Monday, November 27, 2017

Herbal Bitters: A Brief Introduction

It's the Holiday Season! That means it's time to get together with friends and family. Time to share gifts, drinks, and stories. Time to get fat and lazy after eating amazing meals. All of this can be very exciting and wonderful. However, this can do a serious number on your digestion. I figured that I could let you in on a tip to help keep your digestion going strong even after a day of gorging yourself on food you don't normally eat.

Over the years, “Bitter” has gained a bad reputation. The word is most commonly associated with harsh feelings like anger, resentment, and pain. However, “Bitter” can be a wonderful and healthy tool to use. Bitter herbs help digestion, and a number of them are already in our diets. Coffee, most culinary herbs, and leafy greens are just a few examples. Even though we do continue to enjoy our bitter herbs, we don't have enough of them to really use their true potential. If you aren't tasting the bitter flavor, you aren't getting the benefit. But before I dig to deeply into that, here's a basic introduction to the world of Bitters.

Bitter Herbs and Foods:

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are 5 flavors of food. Sweet, Salty, Pungent (sometimes referred to as Spicy or Acrid), Sour, and Bitter. Each of these flavors is associated with certain actions on your digestive system, as well as your body as a whole.

Bitter herbs and foods help to stimulate digestion by triggering the production and/or release of digestive enzymes, hormones, and various digestive secretions (saliva, bile, etc). This action benefits the gallbladder, stomach, liver, pancreas, and just about your whole body. Bitters help us to properly digest proteins, fats, and starches. They help increase nutrient absorption, improve the integrity of the tissues lining the digestive tract, and help to create a protective barrier against pathogens. Most bitters are also cooling in nature, helping to reduce inflammation and rid the body of excess heat. They also help aid the elimination process.

With such a wide range of bitter options available to us, why do so many health professionals think that the modern American diet is all but devoid of bitter flavors? Because sweetening the bitter flavors destroys most, if not all, of the health benefits. So eating those dark leafy greens in your salad is a great choice, but using a salad dressing packed full of sugar negates most of the healthy benefits. This is one of the reasons that herbal bitters are such a great tool for your health.

Herbal Bitters:

The herbal bitters we usually refer to are mixtures of various herbal extracts designed to help aid digestion. There are an unlimited amount of combinations of bitter herbs out there that can be put into these herbal bitters, and many recipes date back thousands of years. Some of the oldest recipes come from the Mediterranean region and date back over 2,000 years ago. Some of the more famous recipes are still in use today, though mostly as cocktail ingredients. The most famous of these is Angostura Bitters which is used in the traditional Old Fashioned. And for those of you who are fans of Gin and Tonic, tonic water started off as a bitter folk remedy as well.

Who Should Take Bitters?:


Bitters are great for everyone to use. Pregnant and nursing women should use caution with certain herbs, but an Herbal Bitter formulated with fennel and other gentle herbs can be a great asset, especially since fennel helps increase breast milk production. Those of you who have had problems with your gallbladder, pancreas, liver, or kidneys can benefit tremendously from taking bitters. People who suffer from anemia, or iron deficiency, should think seriously about adding bitters to their diet. Our bodies need bitters in order to properly absorb and use iron.

How Do You Use Bitters?:

I typically recommend using bitters 15 min before you plan on dining. Bitters most often come in liquid extracts with droppers, but occasionally you will find them in spray bottles. In the case of the droppers, take 1-2 dropperfuls, under your tongue. For the spray, spray into your mouth 2-3 times. When in doubt, follow the instructions on the bottle.

Whatever your digestive concern, there is an Herbal Bitters formula out there for you (or you can make your own). I urge you all to talk to a nutritionist, herbalist, or other health professional about adding bitters to your daily routine.

I hope I have gotten you excited about herbal bitters, and I hope that they help you throughout this holiday season. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below.

