Alchemy in the Herbalist’s Kitchen: A Tandem Herbal Cookbooks Review

 

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Likewise, the learning method appears, often in the form of a book. If you would have added “cook” with “book,” however, in the past I’d have rolled my eyes—sighed even, out of mock disdain, but in its essence, defeat. Not anymore, as cooking is now a treat.

My family will tell you that historically for me, cooking has been a legacy of lethargy, a bore, even a painful chore for me. They’ll also tell you that suddenly my culinary pursuits—and skills—have taken flight. The reason? Herbalism. Exemplary meals prepared with ease and served with joy are much more meaningful—and probable—when paired with herbs that support self-healing. It is my passion for the Art of Plant Medicine that has ignited a genuine interest in facilitating fine dining in my own home, by my own hand. The answer is indeed a Botaniscape, an inspirational and nurturing botanical view, through the plant allies’ perspective, as I can see clearly now what I’ve been missing, which is a deeper connection with the ingredients and the process.

This renaissance of interest, even success, stems from two cookbooks, yes, COOK-books: Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods and Remedies that Heal by Rosalee de la Forêt, and Recipes from The Herbalist’s Kitchen: Delicious, Nourishing Food for Lifelong Health and Well-being by Brittany Wood Nickerson. Although the books are more about herbalism as a way of life than cooking primer, these herbalists have breathed life onto my dinner plate through their words, as I’m not only enriched by them, but truly transformed as a reawakened chef through herbal awareness.

As an author, I must say that nothing can be truer than the writer’s heart and soul pouring out onto the page. Writing is a labor of love. Writing nonfiction is also teaching; not only is the author’s essence ever-present, but their unique style as an educator, as well. Both de la Forêt’s and Nickerson’s culinary and literary stylings resonated. I’m certain that plant energetics and vibrational medicine through the realized, uncomplicated recipes also had something to do with it!

Photo: Garlic Honey ©2017 Loretta McClellan

In Alchemy of Herbs, which was my first herbal goodness cookbook, my inaugural introduction came by way of “Garlic Honey” on page 84. Functioning as effective food-as-medicine, it was my first foray into crafting immune support. After my family got over the fear of garlic breath, it has become our go-to remedy to stave-off the wicked strains of colds and flu that have permeated our region this summer. I felt an atypical summer sore throat coming on, took the garlic honey several times that day and the next day: Poof! Symptoms gone!

Photo: Sage Chicken ©2017 Loretta McClellan

My next recipe from Rosalee’s book has been such a triumph for me I have made it frequently ever since: “Sage Chicken,” on page 166 in the paperback edition, with the sage butter technique courtesy of Jenny McGruther of NourishedKitchen.com, per the recipe’s preface. Using fresh sage, or Salvia officinalis, along with lemons and onions provided a trifecta of delectability! (As a side note, I have both Kindle and paperback editions of this book. I rarely own more than one version of a book. This volume of reference warranted both, as I needed to be able to highlight ad nauseum in the digital version and have the tangible, crisp, page-flipping experience of the printed copy. The only negative is that the book binding separated from the cover at the spine after its first laying open for use while I cooked; repositioning the spine to the cover each use has proven effective). Back to the Sage Chicken recipe: I differ from her recipe a bit, as I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of thighs with the skin on. It is the most delectable dish, so much so, that my family keeps asking me to increase the portions, it’s so yummy!

Rosalee has a considerable online presence as well, through the book’s moderated Facebook page which she comments on, as Education Director for LearningHerbs.com, and her own Herbs by Rosalee (HerbalRemediesAdvice.org), among many others, so I’ve become well acquainted with her methods of conveying herbal benefits, discerning our own individual constitutions, and materia medica on numerous herbs. Each has been a rewarding and fulfilling extension of the book, and most importantly, learning.

Photo: Steak with a Lavender-Black pepper Crust; Tumbled Rosemary Potatoes ©2017 Loretta McClellan

I am only recently introduced to Brittany Wood Nickerson, of ThymeHerbal.com, fortuitously finding her hardcover book at Costco; however, like the blossoms she regularly showcases in her media, her personality as an herbalist immediately opened me up to remembrance and re-discovery. Intuition led me to her book, mostly for the subtle, but noticeable theme of fermented foods, a topic of interest. Regardless of dietary need, however, the cuisine offered between its pages is fantastic!

I love lavender, but wouldn’t have considered at this stage in my culinary ascent in pairing it with beef. Brittany’s “Steak with a Lavender-Black Pepper Crust” recipe on page 120 gave me the courage to be bold; it is a potent, tantalizing entrée, dazzling all the senses, particularly using dried Lavandula angustifolia. I ground the lavender and even peppercorns by hand, using my Japanese style mortar and pestle, a suribachi, for how it was meant to be used—with mindful beauty (see video). The aroma of the two herbs was like a dance—perfect complements to each other. I chose to opt for more control and broil the dish to medium rare, instead of fry in a cast iron pan as directed. Again, my intuition was right. I rarely eat red meat, but when I do again, this will be at the top of the list of menu possibilities!

Along with fresh strawberries, as a side dish to this lavender extravaganza, I opted for simple yet tasty, tumbled baked potatoes with pressed garlic and fresh rosemary drizzled with olive oil, inspired by Rosalee’s “Parsley Potatoes” on page 138. After a day beginning with an homage on Botaniscape.com to Rosemary Gladstar quoting her “Mantra for Home Health Care” from her book, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, then noticing for the first time after many visits, of fresh rosemary growing everywhere near my favorite market, my evening meal and day had to be complete with a third rosemary treat!

With each of these herbal-guides-that-double-as-a-cookbook, prepare yourself for an overflowing measure of plant wisdom and easy methods for dishes that are divine. All it takes is intention and a dash of time—or for some recipes, thyme!

Disclaimer: The author is not a medical professional, nutritionist or dietician. Content on this website is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for medical treatment or diagnosis and is not monitored or evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration/FDA. Consult your health care provider if you are experiencing any symptoms and before using any herbal product. Any application of the material provided is at the reader’s discretion and is his or her sole responsibility.


The heart of Botaniscape™ and budding Herbalist, Lori McClellan sees the Art of Herbalism as her lifelong connection to Nature and wonder manifested most fully—another exciting medium and source of abundant joy. A Journalist, Author, Artist and Poet, creating as Loretta Boyer McClellan, her works as a writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry; conscious PR, brand, graphic design, and communications; and as an Arts instructor, journalist and artist, “sized the canvas,” so to speak, for a fruitful life of expression, connection and inspiration. Author of The Nature of BEing: A Healing Journey, The Misthaven of Maine Series, and Dodging Raindrops: Poems and Prose of Beauty, Peace and Healing, Lori creates from a place of Oneness. Writing, meditating, painting, and her relationship with Nature and all beings, most tangibly through Herbalism, are her connection to the Infinite. 

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