Witchin’ In The Kitchen Part 2: Delicious Ideas For Botanical Medicines

Kitchen Witchin’ Part 1 shared valuable medicinal uses for kitchen herbs and spices that many folks have on hand. For part 2, let’s continue unleashing that inner witch by bringing some botanicals out of the medicine cabinet and into the kitchen!

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Calendula is a beautiful, easy-to-grow treasure trove of medicinal uses. It checks bacterial and yeast overgrowth, heals tissues like the skin and digestive tract lining, and improves immune system function, breast health and cardiovascular health. The bright yellow and orange flowers are rich in antioxidant pigments like lutein, carotenoids, and lycopene.

Calendula-infused butter or ghee is delicious, easy to make and is awesome on popcorn, rice, noodles, green beans, potatoes, yams, Brussels sprouts (the list goes on…).  If you pour it into a decorative mold and freeze it, it makes a tasty and pretty addition to the dinner table. 

Calendula-infused Butter:

  1. Use just the flower petals. Add a small handful of petals to a stick of butter or 1/2 cup of ghee in a double boiler (you can make your own by floating a heat-safe bowl in a pot of water). Vegan option: Use coconut or olive oil instead. 
  2. Warm the mixture for 30 minutes on low. Stir occasionally. You don’t want the water in the double boiler to actually boil…just to get hot enough that the butter/ghee liquefies. 
  3. Pour into a pretty shaped mold and freeze. Once solid, pop out of mold and refrigerate. I like to leave the petals in, but you can strain them out if desired; the flavor’s not going anywhere!

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus

Astragalus has been revered for millennia for bolstering resistance to illness. With regular use, the root helps us to better handle physical, mental, and emotional stressors and strengthens the immune system, liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, and blood. This incredibly multifunctional herb also supports healthy metabolism and reduces fatigue. 

In the kitchen, Astragalus root powder is a nutritious and healthy thickener for soups, stews, sauces, and gravy. It can be used in place of wheat flour for those with wheat allergies and in place of cornstarch for folks concerned about GMO corn. Astragalus adds a nutty, mildly sweet flavor and you can use similar amounts as you would for other thickeners, working your way up if necessary. 

Turkey Tails (Trametes versicolor, aka. Coriolus versicolor)

Turkey Tails are super nutritious and one of the best researched medicinal mushrooms in the world. I use them more than most other mushrooms in my clinical practice. They boost immunity and support liver health in the face of constant chemical onslaught from our environment. In Asia, certain Turkey Tail fractions are used together with chemo, radiation and/or surgery for certain cancers, resulting in better immune system function, improved quality of life and longer disease-free survival time.  Turkey tails are also strongly antiviral, with activity against the flu and herpes simplex. As with many mushrooms, turkey tails are a great source of antioxidants

Turkey tails are tough and chewy, and for this reason alone they’re not considered edible. But, they can make a great stock for soups, stews, sauces, and the like. For this I prefer the commercially available form known as mycelial powder. The powder is usually heat processed, with a malty flavor and scent.  It is typically dark brown, like coffee.

Turkey Tail Stock:

  1. Add 1 teaspoon turkey tail powder per 8 oz of water in a small stainless steel pot.
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or more. Add more water if level is getting too low. You can make a large batch and freeze in portions. 
  3. I usually don’t remove the powder before storing the stock, but you can pour through a coffee filter to strain.
  4. Use mixed (to taste) with veggie, chicken, beef or other stocks for soups, stews, gravy, etc.  It’s also fine to use straight but the mushroom flavor may be strong for some folks. 

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Named for Achilles the ancient Greek warrior, yarrow was used to staunch wounds on the battlefield, hence its other name, “woundwort.” Yarrow is one of the most valuable medicinal plants you can grow in your garden. It’s a go-to first aid plant for wounds, bleeding, stings, and burns. Internally, it has a mind-boggling array of uses:

  • Improving digestion and reducing gas
  • Promoting liver function
  • Reducing blood pressure while strengthening blood vessels 
  • Targeting digestive and urinary tract infections while healing the digestive and urinary tract linings

I don’t use sugar very often, but herbal syrups are an exception. Yarrow simple syrup is a tasty way to bring this bitter and aromatic herb into the kitchen. The syrup is great drizzled lightly over white fish, poultry, and pork. It’s also great in a “mocktail” with sparkling mineral water, lime, and some muddled blackberries. Or in gin and tonics. Yarrow simple syrup can also be added to an ounce or so of warm water as a digestif. 

Yarrow Simple Syrup:

  1. Add equal parts raw sugar and water and heat to melt the sugar.
  2. Turn off the heat and add a teaspoon dried or Tablespoon fresh yarrow leaves and/or flowers per 8 oz syrup. Steep 30 minutes.
  3. Strain and bottle.  Store in fridge for up to a couple of weeks. 

Hawthrorn (Crataegus species)

Hawthorn is both my favorite tree and a medicine that I use daily to support my heart, due to a mild valve defect.  Hawthorn is rich in antioxidant pigments and other components that promote heart and blood vessel health, liver and kidney health, and nervous system function, and provide a wide array of other benefits.  Though multiple parts of hawthorn are used medicinally, the berries are what lend themselves well to the kitchen.

The recipe here is a true syrup, meaning that it has a lot more of the plant in it than a simple syrup does. Hawthorn berry syrup is great as a salad dressing; mix it with olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar.  It’s a lovely addition to halibut or other mild fish. I am often the herbal beverage “bartender” at gatherings, and Hawthorn is usually the favorite.  Simply add to sparkling water over ice and it’s a hit.

Hawthorn Berry Syrup

  1. Add a cup of berries to stainless steel pot. Add a quart of water. 
  2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer on lowest setting until liquid is reduced by half. 
  3. Strain through a coarse strainer to get seeds out but so that some of the berry flesh and skin gets through.
  4. Add back to pot, and while still warm, stir in 1/2 to 1 pint of raw honey. 
  5. Store in fridge for up to a couple of weeks. Use by the teaspoon or Tablespoon in your recipes.

Don’t have hawthorn berries?  No worries, use other wild berries instead…rosehips, chokecherries, elderberries, serviceberries, etc.  All are antioxidant, health-promoting additions to the diet!

Stay tuned for more witchin’ tips for your kitchen in the future!  Next week I take a temporary digression by kicking off the Essential Oils Essentials series.