Where to Buy Great Bitters:

Check out your local Farmer's Markets
There are also several people who sell their herbal products on Etsy
I have also been known to make bitters occasionally. For more information, please contact me directly at


5 Reasons Why You Should Eat Bitter Foods and Herbs: Natures Sunshine:

10 Reasons to Use Bitters: Hint it All Starts with Digestive Health : Radiant Life:

Benefits of Bitters: Organic Spa Magazine:

Digestive Bitters: Better than Probiotics: Gwen's Nest:

Herbal Bitters: Invaluable Aid to Fat Digestion: The Healthy Home Economist:

Herbal Medicine: Tonics, Bitters, and Digestion:

Natural Healing: Befriending the Bitter Herbs: Mother Earth Living:

Properties of Food from a TCM Perspective: Shen Nong:

Taste and Action of Chinese Herbs: ITM Online:

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Savory Pumpkin Recipes

     Thanksgiving is just days away, and Christmas is just around the corner. That means it's time to pull out all those family recipes, but sometimes it's fun to introduce a new recipe or two. This year, I want to get back to something I love, pumpkin. Not just the pumpkin spice that everyone obsesses over this time of year, but pumpkin itself. So here are some of my favorite pumpkin recipes. Some make great side dishes, and some work well as meat-free main dishes. These recipes also don't have to be confined to this time of year, sometimes I make these just for fun. So I hope you enjoy!

1. This makes an excellent replacement for stuffed turkey. Stuffed pumpkin can be served year round and is a great, healthy dish. This recipe is Vegan and Gluten Free. Feel free to experiment with fillings. Try quinoa or rice instead of bread, add cheese to the mix, or try using seasonal produce from your local farmer's market.

Stuffed Pumpkin

1 small Sugar Pumpkin (about 3 lbs)
1 medium Onion, diced
4 small Mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 handfuls fresh Spinach or Chard, roughly chopped
¼ lb lightly toasted (or stale) Gluten Free Bread, cubed (about ½ inch chunks)
2-4 cloves Garlic, minced
1 small Apple, cored and diced
¼ cup fresh Chives, chopped
½ tbsp fresh Thyme leaves
½ tbsp fresh Sage, chopped
1/3 cup unsweetened Cashew or Hemp Milk
Salt & Pepper to taste
Optional* ½ tsp Cayenne Powder (or to your taste)

Preheat your oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut away the cap of the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits (save the seeds to toast later if you want). Clean up the underside of the cap. Season the inside of the pumpkin (and the cap) with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Place on baking sheet and set aside.

Pour olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms. Cook until onions are slightly browned. Add in the spinach (or chard) and cook until slightly wilted. Scrape mixture into a bowl and add the bread, garlic, apple, chives, thyme, and sage. Mix well. Stir in the cashew milk and season with salt & pepper, to taste.

Stuff the mixture into the pumpkin, cover it with the cap and bake in the oven. Bake, covered, for 1 ½ hours (90 minutes). In the last 30 minutes of cooking, remove the cap to allow any extra liquid to cook off. Transfer the pumpkin to your serving platter, carefully. To serve, either scoop out the stuffing and pumpkin flesh, or slice into the pumpkin.

2. This vegan, gluten free, chili is great for the colder nights that accompany this time of year, but it's also packed full of healthy produce and spices. This recipe works well with zucchini, turnip, yellow squash, celeriac, and many other vegetables. Feel free to play around with it and try some new ideas.

Pumpkin Chili

1 small Sugar Pumpkin (about 3 lbs)
½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
¼ cup ground Flaxseed
¼ cup Gluten Free Flour
1 Zucchini, chopped
1 Turnip, chopped
2 medium Red Bell Peppers, chopped
2 or more Jalapenos, diced
1 large Onion, chopped
6-8 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 tbsp Tomato Paste
4 cups Vegetable Broth
2 (10 oz) cans Diced Tomatoes
1 (16 oz) can Red Kidney Beans
1 (16 oz) can Black Beans
2 cups Corn
1 tbsp Chili Powder
1 tsp ground Cumin
1 tsp ground Cinnamon
a few dashes of Balsamic Vinegar
¼ tsp Dijon Mustard (or less)
Salt & Pepper

