The Teacup Chronicles

Category: Lavender

Lavender Breakfast Muesli

Winter, post holidays, takes a little easing into for me. Some people charge ahead into January with purpose and gusto, relieved to put December behind them and start a new year. But not I. January is like a cold morning to me – the type that you hide under the covers from, holding on to the warm sensations of a receding dream and praying that your alarm clock won’t go off anytime soon. January is the mess I’d been stuffing into the closet while December poured me another glass of wine.  January is a reality check – a back to business as usual month with a sober and stern disposition. I think it would carry a clipboard and look down at you over rimmed spectacles if it were a person.

But eventually, something clicks and the days start to take on a comforting rhythm. I get out of bed, I let things topple out of the closet and I start dealing with what needs being dealt with. It’s a good feeling when it happens, sort of wholesome and purifying in its execution. And while it  isn’t exactly fun, there is something satisfying in the motions, something that makes me feel decent and good and dare I say just a touch proud of myself.

After I get over the sensation that I am being jipped when I no longer am able to eat things like stolen for breakfast, or when there isn’t cake served with every meal, I start to embrace this wholesome, pristine feeling. I get back into my old routines and remember their sensibility, remember the sense of vibrancy and balance that comes from simplicity.

Muesli is one of these routines. It is a humble breakfast, nothing glamorous about it, nothing to catch one’s eye at first glance – but wholesome and satisfying,  like January. You can eat it every day, and feel good about it, feel proud even. Sometimes I even have it as a snack. Of course, I can’t totally neglect my need for December’s sparkle, so I like to jazz it up with a touch of lavender – or sometimes a bit of rose petal, cardamom, vanilla bean or cocoa nibs depending on how the mood takes me. That little touch of floral seems to bring just the merest whisper of summer days to my mornings, and leaves me feeling a little sunnier.

Lavender Breakfast Muesli

Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce.

  • 3 cups rolled oats (feel free to sub in other flaked grains as well such as barley, rye, wheat or even quinoa)
  • 1 cup walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds (or a combination of all three)
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup dried cherries (or other dried fruits such as figs, cranberries or apricots)
  • 1/4 cup oat bran
  • 1/2 teaspoon lavender buds
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the oats on one baking tray and the walnuts on another, and place in the oven on a middle rack. Toast the walnuts for 12-15 minutes and the oats for 10, or until both are fragrant and crunchy. Place the oats into a large mixing bowl. When the walnuts are cool enough to handle, chop or break them into smaller pieces and add them to the oats.

While the oats and walnuts are toasting, place a dry skillet over medium heat. Add the pumpkin seeds to the pan and toast, stirring frequently, until they begin to pop and turn golden, fragrant and crunchy. Remove from heat and add to the bowl along with the oats and walnuts.

Add the dried fruits, the oat bran, the lavender buds and salt to the bowl and mix thoroughly to combine. Once cool, store in an airtight container in a dark, cool place.

How to eat your muesli:

  • Eat topped with fresh fruit and doused liberally in a milk of your choice
  • Serve over yogurt or over a warm fruit compote – or both! I like to make a parfait or serve fruit compote, yogurt and muesli side by side
  • Soak overnight in the juice of 2 oranges and 1 lemon, and serve with yogurt for Bircher style Muesli – the traditional Swiss way

Delicious hydration: herbal waters

Drinking enough water is one of the simplest yet most profound things we can do to improve our health and sense of well-being. After all, water is the stuff of life.  Without it, we simply couldn’t survive and life could not exist.  Indeed, every cell and organ in the body relies on the presence of water to function. Water transports waste products and nutrients in and out of cells; is fundamental to digestive, circulatory and excretory function; helps to lubricate and protect the joints, nerves and internal organs; and regulates body temperature through perspiration – just to name a few of its important functions.

And yet, how many of us truly get enough water for our bodies to function optimally? While we may get enough water to prevent the symptoms of acute dehydration, we can suffer the effects of chronic dehydration when our bodies don’t receive the optimum level of fluids for proper balance and function. Those of us that find ourselves lethargic, headachey, irritable or nauseated for no real reason may fall into this category.  In such cases, simply increasing the daily intake of water can have profound effects on our sense of well-being.

Hibiscus-lavender-ginger water infusing

And while proper hydration is important to consider at any time of the year, it is especially so during the summer months, when the hot and dry weather can cause us to lose more fluids than normal through perspiration.  Drinking plenty of water also helps to cool the body and keep us in balance, helping us to adapt to the heat of our environment and prevent common summer ailments that tend to plague us around now such as fevers, headaches, rashes and other inflammatory disorders.

