Wood ear mushroom, Auricularia auricula-judae, is a wonderful wild food that can be hugely beneficial for our immunity. It is easy to find around the Taranaki region, growing on rotting trees in damp, shady areas. I love spending time foraging in the native bush on our property to harvest wood ear. Simply being in the bush has profound effects on our health, with the plant chemicals we breathe in being shown to lower stress, improve immunity and enhance heart health. Harvesting food and medicine from this healing place feels extra potent.
Wood ear mushroom is particularly therapeutic for our immunity. Studies have shown antibacterial effects as well as high levels of polyphenols, potent antioxidants that protect us from disease. Wood ear is also rich in prebiotics such as beta glucan, feeding our beneficial gut bacteria that are an important part of our immune defense. Wood ear has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine to nourish the lungs and the blood. Modern research has shown it to be effective against cancer, and significantly improving heart health. Nutritionally, wood ear is rich in nutrients such as vitamin B5 which is important for our adrenal health and selenium, a valuable antioxidant mineral that supports good detoxification.
Preparing Wood Ear Mushroom
Wood ear has a jelly like, crunchy texture that works well in lots of dishes, including soups, stir fry's and salads. Neutral tasting in itself, wood ear or black fungus absorbs seasoning and can become a delicious part of your meal! If you can find it fresh, harvest the younger fungi as this is more tender.
To prepare, rinse and cut off the fibrous part where it was attached to the log. Cut into smaller pieces, cover with water and boil for ten minutes. Boiling the mushroom actually increases the antioxidant effects and kills off any bacteria that may be present. Drain and rinse. From here they are ready to add towards the end of a stir fry with a savoury sauce or soup. Add towards the end of cooking to preserve the crunchy texture. A stir fry sauce that works well with wood ear is 2 T tamari, 2 T rice wine, 2 t sesame oil, 1 tsp coconut sugar. Thicken the sauce with 2 t corn starch mixed with 1/4 C water. In the photo below I added it to our gluten and dairy free pizza's for some fusion cuisine! Delicious.
Whenever harvesting from the wild, be absolutely sure you can identify what you are harvesting to avoid poisoning! Fortunately wood ear mushroom is easily identified by it's ear like shape, and the other similar looking mushrooms are generally also edible. These include black fungus and cloud ear mushroom. You can also purchase these mushrooms in dried form at Asian food stores. Soak the dried mushroom in warm water for 30 mins before cooking.
Tasty condiments can transform simple, healthy fare into delicious meals. The secret to packing your diet full of vibrant vegetables is to couple them with delectable dressings! They can also be a vehicle for some powerful healing foods that support our health and digestion, such as vinegar, lemon, garlic and miso. These condiments can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge, allowing them to be part of your healthful convenience food options.
Green Goodness Salad Dressing
This dressing is creamy thanks to the avocado, and packed full of nutrient dense garden herbs. Adjust herbs according to what you find in your garden. Great to serve alongside grilled vegetables and barbecue fare in the summertime, as well as salads and pasta dishes.
Add all ingredients to food processor and blend until smooth. Keeps around 4 days.
Tahini Mustard Dressing
This is thick, creamy and tangy while being completely free of dairy and poor quality fats that most store bought dressings are loaded with. Tahini is a great source of calcium.
Creamy Salad Dressing
The creaminess of this dressing comes from the soaked cashew nuts. Nutritional yeast packs a cheesy flavour and is high in B vitamins and chromium for energy and blood sugar balance.
Orange Ginger Miso Dressing
This Japanese inspired dressing is a great way to incorporate probiotic-rich miso into your diet without heating it. Serve over steamed or sauteed veges or as a salad dressing.
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Store in the fridge. Can thin with water to serve.
I was delighted with our first harvest of Marshmallow root from the bed we planted. In celebration, I decided to make a truly delicious herbal preparation from this wonderful healer - real herbal marshmallows!
Traditionally, marshmallows were made using real Marshmallow root, a wonderful herb that has an abundance of gooey mucilage and pectin, providing the soft structure of marshmallows. The ingredient list on a packet of modern day marshmallows showed the following ingredients, with no real Marshmallow in sight:
Sugar, Wheat Glucose Syrup, Water, Gelatine, Corn Starch, Flavours, Colour.