Peel the pumpkin and cut into 1-inch pieces. In a 6-quart or larger pot, heat the olive oil and whisk in the flour and ground flaxseed. Whisk until smooth, and add in the pumpkin, turnip, zucchini, peppers, onion, garlic, and tomato paste. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add in remaining ingredients (including the juices from the can of tomatoes). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer at least 1 hour (longer if you have the time). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

3. These are not your typical pancakes. Packed with savory vegetables, they can be served for breakfast, or as a side dish at dinner. Make sure your veggies are thinly shredded or finely chopped when you make this vegan, gluten free, recipe. Feel free to play around with the ingredients. Try golden beets instead of carrots. Or use Parsley, Sage, and Thyme instead of Cilantro, Turmeric, and Cayenne. Instead of Spinach, use Watercress or Swiss Chard. The possibilities are endless.

Savory Pumpkin Pancakes

1 cup Gluten Free Flour
¾ cup Pumpkin Puree
½ cup chopped Spinach leaves
½ cup shredded Carrots
½ cup chopped Green Onions
2-3 tbsp chopped, fresh Cilantro leaves
½ tsp Cayenne powder (more or less to taste)
½ tsp Turmeric powder
Salt & Pepper
¼ cup Club Soda (Soda Water)
2-4 tbsp Oil

In a bowl, combine all ingredients (except oil). Mix well, adding more soda water if the batter is too thick. Heat and grease a griddle or skillet. For each pancake, use 2 tbsp batter. Spoon batter onto hot griddle and allow to cook. When the bottom is done, carefully flip each pancake over to finish cooking. Each side takes about 3-6 minutes to cook until lightly golden. Serve hot.

These taste amazing when topped with sour cream, feta or goat cheese, toasted pumpkin seeds, a variety of chutneys, and many other toppings. Enjoy!

4. This falafel variation is so good it'll be hard to go back to the regular kind. It's great for a Thanksgiving meat alternative, or for a quick lunch. The dressing is a delicious hybrid of the traditional Tzatziki and Tahini sauces you typically find at flalfel restaurants. Feel free to play with the ingredients a little and make it your own.

Pumpkin Falafel

For the Falafel:
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 medium Onion, chopped
3-4 Garlic Cloves
1 cup cooked (or canned) Chickpeas, drained
½ cup Pumpkin puree
¼ cup fresh Cilantro
the juice and zest of ½ a medium Lemon (about 1 ½ tbsp)
1 tbsp ground Cumin
½ tsp Cayenne powder (or to taste)
½ tsp Turmeric Powder
Salt & Pepper
¾ cup Gluten Free Bread Crumbs

For the Dressing:
¼ cup Tahini
¼ cup Greek Yogurt (or Coconut Yogurt for a Vegan alternative)
the juice and zest of a medium Lemon (about 1 ½ tbsp)
1 medium Cucumber, seeded and shredded
1 Garlic Clove, minced
Salt & Pepper

For the Falafel:
Preheat your oven to 350. Coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Place the onion, garlic, and chickpeas in a food processor and pulse a few times to break everything up. Add in 1 tbsp olive oil and the remaining ingredients and pulse until a coarse paste forms. Don't process this too well or it won't work. Form the mixture into small balls (or use a small, 2 tsp, cookie scoop), or patties. Mixture will be soft, be careful and use wet hands to avoid sticking. Arrange falafel on the greased cookie sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake for about 35 minutes, turning once or twice to ensure even browning.

For the Dressing:
Whisk together tahini, yogurt, and lemon juice. Slowly stir in remaining ingredients.

5. Mashed potatoes are a staple with many a meal here in the South. This mash combines the potatoes with pumpkin and seasonings to provide an excellent twist to for our Holiday tables. And just like mashed potatoes, you don't have to limit this to the Holidays if you don't want to.

