Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tisanes, or herbal teas, have been used for as long as written history. My favourite teas are ones that I have wild collected the ingredients to by hand, that remind me of where I reside, of the fields and tress that I roam and climb. Luckily for me, I live in beautiful, balmy, Southern Louisiana, where, even mid-January, the woods are bursting with plum coloured, musk-scented elderberries, creamy, delicate elderflower, vibrant, hearty goldenrod, sweet, honey-Chirstmas scented Loblolly get the picture.

Valued for their medicinal purposes, calming properties, and delicious flavours, the world of tisanes is a vast, if not infinite place of wonders. Once you begin to learn a bit about each flower, berry, herb, leaf, nut, fruit, or seed, your mind will swim with the medicinal and culinary possibilities. Wild rose petals and hips for a burst of vitamin C, goldenrod to ward off hay fever and seasonal allergies, lavender and rosemary are anti-microbial, pine and ginger are anti-inflammatory, fenugreek, elder, and red clover act as an anti-catarrhal. And have you ever tasted fresh-dug ginger steeped in spring water with wild passionflowers, still wet with dew, seasoned with a squeeze of honey and gussied up with a dollop of cream? Fuggedaboudit.

Below are a few of my favourite concoctions. Make sure to sip draped in a warm blanket, cozied up with a loved one (human or animal) for optimal results.

Wild Passionflower, Honeysuckle, & Satsuma Peel

The night that I discovered wild passionflowers growing in my town in Southern Louisiana was a turning point for me in my foraging journey. I had recently relocated to Louisiana from Southern California, where I had been basking in mountain fields oppulent with wild white sage and nopales, creeksides teeming with mallow, ocean bluffs fragrant with coastal brush sage. Sweet, juicy pineapple guavas, hearty carob pods, and even wild avocados on my daily bike path. Needless to say, I was spoiled. So up and moving to rural, gloomy, Southern Louisiana wasn't exactly the most exciting prospect when I did so early last year. 

I was quickly and pleasantly surprised though. Right away I was stumbling upon blackberries and blackberry blossoms, dock, pine, onions, elderberries and flowers, and even some new gems, things I had never found in California, like wild lotus petals and seeds, or 'Cajun peanuts', pecans, muscadine grapes (a unique, tough skinned grape lovely for jams), even some precious heirlooms, like the sweet, golf ball sized melon, cucumis var. chito. So it didn't take long for me to decide that Louisiana was ok by me. But the night that I accidentally found passionflower was monumental. 

It was dark out, and I was collecting elderflower by flashlight. Mid-cut through a stalk of elder, a soft scent wafted by on a heavy, humid breeze. I literally stopped, and sniffed the air. It was light, but definite. The smell of newborn babies. Of powdered milk, soft, warm blankets, and new, powdery skin. Following my nose, my hands were lead to the most beautiful bloom I had ever seen. Soft, whiteish purple petals, with a pale green blush at the tips, amazingly delicate, purple zebra striped fringe about the circumference, and a protruding, softly dotted centre. I gathered some up, went home (sniffing at my bag of blossoms happily the whole way) and began researching these curiosities. That's when my jaw hit the floor. The medicinal properties of these things are amazing, flower, leaf, and fruit. A sedative, antibiotic and anti-spasmodic, useful in treating depression, insomnia, and anxiety, passionflower can promote alertness and physical energy, and even your body's ability to restore muscle, organs, connective tissue, and bone cells.

I like passionflower tea best when complimented by the sweet, citrusy yumminess of dried satsuma mandarin peel and wild honeysuckle leaves and blooms, as pictured above. I combine four or five dried passionflowers with the satsuma peel, a few passionflower leaves, and a pinch of honeysuckle leaf and blossom in my mortar and pestle, and grind them to to coarse fragments. Steeped with a generous spoonful of wildflower honey, this infusion is calming, nourishing, and tastes like liquid honey milk. The perfect way to pamper yourself after a long day.

Wild Ginger, Sweet Basil, & Pineapple Sage

For those of you who prefer your tisanes with a bit more kick, Wild Ginger, Sweet Basil, & Pineapple Sage shall soon be thy infusion. I can't lie, though I try not to play favourites with my teas, a steaming, invigorating infusion of fresh wild ginger chopped coarsely, crushed sweet basil leaves, robust and fragrant, and delicate, fruity pineapple sage is...well, my favourite. Add a squeeze of lemon and a touch of honey if you've got a sweet tooth like me. 

As delicious, warming, and stimulating as this tea is, you won't be surprised to learn about the incredible, nearly innumerable uses and benefits of all three ingredients in this delectable elixir. To highlight- ginger has been valued by herbalists and healing types for centuries, and modern science has only recently begun to catch up, citing that ginger slows the growth of some cancers, kills others, eases nearly all types of nausea, even morning sickness associated with pregnancy and motion sickness. Ginger acts as a natural painkiller, and provides incredible relief to many migrane sufferers. This is truly only a scratch on the surface of ginger. My personal favourite addition to any tea, I value ginger mostly for its calming and warming properties, as I am often cold, and often succumb to stress-related headaches.

