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Archive for the ‘Cardamom’ Category

Valentine’s Delights

Three of my all time favourite herbs are most definitely herbs of love and, with Valentine’s day just around the corner, I thought it an auspicious time to share a little more about them.

They are Avena, Rose and Cardamom, all famed for their aphrodisiac properties, but all quite different, though they do work in some similar ways.

Avena – Oats are one of the best remedies we have for building and restoring the nervous system and this makes them a wonderful love tonic as they strengthen our reserves helping to make us more resilient and energised. Although we tend to think of aphrodisiac herbs as stimulating rather than relaxing, these kind of nerve tonic herbs act to energise us in a more roundabout way, by releasing the stresses that caused our problems in the first place and getting us strong and vital once more. So many arguments are caused by being frazzled and over-sensitive, making regular doses of Avena a great relationship soother.

Rose – What need I say about the rose, the ultimate symbol of love? It is gently moving, gently stimulating, relaxing, aromatic and uplifting. It also opens the heart to allow greater self love and acceptance, something which enables us to partake more fully in any relationship, romantic or otherwise.

Cardamom – Cardamom is one of the most balanced of the spices and for me this makes it the true spice of love. It is both slightly stimulating, like most spices, as well as calming and centring. As I mentioned above, it is often a combination of stress and resulting fatigue that stops us from giving time and attention to our beloveds, so balancing herbs, like all those mentioned here, are exactly what the love doctor ordered.

All these herbs help us to feel loved in order to feel loving. They work at the meeting point of relaxation and stimulation, of uplifting and of soothing. Essentially they work from a place of balance from which all things can flower, not just love for a partner, but love for ourselves, for the wider context of people and other sentient beings and in the knowledge that there is no real difference anyway. After all, love is just love and when it is in our hearts, all will benefit from its radiance.

Here are just a few of the ways you can combine these herbs to make some deliciously delectable treats, for Valentine’s or any other day.

Tea – A simple tea of cardamom (gently crushed in a pestle and mortar), rose petals and oatstraw makes a lovely soothing and heart opening blend for drinking anytime. To make an extra special tea, add some Ashwagandha root which is a traditional adaptogen and aphrodisiac of Ayurvedic medicine. To make the tea gently simmer about half a tablespoon of ashwagandha root in a pan for about 15 mins. Turn off the heat and add the other 3 herbs leaving to steep for another 15 mins before straining and serving with a little honey. Ashwagandha can be a little bitter in flavour so the addition of the honey makes it more deliciously balanced.

Ashwagandha root and rose buds

Bath – A lovely romantic bath can be made by mixing rose petals and rolled oats with a drop or two of cardamom essential oil and tying up in a small square of muslin. Tie this around the taps as the bath is running, making sure you squeeze out all the creaminess of the oats as you go.

Honey – Infuse rose petals and cardamon seeds in honey for a delicious aromatic treat.

Massage Oil – Cardamom and rose are both divine as essential oils and a beautifully romantic massage oil can be made by combining them both with a base oil such as almond, olive or jojoba. To 50 ml base oil add 5 -10 drops each of rose and cardamom oils.

And last but not least…

The Flapjacks of Love – 
Combining oats, rose, cardamom and other delicious ingredients into a sticky sweet treat that is sure to delight anyone you serve them to.

Ingredients:
250 g rolled oats
125 g coconut oil
75 g muscovado sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
Small handful of broken up walnut or pecan pieces
1 tsp rose petals (dried is fine)
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ashwagandha root (optional)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a baking tray ready. Mix all the ingredients well in a mixing bowl, I find it easier to melt the coconut oil first. Transfer to the baking tray and spread evenly. Cook for about 25 minutes until golden brown then remove from the oven and score into rectangles. Allow to cool thoroughly giving the coconut plenty of time to set. Enjoy with some cardamom, rose and avena tea and a small smile of satisfaction.

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For many people anxiety and stress go hand in hand with a tense stomach and disturbed digestion. Whilst stress affects digestion in everyone, some people are particularly prone to experiencing problems.  All digestive issues, from gas to inflammatory bowel conditions are affected by stress, even if there are many other contributing factors.

Our digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system which is linked to the central nervous system by millions of nerves. When we are stressed we enter the ‘fight or flight’ response which priorities blood flow to the brain and muscles in case we have to run from or outwit a possible danger. This is, of course, useful in situations where there is a real threat but for many of us, our constant deadlines, hectic schedules and million and one expectations lead to a chronic state of stress in which the blood flow to the digestive organs is seriously impaired.  Stress causes everything to contract and constrict and can therefore affect the production of  digestive juices, cause the stomach and or intestines to spasm, create inflammation and encourage infection. When stress becomes chronic, so do digestive problems.

