The first real rains of the season came to the bay area this week. It always feels like such an incredible blessing when the rains come. The plants stretch out their branches, leaves and roots, reaching for the nourishment that begins during the winter months. Winter can be a profoundly nourishing time. A time of turning inward and exploring the places in ourselves and in our lives that we keep shroud in darkness during the other times of the year. And these times, this change in seasons is a time when cold and flu bugs start flying. Folks often come to me with questions about how to stay healthy during this season. In this blog post I explore herbs and foods that can help keep you healthy as we turn towards winter.
|Sliced Astragalus Root|
One of my favorite immune tonic herbs is Astragalus. It’s a popular Chinese herb and the root is used for medicine. It is a gentle supportive plant that can go a long way in tending to your health during the winter months. Astragalus works on a deeper level so it’s not one that you want to take if you’re getting sick because it can drive illness deeper. That being said, it’s great to take a small amount every day. A tonic is a herb or medicine that you take every day in small doses to support a body system. Astragalus is a key ingredient in my “Chucks Magic Stuff” that I have had great success in supporting people’s general health with in the winter.
A great way to take Astragalus (if you’re not going to take my Immune tonic 😉 is to drink it in a tea or cook with it. If you are going to make a tea, try to cook it for a longer period of time (6 hours or more) and then strain for tea. If you’re going to cook with it, I recommend getting some of the longer sliced Astragalus root. Then just take a few pieces and throw it in with your soups, stews, or beans that you’re cooking this winter. It’s great to take it out before you serve it because it’s woody and not particularly edible. However, you can always do what I like to do and leave it in and then whoever ends up with it in their bowl has to kiss the cook!
|Shitake Mushrooms at the Farmers Market in Oakland|
Another key way to support your immune system during the winter months is to eat lots of mushrooms. All mushrooms have an affinity for the immune system and can help support overall immune health. One of my favorites are Shitakes largely because they’re easy to get organically grown in the stores and they taste so wonderful. Oysters and Crimini mushrooms are a little bit more affordable and also support the immune system but aren’t as potent. If you have some extra money to splurge, I would recommend trying all the wild and organic mushrooms you can. Mushrooms have many different flavors–find the ones that you like best!
Reshi Mushrooms aren’t particularly yummy but this mushroom is wonderfully medicinal. Reshi is another one that’s great to throw in teas, soups, stews, and beans. Like Astragalus, you’re going to want to take it out of the meal before you serve it. Reshi is also a wonderful anti-cancer mushroom as well as can help support the nervous system and even help bring down bad cholesterol! What can’t this mushroom do? I like to have dried organically grown Reshi in my kitchen cabinent all year long.
|Wild Turkey Tail Mushrooms Growing in Big Basin Park|
If you’re like me and super excited about mushrooms, you might consider going on a mushroom walk. Once the rains come, we will be in high mushroom season here in the bay so keep your eyes and ears out for classes being offered locally. The Mycological Society of San Francisco is having their annual Fungus Fair on December 3rd so you might also check out that fair to learn more about mushrooms and mushroom identification.
I did say that I was going to give you some recipies, so as promised here they are:
Claire’s Immune Building Soup
1 Large Onion
2-3 Large Leeks
6 Cloves of Garlic
8 large Slices of Astragalus
3 slices of Reshi Mushrooms
8-16 Ounces of Shitake Mushrooms
8-16 Ounces of other mushrooms (Oysters, Crimini, Maitake, Chantrels, Matsuake, etc)
1 large bunch of Kale
1 bunch of Dill
1- 1 1/2 cups of Pearl Couscous
4 tbsp Olive Oil
4 cups Chicken or Veggie Broth
Slice mushrooms and throw in pot with Astragalus and Reshi slices. Submerge mushrooms in a good amount of water (2-3 cups). Cover pot and bring water to a full boil and then turn down to low and cook mushrooms for a minimum of 30 mins or as long as several hours. You will need to add water if you are cooking them for a while. In a separate pot, sautee onion, leeks, and garlic. After 5 mins of sauteeing, add to the pot of well boiled mushrooms. Chop Dill, and Kale and set aside. Add Couscous and broth to the soup (you may not need 4 cups, I’ve never actually measured any of this, so add broth to taste). When couscous is cooked add dill and Kale. Cook for another 3 mins. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy!
You can add any extra veggies you might like to the soup. Carrots, Chard, Celery, whatever you love, play around with it–see what works for you!
Claire’s Immune tonic “Chai”
I like to keep a crock pot of tea cooking most of the winter. After the big pot is cooked, you can strain it and store it in the fridge to drink over the next few days. These are my approximate portions for about 4 quarts of water. Here’s some herbs I love to put in my Chai.
2 tbsp of Burdock
8 slices of Reshi
10 slices of Astragalus
2 tbsp of Licorice Root (don’t use this if you have high blood pressure)
2 tbsp of large chunks of Cinnamon or 5 sticks of Cinnamon
2 tbsp of Fresh Ginger sliced
12 Cardamon Pods
1 tbsp of Fennel Seeds if my stomach is unhappy
Put in Crock pot and add several quarts of water. Cook on low for 3-12 hours. If you don’t have a crock pot you can bring the tea to a boil and then turn it down to low and cook for the same amount of time.