Basil. Oh, don't even get me started on basil. Basil has extremely powerful antioxidant properties, is a wonderful anti-inflammatory, and a vigorous yet gentle antibiotic. Widely used in Ayurvedic medecine, basil is an extremely important  and valuable herb. Please spend some time to get to know basil. You won't regret it.

The word 'sage' is from the Latin word for 'cure'. That just about says it all.  Used for ages as a general cure-all, sage can be used to treat epilepsy, menstrual cramps, internal parasites, as a powerful antiseptic, and to treat cough, cold, and fever. Sage affects levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter being studied for use in memory enhancement, including the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. In studies, sage has been shown to improve cognitive performance and mood significantly. Sage also provides incomparable relief to menopause sufferers, reducing night sweats, hot flashes, and insomnia.

Wild Goldenrod, Passionflower Leaf, Honeysuckle, & Elderflower

The health benefits of each of these flowers and leaves is truly remarkable. For a full description of this tea and its ingredients, please visit my shop,, where it is available for purchase.

Painted Cave Apothecary Tisanes
Available for purchase in single-serving teabag or full-size jar at

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Satsuma Blossom Polenta Cornbread Cake

Spring is so lovely. It is just downright inspiring when it comes to the kitchen. Lately every time I set foot outside to pick fresh greens and flowers for the bunnies, take out the trash, or just enjoy a morning cup of coffee, I am overwhelmed by the enticing scent of citrus blossoms. I have just two small Satsuma mandarin trees in my backyard, but the aroma they waft through the balmy, sultry air is enough to taunt the entire neighborhood with it's provoking, come-hither incense. 

Their perfume is so intense that it seems to entrench, and permeate my mind, so that it gets to the point where all I can think about is in what form I want to eat them. One of my very favourite dishes is a simple, hearty polenta cornbread cake. This cake is sublime with a steaming cafe au lait first thing on a dreary, drizzly morning, as a sweet tasting enticement to pull yourself from your snug bedcovers. It's the perfect compliment to sweet, aromatic Jasmine Green tea mid-afternoon, or just hot and fresh from the oven with a pat of vegan Earth Balance butter, barefoot, with a huge, content, and goofy grin on your syrupy face. Anyway you devour Satsuma Blossom Polenta Cornbread Cake, it is a peerless, perfect reminder of springtime and all the bounty that accompanies it.

For the Cake

3/4 cup unrefined Safflower oil
just under 1/2 cup almond meal
just under 1/2 cup masa
just under 1/2 cup polenta
just under a cup unrefined sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoons salt
substitute for 3 eggs by using about 5 tablespoons water, 2.5 tablespoons of oil, and 5 teaspoons baking soda
zest of one lemon

Satsuma Blossom Syrup

1 cup unrefined sugar
1 cup water
2 cups freshly picked Satsuma blossoms

Preheat the oven to 350. I always begin with the Satsuma Blossom Syrup, as it needs to cool in the refrigerator about an hour to solidify a bit. Bring the water and sugar to a boil. Once sugar has begun to dissolve, add blossoms and reduce heat to medium low, stirring occasionally. Simmer about ten minutes. Drain syrup from blossoms, jar, and refrigerate. Don't worry if the syrup isn't very thick after cooking, it will thicken during refrigeration.

While the syrup refrigerates, begin the cornbread. 

Mix together the polenta, masa, almond meal, salt, and baking powder. In a separate bowl combine water, oil, and baking soda to make the egg substitution. Add oil and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest. Slowly add the flour mixture, mixing thoroughly. Scrape the batter into a 9" pan, and bake for 35-40 minutes, until the edges have started to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Allow to cool a bit, then, while still warm, poke tiny holes over the top of the cake with a chopstick, and drizzle the syrup over the cake. TRY to share.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

White Clover and Satsuma Blossom Tea

I divide my time between Santa Barbara, California and Prairieville, Louisiana. Santa Barbara is a small beachtown in Central California, nestled between stately purple mountains and rolling green hills, and the vast, expansive Pacific ocean, flanked by the Channel Islands offshore. I was born and raised here, surfing in the ocean and roaming the mountains, foraging, hiking and camping. 

I now live in rural, tiny, Prairieville, Louisiana, a slow-paced, eternally warm town in Southern Louisiana, where open azure skies, natural ponds and bayous teeming with sacred lilies, edible tubers and roots, and basically pure, expansive beauty is the norm. 