Pumpkin-Potato Mash

1 ½ lbs Red Potatoes, quartered
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2-3 Garlic Cloves
¼ cup unsweetened Cashew or Hemp Milk
1 ½ cups Pumpkin Puree
2 tbsp Miso Paste
1 tbsp fresh Chives, minced
Salt & Pepper

Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are easily mashed with a fork. Drain water. In a small sauce pan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and saute the garlic until golden. Mash potatoes until smooth, mix in all other ingredients and adjust seasoning if needed.

6. I love making my own salad dressings. It's a great way to add a touch of healthy herbs, ferments, and/or flavor to any diet. Here's one of my favorite fall dressings. Feel free to play around with the ingredients to make your very own pumpkin dressing.

Pumpkin Vinaigrette

1/3 cup Pumpkin Puree
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 cup Apple Sauce (or Greek Yogurt to make a creamy variation)
1/3 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
2 tsp finely grated, fresh Ginger
2 tsp finely minced Garlic
1 tsp Honey
½ tsp Dijon Mustard
Salt, Pepper, & Cayenne to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk vigorously to combine. Enjoy on any of your favorite salads!

     I hope I have done my part to get you all interested in pumpkin, not the spice, this fall. I also hope I gave you some new ideas for Thanksgiving, or any Holiday, dinner! In any of these recipes, feel free to change the ingredients around. Have fun, play around, and let me know what you think below!

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Wonders of Pine

     I love pine. It's a beautiful tree that stays beautiful no matter the time of year, or weather. In Summer, they are tall and proud. In Winter, they stay green and, if you're lucky enough to live in the more Northern climes, they provide a great snowy silhouette. I grew up wandering the deciduous woods in Northern Florida, so I got to experience the amazing scent of pine quite often as a child. Not to mention the, often painful, pine cone wars my friends and I would get into. Pine has always held a portion of my heart, and as an herbalist I'm just beginning to understand how amazing this lovely tree really is.
     The Pinus genus is a large one, containing over 144 distinct species of coniferous evergreen trees. Around the world, pines make up about 1% of the plant population, and according to the fossil records, they have been around for over 200 million years. In Florida, we have quite a few distinct species including Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris), Pond Pine (Pinus serotina), Slash Pine (Pinus elliottii), and many more. All species of Pine are safe to consume and there are no toxic look-alikes, so Pine is a good tree to start learning about.

Latin Name: Pinus spp.

Common Name: Pine

Parts Used: Needles, Resin, Bark, Seeds, Pollen, Roots

Medicinal Uses:

Summary of actions- Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-catarrhal, nutritive (nuts, pollen, needles), androgenic (pollen), antimicrobial, warming, astringent, purgative (boiled bark), immunomodulatory, carminative, diuretic, lymphatic, insecticidal, expectorant, adaptogen

Traditional Chinese Medicine- Known as Song in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Pine works most on the lungs and intestines. Pine Nuts tonify Lung Yin, lubricate the lungs and intestines, stop cough, promote bodily fluids, and treat constipation. Pine Bark heals wounds, abscesses, relieves pain, treats arthritis, and treats burns. Pine Pollen is an excellent Yin tonic and, as such, is used for a wide variety of ailments.

Native American Traditional Medicine- Various Native American tribes were known to use Pine Needles to treat Scurvy. They also use the inner bark, young shoots, twigs, pitch, and leaves to treat a variety of ailments including the common cold, flu, cough, pneumonia, fever, heartburn, headache, arthritis, bronchitis, croup, laryngitis, and kidney problems. Some tribes also used the inner bark and sap as a poultice for wounds. The pitch was used to treat boils and abscesses, to draw out splinters, and for rheumatism, broken bones, cuts, bruises, and inflammation.

Ayurveda- Himalayan Longleaf Pine (or Chir Pine) is used, in Ayurvedic Medicine, to control Vatha and Kapha, to expel worms, heal wounds, for digestive problems, to treat nervous disorders, for skin problems such as wounds and burns, and in the case of respiratory and rheumatic disorders.

