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Happy Solstice! I'm so excited for the return to the light, to longer days of more sunshine and the return of vibrant growth start...

Banana Cacao Foraged Nut Bread Recipe

Happy Solstice! I'm so excited for the return to the light, to longer days of more sunshine and the return of vibrant growth starting sooner that it seems. It's holiday season, and along with that comes eating diversions. These can be tasty and satisfying at the time, but can wreak havoc on our digestion, immune system, skin, and mood, along with every other part of our body. I'm sure you already have heard lots of frightening facts about sugar, so I won't try to scare you with more. Instead I want to encourage you toward self-care during this season so you can feel your best. Instead of encouraging you to deprive yourself of sweet things, making you more likely to just binge later, let's look at some alternatives.

How can you substitute tasty healthy treats for sugary treats? Think about substituting more natural  sweeteners that don't spike your blood sugar. Try subbing maple syrup for sugar at a one to one ratio. You'll have to adapt your recipe a bit, to account for changing a solid to a liquid, but there's so many great recipes online these days. You could also try stevia, which doesn't raise your blood sugar at all. Make sure you use the green herb and not the white processed stevia. However, the taste may need to be acquired for some people and some never like it. Coconut sugar or molasses are other options, though eating a lot of these or maple syrup can still raise your blood sugar, so moderation is key. Here's a good article to check out about alternative sweeteners. You can also lower your fruit consumption and switch over to fruits that don't raise the blood sugar as much, like berries, pears, and apples.

Here's my holiday gift to you, a gluten-free, dairy-free, processed sugar-free, yet scrumptious recipe to satisfy your sweet tooth and, in moderation, provide a healthy alternative to those other sugary holiday downfalls.

* A few notes about the recipe *
Any wild nut will do, or store-bought nuts, too. I prefer the cacao over the cocoa powder. I think it tastes more chocolatey and has more antioxidants. Cocoa powder is a fine, inexpensive substitute, just try to stay away from the dutched cocoa powder. The dutching process supposedly reduces the antioxidants. (Check out a study here.) My professional baker friend said she doesn't like the Bob's Red Mill gluten free flour because it tends to make the end product grainy in texture. She recommended using coconut flour instead. I haven't had a chance to try that yet, but I didn't notice the grainy-ness anyway.

Banana Cacao Foraged Nut Bread Recipe

(In the large bowl)
2 cups mashed bananas
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (preferably homemade, look for a recipe here soon)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (recipe to make your own)
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
2/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 - 1/2 cup nuts of choice, coarsely chopped (I mix hickory and black walnuts)

(In the small bowl)
1 3/4 cup flour (I used 1 cup gluten free [add your favorite brand] and 3/4 cup rice flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa powder or cacao nibs powdered (you can powder them in a coffee grinder)

Preheat oven to 350 (or 375 in higher altitudes). Mix the ingredients in the large bowl. Mix the ingredients in the small bowl. Mix the small bowl ingredients into the large bowl ingredients, stirring as little as possible, just until mixed together. Pour into a greased loaf pan or 7 x 11" baking dish. Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick or fork comes out clean, after poked into the bread. Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

Adapted from Chocolate Covered Katie's Chocolate Banana Bread 

Wishing you the happiest, brightest love and joy-filled season!
Let me know how this recipe worked for you in the comments. Do you have other yummy healthy recipes you like this season? Post them below.

Yes, it's that time again! No, not the holidays silly, it's time for the winter CSH share . What's a CSH share, you ask? ...

Treat Yourself to Winter Health

Yes, it's that time again! No, not the holidays silly, it's time for the winter CSH share. What's a CSH share, you ask? It's like a CSA share, or Community Supported Agriculture share. This is an awesome idea started by farmers that has started catching on (and even spread to us herbalists). The idea is that you pay the farmer a certain amount up front for the year. The farmer uses this money to buy seeds and equipment that they need to grow their crops for the year. In return, you get a share of whatever the farmer grows that year. It's a win-win!

A CSH share, or Community Supported Herbalism share, works a little differently, especially dependent on which herbalist you talk to. Just like I love to say: If you ask 10 herbalists the same question, you'll probably get at least 10 different answers! Anyway . . . the way I work my CSH shares, is that I offer a small and a large share of whatever formulas I make each season from wild herbs I've harvested the previous season(s). I make the formulas pertinent for whatever ailments might come up during that season, with some bonus fun additions.