Chamomile

Goethe believed that the gut was the centre of all human emotions. When I used to practice as a massage therapist I would always ask people first if they wanted me to massage their stomach as many people dislike being touched in this area. I can notice this in myself too, if I am feeling anxious at all then my stomach feels far to sensitive to touch. This is because the nerves are all activated, leaving us with sensations such as ‘butterflies in our stomach’ or that awful knot of fear in our solar plexus.

There are many herbs that work on the interface between the nerves and the digestion- Chamomile, Cardamom, Rosemary, Lavender, Lemon Balm and other Mints to name just a few. All these are aromatic, therefore diffuse stuck energy and tension at the same time as stimulating digestion. A calming cup of chamomile tea, taken 2 or 3 times a day, is a great way to gently soothe your nerves and digestion. Specific conditions will need individualised treatment but for those who suffer more general digestive disturbances related to stress these herbs can be very useful.

Catmint

At the moment, everyone I am seeing has some level of stress related digestive disturbance, even if that is not the primary reason they are seeking treatment. Recently I saw someone who was so tense that their appetite had disappeared almost completely, a sure sign that the digestive organs are very constricted. I came up with this tummy rub as a way of not only relaxing the digestive system but also encouraging people to take a few moments in their hectic schedule to be fully present with themselves, take some deep breaths and become mindful of their state of being. It’s easy to gulp down a tincture or tea on your way to work but you have to take a bit of time to massage your stomach and even if you feel like it’s an extra thing to do in the morning, once you have begun you cannot help but calm down a little.

When massaging the stomach, always move in deep rhythmic movements in a clockwise direction (as if the clock were on your abdomen rather than facing you!) as this is the way the intestines move waste along. Take a moment to breathe deeply and become a little more mindful of yourself and the present moment. This need only take a few minutes but that can be enough to relax the digestion, the nervous system and the mind.

Soothing Tummy Rub:

50ml base oil (almond, sunflower, apricot etc)
10 drops Neroli essential oil
5 drops Roman Chamomile essential oil
5 drops Cardamom essential oil

This makes a blend of approximately 2%, perfect for adults and children over 12. For children between 4 and 12, halve the amount of essential oils and for babies to 4 year olds use 5 drops chamomile only to make a 0.5% blend or stick to chamomile infused oil instead. You could also make it into a salve or balm (see my previous post) if that is your preference.

Chamomile is a fabulous essential oil for calming the nerves and soothing digestion, helping to expel bloating, flatulence and gas. Cardamom is warming, carminative and antispasmodic and also has a relaxing and uplifting effect on the nerves. Neroli is one of the best essential oils for the nervous system being deeply relaxing and uplifting. It’s also good for promoting flow of digestive juices.  All three are considered children’s oils as they are safe, supportive, caring and calming.

I’ve had very positive feedback from those trialling the oil so far and I encourage those of you who also suffer from a tense stomach to give it a go too. The perfect way to soothe, nurture and let go.

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Spice up your life!

When Debs over at Herbaholics Herbarium announced the theme for this months blog party I didn’t know how I’d ever choose what to write about. The world of spices has always captivated people’s imagination and, in times gone by, some were worth more than gold. Here in Western Europe, where we have few local spices but can so benefit from their warming actions, the Spice Trade has been big business since Ancient times. Spices are the only non-local plant medicines I would never want to manage without, especially at this time of year when all I want is to settle down by the fire with a book, a cat and a cup of fresh ginger tea with a splash of elderberry syrup. Initially I wasn’t sure whether to take a more general look at spices and their uses as medicine and share some of my favourite recipes or whether to focus on one in particular and, if so, which one. My decision boiled down to black pepper or cardamom, both of which I use regularly in food, medicine and aromatherapy. In the end cardamom won the day, though don’t be surprised if a black pepper post pops up here too sometime over the colder months!

I have already written about cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and it’s natural affinity with rose in this post and in my chocolate recipe here. They both resonate with the heart and are famed for their aphrodisiac properties. Even though many spices are considered aphrodisiacs, for me, cardamom is the true spice of love.This is because it has a very balanced effect, being slightly stimulating- as are all spices to some extent- but also calming and centring. In Ayurvedic medicine cardamom has been used to enhance meditation for this very reason- whilst helping to pacify the mind it also aids in restoring focus and preventing you from dropping off to sleep on your meditation cushion! By increasing vitality, calming the spirits and improving concentration it is a great tonic for our busy 21st Century minds. In Asia it’s also been used in the treatment of depression.

