find a simple salad that utilizes the beautiful appeal of whole carrot and beet thinnings – simply steamed until just tender, and tossed with red wine vinegar, olive oil, chopped garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and a handful of torn cilantro leaves. Twenty minutes and it’s done, and delicious. Have a look:

Tart with Beet Greens, Spring Onions, Tomato and Thyme

While the vegetables for the salad we’re steaming away on the stove, I sat back down with Breakfast, Lunch, and Tea. This cookbook is the creation of a very special bakery in Paris, run by an English woman married to a French man. The combination of English cuisine with French flair results in something quite spectacular – a perfect balance of comfort and sophistication. Nearly 4 pages of the book are dedicated to savory tarts made with fresh vegetables, and I flip right to that section, thinking a tart may be just the destination for my leftover beet greens from the salad, perhaps paired with some spring onions, tomato slices and thyme…?

Tart crusts are fairly simple, they just require time and patience. My sweetheart makes delicious pastry that always comes out amazingly better than mine ever does, so I delegate to pastry making to him. Here is the recipe that he followed from B,L, and T:

Short Crust Pastry:

Combine 3 1/3 cups flour, 1 cup butter and 1/2 tsp salt in a food processor.

Pulse for 6-8 seconds, until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is fairly well incorporated.

(Note: You can also do this by hand by working cut pieces of butter in with your fingertips)

Place the mixture into a bowl.

Make a well in the center, and add 1 egg yolk and 1/2 cup cold water to the well.

Stir quickly with a fork and bring together the wet and dry ingredients, adding more water if needed.

When the fork can’t do it’s job anymore, use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for about 30 minutes.

While the pastry is resting in the fridge, I prep the ingredients for the tart. I roughly chop the beet greens (1 bunch worth), thinly slice the onions with their attached greens (4 spring onions or 1 cup), thinly slice a tomato, and grate 1/2 cup cheddar and 1/4 cup Parmesan.

For the filling:

combine 2 cups cream, 4 eggs and 1 egg yolk, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg in a bowl and beat until well mixed.

Now the time comes for the tart crust making:

Divide the dough into 3 large pieces. Save 2 pieces for another day in a glass Tupperware in the fridge.

Take 1 piece and roll it out on a well-floured surface, lifting and turning often to prevent sticking.

When the thickness reaches about 1/2 inch or less, use it to line your tart tin.

Be sure not the stretch the dough because the crust will shrink slightly as it bakes. You want a little extra to spare.

Chill for another 30 minutes (or skip if you are very hungry like we we’re!)

Line the pastry with tin foil and fill with beans, then bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until just golden and dry.

To assemble the tart:

Remove the tinfoil filled with beans, and save for your next tart endeavor.

Sprinkle the crust evenly with the cheese, then layer the beet greens and onions over the cheese.

Pour the filling over the tart, to about 1/8 inch from the top.

Layer the tomatoes over the top, and sprinkle with fresh thyme.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the filling is set and golden.

Summer berries and Cream with maple:

While the tart is baking, I whip some cream (about 1 cup) with a 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup and a dash of vanilla extract. This goes in the fridge to chill. After dinner, add a large dollop of whipped cream to a bowl, smother this in a good handful of fresh berries, then repeat. Drizzle the top with maple syrup and eat with a spoon…or your fingers.

Lemon Verbena Tea with Tonic Water and Elderflower Cordial Ice

When the tart is out of the oven and cooling, I whip up the drinks. Lemon verbena tea was my chilled tea of the day ( made by infusing 1 cup of dried leaf into a 1/2 gallon jar of hot water, then refrigerating till cool). I’ve been trying to make lots of chilled herbal teas on these hot days, and lemon verbena is a favorite, with nettle and peppermint coming in a close second. In wine glasses, I add equal parts sparkling water and tea, then pour an 1/8 part elderflower cordial. Each glass gets 1 very special rosemary elderflower cordial ice cube.

Now, time to eat!

A whimsical dinner for a summer’s eve filled with golden light, the sound of wind blowing the leaves, and delicious, vibrant ingredients just waiting to whisper in your ear…