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First published in NurseGrown Organic’s January 2021 Newsletter

As our Full Moon this January is the Hunger Moon, let’s take a look at how to fill our bellies and nourish ourselves with magical, herb-infused broths.

When I’m cooking, I save most of my veggie scraps and put them in a bag in the freezer. Onion and garlic ends, celery ends and leaves, carrot peelings and ends, winter squash seeds and scrapings, tomato trimmings, beet peels, and mushroom bits are all frequent flyers in my broth bags. In summer I save my tomato juice when I’m canning, freeze the juice in ice cube trays and throw a few cubes into the broth throughout the winter.

Veggies that might be overpowering for the flavor of the broth are some brassicas like big hunks of cabbage and broccoli stems, green pepper seeds and stems, turnips, and radishes. I usually compost what I don’t eat from these vegetables.

You can save your stems from parsley, thyme, rosemary, cilantro, etc. and throw those in the freezer with the rest, as well as ginger and turmeric peels. Don’t forget to add a couple of bay leaves for flavor.

Mushrooms add great flavor and medicine to both vegan and bone broths. Fresh or dried shitake mushrooms are both medicinal and delicious. The polysaccharides in shitakes and other medicinal mushrooms are stimulating to the immune system – in fact, shitake is used in Japanese medicine to treat gastric and breast cancers.

If you are using fresh shitakes, the stems are too woody to eat straight, so you can throw those in the broth bag, or you can add a small handful of dried mushroom caps when you’re ready to cook the broth. Maitake (hen of the woods) is another delicious edible/medicinal mushroom that can be used. Reishi mushroom is slightly bitter, so you don’t want to add too much. I sometimes add a small spoon of powdered reishi to my broth mix.

Another important addition to both vegan and bone broths is seaweed. Use whatever you have on hand and add a generous handful. I recently discovered some ancient hijiki in the back of my cupboard – perfect for broth! Seaweed provides protein, iron, vitamins and trace minerals, and algin, which is mucilaginous, soothing, and thickening.

In terms of bones, in my home we are grateful for our local meat CSA, which provides us with lovingly raised, organically fed meats of all kinds, as well as bones, chicken feet (so high in collagen – chicken feet create a super velvety broth), and organ meats. As we cook and eat our meat, I save all of the bones in the freezer bag with the veggie and herb trimmings, and when the bag is full it is time to make the broth.
Please try to support your local farmers whenever possible, and if you can’t locate any local meat farmers, purchase organic, grass fed, bone-in meat at the store. I love honoring the animals I eat by consciously consuming as many of their parts as I can, with thanks and gratitude.

You can also purchase fresh or frozen uncooked bones at the butcher, and you’d want to roast them [I like to set my oven at 420 F for just about everything ;-)] for 30 minutes or so before you add them to the broth. If you are using bones in your broth, add a quarter cup (aka a glug or two) of apple cider vinegar to the pot and let this sit for half an hour or so before you start cooking the broth. The vinegar helps to draw the calcium and minerals out of the bones and into the broth.

Now for the medicinal plants, and here you can get creative. I always add a large handful of astragalus root slices to my broths. Astragalus is fantastic for the immune system and regular use strengthens the lungs as well.

I like to add a handful of dried rose hips, some nettle leaf, dandelion leaf/root, burdock root, violet leaves, maybe a small handful of elderberries, ginger, turmeric… consider the flavors of your herbs as you add them and adjust the amounts accordingly. Elderberry is delicious, but you might not want a broth that tastes like elderberry syrup!

Some other nutritive herbs to consider adding into your broth are oat straw, raspberry leaf, red clover (which has a stronger flavor), and alfalfa. Why not add some cannabis leaves to the mix, if you have them? Kitchen medicinals like rosemary, thyme, garlic, sage (in small amounts), and parsley are also good additions, if you don’t already have some in your broth bag.

Add some filtered water to cover the mix, and you are ready to roll! To cook your broth, you have several options. You can cook on the stovetop on low – vegan broths for 1-4 hours, and bone broths for up to 12 hours. You can also use a crock pot for this low and slow method. Lately I’ve been using an Instapot pressure cooker and it has been pretty exciting, with this method I get nice thick bone broths in 4 hours!

You can add salt before cooking (not too much, maybe 1-2 tsp) or wait and add it to taste later. Don’t forget to gently hold the pot and send some love and gratitude to the plants, herbs, animals, and waters that are magically combining to create this nourishing and medicinal food.

Your broths can be used in many ways: as a dash of liquid when sauteing other foods; instead of water for cooking grains; you can drink it by the cup with some tamari or miso added for flavor; and, of course, as a soup base. Food is truly the best medicine!