By Victoria Branson, L.Ac.
Bone broth has officially become its own cultural phenomenon over the last five years and for good reason. The collagen and minerals in bone broth make it a powerhouse of nourishment. I generally recommend broth to any of my patients with deficiencies in Qi and Blood, which are most of the female patients I treat. You can make bone or vegetable broths even more potent by adding medicinal herbs. Medicinal broths are easy and inexpensive to make and store well in the freezer. They can form the flavorful base of any soup or sauce you make, or you can drink them on their own. You can make broth with beef marrow bones, chicken carcasses (bonus if you include feet), or with vegetables and mushrooms for a vegetarian broth.
For those of you who have never made your own, here’s some brief instructions. For increased flavor, first roast your marrow bones for 20 minutes, for chicken use the bones from a whole roasted chicken, and you can roast your veggies for increased depth as well. As always, pasture-raised animals and organic vegetables are not only happier but healthier for us as well. Take your bones and/or veg and place them in a large pot. Simmer marrow bones for 2-3 days, chicken for 1-2, and veggies for 3-24 hours. During the last few hours add apple cider vinegar to the broth to increase the extraction of minerals.
To really take it to the next (healing) level, let's introduce some herbs to the party. Around the same time you add your cider vinegar, you can add herbs like astragalus, reishi, burdock, goji, dang gui, dang shen, ashwagandha, and he shou wu (aka fo ti). You can cook these in the final hours of simmer time for your broth. Start with one or two herbs at a time so you can connect to the plant and see how you feel after consuming your delicious healing broth. Experiment and have fun with it; the herbs have different flavors and are all very safe. For amounts I’m giving the gram dosage, but you’re welcome to put a few tablespoons worth of herbs into your broth as a starting point to evaluate your personal preference in flavor. These broths are a great way to add extra nourishment and healing power into your broth, but are not a substitute for treatment with an acupuncturist/board-certified herbalist for medical conditions. All of these herbs are highly nourishing and should not be used in high doses or for prolonged periods of time unless directed by your health care practitioner. Used primarily for healing deficiencies, these herbs should not be used by people with conditions characterized by excessive Heat, Phlegm, or Dampness.
Here’s some more information about the suggested herbs:
Astragalus: This is one of the most commonly used and powerful herbs in the Chinese herbal tradition. It is highly tonifying (nourishing) to the Qi, especially of the Spleen and Lungs. Astragalus is particularly helpful to those with weak digestion, for recovery from lung conditions, and to build immunity. It has a sweet, earthy flavor and can be used in amounts up to 20 grams.
Ashwagandha: Also know as “Indian Ginseng”, this is potent healing herb from the Ayurvedic tradition. It helps to build Qi and Blood, and is useful for strengthening immunity. It is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it helps the body cope with toxins from the external environment as well as stress and anxiety internally. It has an earthy flavor with a bit of a tang, so smaller amounts can be used for people for whom the smell is a bit strong, up to 20 grams.
Burdock Root: This herb is known for cleansing the liver and purifying the blood in Western herbalism. It is commonly used in East and West for clearing excessive internal heat and helping keep skin healthy. It also happens to be delicious and is a food-grade herb commonly consumed throughout eastern Asia. You can find it fresh at health food stores, or growing as a weed in your backyard! Large amounts are safe since it is commonly eaten as a vegetable.
Dang Gui (Angelica Sinensis): The primary herb in the Chinese herbal medicine canon for the building of Blood. This is the one herb listed here with a strong smell and somewhat stronger taste than the others, reminiscent of celery or anise. Amounts up to 10 grams shouldn’t alter the taste of your broth too much, but be cautious to protect the flavor.
Dang Shen (Codonopsis): This herb is mostly used as an alternative to true Ginseng. It has excellent tonifying properties. It's taste is sweet and earthy. Amounts up to 20 grams.
Goji Berries (Gou Qi Zi): Sweet and delicious, these berries have been used for thousands of years to help build Blood and Yin in the body, nourish Liver and Kidney, and have a particular affinity for supporting the eyes. A food-grade herb, amounts up to 10 grams so as not to have too much of a sweet flavor.
He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti, Polygonum): This herb is famous for nourishing Blood, Yin, and Essence so much so that it is commonly ascribed the power of turning grey hair black again. It is prepared by cooking in black soybean soup, and thus should be avoided by anyone with a sensitivity to soy and potentially gluten. Amounts up to 10 grams.
Reishi Mushroom (Ling Zhi, Ganoderma): Reishi helps to heal the Heart by calming the Spirit, soothing nerves, promoting relaxation, and nourishing Qi and Blood. Amounts up to 20 grams.
My favorite place to order herbs is Mountain Rose Herbs, located in Eugene. They are organic, sustainable, and fair-trade.
For more information about the healing power of broth, see Sally Fallon’s informative books: “Nourishing Traditions”, and “Nourishing Broth”.
Victoria is a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist, and Oriental medicine practitioner in Beaverton, Oregon. She specializes in pain relief, digestive disorders, women's health, insomnia, and stress relief. Victoria loves to empower patients to heal themselves using meditation, tai ji, qi gong, nutrition, visualization, and affirmations. When not learning more about medicine and healing, you can find Victoria on adventures with her husband and dog, playing in nature, cooking, gardening, meditating, and getting suckered into giving her dog more food.