Thursday, July 16, 2009

Entertaining the Electuary

One of the most pleasant ways to prepare and take herbs is in an electuary, which is a fancy-pants name for a sweet herbal paste or jam. In times past, many bitter-tasting and downright unpalatable herbs were likely prepared in this way to 'help the medicine go down". In its simplest form, an electuary consists of honey and powdered herbs; however, I've seen a variety of interesting additions in recipes: fragrant flowers (fresh rose petals come to mind here), wine, brandy, herbal vinegar or medicinal tinctures; fruit or herb syrups, jams or conserves. Of these extra additions, I am quite fond of an electuary made with fresh elderberries blended with ginger, clove and cinnamon powders and of course, honey. It is a delicious, but potent treat to take a few a spoonfuls of this paste at the first inkling of the 'Uh oh, I've got a chill' cold or flu.

The gamut of possible combinations in recipes of electuaries can run from the very simple to the extremely complex. The great Greco-Roman physician Galen's Theriac electuary had over 64 different ingredients! Well made, electuaries will keep for a very long time. Many actually mellow and improve with age. Precious pots of herb and honey blends have been found intact in the burial tombs of many of the great pharaohs of Egypt. Apparently they were considered a valuable necessity to have in the afterlife!

The standard 'dose' for a sweet herbal paste is usually a teaspoonful taken as needed, depending on the electuary's potency. They may be stirred into hot complimentary teas to be ingested or taken straight off the spoon. My vehicle of choice is a piece of buttered whole grain toast! But, I digress...

My very favorite combination for an electuary is an assortment of warming carminitive and aromatic spices. This particular blend is particularly useful in the event of digestive cramping, nausea, intestinal gas, diarrhea and other uncomfortable disorders of the digestive system. Many of these same spices are also strongly antibacterial in the case of digestive upset caused by ingesting microbial nasties. Some may be surprised, if not skeptical, of the potent medicinal power of these common kitchen cupboard spices. If the medicinal value of this tasty electuary hasn't sold you yet, make this simply to stir into a cup of hot black tea and cream for an instant chai tea! And please, don't forget to try the buttered toast. Heavenly.

Here is my own recipe for this excellent electuary. Be sure to use whole spices to start. Commercially powdered spices may have already lost a good part of their 'zing' and with it, a good part of their medicinal value.

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp whole cloves, 2 tsp coriander seeds, 2 tsp dried ginger root, 2 tsp whole black peppercorns, 2 tsp fennel seeds, 2 tsp nutmeg powder, 3 tsp cardamom seeds, 3 tsp whole allspice berries, 3 whole star anise, 3 TB cinnamon chips

Grind all spices together in a mortar and pestle (or electric coffe grinder if you have one) until quite finely powdered. Stir into 2 cups of honey and simmer together over a LOW, LOW heat double boiler for at least a day, preferably longer, but stirring often. Strain warm honey through a medium fine sieve. This will assure that you remove all the tooth-breaking hard parts, but still allow the powered bits to pass through. The finished electuary should be rich, dark and nearly paste-like in consistency. Store in a clean jar and cap tightly.

As much as I love to talk about the sweet things in life, Kiva Rose at The Medicine Woman's Roots put the 'sweet talk' together in an organized way by hosting a summer blog party called "Sweet Medicines". This particular post and all other submissions will be published on her blog on August 1. I'm really looking forward to that. In fact, I may just add another sweet post or two before the end of the month.We have been totally enjoying the tasty herbal syrups, honeys and elixirs here in the classes the last few weeks.Make sure to go take a long look at Kiva's's so beautifully illustrated and written. A true inspiration!!


Gail Faith Edwards said...

Wonderful! Thanks for sharing your recipes!

Karen Vaughan said...

Oh, what a delightful combination of flavors!

nettlejuice said...

Susan, thank you for this inspiring post. I have been experimenting with electuaries since I read it and recently posted about it on my blog here...

I'd love to make it up to one of your classes soon.


Pamela said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.


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