Actually, I wasn't going to offer the CSH anymore because they can be an awful lot of work. However, after many of you asked me about when the next one would be out and told me you needed it, I decided to oblige :) It is pretty awesome to get to see and hear about you enjoying these formulas I've worked so hard to create from plants I've sustainably harvested. It's definitely a labor of love, and it's so cool how the whole community benefits!

This winter, there's 2 different shares, the Simply Winter Health, or small share, and the Treat Yourself to Winter Health (pictured above), or large share. They both come with my most popular formula, the High-C  Elderberry syrup with foraged elderberries, sumac berries, and rose hips, along with the Incendiary Fire Tonic hot sauce to keep you warm and healthy all winter long; and the Pucker Up lip balm based on my Every Purpose salve (that comes in the large share). You'll also get two new formulas that I'm super excited about: my Evergreen Salt, a great seasoning for holiday meats and more, and Clear the Crud sinus formula tincture (thanks, Natalie for the name!). That one is a mega blend of the fire tonic and elderberry syrup, mixed with wild harvested reishi mushrooms, usnea lichen, ground ivy, yarrow, self-heal, yellowroot, and local turmeric. Woah! Besides the salve, the large share includes the Mondo Mintastic tea with 3 wild harvested mints and peppermint, and the crowd favorite, the Harmony tincture, with herbs long valued for their mood lifting effects. (Find out more about the traditional mood-lifting herbs in this tincture, here.)
Treat Yourself to Winter Health CSH share
High-C Elderberry Syrup

CSH shares make great gifts for someone you love or your very lovely self for winter health support all winter long! Check it out now at The WANDER School Etsy Store. 

Wishing you a very happy, healthy, and joyful season! And if you need some other health and joy support, check out these great blogs from The WANDER School archives:
Nourishing Bone Broth Recipe

Self-Love Day and Fudge Recipe

Stay tuned for my brand new recipe for Banana Cacao Bread with Foraged Nuts!

Mimosa blossoms  As often happens in life, the good comes with the bad, and there's not always black and white on what's good ...

Gratitude & The Tree of Happiness

Mimosa blossoms 

As often happens in life, the good comes with the bad, and there's not always black and white on what's good and bad. Thanksgiving is my fave holiday because I get to eat lots of delicious local food that supports local farms and farmers, while spending time with the folks I love. However, it can also belittle the horrible atrocities that the Native Americans went through at the hands of the Europeans. And from what I hear, our meal doesn't resemble a lot of what was on the table at the first Thanksgiving, like corn, beans, and lobster.

Though the holidays are a time of love, togetherness, and gratitude, they can also be a time of stress, misunderstandings, and grief. Today is my beautiful daughter's 15th birthday! I am so grateful she came into my life, and for all the joy and lessons she brings me. However, we're also still in a great amount of grief after having to put down our poor puppy last week. Lots of folks go through great amounts of pain this time of year over the loss of loved ones currently and in the past.

So what can we do about it? Well, it's always important to count our blessings and be grateful for all that we have. But it's a fine line, we also need to grieve and feel our feelings, too, so they're not suppressed to explode later or cause deep physical or psychological issues. I've found being in nature and around those I love, plus journaling and meditation, all help tremendously. Find the self-care that works best for you and practice it continuously. Sleep and nourishment are huge!

Of course there's herbal allies, too! I have several faves, that's why I created a formula around them: my Harmony tincture, containing mimosa, hawthorn, St. John's wort (not recommended to take if you're already on antidepressants), and lemon balm. You can find it at my new Etsy shop here, or try one or a mix of several of the herbs in tea or tincture on your own. They can be great for any kind of heartache, depression, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Harvesting hawthorn berries

I super love mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)! It's in the pea family, Fabaceae, which you can tell by the pods it will get after the flowers. It's native to Asia, and some folks consider it slightly invasive, all the more reason to make medicine with it. It's also the tree with the super fun, huge pink powder puff-like flowers that bloom in early summer. I always think if there was a truffula tree, a la Dr. Seuss, this would be it!

In Asia, mimosa is called the "Tree of Happiness". Most people take it as a tincture of the flowers, leaves, and sometimes bark or twigs. In Dana Tate Bailey's great article, she says she likes to work with mimosa especially for grief and with those people stuck in loss or dealing with heartbreaking loss. She also reminds us how important it is to still feel our feelings and let ourselves grieve. I truly believe that. One of the great things about herbs, being natural, is that they can gently help move us along that process.

