Archive for September, 2009


My introduction to sorrel happened in a Jamaican restaurant long ago and it was love at first sip. Something about that wonderful mix of sweet, sour, spicy and the seductive deep red hue of sorrel always lingered long after the last drop was gone. ‘I wish I could make that,’ I’d think. Then one day before I moved to Namibia for a teaching gig, it occurred to me ‘I can try.’

I’m a firm believer in ancestral memory and such, so I figured that while making sorrel might not be in my DNA (or then again it might be because the Senegalese make it and call it Bissap), I might come up with something respectable anyway. I went to the store and got myself a package of dried sorrel. My first surprise was that sorrel is a hibiscus flower. I started combing recipes and labels on the sorrel I liked. My next surprise was that it was traditionally served as a Christmas drink in Jamaica and folk often mixed it with rum. The third surprise was that sorrel can be as wild or as tame as the person who makes it. There are no hard and fast rules. So here I am, many batches of good sorrel later ready to share my recipe.


Because sorrel is a delicious vitamin c rich, blood purifying, digestive powerhouse. I have been reading up on Ayurveda lately and somehow it’s helping Robin’s teachings about the healing capacities of the spices we use in cooking to sink in.

I’d always associated sorrel with summer, but late last fall I served it warm to friends because it felt like the thing to do.  Later I found that hibiscus flowers are used against colds and fevers. When you add ginger,cinnamon, and cloves–which are great for working through colds, coughs and flus; helping to heal respiratory problems; and moving mucous out of our systems– you’ve got yourself some delicious medicine. Add your own spin to it. Have fun. Add rum if you want. Enjoy.

Ekere’s Sassy Sorrel

1 cup Dried hibiscus flowers

as much fresh ginger as you’d like

3 cloves

generous sprinkling of cinnamon or 3/4 sticks

1/2 lime or orange

honey or agave to taste

Put seven cups of water in a pot on the stove to boil. Meanwhile, take the fresh ginger, peel it and pound it with a mortar.

Place the hibiscus flowers in a mason jar and add the ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.

Cut the lime in half. Add the juice of one half of the lime and slice the other half and drop the slices in my jar. If I am using an orange, I give it a little squeeze, and put half of it sliced in my jar (I eat the other half)

When the water boils, pour it over the herbs in the mason jar. Fill the jar all the way to the top and cap it. Let this sit overnight. Ah, the anticipation.

The next day, strain the sorrel making sure to squeeze the hibiscus to get all the good stuff out. Then add either honey or agave to taste.

Stir, stir, stir.

Drink, drink,drink.

Remember that you can get as creative as you want with this. I have added rose petals and lemon balm to my sorrel too.

sorrel AKA bissap

sorrel AKA bissap

Any other sorrel recipes out there?

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Born to be wildcrafting

Ginkgo leaves

Ginkgo leaves

I started delving into herbs when I was about 16. I remember getting my hands on  John Lust’s The Herb Book, looking at the miniature drawings and studying the descriptions of what ailments what plants could cure. I would get my herbs in capsule form or in boxes of teas back then. I used packaged tea blends for problems when they cropped up. I knew that herbs were a viable form of healing for certain problems but they were not yet a consistent part of my life.

On the next leg of the journey, my friend Bruce took me to a store where one could buy dried herbs. I was in my early twenties then and thought it was interesting to get herbs this way. I don’t remember why, but I got a small bag of vervain and an even smaller one of eyebright. Months later, I experienced redness in one of my eyes. I found that little bag of eyebright, made a tea from it, strained it and put a couple of drops in my eye. I had no idea if that was supposed to be done that way (I still don’t) but the redness cleared within an hour of using the drops.

All this to say that I’ve never been skeptical about the power of herbs; however, it wasn’t until I gave birth to my second daughter at age 33 that I decided to pursue an herbal education. In the United States where the words “health” and “care” don’t really belong together and visits to homeopaths, naturopaths and other alternative healers could land you in the poor house, it seemed to me that the only sensible solution to the dilemma of receiving quality health care would be to become the healer our family might need. That’s when it got serious. I’d already found myself a good herb store, and it was there that I heard about a teacher named Robin Rose Bennett. When I read that she would be doing a six week class at The New York Open Center, I signed up and sat rapt through every session. I will never forget when Robin told our class that “Plants are our teachers and our elders.”

I think that the best thing to have when one wants to learn about herbs is a good teacher. I had a few books and I’d worked with loose herbs, but it wasn’t until I found a teacher that things began to come together. Through Robin I am learning about the art of identifying and harvesting herbs –and this is something that this city girl never imagined doing. I’ve had the privilege of going on herbal walks with Tioma Allison and Andrea Reisen and I’ve learned about indigenous planting and harvesting practices from Franc Menusan. Sitting at the knees of these healers has profoundly affected my earth walk. Herbs are a part of my family’s daily life now–in fact, they are part of our family. Now, my preferred way of getting certain common herbs (dandelion, burdock, red clover, sassafras, plantain, ginko) is by going into parks or woods and gathering them myself. There is something very special about making medicines from plants you have gathered and given thanks for.