Though it is native to India and South East Asia,  Guatamala and Mexico are now also large exporters, though the Indian cardamom is said to be highest in quality. Part of the ginger family, Zingerberaceae, it is a perennial herb with large leaves and fleshy underground rhizomes. The part we use medicinally is the pale green seed pods containing the small dark seeds which are rich in volatile oils.

Cardamom is best known in herbal medicine as a digestive remedy, especially when the problems are caused, or made worse by nervous tension. It has proved useful particularly for gas, bloating and nausea and can help calm vomiting. It is helpful to chew or drink as a tea after a heavy or rich meal or when one has the sense of having overeaten. The Ancient Egyptians are said to have used it in this way to sweeten their breath. It has also been found useful for headaches which are caused by indigestion. It is a helpful remedy for stimulating the appetite and some have used it with success in cases of anorexia. It’s ability to stimulate digestive secretions combined with its mood lifting properties would certainly make it a remedy worthy of consideration in such cases. As one of the safest digestives it is also suitable for children.

In my experience, Cardamom is a wonderful medicine for those constitutions who have a tendency to nervousness, over-thinking, anxiety and poor digestion. They can be prone to muscle contractions, stiffness, fatigue, low libido and poor concentration. This makes it beneficial for the Ayurvedic Vata types, or in Western energetic terms, those with a constricted tissue state. This is the person who never seems quite relaxed, who feels the cold and tends to worry, both of which may result in a stiff or contracted body posture.

In Ayurvedic medicine, cardamom is used as a remedy for clearing phlegm from the GI tract and the respiratory system. It helps drain damp and mucus from nose and sinuses and is warming and drying but not excessively so, therefore it is considered tridoshic, meaning it can be used with all constitutions, though in my small experience it’s true affinity is for those with a Vata constitution. To find out more about the Ayurvedic constitutions, or doshas,  and take a quiz to help you determine which one you are, have a look at this website here. Of course you really need to see a practitioner to get a true assessment!

Cardamom is also thought helpful for genito-urinary complaints. Anne McIntyre writes that it can help strengthen a weak bladder and according to some writers, it can help ease symptoms of PMT, though I have no expeience of using it in this way.

Here are some of my favourite Cardamon teas blends. Always crush the pods a little in a mortar and pestle to release the volatile oil containing seeds:

  • Cardamom and Rose – (of course.) To lift the mood, pacify the mind and instil feelings of love and wellbeing.
  • Cardamom, Chamomile and Peppermint – As the perfect after dinner beverage to settle the stomach, improve digestion and relieve gas.
  • Cardamom, Orange Peel and Elderberry – Make as a decoction for a warming and immune supporting winter tea.
  • Cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, black pepper and rooibos – A delicious chai enjoyed with a little almond milk and honey.

Cardamom pods

Cardamom can also be taken in tincture form and a little is a great addition to many formulas where digestion is a factor. It’s also lovely infused in honey or in a mixed spice vinegar or you can make a delicious electuary with ground cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, a little nutmeg and a little clove mixed with honey.

Cardamom as an essential oil is warming, invigorating, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic and aphrodisiac. It can be used in blends to massage the stomach to improve digestion or to ease muscle fatigue and it can be smelt straight from the bottle to alleviate nausea.

I love a few drops, mixed with a tablespoon of base oil, and added to the bath. Some of my favourite blends include – you guessed it – cardamom and rose; cardamom, black pepper and juniper; and cardamom, chamomile and mandarin, a blend which is also suitable for children in very small amounts.

Cardamom is of course also wonderful in foods. I use it to flavour rice and in curries and I also buy the ground cardamom to flavour cookies, smoothies, chocolates and cakes. Delicious.

I hope you get chance to enjoy this delightful, gentle and warming spice this autumn.

References:
The Complete Herbal Tutor – Anne McIntyre
The Yoga of Herbs – Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad
Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine – Thomas Bartram
The Directory of Essential Oils – Wanda Sellar
Picture of botanical illustration of cardamom curtesy of wikipedia.com.

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As promised, here is the recipe for my rose and cardamom chocolates. I’ll give you the basic chocolate recipe which can then be varied in infinite ways to make any flavour you fancy indulging in. I made nearly 400 of these for my wedding last year and added in a little sprinkle of aphrodisiac herbs and some flower remedies that resonate with the heart to complete the effect.