Here in Louisiana clover abounds. Rich in bioactive components calcium, lecithin, chromium, magnesium, potassium, silicium, vitamins A, C, E, B2, and B3, clover decongests, decreases arthritis pain, and reduces ocular inflammations. Clover has a relaxing effect on the nervous system, adjusting the 'psycho-emotional' balance and contributing to the development of communication skills. Clover reduces inflammations, the effects concerning menopause and pre-menopause, hot flashes, depressive states, and is an excellent urinal relaxant. Studies have proved that clovers can protect against the development of breast cancer cells. Clover can reduce the risk of lymphatic, ovary and breast cancer. The herb reduces breast inflammations (mastitis) and breast pains. It detoxifies the lymph, lungs, liver, kidneys, and blood. It is useful for decreasing the concentration of uric acid, which contributes to, among other ailments, gout. Clover is a good expectorant; it soothes the spasms of the bronchi, soothing coughs. It is also anti-asthmatic. It stimulates secretion and relaxes the muscles.

I handmade this tea using a mixture of the herbs and flowers I love best from both of my lovely homes. I combined delicate Satsuma mandarin blossoms from a tree in my backyard in Prairieville, and tiny Satsuma buds. The blossoms' honey drenched scent nicely compliments the buds' crisp, citrus notes. Then I added beautiful whole White Clover blooms and leaf. Lastly, I lovingly threw in some sundried Clementine Mandarin peel, grown by my friends at The Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, a small scale, biodynamic farm cradled at the base of the Fairview Foothills in Santa Barbara County, only a few miles from the ocean.

This tea has a lovely, mild, earthy tone, and is the perfect gentle wake-me up on those drowsy, dreary days. Below  is the simple recipe, or you can buy pre-made batches from my Etsy site at 

Wild Clover and Satsuma Blossom Tea

At the beginning of the year, when Clementine mandarins burst forth with their bright orange skins, and sweet, plump flesh I basically devour them one after the other, til I'm totally sick of them. During this decadent period in January I save each thick, velvety mandarin skin and place them in a shallow basket. I place this basket in a cool, dry place for about two weeks, until the skins are leathery tough. I store these ochre gems in an airtight glass jar until Spring. Around the first week of Spring, I hurriedly gather Satsuma mandarin blossoms and blooms, using sharp scissors, careful not to bruise the petals, which could result in decomposition. I leave these to dry in a basket in a cool and dry space for about a week. Next, I begin collecting white Clover leaf and blooms, allowing to dry a few days in, you guessed it, a cool dry place, spread out evenly. This is crucial in order to avoid decomposition and mold. I add the dried leaves, clover flowers, and Satsuma blossoms to my jar full of mandarin peel. Lastly, after the remaining blooms have fallen off of my Satsuma tree, and tiny Satsuma buds have begun to grow, I collect these by the handful. Allow at least a week or two to dry before adding to the jar full of mandarin peel and clover. If desired, grind coarsely with a mortar and pestle. Use a teaball if you wish, and infuse with boiling water. I love adding a heaping spoonful of orange blossom or wildflower honey.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Polenta Battered Dock Wraps with Strawberry Chutney

Wandering around my small town in southern Louisiana last week, it was obvious that Spring had launched, full bloom. Satsuma trees' blossom's fragranced my small gravel road with their thick, honey-drenched scent, the thistle lining the woods behind my house suddenly stood six feet tall, and, most exciting of all, to me anyways, wild yellow dock had sprouted up just about everywhere. It's tapered, velvety leaves waved temptingly to me in the breeze, and my mind was flooded with ideas, recipes, and tastes. I grabbed a few fistfuls of the most tender young leaves I could find, and practically skipped home in excitement. My first dock dish of the season was Polenta Battered Dock Wraps with Strawberry Chutney from local strawberries and polenta. These bite-sized poppers are delicious, light, and super easy to whip up. 

What you need:

Dock Wraps
6 baby dock leaves, rinsed and patted dry
1/4 cup soy cheese, shredded
1 medium sweet onion, diced
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup stoneground polenta
1 cup masa
3 tablespoons unrefined peanut oil, or any other hearty, medium-high heat oil
salt and pepper to taste

Strawberry Chutney
1/2 pint strawberries, slightly mashed
1/4 cup raspberry balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon of honey
zest  of one orange

In a medium sized bowl combine polenta, masa, salt, and pepper. Fill another bowl with water. Set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Sautee diced onions and minced garlic. Once soft and golden brown, toss in cheese and lower heat slightly. Continue cooking until cheese has melted. Add remaining oil to a deep skillet and heat over medium heat. Quickly spoon a dollop of the cheese, onion, garlic mixture into each dock leaf and wrap lengthwise tightly. One at a time, drop each wrap into the water first, then the polenta/masa mix, then repeat. Drop immediately into oil. Cook until lightly browned.

While cooling, prepare the chutney. Over medium heat combine all ingredients in a pot and stir until boiling. Once at a rolling boil reduce heat to low. Cool slightly before serving.

Enjoy and Happy Vernal Equinox!