Our Winter Herbal Kitchen {part 1}

In this upcoming winter season when we don’t have the fresh herbs handy, like our foremothers, we rely on herbs that we have preserved for the winter. I drink nettle infusion almost every day, covering a cup of the dried herb with a quart of boiling water in the evenings, to steep overnight and heat up the next day for my warm mugs of infusion.

This week, I’ve also been enjoying brewing three other dried herbs, each in her own water-based form of extraction–depending on which method optimizes the medicinal properties of that particular herb.

I was delighted to find local reishi mushroom at the food coop last week. I am adding a handful of the dried slices to each pot of bone broth, for the adaptogenic and deep immune support that reishi offers.

Reishi mushroom broth

Similar to making stock, a long slow simmering is the most potent way to extract the medicinal properties of reishi, which adds a rich, deeper flavor to the bone broth. As the name suggests, adaptogens support our bodies and hormonal systems to adapt to a wide range of circumstances and changes, both physically and emotionally.

I am also making cold infusions of marshmallow root. Now, we’re not talking about sugary puffs that you roast over the campfire! . . . Although the marshmallow plant was originally an ingredient in the candy, contributing mucilaginous properties.

Marshmallow (aka marshmallow) belongs to a family of plants known as the Mallow family (Malvaceae). The edible low-growing common mallow (Malva sylvestris) grows as a weed in many gardens, and I have enjoyed cultivating the much taller marshmallow (Althaea Officinalis) in my garden as well.

Marshmallow infusionThe mucilaginous properties of marshmallow offer beneficial support for the mucous membranes which line all of our systems that are open to the world–including the respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems. As a winter ally, marshmallow has a long history of nourishing the lungs and easing coughs.

Because some of the marshmallow’s mucilaginous and delicate medicinal properties degrade with heat, this is one of the few herbal infusions that I actually prefer to prepare with cold water rather than with boiling water. I put a half cup of dried herb into a pint jar, cover it with cold water and leave it on the counter overnight. The slippery infusion can be strained in the morning to drink, or refrigerated to extend the life for a day or two.

Tulsi herb to be infusedThe third herbal preparation I’ve been enjoying, is, ah, Tulsi, also known as sacred basil, an adaptogen as well. Those of you who know tulsi may breathe a sigh just hearing her name!

I savored her in my garden all of the last summers, and then just before the fall frosts, we harvested the remaining flowering stalks to dry.

It is such a treat in the winter to add a small bundle, tied up in cheesecloth, into a steaming bath. Or you can simply boil a small pot of water and inhale the steam (with a towel over your head to keep the steam concentrated) to relieve dry sinuses and skin. The pleasurable fragrance reduces stress, nourishes the skin, and opens up the lungs.

I know I’m not alone in this year-round love affair with the plants! And that even through the winter, as wise woman herbalists, many of you continue to weave with the herbs in your day to day lives, from broths and infusions to steams and baths.

Keep using your kitchen creativity to dream up your own medicinal, fun, delicious, tonifying concoctions to nourish and soothe you through these dark days of winter.