But these effects are even more powerful if one adds cooling herbs, vegetables and fruits to infuse into their drinking water.  Years ago, a friend introduced me to this concept – placing sprigs of fresh herbs or slices of fruit into a jug of water to have on hand in the fridge. Her motivation was strictly for the flavor, but the cooling properties of the herbs (as well as some vitamins and minerals) are also imparted to the water, creating a beverage that somehow enhances the water’s refreshing, cooling qualities.  Since then,  I’ve always kept a jug of herbal water on hand during the summer months, finding that the delicate flavors completely refresh me and give me an added incentive to drink. For those who struggle with drinking plain water, this can be a great alternative to sugar laden sodas, juices and sports drinks.

Strawberries and chamomile blossoms ready to be infused

To make, you simply add fresh fruit (berries, sliced peaches or plums, melons, citrus) and fresh or dried herbs to a jug, pitcher or jar of filtered water. Place in the fridge overnight to infuse, and then drink whenever you like. You can strain the herbs and fruits out if you wish, but I like to leave them in for the beautiful visual effect (I usually use whole sprigs of herbs or slice my fruit large enough so that they don’t end up in my cup when I pour). If you’d like a slightly stronger flavored tea, simply place your herbal water into a warm spot in the sun for several hours before refrigerating.

These are great for picnics and dinner parties where they are beautiful and elegant placed on the table, but I also just love having them around for every day drinking. I pull a pitcher out and place it next to me while I work to remind me to drink, or just leave one out on the table with a few glasses for whomever might happen by.

Strawberry-chamomile and Hibiscus-Lavender-Ginger waters

Here are some of my favorite combinations. These amounts make a 1/2 gallon of herbal water.

  • 1/4 sliced Cucumber, 3-4 sprigs peppermint and several slices of lime
  • 3-4 sprigs lemon balm or lemon verbena, 1 vanilla pod sliced in half lengthwise and several lemon wedges
  • A handful of strawberries and a handful of fresh (or dried) chamomile flowers
  • 2 tablespoons hibiscus flowers with a thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, sliced, and a few lavender sprigs (or 1-2 tsp dried flowers)
  • 3-4 tablespoons black tea, several slices of orange and a handful of cherries
  • A handful of blueberries, a few slices of lemon and 2-3 sprigs of fresh lavender
  • Sliced plums and 6-7 lightly crushed cardamom pods

Cucumber-mint-lime and Lemony lemon balm-vanilla waters

Now who says water has to be boring!

Floral Honey; A spoonful of sweetness

As Mary Poppins so rightly said, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” And of course, the most important part of her wise proclamation was that it does so, “in the most delightful way.”  In a world full of capsules, tablets and tinctures, I am all for a way of taking our “medicine” (and by medicine I mean things that protect and promote our vitality) that is actually delightful to take and makes us forget about the idea that something taken medicinally must be auxiliary to our normal life, and unpleasant at that. As Hippocrates said, “let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.”  In other words, let your medicine be a nurturing part of your daily life; let your medicine be delightful.

While I might not agree that simply diluting the unpleasant flavors of medicinal things with white sugar to trick one’s palate is necessarily a good thing, I am impelled with the idea of incorporating a little sweetness into the things we use daily for medicine, for health. After all, the flavor of sweet is considered by most traditional systems of healing (TCM and Ayurveda, for example) to be deeply nurturing, calming and relaxing to the body, mind and spirit. Associated with love, the nurturing bond between mother and child and the simple, innocent joys of being alive – we have all instinctively reached for this flavor when we require a little of those things to comfort our weary spirits and soothe our frayed nerves.

Thus, these sweet qualities seem to me a perfect match for the soothing and relaxing properties of summer’s flowers.  Relaxing chamomile and linden; uplifting lavender; heart opening rose: what more delightful way could one capture these delicate, sweet and ephemeral flowers than in the nurturing sweetness of honey?