Many of the homemade recipes on the web also use little or no Marshmallow root, instead relying on the sugar and gelatin to provide the structure of the marshmallows. Of the recipes I found using real Marshmallow root, the root was often extracted using hot water - which does not sufficiently extract the wonderful gooey constituents that you need for creating that fluffy structure.
Here’s the trick - to best extract the mucilage from Marshmallow root, start with a cold water infusion. Simply let the chopped herb sit in cold water for 2+ hours and you will notice the water get thick and gooey - this is the mucilage and pectin coming out. Simmering the mixture after this further extracts other constituents.
Now the marshmallow extract just requires some sweetening, a little vanilla to flavour, and something to give some firmness to the structure. Options for this include egg whites, gelatin, gum tragacanth or agar (these last two are vegan options). I chose gelatin for this recipe, however I would also add egg white next time for increased fluffiness.
Apart from the fun of making this herbal creation, why is Marshmallow such a wonderful herb to grow and use? This soft and gentle healer, Althaea officinalis, has much to offer us as plant medicine. The soothing properties of Marshmallow root heal hot, inflamed and irritated conditions of the body, whether this is in the form of a sore throat, chronic cough, stomach ulcer, reflux, burning urination or eczema on the skin. Research has shown the anti-inflammatory action of Marshmallow to be superior to medication (1), and the protective qualities have been shown to also enhance the immune response to heal infections in the gut and skin (2).
To use Marshmallow root as medicine, infuse 1-2 tsp of dried root in a half cup of cold water for 2 hours. Top up with boiling water and drink as a tea. Marshmallow root also extracts well as a glycetract.
Sweetener note: honey can be used for this recipe, however I chose not to as the recipe requires boiling the honey which is seen to be toxic in Ayurveda. On a practical note, the heaviness of honey can mean it falls to the bottom of the marshmallows, and the flavour can be a bit overpowering.
1 - (Beaune, A. and Balea, T. [Anti-inflammatory experimental properties of marshmallow: its potentiating action on the local effects of corticoids]. Therapie 1966;21(2):341-347)
2 - (Recio MC and et al. Antimicrobial activity of selected plants employed in the Spanish Mediterranean area, Part II. Phytother Res 1989;3:77-80)
Geranium is a beautiful and under appreciated medicinal herb that is a delight to have in the garden. Commonly known as Rose geranium, Pelargonium graveolens has a delicious sweet and spicy scent when the heat from the sun releases the essential oils into the air. These precious oils are responsible for much of Geranium’s healing effects, and one of the easiest ways to harness these oils is to infuse the fresh plant in water - such as in this refreshing Geranium Summer Infusion recipe! Geranium is easy to grow, requires little care and can be grown from a cutting. The flowers are edible and can be added to salads and deserts.
Healing with Geranium
Geranium is a safe and restoring herb, replenishing us when we have burnt out our resources due to overwork, illness or stress. Having a special affinity with our hormonal system, geranium gently restores our energy, relaxes and uplifts the mind, relieves depression and irritability. For women, geranium is a wonderful ally to balance the reproductive system, helping PMS, menstrual difficulties, infertility and menopausal symptoms.
Geranium tightens tissues in the body, reducing water retention, inflammation and swelling. Topically, geranium can be used to soothe and heal wounds, sprained muscles, bleeding, inflammation and rashes such as eczema and herpes. For these conditions, apply a compress by soaking a cloth in a geranium infusion and placing over the area several times a day.
To Prepare Geranium Summer Infusion
The amounts used can be adjusted to taste. The floral, spicy tones of geranium combine well with the zesty tang of lemon, making for an attractive and tasty summer time drink that is both refreshing and restoring.
These patties are light in texture and tasty to eat while being incredibly good for you. Just four patties provides a third of your daily fibre requirements to feed your gut bacteria and support digestion, detoxification and blood sugar balance.
ThetaHealer, Naturopath, Ayurvedic Practitioner, Wholefood Cook and Mother.