Immune System and First Aid- The bark and needles contain high amounts of Vitamin C which helps improve the immune system. The needles and resin are also antimicrobial and can be used to help clean wounds.

Vision Health- The bark and needles contain a high amount of Vitamin A and other carotenoids which can help prevent the formation of cataracts, increase vision strength, reduce macular degeneration, and reduces oxidative stress in the ocular system.

Circulatory System- Pine increases your body's production of red blood cells which helps increase oxygenation in your body as well as prevent anemia.

Respiratory System- Pine helps to sooth inflammation in the respiratory tract, relieves coughing, sore throat, and can even help relieve asthma. It helps prevent upper respiratory infections. Pine also is an excellent expectorant, helping your coughs to eliminate excessive mucus. It also is great at eliminating pathogens and bacteria in your sinuses.

Needles- The needles can be harvested year round and make a delightful tea. They are high in antioxidants, and vitamins A and C. One of my favorite ways to use the leaves, is to make a syrup. Herb Geek has a great recipe for Pine Syrup here. The needles are great when added as a seasoning to your food, especially since they encourage healthy digestion. The needles can also be used as an expectorant, to help make your cough more productive in expelling mucus.

Nuts- Pine Nuts have been used for food throughout the world. They are a great source of vitamins E, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and folate. They also contain manganese, potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.

Resin- The resin is a sticky substance that Pine produces when it's been wounded. It helps protect the tree from opportunistic invaders such as fungus, bacteria, and harmful insects. The resin eventually hardens and over time (millions of years) becomes amber. However, this sticky substance can be used by us in similar ways to how the tree uses it. It's antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal, so it makes a great addition to any wound salve. It's also helpful to fight off respiratory or gastrointestinal infections.

Bark- Many scientists are currently studying Pine Bark for it's anti-cancer properties. It has also been used to improve the circulatory system, as well as to treat heart disease and varicose veins. It's high in vitamin C and other antioxidants as well.

Pollen- Pine Pollen is highly nutritious, and though each Pine has a slightly different makeup of nutrients, most of them contain vitamins B1, B2, B6, E, C, D2, D3, A, folic acid, potassium, sodium, B-carotin, nicotinamide, calcium, magnesium, phosporrus, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and selenium. In Korea, the pollen is used as a whole body tonic and to increase vitality. It's a great addition to anyone's food. However, the tincture of Pine Pollen is used to help increase testosterone levels in older men.

Cautions and Warnings- Ponderosa Pine may not be safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, or young children. The volatile oils in Pine needles and bark may cause problems in your kidneys if taken over long periods of time. Pine resin and amber can cause problems in the digestive tract when taken internally without a balanced formula.

     I hope you have a new appreciation for this amazing tree. I encourage everyone to take frequent walks in the woods, and breathe in the amazing scent of this beautiful plant. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

5 Incredible Benefits of Pine: Organic Facts:

8 Terrific Ways to Use Pine Needles Right Now: The Herbal Academy:

Chir Pine: All About Ayurveda & Medicinal Plants:

Common Pines of Florida: EDIS:

Herbal Healing Practices of Native Americans: The Herbal Academy:

Historical and Chinese Medicine Perspective of Pine Pollen: Raw Forest Foods:

Native American and Other Ancient Remedies: Legends of Amercia:

Native American Pine Tree Mythology: Native Languages:

Pine: A Modern Herbal:

Pine: White Rabbit Institute of Healing:

Pine Herbal Monograph: Natural Herbal Living:

Pine Keeps You Fine: Susan Weed:

Pine Scotch Essential Oil: Ayurvedic Oils:

Sarala: Chir Pine: Easy Ayurveda:


Greetings from the Bat Lady!

     Welcome to Bat Lady Herbals.  I have been fascinated by herbs and various herbal uses for quite a few years now.  Plants are amazing t...