Moving into this holiday season, let's all try to have a little extra love and compassion for those around us. This time is stressful, and doesn't always bring out the best in any of us. And for those of us actively grieving or missing those we've lost long ago, the holidays can bring a little extra pain. Please reach out to someone and offer them a little extra love during this time.

Of course I can't go without mentioning how grateful I am for you! You are who I do all of this for, and without your support, I couldn't do it at all. Sending a big hug of thanks to you and wishes for a sweet holiday season!

"Because I love you, and I'll do anything..." sang Stevie B. in an obscure 90's song. Anybody remember that gem? So...

Easy as ABC Apple Cider Vinegar

"Because I love you, and I'll do anything..." sang Stevie B. in an obscure 90's song. Anybody remember that gem? Sorry, I'm on an old song roll this Monday morning. More of you probably remember the song, "ABC" by the Jackson 5 that the title of this blog post is a twist on. As you can probably tell, I'm getting a little silly today. I'm trying to create more ritual in my life, partly to help me do things that might not be my favorite, like sitting behind a computer. So, I'm thinking of fun ways to make it more enjoyable, like listening to old music with a good of cup tea, after a nice walk in the woods.

Anyway, the because I love you reference is referring to my want to do what you folks are requesting, because that's why I do all this in the first place: to get much-needed knowledge out into the world. That's what community is all about, right? We support each other. In that vein, I'm committing to writing blogs more frequently and about things that you want to know. So let me know your thoughts on this one and what you want to learn about in the future, in the comments section. I can't promise to know it all, but I'll do my best to get some fun blog posts out on the ones I do know about.

In a great workshop I offered in Johnson City, TN (love ya, JC!) yesterday, my students wanted to know more about making their own apple cider vinegar. It's so simple and virtually free to make, I think this is something everyone should know how to do. Not only can you use the vinegar for all sorts of simple everyday things (I like to add a teaspoon to the oats I soak for breakfast every morning or soaking rice or beans, etc to help break down the phytic acid in those foods that can supposedly prevent us from absorbing minerals), you can also infuse herbs, wild or cultivated, into vinegar for an alcohol-free tincture or mineral-rich salad dressing.

Though making your own apple cider vinegar is a simple thing to do, there's a few little tricks that will make your end product more successful.

1. Get a bunch of apples, organic or low spray (if possible), and save the cores (and peels or pulp, if you're peeling them, making cider, etc). You can eat them or make them into something, like applesauce. This is an awesome super efficient way to use your apples because you get double duty from them: food and vinegar.

Everyone needs a good basket!
See how some of them look less than great for eating?
That makes them perfect for sauce and vinegar. 

2. Leave the apple scraps out until they brown. Depending on the type and age of the apple, this could take one to a few hours.

Let it get good and brown.
Did you ever try making those shrunken heads out of apple cores?

3. Put all your scraps in a wide-mouth jar that will be big enough for all of them, plus plenty of water. Usually, I will fill the jar halfway with apple scraps and the other half with water. If you fill the jar with more apples than water, then you'll end up with very little vinegar in the end. Make sure to leave at least an inch of space at the top of the jar. If you're eating your apples one to a few at a time, just add the cores you have, when you have them, and make sure they're always covered with water, until half the jar is filled with cores and half with water.

4. *These are the most important things to remember! Add a few tablespoons of raw, unpasteurized vinegar to the mixture to get it started fermenting. Weigh down the scraps by putting a small plate, jar, fermentation weight, or plastic bag full of water on top. This ensures that the apples will always be under the surface of the water, preventing mold.

5. Cover with a cloth napkin or cheesecloth folded over several times (to prevent holes big enough for fruit flies to get in), and secure with a rubber band over the top.

6. Wait 2 to 4 weeks. It's normal and good to see a little floating culture starting to develop, but it shouldn't look fuzzy or smell bad.

7. Strain into bottles. It's a great idea to save old apple cider vinegar bottles for this purpose. Label with contents and date. Store and use in a bajillion different ways.


A little note: homemade vinegar will taste a little different, have less of a bite, and be lighter in color than store-bought vinegar because it will be less acidic. Be aware, this may not preserve some things as well, though I haven't had a problem yet.

Try this at home and let me know how it turns out and what you do with the finished product. Happy fermenting!