For such a medicine as this, I choose flowers which are medicinal as well as delicious tasting and aromatic (which includes most all flowers, really). I particularly love making honey with the following flowers because their medicine is especially sweet:

  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Chamomile has been used for over 2000 years to relieve tension in both mind and body. It relaxes and soothes the nervous system; calming anxiety, easing sleep and reducing signs of physical tension. As a digestive panacea, it strengthens and balances digestive function and can be used to soothe inflammation, reduce cramping and ease gas and bloating – especially when nervous tension is a causative factor. Topically and internally, it soothes irritated membranes with its moist and cool properties and strong anti-inflammatory action. I find it particularly useful for people who are “hyper-reactive” to their world, whether physically in the form of allergies, rashes and digestive disturbances, or emotionally in the form of irritability, anger or anxiety when dealing with stress and challenges. The sweet apple fragrance pairs delightfully with honey and is the perfect thing for soothing and quieting that reactiveness – I think of it as being for the irritable child in us all.

  • Lavender (Lavendula officinalis):  Lavender has been beloved for thousands of years for its delightful, soothing fragrance. The cooling flowers  have a centering yet uplifting effect on the nervous system – relieving anxiety and other manifestations of nervous tension while simultaneously improving mood, concentration and focus by enhancing blood flow in the brain.  They have a similarly relaxing yet stimulating effect on the digestion, relaxing smooth muscles and easing cramping, gas and bloating, while stimulating digestive secretions with their mild bitterness –  especially useful for a sluggish digestive tract. The strong anti-inflammatory effects have a wide range of applications internally and topically, from protecting the cardiovascular system from oxidative damage to soothing burns and speeding the healing time of cuts and wounds. I find lavender especially useful for those in whom tension tends to create stagnation and stuckness, known in TCM as Qi stagnation (when the flow of vital life force is blocked or impaired). It gets things moving, but in a relaxing and opening way.

  • Linden (Tilia spp.):  Sweet smelling linden flowers come from a stately tree that grows throughout Europe and North America. The flowers are cool and moist, with a soothing sweetness that calms the nervous system and eases away tension while gladdening the spirits.  Linden has a particular affinity for the heart, as evidenced by its heart shaped leaves. The high bioflavanoid content tones and protects the capillary walls from oxidative damage, while the relaxing effects of the plant open the blood vessel walls, easing symptoms of hypertension and protecting the heart on many levels from stress. The flowers also have strong anti-viral effects helpful in colds and flues, where they can reduce a fever through their diaphoretic action. Their mucilage gives them a moistening quality, helping to soothe irritated membranes inside and out. Linden honey, made from bees who feed exclusively on the pollen of linden flowers, is a rare and delectable treat – but we can cheat a little and make linden infused honey, which I think is just as good!

  • Rose (Rosa spp.) : The rose has always been associated with love, romance, beauty and joy. The petals are cooling to the body and mind and clear out signs of heat, such as anger and irritability, fevers, gastritis and heartburn, insomnia, etc – good for those with much fire in their constitution. The petals have an affinity for the nervous system, where they have an uplifting and restorative effect. They are particularly useful for easing signs of depression and helping one through a time of grief and heart pain. They also support the reproductive tract, where their astringent action tones the uterus and can help with heavy bleeding and discharges. They gently enhance libido and fertility by toning the uterus and dispelling anxiety and nervous tension. They are particularly useful for women who tend towards sadness and insecurity. I find rose useful for people who’ve trouble opening their hearts, whether from insecurity, grief or past hurt. It helps one to feel protected in letting their heart open fully – like a fully opened rose protected on a thorny branch.

To make a floral honey, simply fill a jar 3/4 full of dried flowers (or fresh flowers that have been wilted 1-2 days to remove some moisture) and cover with runny honey.  I usually pour in a bit of honey, let it settle to the bottom, and then continue to add more until the honey comes about 1/4 inch over the top of the flowers.  If you’ve a nice raw honey that is a bit thick for pouring, simply place the jar of honey in a bowl of warm water to soften – then you should be able to pour quite easily. Once your flowers are nicely immersed in honey, simply cap and let infuse for 2 weeks to a month.

In years past, I have typically  strained the flowers out after several weeks. But this year, I have found that leaving the flowers in is even more fantastic! This way, you can use the honey almost immediately and you have what is effectively a floral jam. This can be spread on toast, warm scones or biscuits; drizzled over fresh fruits or mixed with yogurt. I like having not only the flavor, but the beautiful appearance of the flowers suspended in golden honey and the concentrated nuggets of floral goodness  in the mouth. So wonderful.

Such a combination is not just a spoonful of sugar, but a spoonful of sweetness, a medicine to nurture the spirit and calm the body and mind; a medicine to take each day as a little delightful gift to ourselves.