HEAL: Alchemy of Herbs - Book Review & Recipe for the Best Damn Carrot Cake
Though the author of the book, ALCHEMY OF HERBS, is a friend of mine, I resisted buying another book on herbs. My passion for plants and my love for books began to slowly collide decades ago and as a result, I possess over 200 books on all things plants and of those, 89 are related to herbs. (And I won’t EVEN mention my cookbook collection …at least not in this post)
But I am also familiar with Rosalee’s commitment to factual information that is accessible in an easy-to-understand communication style. As a clinical herbalist/educator, she knows her stuff and more importantly, I trust her information. There is so much junk marketing around herbs and herbal remedies that finding a trustworthy source of information is critical to understanding how and when to use herbs for healing.
Wellness always starts with our diets and lifestyles. Modern medicine often overrides the symptoms, reducing and hiding the effects of our illnesses. Herbs work with our bodies, offering support medicinally and/or increasing our nutrient intake. Understanding the role of food and wellness starts with these questions:
What kinds of food do we eat?
How nutritious is our food?
How does food make us feel?
Do certain foods make us feel better? Worse?
Do some foods trigger physiological reactions?
Can we change our individual diets so we have more energy, develop stronger immune systems, reduce inflammation and support our body’s systems to do the incredible work they do 24 hours a day?
I know what you are thinking… Will I have to eat twigs, roots, leaves and flowers? Well, as a matter a fact, yes. The key is to use the right twigs, roots, leaves and flowers.
WHAT'S IN THE BOOK
In Part I of the Alchemy of Herbs, Rosalee explains the benefits of herbs and spices (beyond their flavorings), provides a succinct introduction of the energetics of people, illnesses and plants and explores the tastes of herbs and how those tastes help us to select foods that can make us feel better.
As any proper herbalist would do, the larger section, Part II, is dedicated to the herbs themselves: 29 plants, about half that can be easily grown or foraged in North America, are featured in individual chapters. Basic botanical information, energetics, medicinal and nutritional information (if applicable) are described in an accessible format with scientific sources to support her statements. Each plant chapter has multiple recipes that are designed to explore the taste and the energetics of each plant.
LET THY FOOD BE YOUR MEDICINE
This is the basis of Alchemy of Herbs. Rosalee worked from the ancient Greek adage, “Let thy food be your medicine,” and created a diverse set of recipes that utilize the healing and nutritional properties of common herbs and spices. The recipes are easy to make and don’t require special equipment or chef's training. While most of the recipes are food-based, she also includes several tea recipes, a few traditional herb remedies and a couple recipes for healing skin care products.
This is the best introductory book on incorporating healing herbs into our daily lives that I have read in my three decades of studying herbal medicine. I might have saved time, energy and money if I had a resource like this back in the day.
If you are curious about herbal medicine but overwhelmed and unsure about all the stuff out there on the inter-web world, just buy this book to begin your herbal journey…one recipe at a time.
BEST DAMN SPICED CARROT CAKE RECIPE
I host several garden interns one morning a week and wanted to offer a sweet reward after spending the morning in cold rainy weather. Though I was headed to the kitchen to make her Cardamon Chocolate Mousse Cake, I changed my mind after reading the recipe for Spiced Carrot Cake. It is a grain-free Sweet Treat that uses baking ingredients I had on hand: coconut flour, coconut oil, maple syrup and what Rosalee calls “a generous amount of delicious aromatic spices.” Finally, someone who believes that spices are to be tasted (I am always increasing the amounts of herbs and spices in most recipes)! What appealed to me the most was Rosalee's statement that most carrot cake recipes are too sweet. Exactly! The interns gave a huge thumbs up to what I now call the Best Damn Spiced Carrot Cake.
Here’s the recipe:
SPICED CARROT CAKE
Yield: 16 small servings
FOR THE CAKE:
6 tablespoons coconut flour, sifted
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ginger powder
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup organic coconut oil, melted
3 raw carrots, grated (peeled if desired)
1/2 cup raisins
FOR THE FROSTING:
8 ounces softened cream cheese
½ cup softened butter
¼ cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup chopped walnuts, for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
1) To make the cake: In a small bowl, mix the coconut flower, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, baking soda and salt.
2) In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, vanilla, maple syrup and melted coconut oil.
3) Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well. Stir in the carrots and raisins.
4) Grease 9x9 inch cake pan with coconut oil. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30 minutes. Test the center with a toothpick – if it comes clean, the cake is done. (I used 8x8 inch cake pan so let it bake for about 35 minutes; testing with tooth pick)
5) Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool while you make the frosting.
6) To make the frosting: Cream together the cream cheese and butter. Mix in the maple syrup and vanilla extract. Stir in the fresh ginger.
7) Once the cake is cooled, frost it with the buttercream frosting. Garnish with walnuts and serve.
Author: Sue Kusch
Sue Kusch, a former community college instructor and academic advisor, incorporates her experiential wisdom, expertise and science-based research garnered from her three decades of growing vegetables, fruit and herbs into her educational writing about plants and how people use them. In addition to her BA in Social Sciences and Masters in Education, she completed the Master Gardener training in 2011 and two permaculture courses in 2001 and 2014. She has studied medicinal and nutritional uses of herbs including studies at Herbmentor.com and East West School of Planetary Herbology since 1997. An avid reader, lover of historical and folkloric information, and a promising storyteller, Sue writes about the intersection of plants and people at www.plantsnpeople.com.
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