My supplies have now grown to include many more books, vodka to make tinctures, apple cider vinegar, extra virgin olive oil to make infused oils, two cute drying baskets, a good field guide (which I am still trying to figure out how to use), and a dozen or so mason jars for making infusions. Yet nothing replaces a great teacher and building a relationship with the natural world.

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The Fabulous Ms. Dandelion

DSCN3185 dandelions

Dandelions by Rosemary Altreche

This most maligned plant is one of our most powerful healers. If gardeners knew that by getting rid of Ms. Dandelion they were throwing out a liver tonic proven to cure diabetes, help anemics, create an anti-cancer environment in the body and alleviate skin problems–they might put those spades and garbage bags down and think again.

I fell in love with dandelions (taraxacum officianalis) as a child. I had heard that it was a so called weed, but that did nothing to stop my ardor for it.  I brought bouquets of it home to my mother and blew on that very same flower to make wishes. When I started my first year as an apprentice with Robin Rose Bennett, my love for dandelions was quickly rekindled.

I have used every part of this wonderful plant. The yellow flowers make a nice oil for easing tension, releasing emotions and moving blocked energy in the body. I had a stubborn blocked milk duct in my breast a few weeks back.  I had tried a few things, but none of them worked. I decided to massage dandelion oil on the engorged part of the breast and nurse my daughter so that her chin faced the swelling. That was the end of the blocked duct.

I have also found that regularly drinking dandelion leaf infusions boosts my energy level tremendously. Blame it on the vitamins A,B,C,D, and the potassium, iron, calcium, and phosphorus. The fresh leaves are also delicious raw in salads or cooked in stir fries. I have also made a vinegar out of them and used that as part of my salad dressing or wherever vinegar is called for. The apple cider vinegar pulls the vitamins and minerals out of the leaves.

Dandelion leaves can also help relieve water retention. I know that I don’t deal with swollen breasts before my menstrual cycle anymore and I think dandelion is directly responsible for that. In fact, I’ve recently noticed that Ms. dandelion is a part of some of the PMS teas on the market. Apparently, toxicity in the liver can contribute to menstrual cramps so drinking dandelion (leaf and root) infusions can definitely help ease moon cycle issues over time.

Now mind you, dandelion is bitter and just like I said in the aloe post, most bitters are great for digestion. Dandelion root is no exception. The root is also known for stimulating appetite, stabilizing blood sugar, and stimulating the flow of bile. I’ve taken to drinking a tea from the roasted root because it tastes delicious.

The truth is that I could go on and on about dandelion and how it has been proven to support the lymph, cleanse the liver, enhance fertility, and tone the kidneys. Instead I will recommend getting your hands dirty:

Dig up those dandelions! Harvest the (fall) roots and gather some leaves (anytime), put them in a jar, cover them with vodka and let the jar sit in a dark place for six weeks. You’ll have yourself a great dandelion tincture. (Please remember to give thanks for the medicine you receive from any plant you harvest. More on this very soon.)

Take the gorgeous yellow blossoms, put them in a glass jar and cover them with extra virgin olive oil. Let that sit for six weeks. Take the blossoms out and squeeze them. Then you’ll have yourself a dandelion oil.

Gather the leaves, put those in a jar, cover them with apple cider vinegar. Let that sit and use the vinegar in foods when you get ready.

Pick the spring leaves and put them in salads.

You can also order dried dandelion root and leaf from a reputable source. (My favorite is Healing Spirits Farm) Put a handful of leaves and some of the root in a quart mason jar. Fill the jar with just boiled water and let it sit for eight hours. Drink, drink, drink.

Am I a dandelion fanatic? Indeed I am. This cooling plant somehow manages to bring just the right amount of fire to my life. Enjoy ingesting this plant for a month and I bet you’ll never stop singing its praises.

Oh-One indulgent thing I really want to try is making dandelion wine. I’ll let you know how it goes.

DSCN3203 field of dandies 2

Field of Dandelions by Rosemary Altreche

Dandelion/Dents de lion (the lion’s teeth)

we weed them out
overlook their untamed deliciousness
too grown, too manicured, too potted we
don’t caress their silver
afros with wishes and breath
smiling as our dreams rise delirious
in the mouth of the wind

baby suns
cool stars
wild, unstoppable things
the truth of us
when we don’t overlook it
the bitter honeyed soul of us
if we don’t dig it up.

Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

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