I got sent a copy of Indie Herbalist Agatha Noveille's newest book, Adaptogens: 75+ Herbal Recipes + Elixirs to Improve Your Skin, Mood, Energy, Focus, and More!, in exchange for an honest review. And, holy heck, I'm so glad I agreed because - spoiler alert! - this is one of my new favorite recipe books! Even better - I have an extra copy to giveaway to a special reader.
Do you have a book, tarot or oracle deck, herbal remedy that you're interested in having me review? Get in touch!
I became familiar with Agatha's work earlier this year and I admire her clear, no-fuss approach to herbalism. She's written a number of ebooks, but Adaptogens is her first print book. Now, before we get any further into the review, let me be real honest here. I was a bit worried that I was going to receive another recipe book that was ok but uninspired, filled with recipes that I've seen before and none venturing beyond the standard tea, tincture, and salve variety.
Thank goodness, Agatha's book is nothing of the sort. Within minutes of receiving it I had already marked it up with post-it notes on recipes I couldn't wait to try. Friends, the sheer variety of recipes within here is impressive. New herbalists will be exposed to the wonderful diversity of herbal remedy making while folks who've been in the game for a while will still find something interesting and compelling.
But let's backtrack. What the heck are adaptogens?
From the back of Agatha's book:
Adaptogens belong to a unique class of herbs that greatly improves your body's reaction to emotional and physical stress while increasing your energy, stamina, endurance, and mental clarity.
Adaptogens have grown in popularity in the past few years within the herbal community and slowly and steadily beyond the apothecaries of practitioners. Sometimes talk about adaptogens gets in the realm of magic pills - that they'll somehow fix everything if you just take a dozen a day. Agatha's book doesn't fall into this trap, but instead introduces adaptogenic herbs as something to be incorporated thoughtfully into your daily nourishment practice. In other words, less magic pills and more nourishing companions.
Adaptogens lend themselves well to a variety of creative recipes and working with them in this way is a pleasure. Rather than another expensive vitamin pill to pop or a bitter-tasting herbal extract to pinch your nose and toss back, you can experiment with tasty teas, yummy syrups, or fun and interesting snacks to incorporate adaptogens into your life. (Adaptogens, 8)
More about adaptogens from Agatha:
By 1968, Israel I. Brekhman, PhD, and Dr. I.V. Dardymov had developed the functional definition that has evolved into the concepts about adaptogens that we know today. According to the definition used by Brekhman and Dardymov:
- An adaptogen is nontoxic to the recipient.
- An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response in the body - an increase in the power of resistance against multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological agents.
- An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology, irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor. (Adaptogens, 13)
In short, adaptogens help us to adapt to stress.
Agatha explores 24 different adaptogens in her book from classic Ayurvedic adaptogens like Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) to Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs like Dang Shen (Radix Codonopsis) and Traditional Western herbs like Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). She also covers skills, supplies, and safety measurements needed to proceed with making your own recipes.
Now for a bit of a nerdy herbal aside: there has been a new resurgence of interest amongst Traditional Western Herbalists on making extracts via percolation versus the more commonly taught maceration (in which you stick herbs and menstruum in a jar and let it, well, macerate for a few weeks). As someone who doesn't make a lot of alcohol extracts to begin with I typically use the maceration technique, but after reading Agatha's introduction to percolation, I can't wait to give the technique a try! I'll post my experiments with the method in the months to come.
Agatha has recipes for sodas, truffles, teas, herbal oils, powders, salves, puddings, and a whole lot more. 75+ recipes is no lie.
I chose one recipe to test out - the Beauty Breakfast Bowl Sprinkle. I happened to have the herbs needed in stock in my home apothecary and the recipe features three herbs I love to use regularly anyways. Lots of folks are familiar with Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) and Goji Berry (Lycium barbarum), but He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum) is typically less recognized outside of the herbal world. Let's take a look at what Agatha has to say about the herb:
He shou wu means "black haired Mr. He." Mr. He is credited with the discovery of this herbs' properties. There is a lot of fantastic and bizarre lore around this herb if you look back in the ancient literature. (As an example, the root of a 300-year-old he shou wu plant is said to bestow immortality).
Regardless of some of the wilder claims surrounding this herb in traditional medicine, it is also used for tamer purposes such as nourishing the kidneys and liver and improving weakness and fatigue, lower back pain, dizziness, insomnia, and erectile dysfunction. It was also used in "hit medicine" formulas by martial artists that were applied topically. In traditional Japanese herbalism it is used for constipation and inflammatory conditions of the intestines.
Modern applications of the herb are similar, including dizziness, ringing in the ears, anemia, low back pain, and premature greying; it is used as a men's fertility herb, and in some cases fro women's reproductive health as well. (Adaptogens, 47)
I have found that folks who experience dizziness as a symptom of their fatigue and overwork to be a sign that He Shou Wu might be useful. The herb is wonderfully gentle and doesn't overstimulate while still improving energy levels. I am particularly fond of He Shou Wu mixed with Cacao (Theobroma cacao), so I was interested to try it with a naturally sweet but spicy blend.
Beauty Breakfast Bowl Sprinkle
The Beauty Breakfast Bowl Sprinkle is a balancing kidney tonic which helps us to cultivate vigor, clear-headedness, healthy hair, and happy bones. You can add it to breakfast porridge, oatmeal, or yogurt. I like adding some to smoothies, too!
Yields 3 Tablespoons of Spice Blend
- 1 tablespoon of goji berries
- 1 tablespoon of he shou wu
- 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
How to Make
- Combine the powdered goji berries, powdered he shou wu, and powdered cinnamon in a small glass canning jar.
- Put the lid on the jar and gently shake the jar to combine all of the ingredients. Let the powder settle to the bottom of the jar before you open it again.
- Put a few teaspoons of your spice into a salt or pepper shaker, or leave all of it in the jar, whichever you prefer.
- Apply a label to the jar and store it with the other blends in your spice cabinet.
The Beauty Breakfast Bowl Sprinkle is easy to make and a lot of fun to use! It's naturally sweet, but with the spiciness of Cinnamon (which I love), and the neutral tasting He Shou Wu means that it is easy to add to most breakfast foods without becoming overbearing. Yum!
Agatha's Adaptogens: 75+ Herbal Recipes + Elixirs to Improve Your Skin, Mood, Energy, Focus, and More! is a great book that I'll happily recommend to students and peers for years to come.
My copy is already becoming well loved and worn as I continue to create Agatha's delicious recipes. The great news is that you can buy a copy for yourself and herbally curious companions! Even greater news is that you can also enter below to win a copy from me! You have to live in the USA to enter and the winner will be announced December 15.