The basic recipe could not be easier and contains only 4 ingredients, plus the flavourings, should you choose to use them. These chocolates are raw and vegan so are fine for most people. Chocolate has been shown to have many health benefits, such as a high magnesium and antioxidant content, however most commercially available chocolate also has a lot of sugar and dairy which detracts from this. Despite the benefits, chocolate is still a stimulating herb so I would recommend you do as I say and not as I do, and eat it in small quantities. :) The ingredients are a little pricey to purchase but will last a long time if you get a reasonable amount. They are mostly available from good health shops or online retailers like Raw Living and Indigo Herbs. Practitioners, students or those in the trade can get great discounts buying through Tree Harvest.

These amounts are enough for 3 to 4 chocolate moulds depending on their size and depth. I have bought all my moulds from Cakes, Cookies and Crafts, which do a fabulous selection, including leaves, flowers, hearts, dinosaurs and even halloween themed skulls and spiders!

Ingredients:
120g raw cacao powder
100g raw cacao butter
20g virgin coconut butter
80g agave nectar
Tiny pinch of crystal or sea salt

2 drop rose essential oil
2 drop cardamom essential oil
Flower remedies (optional)

The easy rule is that the total weight of the butters equals the total amount of chocolate powder. This makes a fairly intense chocolate but you can add more butters if you want it less so. You can also play around with the proportions of the butters. I only add a small amount of coconut butter as it can be quite ‘fatty’ and give the finished chocolates a very low melt point but you could add more, or omit it altogether and just use cacao butter, as you like. Equally you can add a little more agave, up to about 100g, if you want the end product to be sweeter.

So what you do is melt the butters, gently, in a bain marie/ double boiler and when they are completely liquid stir in the sieved chocolate powder and agave syrup until well mixed and the consistency of melted chocolate. Add a pinch of salt and 2 drops each of your chosen essential oils and stir well. Using a spoon, fill your moulds and pop in the fridge for an hour before tucking in. It really couldn’t be simpler!

I use rose otto and cardamom essential oils in this recipe but you could substitute ground cardamon, though the finished chocolate would not have quite such a smooth consistency. Rose on its own is also beyond divine!

I recommend adding just four drops of your chosen essential oils for this quantity of chocolate. Drop them onto a teaspoon first to prevent any extra falling in the mixture as they are so intense it can alter (and ruin) the whole thing. It’s imperative when using essentail oils internally to buy only organic, food grade quality oils as many of the cheaper brands are diluted or mixed with solvents and could be quite toxic. I mostly buy oils from Materia Aromatica.

Some of my favourite flavours for chocolates are;
Orange and Geranium
Lavender
Peppermint
Lime with Chilli
Orange and Ginger

You can also add nuts, dried fruits, herbal powders, crystalised ginger, pollen… the possibilities are endless.

For rose chocolates I like to use a few drops of flower remedies that work with the heart chakra such as Hawthorn and Lime flower as well as a pinch of a suitable herb such as powdered Hawthorn Berry. If using the Dr Bach essences, Holly would be a good choice. For orange chocolates energising essences like Olive (Bach) or Sycamore are nice and for Lavender, calming and soothing essences work well. Dr Bach’s White Chestnut would be a good choice.

Due to its stimulating nature chocolate works quite well as a carrier herb, helping deliver the other medicinal ingredients throughout the body. I always see food as a medicine and adding herbs, flower remedies and essential oils to my chocolates, soups, smoothies, honeys, vinegars, salad dressings, pretty much everything really, has become second nature.

I hope you enjoy making these little treats and experiment with them as freely as I have!

Peppermint, Ginkgo and Gotu Kola oak leaves and Lavender and Ashwagandha hearts .

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Whenever I need a bit of luxury in my life, rose and cardamom tea is just the ticket. These two herbs not only taste beautiful together but also have some great medicinal properties that help balance us when things get stressful.

They both have a long history of use as aphrodisiacs and were key ingredients in any number of ancient love spells. As they both aid the release of nervous tension and stress and have exquisite aromatic flavours, it’s not hard to see why this would be so.

Cardamom is wonderfully warming and soothing to the digestive tract and is a first rate choice for bloating or gas. Rose petals are usually considered cooling but also have some important digestive properties in increasing bile flow and protecting the liver.

They also both help to dry up congestion and mucus so can be useful at this time of year for those pesky ‘change of season’ runny noses.

Enjoy half an hour before meals to maximise the digestive properties or at anytime for the wonderful flavour and balancing, heart opening, love inducing effects. Just crush a few cardamom pods and add a small teaspoon of rose petals per cup.

If you really need some pampering, take a leaf out of my book and indulge in this tea with some homemade rose and cardamom chocolates (recipe to follow soon), whilst relaxing in a rose and cardamom bath… pure heaven.

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